Checkmated By My Son
A few weeks ago, my 8-year-old son and I sat down for a game of chess. I’ll grant that I am not a very good chess player, but I do have considerably more experience than my son, who began learning only a few months ago. So, suffice it to say, I was quite surprised when I heard him say “checkmate” soon after we started playing. My first reaction was that beginner’s enthusiasm had gotten the better of him. I studied my pieces with the intent of countering his move and teaching him a thing or two about strategy when I realized, with growing disbelief, that he was right: My king had nowhere to go.
My son had checkmated me.
I blamed the defeat on distractions. My other two children had interrupted me multiple times during the short game and the phone had rung incessantly. So, I silenced my phone, locked the other kids in their rooms, and challenged my son to a rematch. Barely twelve moves into the second game, just when I thought I had him, he gleefully exclaimed “Checkmate!” I had been so busy trying to attack him with my queen that I failed to notice his pawns and bishops surreptitiously cornering my king on the other end of chessboard. I had lost again, and this time, I had no excuse.
This week, my older son asked me to join him in a game of Risk. Risk is a board game that depicts the political map of the earth and is played strategically with the objective of world domination. My prior career involved working with companies on their long-term strategies, but an 11-year-old made me eat humble pie by decimating my armies with his crafty thinking. To add insult to injury, he formed strategic alliances with his younger brother to gang up on my troops on the board.
I lost again. Badly.
Not only did I lose, I was a sore loser. I stormed to my room and shut the door because I couldn’t bear to hear my children whooping in delight and high-fiving each other for crushing their mother.
A recent TV ad shows a mother training with her son on grueling treks and trails, where she is always leading him in pace and stamina. Toward the end of the commercial, her child beats her fairly and squarely in a race, and she smiles victoriously; she believes that it was her guidance, training, inspiration and nurturing that enabled him to defeat her. She is joyful in her loss.
I wish I could be as generous.
When my sons beat me in rapid succession, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t pleased that they had surpassed me; I was annoyed. Pride of training and inspiration was not the emotion that came to my mind. Rather, it was insecurity. I was worried about my position in the minds of my children. Just a few months ago, my kids turned to me with any question because they thought I knew everything. After all, I could add two numbers faster than them. I could multiply in my head and I knew more world capitals. To them, that meant that Mom knew everything. (It doesn’t take too much to impress young children).
But now, a couple of board games had exposed a chink in my armor. My children were now painfully aware of my intellectual limitations. Will the advice I give them now have the same value as before? Will they even care about my opinion now that they know I’m fallible? Will they accept my decision on family matters now that they are aware Mummy does not always know best?
I know there is no going back from this point. Once parents have fallen from the high pedestal of universal knowledge, there’s no climbing back upon it. I could learn more capitals and try to multiply faster, but my children have seen my weakness. And they seem only too happy to exploit it.
My 6-year-old daughter has been asking me for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe for a while. I have been putting it off with one excuse or the other; she still thinks I am smart, and I’d like it to stay that way for a while.