A voice shatters the intensity of the moment.
"Come on, Mom. Do you really want to move there? Think again."
I feel the weight of disappointment burdening my shoulders. There's no escaping from either the creeping sense of self-recrimination or the escalating sense of jubilation rising from my gloating antagonist poised just inches above the battle board.
My eyes glance upward, away from my now-endangered chess pieces, to witness a fleeting smile by my all-too-confident 13-year-old son.
"Really?" I question, still feeling confused and irritated by his challenge to "think again."
Gregory's eager fingers fly into action, orchestrating the outcome of this game like a master puppeteer.
"OK "» so you move here, forcing me to take your rook, which opens up your pawn to take my knight. Then look where that leaves your king. Wide open! Check!"
The hard "ckkk" sound of his final "Check!" resounds like a slammed door.
As I sheepishly follow this man-child's line of frenzied reasoning, I feel like the duped victim of a common shell game. I survey the board, rewinding the tracks of the last few moves along with Gregory's color commentary.
He's right — AGAIN — leaving me only one face-saving option: Move my humiliated rook back one space to safety, still alive but too humbled and fearful to ever step forward again.
No wonder it's been a month since I summoned the courage to set up the chessboard, to breathe deeply and square my shoulders in an effort to take a brave stand against this heat-seeking missile of a mind.
I could not feel more proud. It's no longer necessary for me to play the pretend role of "loser" — as a means of establishing a stronger sense of self-confidence in my child — when breaking out a board game. But perhaps, I wonder, did I play the role too well?
This latest setback tallies 23 straight wins and one questionable tie, called due to burning chocolate-chip cookies. Another "Ah-ha" moment has surfaced. The realization that it is Gregory's job — his calling — to move past — though NEVER defeat — me, his anointed life-giver. My son has become my momentary Zen master, challenging me time after time to "think again."
And for this moment (no matter how ego-shattering), I am grateful to glimpse my beloved son's progress, not only as a chess player, but as an active participant in the greater game of his own life. I am reminded of my challenge as a parent to think and think again, to become increasingly more resourceful, wiser, patient and creative in dealing with this newest life stage of my ever-evolving offspring.
Thirteen: Talk about a warring pawn poised for action! A time when posturing and bravado are essential weaponry for seventh-graders called daily to grapple with demons and dragons.
Thirteen: A critical life stage, wherein my son is both a button-popping source of pride and a hand-wringing source of frustration yet always a wonderment who never ceases to amaze, inspire and disturb me.
Seems like only yesterday when I gently challenged Gregory to "think again" while working intently to pick out the green triangle from an assortment of competing shapes or putting pen to paper in a valiant attempt to form the elusive cursive written "G."
It was a time when Cheerios ruled as both a source of nourishment and a tool of dexterity, a rewarding yet simple "O" that both advanced a life force and soothed a stressed-out toddler on car trips that stretched too long.
I wish I could once again summon the magic of Cheerios to soothe the growing pains of adolescence.
I look at Gregory perched across the board, blinking impatiently, knowing full well what should be my best move. In vain, I look for my own handful of placating Cheerios but find none.
"Can you give me a hint "» please," I whine.
The master taps a forgotten knight on the sidelines. Revelation!
Yes! This nudge is what's needed to propel my mind into full battle mode, boosting my confidence to slide my piece into fighting position.
Once again, the game is on.
And in this 24th chess match, as in the never-ending game of parenthood, I rediscover the courage and cleverness to "think again," to summon the strength to pursue my quest of preparing another knight for survival and, in turn, fortify my position as both a pawn and a king in this master game called life.