Checkmating Madame First Born

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By Jen Hollidge

Madame First Born asks me to play chess with her. It’s time to figure out what’s for supper and with an immense amount of guilt, my first instinct is to say no. Eek!

Jen Hollidge

I know parents, God forbid I say no to a request from my child, but besides the other excuse, I detest chess. I didn’t learn the rules of chess until I was an adult and I learned quickly that it’s a game of decision-making. Take it for what it’s worth I’m a Libra, or if you don’t believe in astrology, I’m just an incredibly indecisive person and chess is decision after decision with numerous and far-reaching implications.

Big, important life decisions come easily to me. These I have a gut feeling about, but what to choose for lunch, what book to read next, what move to make in chess – I search my gut and come up with silence, left to bat it around and around my head.

My sense of duty as a parent and awe that my 13-year-old wants to do anything with me quickly win me over and I find myself engaged in an intense game. I have to ask at nearly every turn which pieces can make which moves before I painstakingly overthink my next choice.

I start by watching her choices and mimicking them. You move a pawn, I move a pawn. You move a knight, I move a knight. Easier than choosing which move to make for myself. Eventually, though, I start venturing out and making my own decisions, seeing options, and Madam First Born is right there, examining every move with expert precision. Back and forth we go and I’m truly enjoying myself in this game and watching my daughter hone her skills.

It gets intense, with checks and recoveries and then I have her with a king and a rook to just her king.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got it but it takes another 15 minutes to finally get the checkmate. Ah ha. I’ve done it.

“What?,” Her face is a mask of disbelief.  “But you’re terrible at chess!”

And there she is, the younger version of herself I remember so well – the girl so driven to win that losing is not a viable option for her. I spent years trying to impart to her that the fun is in playing the game, honey.  If you had fun then everyone wins.

Nope. Not this girl.  She is driven to win. Collaboration is for the weak. Looking at her face, I realize this game of chess was supposed to be an easy win for her and I have ruined that.

She’s not crying, but she is genuinely disgruntled and as a parent of a teenager I revel in that just a bit. I know in the long run her determination and desire to win will serve her well, but those are not easy qualities to parent, especially when you are a “can’t we all just get along?” type yourself.

“Good game,” I say taking a page from her book and shake her hand. You don’t have one up on me yet I think, but soon. Enough.

I’m Jen Hollidge, a full-time program coordinator, full-time mother of two amazing daughters and full-time wife to my partner in crime for 18 years. We live in Concord, N.H. I have an English degree from the University of New Hampshire and I love to write.