“I had a good day today,” Ax told me yesterday as we drove home from school. I smiled, and breathed deeply, reassured that all was right in the world. “Except —” he continued. “Except?” I chirped from the front seat, inner primal mama hooked and attentive.
“Except that you asked me so many times if I wanted to join Chess Club.”
Ugh. He was right. I had asked him several times if he wanted to try chess club, which was in fact meeting for the first time as we drove home.
When I picked him up at the school gate we saw ten or twelve of his little colleagues marching off to Chess Club, and I asked him, “Honey do you want to try it too?”
“No, Mom, I just want to go home.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mom, come on let’s go home.”
He’d already told me he didn’t want to do it when I asked him the week before. And then, I remember, I asked him if he wanted to do it again last Wednesday, when all the other moms were texting about their kids doing it.
“No thanks,” he’d said, clearly and politely.
“You don’t want to give it a try?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“So many of your friends are doing it,” I mused, “Don’t you think you’d like to learn how to play a new game with your friends?”
“No,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, and texted the moms that maybe if they called it Ninja Chess he would try it, which got a lot of laughing/crying and thumbs up and heart emoticons and camaraderie.
He had not wavered, and I’d persisted, more than I had with soccer, because frankly the soccer games are far away and on weekends and so if he didn’t want to do soccer it suited me.
But Chess Club. Chess at his school, after school, teamwork, sportsmanship, brain development, strategy! And not a lot of extra laundry or gear.
Hadn’t I read an article at some point that said something about kids who play chess grow up without any problems at all and all turn out to be healthy, wealthy, and happy? I had, I was sure of it.
Ax, now seven, and possessed of some intellect, needs MORE stimulation, or I will have failed him as a mother. I will have failed to develop him to his full potential at this critical, still-young(ish), juncture and he will be doomed to a lifetime of mediocrity and living at home with us, a single, unemployed dope fiend, or worse.
Back in the car, Ax was saying, “Why did you ask me so many times if I wanted to play chess?”
I told him a half-truth, otherwise known as a lie: “Well I know you like games and you like being with your friends so I thought my job was to encourage you to at least try it. But you’re right I asked too many times. You did a good job of saying no clearly and politely and I didn’t listen. I’m sorry.”
The truth was, and what I think he knew or could sense, was that deep down somewhere I believe that Good People play chess and that if he didn’t play chess he would be Bad, and therefore I would be Bad, which is, objectively, nuts.
So while I didn’t get into all that, when I apologized it really felt like an omigod moment for me. Like, really? Really? Am I really so committed to some objective way of being as being the only way to be okay that I’m going to push push push (torture) my child into doing those things and being that way? No. No. No. At least, not if I notice when I’m doing it.
“I accept your apology, Mom,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said. “I will try to be a better listener next time.”
“Thanks,” he said. And then, “I got a really itchy bite on my butt butt today!”
“You did?!?” I exclaimed.
“Ya it’s a red dot and I’ll show it to you at home!”
“Ok!” I said, and we got home and had some chess-free togetherness and a discussion of bugs that bite vs. bugs that don’t bite, lengths of healing times, and benefits of not scratching, which segued into a good, long Lego session, dinner, stories, and bed.
Universe! Please forgive me for not playing chess, for not wanting to play chess, and for not forcing my child to play chess! Please show me the way of patience, tolerance, kindness, and love to myself and to others, no matter what.
I’m gonna keep going.