A Parent's Perspective: Part II Print E-mail
By Mark Schein   
May 12, 2008
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Photo Betsy Dynako
In the second installment of his blog from the Elementary Nationals in Pittsburgh (click here for full results), chess dad Mark Schein covers self-doubt, reactions to his first blog and the need for psychologists in tournament halls.

Has anyone heard the story of the chess dad at the Nationals who woke up in his hotel room in the middle of the night very dizzy and thinking he might pass out or even be having a heart attack but he didn’t call the front desk or even try to help himself because he didn’t want to wake his child and ruin the boy’s night sleep before the big 3-round Saturday?  I made up that story, but if it actually happens, I don’t think any of us will be surprised.  Friday night Aaron lost a tough game in round two.  I took him back to the room and started the process of resuscitating him.  First, with hugs and food.  Then with words to rebuild his confidence.  Then with some sort of inappropriate movie on HBO that he could never watch if I wasn’t pulling out all the stops to save the weekend.  I have found that if none of the first steps work, an all-out pillow fight can often do the trick.  Then it’s time to wind down.  So, any good chess parent unplugs all the room phones, turns off all cell phones and blackberries (usually leaving the smoke detector intact) for a peaceful night’s sleep.  However, stop fooling yourself. If your son lost unexpectedly in round two, you have no shot at a good night’s sleep. So, let the tossing and turning begin. 

First, I lie awake hoping my son can fall asleep.  But, of course, he’s tossing and turning replaying every move of the match (He actually has a reason to be tossing and turning).  Then when he does start falling asleep, it’s time to second guess every move I made between the first round victory and second round defeat.  Should we have skipped the pool? Should we have gone to the pool? Should he have slept? Solved chess problems?  Was wearing an ipod to the round a bad idea?

There once was a time, before the USCF adopted the internet to post pairings, when chess parents would rise from their slumbers around midnight and sneak out of the room to make their way to chess control.  It was there that nervous chess parents, would run into each other at the wall charts.  We all acted as though we just happened upon chess control on our way back from dinner or some other place in the middle of the night.  Often, the pajamas and bed head gave us away.  Nowadays, all that is necessary is to tiptoe to the computer in the middle of the night to check the next morning’s pairing.  If you were having trouble sleeping before knowing who your child will play, you are now guaranteed several more wakeful hours thinking about the next morning’s match-up.  Thank goodness we don’t know enough chess to actually try to prepare something. 

As morning dawns, it is now time to figure out a way to feed your child without waking him; both giving him nutrition and rest at the same time.  I haven’t accomplished this yet, but I’ll keep you posted. 

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Aaron Schein with his father and author of this article, Mark Schein

Saturday was a good day for Aaron.  He won all three matches, thus confirming that everything I had dressed him in, fed him and told him during the day was perfect. Victory makes everything seem right.  The lighting was perfect, the team room was the right size, the hotel was lovely…

The Saturday rounds were spent in the tournament hall chatting with other parents.  Friday’s blog was a popular conversation topic and parents wanted to know what category they fit into.  Some asked if the “type 4 parent” truly doesn’t care “because their child just isn’t good at chess?” Which led to a raging debate as to whether the child isn’t good at chess because they have a “type 4 parent”? Hmm…

I spend a good amount of time during the rounds standing with other tense parents trying to determine how our children are doing by judging their posture and demeanor.  All this judged from close to a quarter of a mile away from the child.  On occasion, a parent will convince himself of the eventual outcome of the match, only to learn that he has been watching the wrong child for hours.  I also spend a lot of time at these events chatting with Glenn and Susan McClanahan, who lead one of America’s most talented and delightful chess families.  It was through talking to the McClanahan’s a few years ago during rounds that I realized that even if your children are great kids and top ranked players, all of these superstitions and chess parent worries exist.  Both McClanahans are psychologists, which is a huge asset to all of us that chat with them at tournaments.  In fact, I’m going to suggest that just like the state rules which require boxing matches to have a doctor and ambulance on site, scholastic chess tournaments should have some sort of mental health professionals roaming the tournament halls for the parents as well as the kids.  

The tournament came to an end on Sunday with many meaningful matches and many a parent or child meltdown.  Long chess matches paired with sub-optimal sleep and nutrients often result in some sort of tantrum.  Aaron made it through the weekend and seemed to really enjoy himself.  I loved his effort, his composure and just being with him.  I rewarded him by flying him home in the middle of the night, putting him into bed at 1:00 a.m. and shipping him off to school bleary eyed Monday morning. How did Aaron do on Sunday?  Oh, come on, we’re not interested in the results!

Aaron Schein scored 5 points and his team, Horace Mann won the K-5 Championship team section. Look for more on the Elementary Championships by Betsy Dynako later this week.

 
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