When is it okay to make a fuss?

My older two boys, Spasmodeous and Bill, were in spelling bees today. They had finished in the top four of their individual classes’ spelling bees and thus went on to the grade level spelling bees. If you finish in the top 3 of your grade’s spelling bee, you go on to the school-wide spelling bee—as long as you are in 4th grade or higher. They go to a charter school that goes up to 8th grade.

Spasmo is in 5th grade and Bill is in 3rd. Last year, Spasmo came in 4th in his grade-level bee, just missing the top 3 and the school-wide bee. He was very distraught. Last year, Bill came in 2nd in his grade-level bee. He was very proud; it had come down to him and one other kid and they went head-to-head at length.

I say all of this so that you know that expectations were pretty high in the Garrett household. Spasmo had every expectation that he would make the school-wide bee and he meant to win it! Bill meant to win his grade level bee. Her Highness and I expected me to be at both bees and be very loving no matter what.

I will tell the story of their experience today separately. I preface this by pointing out that I was able to attend both bees.

First, Spasmo.

Spasmo easily made it through the first several rounds. By round 6, he was the last boy and there were three girls. He only had to last through one more person making a mistake!

The first two got their words right. He heard his word, thought about it, and spelled it. Wrong. I point out that at this stage that words like punctilious and effervescent were being spelled correctly. I won’t share what word he got wrong; that’s just not nice.

He was clearly disappointed, but kept his head up and made his way over to me. We whispered back and forth, and I discovered that he seriously didn’t know how to spell his last word. I later spoke with Her Highness and learned that he had spelled that word correctly on his first time through the list and they had never gone back over it. Because why would they?

Anyway. Spasmo wrote the correct spellings of all the ensuing words, spelling the winning words correctly. He felt good about himself, albeit a little disappointed.

Now Bill. He’s in 3rd grade, remember, so he wouldn’t be going on to the school-wide no matter what.

He was eliminated in the first round. His word was ‘center.’ I heard him spell it correctly. The judges didn’t hear the second ‘e.’ They seemed in a hurry to move along, but I darted unobtrusively up to the person running the show and pointed out my concern, saying, “What did he get wrong? I heard him spell that word correctly.”

“They heard C-E-N-T-R.”

“Really? I’m sure I heard that second ‘e.’” Okay, I wasn’t sure, but I was giving the lad the benefit of the doubt. He’s my son. That’s what fathers are supposed to do.

The lady running the show confirmed with the judges what they had heard, finished writing on Bill’s “Congrats on Participation” paper-ized slap and handed the lad off to me. As I took Bill aside, it occurred to me that I had just witnessed an inequity.

You see, in Spasmo’s bee (remember that this one was for realsies, because they can go on to the school-wide and then on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee), the last kid to spell in the first round was given the word ‘continue.’

I should point out that the kids get a little whiteboard to write out their word on before they say their spelling aloud.

So this kid, let’s call him Iggy, got ‘continue.’ Iggy wrote the word on his whiteboard, and many of us could see that he had spelled it correctly, and then said, “C-O-N-T-I-N-V-E.” Apparently his ‘u’ looked like a ‘v’ to him and he was going to read that the way it looked!

Then a judge said, having seen what Iggy had written, “Let’s have you do that again.” Iggy stuck to his guns and gave the same spelling, whereupon he was eliminated.

Iggy was allowed, nay—asked—to take a second chance—in the REALSIES bee. Bill was sent on his merry way on a word he had obviously spelled correctly on his board and may have even said correctly, although if so, he didn’t enunciate very well.

My dilemma was whether I should go and address this concern on behalf of my lad. Should I be that parent who causes a fuss because he’s sure his kid has gotten a raw deal? Should I become an attention-sucker and stop everything, probably embarrassing my kid in the process and probably having people resent him because of the second chance he might get?

I opted to try to help Bill understand that we were participating in essentially a game with rules and judges. Our participation in that game meant that we had for all intents accepted those rules and put our trust in the judges.

I think I was and still am more broken up about it than Bill.

Did I do right? Should I have caused a fuss?

Spasmo, Bill’s older brother, does not see this as a dilemma. I just got word from Her Highness that Spasmo has typed a passionate letter on Bill’s behalf, meant for the Parent-Teacher Organization, asking for a redo because of the inequity described above.

For me, the most important lesson ever has obviously been learned. My boys love each other and will go to bat for each other. I am honestly feeling quite tender right now because of this—no tissues necessary though.

Your thoughts? Should I have grabbed the moment and been forceful and all that? Did I do right?