I’m typing away in a junior high cafeteria. A place I thought I would never be again. Granted, I’m not being teased for my thrift store clothes, my bad self-altered haircut, or my towering 13 year old height. But I’m still a ball of nerves, unable to relax fully as I sit at a corner table next to the window.
I’m here watching my boys compete in a chess tournament.
I’d like to say that this started a few months ago. I glimpsed a flier on the bulletin board at the public library as I was wrestling Duck back into his coat after “Books and Babies.” The flier stated there was a free chess tournament for grades 3-6 the next weekend. This excluded Monkey, but would be perfect for Bug.
It actually started years before that. The boys playing chess with each other in the early mornings (before they were driving each other crazy). Friendly competitions at the after school program. Family chess games on cold winter evenings stretching back to my childhood.
Chess was just a little background noise in our family. That Saturday afternoon at the public library turned the medieval game into part of the soundtrack. Bug won second place in his age group.
Now, Bug and Monkey are competing. Monkey has earned his own second place trophy.
We’ve learned many things in the last few months.
We’ve learned about USCF memberships and ratings.
We’ve learned arithmetic chess notation, including Ne9# and O-O-O.
We’ve learned en passant.
We’ve learned the names of other chess families.
I’ve learned that I can’t watch my kids compete without feeling like I’m going to throw up.
I’ve learned that I’ll drive my kids hours to compete in state competitions.
I've learned we can spend evenings talking about developing the center and pushing pawns.
I've also learned that chess parents are crazy.
At tournaments, I’ve seen parents berating 10 year olds about failing to protect their rook. I’ve watched grade school children forced to review their move sheets in between matches to find out why they lost. I’ve watched lunch breaks spent practicing instead of eating pizza. These parents are serious about this. And then there’s me, patting my boys on the shoulder and saying, “Have fun!”
Because that’s what I want this to be: fun. I want them to continue to learn things, but I want those things to be sportsmanship, critical thinking, perseverance, and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. I want them to learn to be good sports when they lose and good sports when they win. I don’t want my boys to brag about their USCF ratings or to expect disappointment from me if they fail to protect their rook.
So I’m going to continue to sit in middle school cafeterias and gyms, watching pawns and knights advancing over black and white squares, watching my children win and lose, and shaking hands of their opponents, regardless of the outcome. Actually, I'll be trying not to watch, because it makes me nervous.