Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Life lesson plays out on chess board

The first time she won, I wrote it off to my usual post-dinner lethargy.

"I'm just so tired," I told myself, while my fourth-grade daughter, shining with triumph, set up the board again.

Rooks, bishops, knights, pawns, the king, and queen: ready to battle once more, as long as the maneuvers wouldn't go past bedtime. This was a school night, after all.

I can't remember if my daughter won that second game. But I remember I paid much closer attention to the board.

What a milestone, the first time a child vanquishes a parent by any means other than parental charity.

Outside, I've stood below the basketball net and thrown the occasional game of horse. I remember "missing" a few of her pitches or a tennis serve now and then.

But that night when she trapped my king in a back corner - the gleam of victory showing in her eyes well before the shock of inevitable loss registered in mine - hers was as pure a victory as she will ever hope to win.

You spend so many years as your children's go-to person for every single little thing. I remember her frustration with learning to tie shoes. The day we took the training wheels off the bike. The skinned knees from new inline skates.

All these times, and countless others, she looked to me as The Source, the person she could count on to know the answer, no matter what the question. Now, virtually overnight, she demonstrates an ability to do something better than her mother.

And so the Earth shifts just slightly and, in so doing, gives us both a different view of the horizon, where the future waits.

I don't think the question has posed itself to her quite yet, but it will soon: If she can beat me so handily at chess, what else might I not know so well?

As for me, here finally is intimation that my almost-adolescent child can think things through, can make one move while envisioning more distant ones.

"See the board," her parents exhort when we sit across from her in play. "If you make that move, what might happen next?"

Our daughter plays chess slowly, deliberately. I sit back and watch her eyes scan the squares, calculating the consequences of possible moves. She rarely touches a piece until she's ready to act.

As a kid, I played chess too, but not with anything approaching my daughter's zeal. My friend from down the street and I would slam pieces around the board almost as unthinkingly as we played checkers. Then, after someone won, we'd go outside without giving so much as another thought to the fallen plastic pawns and knights still strewn about the floor.

Several years ago, I wrote a column about Robinson Junior High's winning chess team and the great pleasure that came from watching kids of that age grapple mano-a-mano with the very pressing notion of cause and effect.

The school's genial coach was the first to concede that his players often beat him during after-school practices. I have a much keener understanding now of the cheerful pride he felt when his young charges would outwit him.

"Hey, Mom," my daughter is likely to say after dinner these days, "can we play some chess? Pleeease? Have a seat and prepare to lose!"

We sit at the dining room table. I watch her eyes bore holes in that board, squinting in unbroken concentration. The room is silent. She moves. When I reach out to counter, she chides me.

"See the board, Mom! Think about that first!"

In the end, I like to think we both win.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail roberta@theblade.com.

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