Her First Chess Tournament; My First Reality Check

Her First Chess Tournament; My First Reality Check


I have always envisioned my daughter’s first chess tournament to be full of glamour. I would dress up in a pretty dress, do my hair and make-up and … sit and wait outside the playing area, during her tournament, silently screaming “yes, yes, yes!!” I imaged myself looking something like this:

Caption: My looks - the expectation

And if someone had told me earlier on that, instead, I would be rigorously scrubbing toilets during my daughter’s first-ever tournament, smelling like an egg, and looking something like this … :

Caption: My looks - the reality. Photo taken from The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko

… I would punch that person in the face! (Ok not physically, but you know what I mean). Today, I would apologize to that person and call him (or her) a prophet. Maybe even worship him for a moment, for that is exactly what happened.

Last September of 2020, my life-long dream, the dream of every chess parent, really, finally came true! A six-year-old offspring of mine (!), Lea*, was at last ready to play in her very first chess tournament.

The night before Lea’s tournament day, I couldn’t sleep. Why so emotional, you might ask? Well, I always wanted to be a mom. Even as a little girl, I always dreamed about being one; and not just a mom, a whole “chess mom”! I fantasized how I would play chess with my kids on a beach vacation or by a lake nearby. Some 20-30 years later – here I am! #DreamsReallyDoComeTrue

The tournament happened to be online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It consisted of all the local kids from the area that Lea would meet in the future.

Round I: Oh, how I wanted to be that little fly on the wall, behind Lea, to watch her game live ... but I doubt my nerves would have made it. Once Lea began her game, I joined my other 3.5-year-old daughter, Zoe*, and my husband for some play. But after ten minutes of an intense Q&A session from Zoe, I ran out of ways to explain to her why Prince Hans wanted to kill Elsa, in Frozen. “But why? …” she kept prompting me, with whatever unsatisfactory explanation I could provide. “Because … because … the producers of this movie** wanted to annoy every single parent in this world, THAT’S WHY!” I said, weaving my hands up in the air and collapsing on the sofa, exhausted.

Satisfied with my Oscars-worthy theatrical performance, I kissed my husband on the cheek. “Daddy, it’s your turn,” I said, leaving the room, (mua-ha-ha!).

I decided to read a book. I found a quiet spot in our front hall (my new secret hide-out spot) to steal a few moments of “me-time”. I got comfy and opened my book. I read one word before I heard Lea’s “Mama - I won!”

 “Yeeey!” I shouted louder than Lea. “I’m so happy for you!” Lea placed her little hands in mine and we started to jump up and down with joy.

“It was so easy! I played my Fried-liver Attack and I won a pawn! Then I won an exchange, a rook for a knight, and then I won another pawn, and then I opened up his king, and then I brought my queen into the play, and then I did check-check-check, and then I chased his king all over the board with my queen, check-check-check, and then balakapabishopfisldkjfknightwdderispassedpawnlcinfblunderlsiejfialeifjisldkrookjfl …and then … CHECKMATE!!” Lea was ecstatic. And I was relieved that she won her first game.

Round II: I decided to continue my reading adventure in the front hall. I read the entire 12 pages of my book before I realized that I had no idea what I read. My mind was with Lea. So, I went for a walk in the hood to get some energy out. The walk turned into a jog. The jog turned into a run. The run turned into a solo race. I’ve never known myself to run that fast in my entire life!

When I got home – there was a big celebration going on. Lea had won her second game.

Round III: Still nervous, for no reason, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I baked and baked and baked some more. Muffins, banana bread and a small pancake. (Want to know my trade secret for such efficiency? They are all made from the same batter!). I put my goodies in the oven. “Alexa, set a timer for 40 minutes,” I asked our artificial intelligence machine from Amazon and off I went. Minutes later, my observant little Zoe followed by: “Alexa, cancel all timers. Alexa, play Baby Shark.” But, of course, I only learned about this later in the day, when it was too late.  #LifeWithKids

“I won!” Lea shouted running down the stairs into our living room. “He blundered his bishop, had double pawns, and a rook stuck in the corner. I pinned his knight, opened up a file for my rooks …bla-bla bla bishop … bla-bla-bla queen and a pawn …bla-bla-bla I promoted my pawn into a second queen … bla-bla-bla … and I was threatening checkmate in three different ways! He resigned!” That’s as much as I could gather from what had happened in Lea’s game.

Round IV: I decided to clean up my closet in Marie Kondo style, evaluating each and every piece of clothing I had. Does wearing this sleek dress still reflect who I am today? Does wearing this blue skirt help me live the life I want the most? Am I emotionally attached to this overworn T-shirt, or is it time to let it go? Ah, good-bye little, old T-shirt. “Why is minimalism so hard for me?”Good-bye blue skirt, good-bye sleek dress … And so, I purged and purged, and purged some more. My closet looked almost flawless and … empty in the end. The following day, I regretted purging half of my stuff, but it was too late.

“Mommy, guess what!?” Lea screamed running out of her room. “I won!”

Round V: Lea had won 4 out of 4 of her games. This game would decide who the winner of the tournament would be, which sent my levels of anxiety/nervousness/excitement through the roof. My heart was pounding like a drummer on ecstasy. I had to quickly find something to occupy myself with, but I felt like I had already done everything: I spent time with Zoe and daddy, I worked out, pretended to read, baked, and purged … Toilets! I haven’t cleaned the toilets! And off scrubbing I went, all four of them! (Yes, we are truly blessed to have that many in our home. To each their own!) And so, I scrubbed and scrubbed, and scrubbed some more, until every toilet was shining, like in a Mr. Clean commercial.

Zoe walked into the washroom. “Mom – you smell like eggs!” “Oh! You mean like …cake?” I asked. “No, EGGGGS!” and she ran off. My heart stank. I mean sank. “I love eggs, mommy!” I heard Zoe in the distance … That’s when I realized how foolish I’ve been behaving all this time. If I ever want to be a chess mom, I better learn to manage my emotions. NOW!

A smell of burned baking goods was filling up the house. That’s when I remembered about my muffins and bread. I ran to the kitchen and turned off the oven. Too late; the muffins were wasted. I tried to salvage them with a surgical operation, hoping to see if either the crust or the middle part was still edible, but it was beyond the point of any resuscitation.

The banana bread, on the other hand, was spared! (Note and tip #2: banana bread takes longer to cook!)  “Alexa, how much time is left on the timer?” I asked confused. “There are no timers set on this device,” replied Alexa. “Huh? … ZOOOEEEE!!” No, I was not mad. Not mad because I know that when I’m old and grey, and my kids visit me from time to time, if I’m lucky enough, these are the moments we will laugh about. #KidsGrowTooFast

Caption: Lea just five years ago ... #TimeFlies

“Mom, I won, I won!!” yelled Lea, while running down the stairs. My mom, who was staying in the adjacent room next to Lea’s all this time, was trailing the new chess champion. Suddenly, our room filling up with bright light emitting from Lea. I also saw stars, rainbows, fairies, and unicorns. “I won, I won!” Lea keeps shouting.

She looked exactly like mini-me, a little five-year-old Olya who won her very first tournament some 30+ years ago. Awww, my offspring!

“Congratulations, Lea!” I say, giving her a huge, tight hug. “You deserve this.”

Zoe, daddy and my mom came over and we all hug each other, like people would the moment they all get vaccinated from COVID-19. #BestDayEver


Lea has played in a dozen more tournaments since September of 2020. She has not won first place since then but did quite well placing second and third and tenth, here and there. I have also learned to manage my emotions, to the point where I am almost unaffected by her tournaments. I can now read a book, while she plays, and actually understand what it is saying. I can go for a jog, although to this day I still cannot run at that superwoman speed I ran during Lea’s first tournament. I can also bake and set a backup timer on my phone … just in case. (Zoe still loves to cancel my timers.) And I still scrub and scrub all of our toilets because that’s a perfect time to do it, when Lea is busy with something else and is not with me. Because when she is with me – I want to enjoy every moment together 😊

*Names changed for confidentiality

**I still think Frozen is a great show