Just in case you think I live in a high plains paradise, I need to point out one thing.
They are everywhere, even here.
Helicopter parents are perceived to be an urban phenomena. Not true.
In this town, there is a four year accredited university that started out as a teacher’s college at the turn of the last century. It is a respected school that interacts regularly with the community through many programs. One example is a summer institute for budding opera singers that garners national respect.
Another event the school sponsors is a spelling bee for the elementary school students. We were new here and the boys were eager to participate. Okay. Student union, 6 p.m. be there.
I have twin sons. They are fraternal, one minute apart and yin versus yang. “Tenacious” is very verbal, charming, agile and outgoing. “Scientist” strong, slightly larger, and academics come very easy to him. When you request that they “use their words” Tenacious will give you a litany and Scientist will give you a monosyllabic answer. In this instance they were both determined to do well. The smack talk was flying.
I proposed a review session at the local pizza parlor. Peace returned over pepperoni as we reviewed the “i before e” rule. Scientist had trouble with that so we worked on “neighbor” and “beige” several times. Time to go.
I approached this for what it was — a fun spelling bee in our small town. I didn’t have my eye on the national finals or entrance to the ivies. It was just like spelling bees everywhere else in the country. The rules are clear, the judges were ready, kids were trying not to be nervous or overly excited. After all, the winner in each grade was awarded a gift certificate to the local Dairy Queen and a picture with Buzzy, the University’s mascot. Clearly there was a lot riding on the line.
Tenacious went first and cleared the first round. Scientist then stepped up to the microphone. “Spell beige”, the judge requested.
I stifle my laughter as a continuing student of irony. My son hesitates for a micro eternity and spells it wrong. Down in flames at the first round. He takes it hard and I see the tears of frustration forming as I head up to help him exit with some grace.
It was then that I saw a parent in the audience where the judges could not see. She was using American Sign Language to coach her son through his first round.
I could not believe this. A spelling bee scandal? A SPELLING BEE? I walked my son to the washroom and peaked back in. The signing was continuing and the kid was in the finals. The finals of a small contest at a small school in a small town in the wild west. Seeing this epic failure in morality reminded me of the level of nonsense that was tolerated in my old home. There really were parents who asked the kindergarten teacher if they were tracking properly for college. And there really are parents who will teach their third grader that it is okay to cheat in spelling bees.
I don’t know why all of this surprised me, that there was cheating at this level. But I was surprised, and saddened.
I realized that helicopter parents are everywhere.
The ice cream was my treat that night.