By: Shannon Ralph
My children have always been masters of traditional mind games. I am sure all of you parents out there know what I mean. Pitting one mom against the other (i.e. “Can I have a cookie?” “What did your other mom say?” “Ummm….I don’t know…”); Asking for one thing when they really want another (i.e. “Mom, can I have a new Xbox 360?” “No, it’s too expensive.” “Okay, how about a new comic book instead?”); Plotting to have their sibling take the blame for their wrongdoing (i.e. “Yes, I was climbing on top of the kitchen table, but I saw Sophie doing it once, so she is ultimately to blame.”); Pretending to be ignorant of the house rules in a thinly-veiled attempt to tattletale on their siblings (i.e. “Are we allowed to eat cereal out of the box while jumping up and down on our beds?” “Ummm….absolutely not.” “Okay. Just wondering.”); Circumventing rules (i.e. “I haven’t played my Wii time yet.” “You played for an hour this morning.” “I was helping Nicholas. That was HIS Wii time, not mine.”); Negotiating the non-negotiable (i.e. “I will clean my room if you give me a dollar, mom.” “No, you will clean your room because it is your room.”).
It’s enough to make any relatively sane parent turn to boxed wine and cheesecake for mere survival.
Lately, my two sons have added a new mind game to their arsenal. A sixteen-hundred-year-old mind game. A mind game that incorporates their finely tuned strategic talents. Their well-practiced skills of deception and circumvention. My boys have begun playing chess. Yes, chess.
I do not pretend to be an expert chess player. As a matter of fact, I had not played in years when my sons decided to take up the game. My baby brother taught me to play decades ago, but my experience with chess is sketchy, at best. I did, however, jump at the chance to play with my sons. It is something—unlike Bionicles and Pokemon and Mario—they are interested in that does not bore me into a catatonic state. I actually enjoy playing chess. Who knew? So I have started playing with both Lucas and Nicholas almost every day.
So, here is my pathetic confession: They are both better chess players than I am. Nicholas—six-year-old Nicholas— managed to take my queen in a total of three moves yesterday. THREE MOVES. In my defense, I was watching television at the same time I was playing chess with him. And I was not playing my best game. I was playing as if I were playing with your average run of the mill six-year-old and not the next Garry Kasparov (yes, I Googled famous chess players because not a single one came to my mind). I always knew Nicholas was intelligent. But the speed at which he picked up the game of chess has amazed me. His little brain is strategizing and planning and learning. It’s a wonder, really, that he came from my body. That he shares my DNA.
These uber intelligent boys are wreaking havoc on my self-esteem. At least I have my partner, Ruanita, and Nicholas’ twin sister, Sophie (who prefers kitties and glitter and pretty painted toenails to chess, reading, writing, and other scholarly pursuits) with whom to commiserate. And the intellectually sub-par females in my household outnumber the freakishly intelligent males two to one if you count my half-baked dog. So all is well, I suppose.
I do, however, need to polish up on my chess skills. No self-respecting modern woman—even one who does not know the name of a single accomplished chess player—should lose a game of strategy to her six-year-old son. Anarchy will certainly ensue should my son become more strategic than I. My planning skills and ability to sniff out a trap must stay sharper than those of my children. Parenthood is a war, and I am losing more battles than I am winning these days. I will take a victory anywhere I can get it.