Who Is Behind You?

Who Is Behind You?


One day, I was all alone in the house with my 2-year-old at the time, daughter Lea. In the spirit of inspiring her to play chess, I was playing a game against, um … myself, on the digital chessboard. Suddenly, Lea asked: “mommy, who is behind you?” I nearly fell off my chair. I knew there was no one else in the house but the two of us … or was I wrong?

I jumped on my feet and spun around, inspecting every corner around us. No one. “Who did you see Lea?” I asked. But, of course, she didn’t reply and went on doing her toddler business. I.was.freaked.out!

The question of “who is behind you?” bothered me for a while. You hear stories that babies and young children are so pure that they can see angels. Was I about to die?

It was only recently that it occurred to me, that maybe what Lea meant wasn’t spooky at all. Maybe what she meant was: “mommy, who is behind you - you, such a great chess player? Who brought you to this point?” Okay, now you might be thinking that I’m a master of twisting stories, but bear with me here, for I want to share with you an incredible story of who is behind me, as a chess player.

The answer is simple – my mom; but it’s also complicated. When I was at the height of my chess successes, winning the Canadian Girls Chess Championship and qualifying to represent Canada at the World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) (4 years in a row!), my mom was at the height of dealing with single-mom challenges.

playing chess at the WYCF 1998
Caption: Me on the right, at the World Youth Chess Championship, Girls U16. Oropesa Del Mar, Spain, 2000.

We’d only been living in Canada for 2.5 years, having immigrated here from Russia. New to the country and new life here, my mom had to re-invent herself in so many ways. It was a sink or swim situation and she was a real trooper. Being a chess instructor back in Russia, my mom quickly found new chess students and schools to teach at. She learned to drive and navigate our tricky highways. She worked 7 days a week, doing all she could to provide for me and my sister.

If I could sum up who my mom is, it would be in this photo:

Mom jumping from the plane
Caption: Mom jumps off a plane, with a parachute. Just because she could!

Fearless. Bold. Full of life and energy. Daring. Unstoppable. … But also very caring, giving and incredibly loving. 

And while my mom was swimming against all currents, I was playing a lot of chess. I was 15. Despite being fatigued and stressed out, my mom kept finding endless resources, and even time, to help me with chess. “Here is “My System” by Aaron Nimzowitsch,” she would say gifting me the precious book. “Here are five more books by Mark Dvoretsky, all in Russian!” Priceless. “Here is an Openings encyclopedia, take a look at that French Defense you keep losing to.”

The list went on and I ploughed through all of these! The world of chess my mom and these books opened up for me was incredible! And somehow, mom even found some time and energy to analyze and discuss some of the tournament games with me. Simply wow!

And then I went through a short bitter-sweet “life-is-not-fair” teenage phase. It’s not fair that my opponents have two parents, and some even have grandparents, to take them to the tournaments. It’s not fair that they can just travel to any part of the world for a competition, including the WYCC, because they have money, while I can’t go because of finances.  It’s not fair that most of my opponents have FM or GM titled coaches and I don’t. It’s not fair that I had to spend time teaching chess to kids to make extra money, while my opponents are learning new chess tricks themselves. It’s not fair that I’m having a waffle for dinner, because mom got stuck at work, I got stuck at school, and there’s nothing better in the fridge tonight (that was on occasion though).

The “it’s-not-fair” list went on … until I realized: hey, these experiences are what makes me strong. I was one of the best female players thanks to these experiences. What may seem like a disadvantage, was actually my advantage (except the occasional waffle for dinner part). Thank you mom, for making me see things differently!

No titled coach? Titles-shmitles, no problem. I learned the value of one’s own hard work. I learned how to learn, how to teach myself – one the most valuable lessons in my entire life! My mom showed me how to be resourceful and I took it to the next level. “My opponents might have high level coaches, but I have myself and my mom. I know my strength and weaknesses better than anyone else ever wouldand I know what to do about it.” I adopted this kick-ass attitude, and swore I would never doubt it, even after an occasional weak tournament performance.

Got a part time job as a teen because you need some cash? I learned to manage my time and energy as efficiently as possible. I made some income. I got precious experience. I felt proud.

No two parents, no grandparents? I learned independence. I learned to fend for myself.

No money to pay for the ticket to Europe for a WYCC? I fund-raised. I learned what it’s like and how it feels. I learned compassion. I learned gratitude, for there are people who raise money to buy bread for their children; never mind tickets to Europe for WYCC.

Occasional waffle for dinner? Yum!

You see, I wasn’t just playing chess on the board. I was playing chess with life! Focusing on the strength of my situation, while tending to weaknesses; staying positive, focused, motivated and never giving up.

Young mom playing chess
Caption: Mom in her late teens. The lessons she learned in chess, she successfully applied to life.

Thank you mom for teaching me all these life lessons. You’ve always stood behind me and I know you always will. Happy Mother’s Day mom. I love you!

And to those who are reading this – I hope you too, will find strength and a positive outlook in no matter what situation you are in. Happy chessing, happy lifing! :)

P.S. I never found out who was behind me that day with Lea. Perhaps, she did ask a profound question after-all. LOL