Seven-year-old Ethan is quite the speller. For the last 4 weeks, he has been coming home with near perfect to perfect scores on his spelling tests.
Each Friday after school, he proudly has shown us his tests - adorned with stars, stickers and smiley faces. We then, of course, adorn him with praise and kisses.
Paul: That is awesome Ethan. Really proud of you.
Me: Oh! Come here and give me a big hug my super speller!!!
But one day, Paul gingerly brings up a thought.
Paul: Don't you find it odd that he gets perfect scores on his spelling tests?
Me: Why would it be odd?
Paul: Well... I don't know.
Me: What are you saying Paul?
Paul: I don't know. It just doesn't seem right.
Me: Oh my God Paul! How can you say such a thing! Are you saying he isn't capable of doing well on his spelling?!
Paul: (takes a deep breath). Well... I'm just saying I think it is odd. I mean, when we work on his spelling, he has a hard time. And then he comes home and it's perfect.
Me: So you think he is cheating?
Paul: I'm not sure.
Oh my God. My precious little Ethan. My sweetheart. My baby. The apple of my eye. The one who always comes to sit in my lap, wrap his little arms around me and shower me with hugs, "I love yous" and kisses... is... is...
I think I feel sick.
Me: I don't believe it. I can't believe you think he is dumb and he can't do well on his spelling tests!
Paul: Najla. I don't think he is dumb. But, I also don't think he is really getting perfect scores. When he came home today, I asked him to spell one of the words and he couldn't spell it.
Me: Well... that happens! I mean, he might just cram it all in and forget it afterwards.
Paul looks at me. I don't know who he thinks is more pitiful -- Ethan or I.
Yesterday (big sigh from me here) Ethan comes home with a perfect spelling test. And as I look over the beautifully crafted letters - written with 2nd grade love... I have a flashback. A flashback to the night before as I was tucking him into bed.
Ethan: Mom! I have a spelling test tomorrow!
Me: Did you study?
Ethan: No! Dad didn't work with me!
Me: Well, you'd better look at them in the morning....
I stare at his spelling test... and I see words like "scorn," "thorn," "smart," and the "CHALLENGE" words of "Halloween" and "mystery" -- all spelled correctly. And I had a twinge of skeptisicm...
...and so I ask...
Me: Ethan. Will you please spell "smart" for me?
Ethan: (His brows furrow). Why?
Me: Just spell it for me please (I say gently).
Ethan: I got it right on the test.
Me: I know honey. I want to hear you spell it again. (I try to sound encouraging and not so accusatory).
Ethan: Uhm...Ssss-mmm-aaarrrt. Sssssmmmmarrrt. (pause) S?
Ethan: aaarrrrtt. aaaaart.Uhm. (pause) aaarrrrr.... R?
Me: You forgot a letter.
Ethan: Oh. aaarrrrttt. aaarrrr. U? No. not U. Uhmmm... O?
Ethan: Uhm... E?
Me: Ethan? (pause). I want you to tell me how you got all these words spelled correctly on your test.
Ethan: I got them all right!
Me: Yes. I know. But please tell me how you got them all right. I won't get angry. I just want you to tell me the truth.
Ethan's eyes fill up with tears. And I mean FILL. He looks so sad and so pitiful I just want to scoop him up and tell him it's all okay. But I grit my teeth and try to stay strong.
Ethan slowly lowers his forehead to the arm rest of the chair I am sitting on and in the faintest voice whispers...
Ethan: But I don't know how to spell them and I wanted to get them all right for you.
...and begins sobbing.
I feel enormous guilt. Why? Because I should have been helping him with this spelling words. I should have recognized that he was having a hard time AND he felt all this pressure to do it right.
Me: I'm glad you told me. (I rub his back as he sobs). We'll talk about it later. It'll be okay.
Later that night, after Paul puts Ethan to bed he tells me..
Paul: I told him that he doesn't have to get all his spelling words right for us to be proud of him. All he needs to do is his best. I told him he needs to work hard at learning them... and whatever he gets on his tests... we'll be proud.
Me: You are so good at that stuff. Thanks.
Paul: And he asked me if I was going to tell his teacher.
Me: What did you say?
Paul: I said that maybe he should tell his teacher.
Me: Oh. (pause). Yeah. He probably should.
Paul: It's a good lesson Najla.
I look at him with pitifully.
Paul rubs my back...
Paul: We'll talk about it later. It'll be okay.