Monday, February 27, 2006

A Game of War

On Saturday, we went to an all-day chess tournament-- Joseph's first. He was joined by seven classmates and his teacher, Mr S.

Joseph won his first two matches easily. Then was paired with the #1 ranked player. He lost, but stayed composed-- looking over at me from across the large hall and shrugging.

Still smiling.

It was during the next match that I knew something was wrong. This one started an hour and a half after the lunch break.

He sat across from his opponent and fidgeted. There was none of the easy conversation he had made with his three previous opponents.

No, he just looked uncomfortable.

And I knew right then that the match was done before he made his first move.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't care if he wins every game.

Losing can be good for a kid.

But damnit, I just don't want him to lose because of diabetes.

You see, chess is a game of concentration. And when Joseph experiences a high blood sugar, his ability to concentrate is one of the things most affected.

When the match was over, we checked his sugar. He was 276.

One hour, a bottle of water, several trips to the bathroom and a small correction later, Joseph sat down to face his fifth and final opponent.

At once I could see that he was calm and focused. He smiled at the other kid. And from across the room I could read Joseph's lips:

"This is my first tournament... is it yours?"

This question was how he had started his first three matches, making small talk.

And sadly, this kind of exchange was exactly the sort discouraged at the outset by both tournament officials and most of the chess coaches in attendance.

(Happily, Joseph's chess "coach" was Mr. S -- a fourth grade teacher who had put together a chess club because our school had none. A man who sheepishly admits that he's not even good at chess.)

Children were instructed at the tournament's open to avoid talking until after the match because "your opponent is your enemy and chess is a game of war."

At one point I had asked Joseph why he always talked with his opponents.

"Mom, I just don't like it if we sit down all hating each other. Then, when one of us loses, it just feels bad."

During the course of the day, Joseph would be approached by all of his previous opponents-- they would ask him how he was doing in the tournament. They all knew him by name-- each one greeting him with a broad smile.

Joseph's final match took less than five minutes.

And when the two boys stood up and shook hands, I really couldn't say who won. They both looked serious and a little sad. Then Joseph wove his way through the many tables, the many matches still in progress, until finally he came to where I stood.

Looking up at me, he smiled and shook his head, saying:

"I can't believe I won. And he took my queen, too. He thought he had me. I thought he had me. But I didn't give up. Kind of like when Sasha Cohen fell, you know? She just kept goin'."

I don't know which was cooler-- the fact that my son wouldn't give up despite losing what he believed to be his most important piece, or that my 10-year-old boy could acknowledge having learned something from a female Olympic figure skater.

And why did he look so serious at the end of the match?

"I just didn't want to make the kid feel bad. He really thought he had me, and when I checkmated him, he looked like he was gonna cry."


So no trophy. No victory dance.

And quite frankly, I couldn't be more proud.


Tekakwitha said...

Congratulations to you and your son! What amazing character he has. :)


Jamie said...

The stories you write about your son always intrigue me. He seems like such a kind, gentle, intelligent kid - his innocence puts a smile on my face, yet I admire his strengths where dealing with his Diabetes comes to play. It's almost like he can take the experiences of having this disease and apply them to other aspects of his life - in a positive way. He is sensitive to others, which seems to rare these days with a lot of kids.

You truly have an amazing son there Sandra! Keep up the good work with him - he has a terrific Mom to look up to. (I love how silver is the colour of progress too - he's right!)

Scott K. Johnson said...

What a fun post to read!

Joseph seems like such a great kid, and like Jamie and Tek said, very inspiring character, strengths and battles, and great attitude all around. You have great reason to be proud! His attitude inspires me (and you be sure to tell him that!)!

I love chess, but haven't played in a long time. This post makes me want to start teaching my son the game so we can play together.

Shannon said...

How do you always have stories that are so profound? Like Jamie said, the stories about Joseph intrigue me too.

Do we have another Bobby Fischer on our hands? (minus the weird anti-social aspect).

Penny said...

I just love that kid!! You've done a wonderful job with him, Sandra.

Sandra Miller said...

Thanks everyone.

You have no idea how often you, your children, and your powerful, honest posts have both intrigued and inspired me.


Definitely teach your son how to play. Ryan taught Joseph, and now we're both enjoying playing with him-- though the boy has gotten so good that he now beats me quite regularly :-)

Oh, and yes, I did read your comment to him (you got me a little choked up with that one).

And you just made the kid smile... Thanks!


I don't know if Joseph will get to that level of play-- but if he ever does, definitely minus the weird anti-social aspect!

Nicole P said...

This post made me think of something my mother used to tell me... She'd say, "There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength." I had a hard time understanding what she meant when I was younger, but I think I've come to know her meaning as I've gotten older.

In my mind, through your posts, I see Joseph, as strong because he has a gentleness of spirit... He would rather not see others sad or uncomfortable, even if -- in the eyes of others -- the person is the "enemy." This post is just the lastest evidence I've seen. And I think that gentleness keeps him strong when he's dealing with his diabetes. I think it always will.

That kind of character isn't "born" into people. You've obviously raised him to recognize the value of other people, and the impact that our words and actions can have on the lives of others. It's inspiring. Just as he learned from Sasha Cohen, so I've learned from Joseph.

Vivian said...

Congratulations Joseph!!! You are quite an intelligent, sweet, amazingly mature young man. Dude, you are the bomb!!

Mom, you are quite amazing too.

mytime79 said...

Joseph seems like a realy cool kid. Keep up the great work.

Tiffany said...

This is the reason why yours is my favourite blog, Sandra.

How do you feel about adopting a girl in her mid-twenties? Does Joseph want a big sister?? ;)

You've raised a real gentleman in Joseph, Sandra. Tell him congratulations from me and that we're all proud of him for his achievements and his grace!

Erica said...

Gosh! He is so mature :-) Congrats to him and to you because whatever you've been doing, you are raising him to be quite a kid...

Johnboy said...

Sandra, I tried to post a comment yesterday but I keep getting so many system errors lately.

What I wanted to say is that to win with humility and grace is an exceptionally admirable trait, and quite unusual for a 6-year old.

I can't tell you how much I admire the mother that you are and the job you are doing with your children, and with Joseph's challenges. :-)

julia said...

What a great kid you have, Sandra. That was a lovely story to read.

Ellen said...

You're raising a magnificent and very fine young man Sandra. You are a beacon to all of us as you beam with well deserved pride.

Jess Riley said...

Wow, what a cool kiddo!!! That was such a heart-warming and inspiring story. :)