Sometimes You Have to Lose to Win

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Perfect Game.”

We lined up the life size chess pieces in the brutal sun, and I thought to myself how much of life was strategy. This was just the latest of a series of many failed attempts to connect with my teenage son during our latest family camping vacation. I had picked a campsite with as many amenities as possible for the teen set – boat rentals, wi-fi (though limited), swimming, and games, like the one we were attempting now. Yet he had thwarted my attempts at conversation and had spent much of his time camped out in front of the little campground store, sucking energy and wi-fi off the campground grid. He refused to sit around the campfire and talk, preferring online chatting with his friends back home. He grudgingly hiked with us, quickly leaving us in his younger, more agile dust. Even when I suggested a game, he simply stated that his brother wouldn’t want to play. When I emphasized that I meant with me, he paused, then reluctantly accepted.

Once the pieces were laid out on the lawn. He indicated for me to begin with a somber nod of the head. I looked at my son, once a smiling, curly-headed boy who used to cuddle up on the couch with me to watch a movie, who used to lay out on a blanket under the tree as I read to him. Here he stood, tall and strong, confident in the knowledge that he would surely beat me. I half rolled, half picked up the heavy pawn and moved it two spaces forward. He quickly made his move. I scanned the board. I made another move, followed quickly by his. This pattern continued, and I managed to hold him off for a while, but soon he began to take out my key pieces. First my knight was lugged off the board, followed by a bishop. I managed to keep my king and queen safe for quite some time. At some point in the game, a preschool girl approached with her mom and started putting pieces back on the board. He was unfazed, and continued his assault as I removed them. Her mom lovingly distracted her into a new investigation, and our game continued.

I thought how odd it was to play chess with such a large board, and with such large pieces. The perspective was different, skewing the strategy. Playing on a table-top board gives you a good vantage point to see what’s coming, allowing you to plan for the next move. This life-size game was throwing me. Parenting this stranger was throwing me. Like chess, everything was much easier on a smaller scale.

My son started closing in. He lined up his bishop, but I thwarted his move. He grabbed his heavy rook and lined it up as well. I maneuvered my remaining bishop into a defensive position. I could tell my options were quickly becoming limited. I had my remaining pawns arranged to take out his key pieces should they make an attempt, but he was one step ahead of me, lining up his flanking moves. I made a misstep, he moved his rook, and with a subtle smile said, “Checkmate.”

I just smiled. For me it wasn’t about winning. It was just about playing the game.

“Ping-pong?” he asked.

I smiled again. Sometimes you have to lose to win.

Familiar campground scene

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2 thoughts on “Sometimes You Have to Lose to Win

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