Momo, my son, a college student at Santa Clara U, who’s now 20, beats me in chess. Everyone should know this game and teach their kids, especially if you have girls. My Dad taught me as a child and I remember hours, sitting with him, imagining the pieces and their powers. The Knight’s two-forward and one-side move, the Bishop’s diagonal alleys, the Rook’s definitive disco slide. And the board – the beautiful wood. We played on my grandfather’s mahogany chessboard. But, as a young girl, the best part of the game to me was the Queen. The King is a dead fart, a waffling flower, lazying around in his clowny pom-pom crown, while the Queen regally rules the school, off with their heads, and she possesses all the tricky dance moves of the others, except the Knight. (That’s old-fashioned checks and balances, for you. You can’t give her ALL the power, even though we know, she has the power.)

I guess my early exposure to chess really says a lot about my thoughts on men. I related to the Queen, yearned to be her and thought the world operated as such, with bossy women at the helm. Scarlet O’Hara and the Queens. Who wouldn’t think that? When a pawn gets to the other side of the court, who else does he want to be? He wants to have a sex change and become the Queen, of course! While the Queen has adventures hunting, killing off the underlings, the King sits at home knitting, cowering behind other more powerful pieces, and waits for her. Off in the wild, the Queen is protecting her man, somewhat. Sort of. Or is supposed to be if she’s good. But I’m not good. Not a good girl at all. I guess I lose the game more often than not because my protecting the man and keeping that goal in mind is a stretch for me. I’d rather run around court and ride the Knight’s pony.

Did that set me up for single parenting at an early age? Was I just “too strong” for men to take? I definitely come on strong, then my Pisces rising recants and I’m the sentimental, loyalist flower. Over time, I’ve learned from my gentle dad, my sensitive brother, and my kind-hearted son really how delicate male feelings are. Raising a boy taught me a lot about softening and that even if the Queen has the power, she doesn’t always have to command it at full force. I forget this — often — and it comes out in romantic relationships. But aren’t we all, like each game of chess, works in progress?

I used to cry and get severely depressed if I lost a chess game. I took it very personally that I had strong openings, brought my Queen out early and threatened the opposing gang. I confess, I was a bully player, more into kills than strategy. In the end, it left me nowhere. By the end of the game, with few in place  to back the Queen up as strongly, my Queen would be choking in the Tower and my King laying sideways in a pauper’s grave. Check, mate.

I appreciate the subtle moves more now as an adult. Parenting (and life) I guess wore my ego down to build a quiet net of support amongst my players. I have a tendency to move my King around in a posse, an amoeba, and let him kill if it comes to it. He’s no sacred chum in my book.

Chess is centuries old. It was developed in India, migrated to Persia, then ended up in Europe as Muslim traders took it on their salt and trading routes. It’s evolved, too. It was meant as a deciding factor between enemy leaders, rather than going to war and killing innocents. Ah, chess not war. Would it were so.

Yesterday, Momo and I left an unfinished game to both go to work. We came back in the evening — only to beat me in two moves. He said he’d been thinking about his moves all day at work. Me humbled.

Nice. I’m proud. He’s been beating me since the first time I taught him at approx. 2 1/2 years old. Then, he beat me in three moves. I tested it to see if it was a fluke and he beat me again, quickly and painlessly without mercy. It scared me, his cold calculating ability to see things so clearly and decidedly and plan moves ahead, to aim straight for what he was going for. And get it.

We lived in the East Village of New York, 7th and 2nd to be exact. Ukrainian village. Kitty corner from the Kiev, R.I.P. The Ukrainian Festival is an annual, jaunty event and we bought a gorgeous, hand-carved chess set from a one-eyed elderly man who looked like he lost his eye in the war. One of the pawns  was missing, but the kind man promised to make another one and deliver it to our apartment. Sure enough, the next day, there he was with a fresh, new pawn. It stands out from the rest. It’s a little chubbier, if that’s the right word, than all the rest. A portly pawn, stumpy as if its late for the party because of it was gorging on kielbasa and putting another notch in its borscht belt.

Nonetheless, every time we set up a new game, or sacrifice its prawny existence in a strategic coup, it reminds us our our salad days on the block. Miss the East Village so.

I’m glad my son has spent a life churning out his wiles and strategies on a chessboard. He’s an athlete and musician, too, so he’s battering down all castle walls. Chess is good for the mind, humbling for the soul.

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