Spelling Bee Memories Can Sting


Spelling Bee Sweethearts

The other day, I phoned my attourney to see if she could get me out of a traffic ticket. If the misspelled “attorney” jumped off the page in that untrue sentence, you too might have been a spelling bee contestant.

“Attorney.” The stinking word I botched in the fifth-grade spelling bee. Three of us went round after round, trying to be the master of our dictionary, but after what felt like eternity, I was out. I’m quite certain mild PTSD stemming from the experience ruined any chance of my becoming a lawyer — that and my aversion to arguing.

What people don’t know is I studied diligently. D-I-L-I-G… In fact, my fifth-grade teacher had a warped need for a student national winner. My brilliant best friend was a shoo-in, and her lifelong gray matter competitor finished our trio; hence, the three Musketeers advanced to parry in the hallway.

I remember endless hours seated on the hard linoleum. We weren’t prepping for a tornado drill, but memorizing the dictionary. Every day we’d quiz each other, then return to the classroom, to join friends in constructing dollhouses crafted out of cardboard and wallpaper samples. This teacher also wanted some architects.

(Other than growing moldy lima beans in the windowsill, art terminology and spelling, that was fifth grade. A tenured public school teacher can be terminated, and she was.)

So when my eldest daughter came home beaming that she’d made the school’s final level of the National Scripps Spelling Bee, I was proud as Punch. I’ve always felt people are born good spellers or not, and this daughter hadn’t missed any spelling words in second grade. Genes can be a blessing, but for some — unfavorable.

My youngest and extremely bright child, who lacks that spelling gene, announced she was also chosen to represent her grade in the same bee. I almost passed out. If she weren’t 9, I might have suggested buying a lottery ticket because the girl got real lucky with the words she was given.

Over winter break, both girls had much opportunity to memorize the provided word list. But since history guided my hand, my girls were to be self-motivated or roll the dice praying for three-lettered words.

Their collective studying motivation was absent. I suppose if your teacher said you’re the best speller in your class, you could interpret that you know all the words in the English language. Some kids are naturally competitive for top academic honors; mine enthusiastically competed in Wii Mario Brothers on their vacation.

The Spelling Bee was nerve-wracking, no petrifying, for some parents. P-E-T-R…I’m sure the kids were nervous too, but I was too busy praying my girls wouldn’t miss their first word. Other than tripping on the way up to the microphone, being the first person out is the worst. Of course, I didn’t tell them that.

My oldest daughter was up first. She didn’t trip — and she got it right! A loud exhalation from me penetrated the crowd. Oops!

Now it was time for my baby.

Oh, Lordy! Let her get “cat.”

She got it right! And it was a four-letter word! (The good kind, mind you.) Even better.

Now I was in it for the win. Luckily my daughters weren’t as excited as I was. After the fourth round, my third-grader joined her classmates in the audience, followed by her big sister in the fifth round.

However, after my oldest daughter missed her word, she made a choice that warmed my heart. She saddled up next to her little sister who appeared deflated, put her arms around her and gave her a long hug.

As a parent, it was better than winning any national title.

My kids were the winners that day, and I couldn’t be prouder of who they are becoming.


(Previously published in The Kansas City Star on January 22, 2016)

Dance Mom Triumphs

Little Ballerina Holding WandI should have realized when I rounded the corner at the end of my street and a raven peered deeply into my soul that it was going to be one humdinger of a day. I would not recommend participating in a staring competition with birds, especially when behind the wheel. It rarely ends well.

Typically, I’m not superstitious. I can walk under ladders, pet a black cat on Halloween, and not panic when I break a mirror — unless it shatters while I’m gazing into it. That’s a whole different anxiety. However, from my repeated history, a looming black bird the size of a small Cockerdoodle is foreshadowing for sure.

With that dark stare, a sense of impending doom crept into my subconscious. Would there be an accident? Or, heaven forbid, was someone going to die? I tried to remember if there was a full moon because that would have cinched the deal. It would be one quick U-turn and I’d be back in bed. Alas, no sleep for me because we were on our way to my daughter’s dance class. Again.

One of the perks for young girls on a competitive dance team is they get to see each other often and dance their little tutus off. Not literally. That would be an inappropriate team for any child. However, what’s often a perk for the child is a torture-fest for the parent.

Currently, my daughter is taking only four classes a week. Yes, she desperately wanted to do this. I know there are some of you moms reading and shaking your head saying, “Four? That’s child’s play. My kid’s on 27 teams. Plus, I homeschool her, so she can learn all the positions, choreography and be fluent in French just to pronounce the dance steps!”

As any seasoned chauffer knows, whether she’s a mini-vanning soccer mom, a tennis taxi or a member of the softball SUVs, the rules are finite. If your child’s event is an hour or less, a parent will pull out their cell for some phone crack, whether it be Candy Crush, Netflix or perhaps to write a column.

That morning, my daughter attended a mandatory ballet class. We had to rush afterward because she had plans to go to Science City with her grandparents. Not wanting to lose precious quiet time, I dropped off my dancer, parked near the door and plugged in my phone to charge.

I was excited to have the day to myself, to clean up our family’s holiday mess, find places for new toys and catch up on laundry. After several levels of Candy Crush, and comprising my to-do list for home, my hour had expired and my dancer was rushing to our dance delivery demi-van.

Turning the key in the ignition, I was jolted by what can only be described as a car panic attack. It was my mistake for leaving the battery running for an hour. Darn, that Candy Crush!

Cough, cough, splutter, splat!

“What was that, Mama?” my daughter asked.

“Oh, I must have not pushed down on the gas enough. We’re fine,” I lied to her.

Bap, bap, bada blatta psst…

“I thought you said we were fine,” pointed out my literal child.

“We are. The car … not looking so good.”

Thankfully, after several failed attempts, another dance mom and I were able to jump the battery, only to prove there’s nothing dance moms can’t handle. And my daughter was only a bit late for her next event. Luckily, I didn’t have to chauffeur her downtown.

At the end of the day, I was relieved that nothing else went wrong. No disasters. No death. The only thing the raven killed was my van and, briefly, my pride.

Score one for the bird, but 100 for the dance moms, for we stared death in the face and came out victorious.

previously published in The Kansas City Star on January 8, 2016


Odd World of Elevator Etiquette

elevator-1234161The other day I was reading emails on my phone while waiting for an elevator that would take me to the first floor to exit the building. I pushed the button and waited alone in a three-story office building comprised of various professions: doctors offices, law practices, a podiatrist and a zit popper.

Now, I’m not afraid to make eye contact or say hello to anyone exiting the elevator before boarding. I’m from the Midwest and we are known as a friendly people. So as soon as the doors opened, I checked the cabin to see if all was clear. There was a woman with kind eyes getting off on my floor, but before I could exchange pleasantries, I saw something flash out of the elevator to my right.

I assumed it was a small dog off his leash, and in that split second, I was fine with it. But when I noticed that the woman on the elevator was not sight impaired, I wondered why she had brought her dog to the doctor’s office. There is not a veterinarian in the building. So instead of reciprocating her warm greeting, I spun around to check out the dog, as I leapt into the elevator. I’m sure my lackluster twirl and sashay was shocking to her, and since I ignored her salutation, she must have thought I was rude or odd. But in one fell swoop, I learned I wasn’t the odd woman out.

Little “Toto” wasn’t a Toto at all. Nor was there a leash on her pet.

Probably because most cats won’t sit still and you can squash their windpipe with a collar. Yes, this gal was either going to a therapist, to get calluses buffed off her feet or to a reading of a will accompanied by her feline friend.

I’m not judging here, but things don’t just fly like that. OK, maybe I was judging, but it made me think why elevators are such odd modes of transportation.

Why is it when most people get in the general proximity of elevators, they behave like middle-schoolers? A veritable wallflower syndrome is bestowed upon the riders without fail. People don’t have to get in the elevator for them to start acting uncomfortable, and a mandated quietness and degree of professionalism is required, as if you are presenting a $30 million contract to the board. Oftentimes, I feel too casual and under-prepared.

There’s also an unspoken etiquette for how people are to board an elevator. If there’s more than one person waiting, the one who got to the loading area first has the right-of-way. Unless of course, you’re standing with a chivalrous person who holds the door, and insists the ladies-in-waiting traipse across his jacket over the threshold, and don’t you dare push that button! That would be rude, with a trilled “r.”

Why is it when the public gets in an elevator everyone turns and watches the closing door, with hands clasped or arms pressed firmly to their sides? It’s because we magically turn 13 again. Heaven forbid your elbow should brush into someone. It would be so embarrassing if your arm touched a cute boy!

I’m fairly sure there isn’t a manual explaining societal elevator policies. But if there were, a required directive prior to entering, during the ride, and evacuation plan would be indexed. But where would such a thick document be posted?

Perhaps if there was a television screen on the elevator wall, actors dressed like old-time lift operators could explain proper etiquette.

Hello. Floor please? Now that I have your attention, let’s go over the mandated regulations…

It could be similar to some airlines where the flight attendants are no longer presenting safety instructions. Some airlines have videos that are shown as the plane taxis to the runway. Since the world is hypnotized by electronics, the best way to grab people’s attention is by giving them a free movie. Add a little humor to this instructional video and you would have a captive audience.

This would fix the wallflower problem, too. Imagine how you would only have to focus on the screen and could ignore the people around you without that tense feeling.

…Let’s go over the mandated regulations. First, please keep your hands and other body parts to yourself at all times. Remember this is a no-smoking ride, and cats are strictly prohibited.



previously published in The Kansas City Star on December 24, 2015

Memories Make Wine and Tears Flow

Reflecting on holidays past, present and right around the corner, I’m reminded of all I’m thankful for. My family is here and accounted for, all are fairly healthy and my friends and minivan are paid off. What? How else can I keep my crazy antics a secret until I announce them on the World Wide Web?

So without further ado, it’s time for another confession by yours truly, aptly brought to you by Kleenex Brand tissues and Excedrin Migraine.

I used to hold grudges. Heavy-duty ones that could have made comedian Lewis Black bow before me. The silliest things made me livid, fly off the handle or stew until my blood pressure boiled — or sometimes I’d go the other route and sob like a toddler in timeout. Hormones are not to be taken lightly.

It didn’t matter if I caused my inner volcano or if the grocery store sacker was my tormenter. I handled it the same ineffective way, by holding my breath, tucking away all raw feelings and pathetically dreading their return.

After I became a parent, I noticed when my kids had accidents, reacting like a wild woman was unproductive, plus a touch embarrassing. Everyone makes mistakes. Kids, adults, even Dutch cheese makers do it. Slip-ups make us human and more interesting.

Since it’s a child’s job in life to have accidents, make mistakes and messes, parents shouldn’t punish them for what comes naturally. I try not to be snappish when my daughter drops a full glass of milk on the rug, or when she and her sister hypothetically paint their bodies and the closet door with Very Berry Revlon lipstick.

Unfortunately, many parents’ first instinct is to shout out their young one’s mistake.

“You flushed my hand towel down the toilet!” screams the mother, ankle deep in non-potable water. How can one blame a child who doesn’t have a clue how she created the mess? They are only trying to figure how things work, or in this bathroom scenario, how they don’t work.

When one of my daughters was heavy into tod dler destruction mode, she found a beloved cassette tape of mine. How fun it was for her to pull out the brown strand of ribbon! It just kept coming and coming.

By the time I discovered it, she was cocooned in the last remaining studio recording of a pitch-perfect singing group I had proudly joined in college. All those tight harmonies and irreplaceable sounds we crooned in festivals across Europe were now twisted under a pair of Dora the Explorer Pull-ups.

I frantically tried to right the wrong, but it became clear this part of my glory days had just curled up and died. My heartbeat quickened, my breathing became uneven, and as my eyes welled up, I could feel my old rage trying to escape. But this time I didn’t lose my cool. I couldn’t blame my daughter for accidentally destroying something I held dear. So instead of imploding, I yelled for my husband to take over cleanup, so I could hibernate in peace, tears and a cheap box of Chardonnay.

Deep down, I knew my daughter didn’t try to hurt me. She was 3 and made a mistake. Believe me, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to stab me with her words during adolescence.

Memories of this only send a slight twinge of regret now. That chapter of my youth is officially over and I’m OK with it. But like that fine box of wine, life will continue to get better or at least more interesting.

I’m truly blessed because my family is still intact, we have our health, and I wouldn’t trade any one of them for a replacement of that cassette.

Although you might check back with me when my girls become teenagers. Hormones are not to be taken lightly.

previously published in The Kansas City Star on December 10, 2015


Scams Make you Feel Old


 Ever have one of those events in your life that is slightly traumatizing, but in the back of your head you know you’ll laugh at later? Much later.

Recently, I was contacted to become a Mystery Shopper for a few stores in our area. This is a business where you are paid by the store to sneak around, buy things and then write a detailed report of what you witnessed, from cleanliness to customer service. They pay for all expenses and give you an itinerary so you know exactly what the company wants.

Living in New York City stole the Midwest girl out of me. Robbed me blind of trusting others. Because of my jaded outlook, I did some research and learned this “company” was legit. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured they contacted me because of my writing skills and charming personality. Or it could be that I had a Bachelor’s degree in Theater and could complete a sentence.

The initial email correspondence from the company seemed appropriate. There were no mentions of Nigerian Princes wanting to marry my daughters, nor tragic tales of someone being kidnapped in Nepal and losing their travelers checks. If I had a dollar for every email that sounds like this:

“So if you please, Mrs. Stacey, wire money to my bank in my home village in Netanyahu. Blessings.”

So far, no red flags were raised, but I remained cautious.

I even spoke to friends who had heard of this company, which legitimized it more. Plus, my concrete research on Wikipedia.com… Just kidding, everyone knows that site is bogus and the “facts” can’t be trusted. I did, however, find the Mystery Shopper website and it looked trustworthy.

So when the Priority Mail envelope appeared in my mailbox, I had an extra skip in my step down the sidewalk. I was going to be making some money while shopping! Who could ask for anything better?

It wasn’t until I read the return address on the envelope that a rose color flag clouded my glasses.

Why doesn’t the company have its name on the envelope?

When I opened it up, I expected to find a packet filled with documents on fine paper, with a professional masthead. Instead, I found a piece of copy paper that was tri-folded and lacking any business sense or style.

Why wasn’t the name of the company printed on the letter either?

Still clinging onto hope for the payout, I sadly found a check that looked as if the cheap ink-jet printer I used in college a LONG time ago printed it.

Warning, warning, Will Robinson!

Now the red flag not only slapped me across the face, but also branded a new type of shame on me. I’ve been embarrassed for making mistakes. I’ve had numerous experiences where I made a fool of myself publicly. But why was this scam especially devastating?

It’s probably because I’ve felt the elderly are more prone to getting the wool pulled over their eyes. Naïve and trusting grandparents of the world fall for computer scams, not me!

I’m not old, by golly! Jeepers, I’ve even embraced my age lately, by not flinching at stray grey hairs or shrieking at new wrinkles. But this scam cut the pressed-powder cake in my compact. It’s time to apply ghost white powder to my nose at restaurant tables, and some fire engine red lipstick I scored in the bargain bin at Woolworths.

Actually with time, I’ll crank my Gloria Gaynor LP and survive this pity party – but I better catch a nap first.

Previously printed in The Kansas City Star on November 21, 2015