(NOTE: If you’re looking for my personal finance blog, don’t be alarmed. You’re at the right place. But occasionally I think it’s important to set the debt and finance stuff aside so that you may have a bit of fun at my expense…by enjoying an embarrassing-but-true story from my childhood. You’re welcome.)
Yes, that’s me. Circa 1984. Mentally do some age-progression by adding some sky-high curled bangs and lip gloss to visualize me in 6th Grade.
6th grade is a time of growth; you’re at the top of the elementary school food chain, but you’re still a little green, still a little naïve. You’re beginning to feel a bit “grown up”, and well, mature. Looking back on my own 6th grade year, I was a gifted student, and quite book smart. Spelling was, by far, my strongest subject.
But even with book smarts, I sometimes lacked common sense. (Like the time I accidentally popped the button off my jeans while getting ready for school, and decided to secure it with a diary lock that was sitting conveniently on my dresser. Too bad I left for school with the key still in my sock drawer. Let’s just say my mother was not pleased when she had to drive down to my school to bring me the key so I could use the restroom. Apologies for the sidebar, let’s continue.)
Every spring, my elementary school held a school-wide spelling bee. The winners from each class would compete on stage in the school cafeteria. As usual, I was ready without a lick of studying. I out-spelled everyone in my class, and then moved up to the school-wide spelling bee. I breezed through that competition as well, winning with the word “SUITE”. It was official…I was the Bancroft Elementary Spelling Bee Champion. In just a few short weeks, it would be time to compete at the city-wide Sacramento Spelling Bee, to compete against the other top students in the city.
The day came. I was glowing that crisp spring morning…my principal came to the house, picked up my mom and I in his late-model Lincoln Continental, and drove us to the auditorium. I had thought carefully about my outfit that morning…New Kids on the Block sweatshirt, cowgirl denim skirt and Keds with socks. Even then, I was a fashion icon.
I walked inside the auditorium and immediately my body filled with dread…there were hundreds of people in the crowd, and a whole lot of really smart looking kids walking around. But I forged on, determined to avoid last place, at the least.
The competition began, with 50 students from all over the city in 5 rows of 10, sitting onstage.
Round after round, I correctly spelled each word. Slowly I began to realize that the group of 50 had dwindled down to around 25. A very sweet elderly woman started passing a tray down the rows; it held a pitcher of water and some cute little Dixie paper cups. Out of nervousness and a tendency to fidget, I grabbed a cupful every time it passed.
Time went on. I continued my winning streak. Then I felt it…that tiny, tingly little urge that I would have to excuse myself soon…the restroom was calling. For a while, I ignored it. And ignored it some more. That is, until an achy, slightly-uncomfortable feeling started coming over me…I really had to go, and I mean REALLY. HAD. TO. GO. But something was keeping me from leaving the stage…fear. Fear that if I left the stage to relieve my oh-so-achy bladder, that they wouldn’t let me back to the stage and I would forfeit my chance of winning. So, in my 6th-grade ignorance, I kept myself glued to the off-white metal folding chair onstage.
By this time, the number of competitors was further dwindling and I found myself sitting among just a handful of kids. The water continued to pass along the rows. Then it came…the feelings of sudden and immense dread when you realize you’ve waited…too…long.
It flowed…what began as a trickle quickly developed into a steady yellow stream, pooling onto my chair, reaching the edge, and finally breaking the surface tension enough to cause spillage onto the floor. I was now sitting in a pool of urine, yet stone-faced as to not give away that something majorly inconvenient had occurred. It wasn’t long before I could hear whispers, laughter and gasps of horror from the few remaining kids around me. Then they called my name…it was my turn.
I rose valiantly from my chair and walked to the podium, creating a trail of drips the entire way. I had played with the idea of misspelling on purpose just to get me off the stage, but no, I wasn’t goin’ down like that. With every word I spelled correctly, more and more attention became focused on me and the saturated skirt I was wearing.
Then, after what seemed like a small eternity, it was finally down to just two; myself and a boy named Miles Davis. I had already come this far, and I wasn’t backing down now. As we both moved to the front of the stage, he stood a good 10 feet away from me. I’m sure he was desperately trying to distance himself from either the embarrassment or the stench of pee, or both.
In the final round, Miles incorrectly spelled his word (what it was is escaping me at the moment), which opened the door for me. I took a long deep breath, and spelled the winning word, P-R-O-S-P-I-C-I-E-N-C-E. I could hardly believe it. I was the 1990 Sacramento City Spelling Bee Champion…wearing a urine-soaked denim cowgirl skirt and damp Keds that now squeaked when I walked. Camera flashes began going off; I posed for picture after picture. I had never imagined my first paparazzi experience would be so humiliating.
A few weeks later, the pictures showed up in our school newsletter, the Bancroft Banner. There I was, holding my trophy…clearly displaying a look of forced enthusiasm on my face. At the moment those photos were taken, there were no inner thoughts of grandeur or exhilaration running through my mind. Not even close. My only thought was “I wonder if anyone has a spare change of clothes…”