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A Parent’s Reflections: Prelude to the K-12 Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
November 30, 2012
Orlandohotel.jpgMy latest personal challenge is to re-read the Bhagavad Gita (for the fourth time); I’m struggling to unlock the subtly nuanced deeper layers of meaning beneath the obvious imagery.  While I remain relatively unenlightened still (though each reading edges me slightly closer toward understanding), what’s clear throughout the book is the central theme of detaching from outcomes.  One of the Gita’s most popular, oft-repeated phrases resonates strongly with me: “You have a right to your action, but never to your action’s fruits.”  I frequently have to remind myself of this.

As Nicky and I prepare to head to the 2012 K-12 Championships in Orlando (not at the House of Mouse this year, thank goodness), I’m also reminding myself that non-attachment extends beyond me.  Almost any deeply involved chess parent will agree that detaching from the fruit of their chess player’s actions/outcomes is awfully darned difficult, especially during big events.  I’m no exception. 

I’ve come a long way from those early nail-biting, sleep-and-sustenance-deprived days, but I’ll admit to feeling a frisson of nervous anticipation as I write, which I’m hoping Nicky can’t sense (and, to be safe, he is banned from reading this piece until after the tournament). 

Even though I truly believe results aren’t as important as effort, it’s hard not to think about them.  Nicky, of course, remains his usual calm self; however, this year feels particularly nerve-wracking to me because, according to the 11th Grade advance entry list, Nicky is starting out in the number two slot.  I find that position scarily-high, knowing there is always an early upset in every tournament (fingers, toes, knees, and eyes crossed that it’s not him!).  Plus, if one believes in signs and patterns (and I do, to an extent), Nicky’s had a relatively impressive odd-grade/even-year Grades National history, co-winning both the 7th and 9th grade titles in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  Could history repeat itself?  Could an 11th grade title be around the corner? These thoughts creep unbidden into my mind despite my intent to focus on the experience and not on the results.

Nicky visiting his brother, Ben, at the University of Florida, one of the colleges he's considering.
And it’s been tongue-bitingly difficult for me to pull back and not be attached to Nicky’s actions when he announced he really didn’t need or want to play bughouse this year (that earth-rattling thud is the sound of those from Nicky’s bughouse past hitting the floor in collective shock). 

Say what?  Some of my happiest chess memories derive from Nicky’s almost-maniacal glee as he finagled anyone he could into loud and spirited bughouse matches before, during, and after tournaments.  His unabashed delight in the game kept me patiently waiting for him long after a tournament had ended, until the last player (usually Nicky) was dragged out clutching a clock, kicking and screaming. When I think of Nicky and bughouse, joy and laughter are the overarching emotions, and it’s hard to let that go easily.

But Nicky has set his own goals for this tournament, which I will refrain from sharing, but which apparently (sniff, sob) don’t include sweeping the bughouse tournament.  Suffice to say, his goals are reasonable and attainable if he maintains focus and has a little pairing luck.  For Nicky, a great pairing doesn’t necessarily equate to easy annihilations; instead, he’s looking for challenging games that (hopefully) result in some well-earned wins.  That being said, Nicky hasn’t had a lot of down time to allow for extensive tournament preparation.  He’s in the throes of his tough junior year in high school, where classes and homework have ramped up to become exceptionally time-consuming and demanding, SAT and ACT prep has begun and test-taking is only a few months away, and when it’s time to seriously consider which colleges might be a good fit. 

So this is how the Matthews-Rosenthal household prepares for “drive-away” tournaments: I’m in charge of logistics and Nicky’s in charge of chess.  It means I run around a few days prior to the event making sure we have enough food and drink to feed a small army (because you never know), check the first aid kit for headache medicine and band-aids (why band-aids for a chess tournament? – gotta be a mom thing), run to the bank for cash, gas up the car, verify hotel reservations and that the room has two beds (and negotiate for a refrigerator, if possible), download maps and driving directions (I refuse to fall prey to GPS – yet), print out confirmations (just in case), make cat-sitting arrangements, ad infinitum.  It means Nicky practices chess, gets all possible homework out of the way, and stocks/checks/packs his chess bag.  And we’re off!

I often (maybe too often) write about the enduring friendships both Nicky and I have developed as we’ve wandered down this path, but that’s because it’s so much fun reconnecting with those who make tournaments memorable.  This year, I plan to meet up with Catalina Foothills mom, Debbie Gross, and Loraine Webster, whose son, Kyle, befriended Nicky in the 2006 National Youth Action.  As for Nicky, long-time friend (and one-time bughouse partner), Nathan Barnavon, is joining us for this tournament and we couldn’t be happier.  Earlier in the evening, Nicky and Nathan sprawled out on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn while (gasp!) watching a video on the Alekhine.  For witnessing that priceless tableau alone, I’m satisfied that all’s right in our little world tonight.

Nicky and I both enjoy these local-yet-not-local tournaments because they’re the best of both worlds.  Orlando is about a 3-1/2 hour drive away, far enough to mandate a hotel stay, which allows us to escape the distractions of home to fully focus on the event.  Yet we have the “local” ease of simply hopping in the car, toting a cooler full of snacks and drinks to keep us fully sated on the road; our only (very minor) dissention surfaces over music selection (we’ve settled on Green Day for our compromise music, although I have to admit, the Queen-esque vocal strutting of Foxy Shazam’s lead singer is starting to grow on me).

And I guess I haven’t totally disgraced my favorite blue apron, because thanks to a recommendation from National Tournament Director and Boca Chess Club organizer Jon Haskel, I was actually offered a paid position for this tournament.  Rumor has it that I’ll be working alongside Jon’s lovely wife, Joann, a fellow yoga fanatic.  John Salisbury, the awesome and enthusiastic manager of our USCL team, Miami Sharks, will be there as well, working as a floor TD. So already this tournament is shaping up to be another memorable one – but then again, aren’t they all?

I’ll be back to offer a post-tournament wrap up, hopefully with great results for Nicky and Nathan, and a blue apron success story for me.  We’ll see you on the flip side!

Follow the tournament at http://uschess.org/tournaments/2012/k12/


November - Chess Life Online 2012

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