I played chess with my son…here’s why it was a big deal

“Mom, will you play chess with me?” Micah (9) asked…again.

I sighed, closing my eyes. He was so persistent. I really did not want to play chess. I had other things to do and, to be honest, my chess-skills had about 11 years of rust on them.

But I had been saying “No” to his question to play for the last few days.
The tornado-toddler was asleep so really, it was a good time to say, “Yes.”

So we played.

And do you know what? We (as in BOTH of us!) had a blast. In fact, we played three times in a ROW—on my suggestion!

I was in awe of his focus and maturity while playing this complicated game. He was a patient, thoughtful teacher and answered all my questions (“The rook goes straight, right?”).

And he was a graceful loser when I beat him twice (the third time was a draw!), offering his right hand to me and shaking it firmly: “Good game, Mom. Good game.”

We laughed together, enjoyed some good-natured smack-talk, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company while doing the same activity.

It made me want to cry because it felt so amazing and so foreign.

You see, connecting with my twins is often difficult for me. It’s even hard to admit that because it makes me feel like I don’t measure up as a mother. After all, aren’t mothers supposed to have a special bond with their children, an innate connection?

Sometimes.
Not always.
Especially when special needs are present.

Micah’s ADHD often feels like an invisible force between us, pushing us apart, like two powerful magnets pressed at opposite ends.

As much as I’ve tried to make us connect, often times, we just don’t, or can’t, or both.
IMG_7932-2594342157-OI just finished an excellent book called The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson. They write honestly, painfully, and beautifully about their life as parents to two children with degenerative Autism.

I found myself deeply moved by many chapters of the book, and not only because Micah’s twin brother, Benji, is also Autistic (though his Autism manifests itself differently than the Wilson children).

The wider audience for the book is anyone who has experienced the Unexpected and the process of grieving those expectations, ultimately moving forward to find acceptance and joy.

I really resonated with this passage from The Life We Never Expected:

“Sometimes the parent serves the ball into a part of the court where the child is not standing, and it misses him or her completely. (I try to get Anna to paint or make a cake, for instance.) The child then attempts to serve to the parent, but the ball falls short and hits the net. (She wants me to sing a song from The Lion King fifteen times in a row, and I don’t.)

The game has no momentum, no back and forth, and becomes frustrating for both players. What is needed is for me, as the parent, to adapt my game to the one my child wants to play, however simple it is. So return the serve, stack the Tupperware, read the same book back to back, hug them as they watch Peppa Pig for the millionth time. For them that’s the joy of the game.”

Like the Wilsons, I expected to connect with my children easily, to find common interests, to laugh and talk easily together.
But save for a precious handful of instances in the last 9 years, we constantly seem to miss each other.

In fact, I think a deep-down reason I kept saying “No” to Micah’s request to play chess was because I was afraid of being disappointed and frustrated yet again.

I’ve been wounded by the trying but I can’t sit off to the sidelines, licking my wounds, giving up.

But I’m not going to give up because I am the parent.

It is my job, my privilege, my joy to serve the ball again to my child and to adjust my life and my expectations to meet him when he serves the ball back to me. It’s difficult and exhausting, even painful at times, but I can’t give up.

Because I am his mother and he is my son.

I’m looking forward to saying “Yes” to chess more often, to finding joy in our game, just me and Micah. I hope and pray that we can keep finding the sweet spot where we go back and forth, easily, smoothly, joyfully.

Together.

PS. When it isn’t love at first sight
You are exactly the right mother for your child (and why you should believe it)
How do you love a porcupine?

Photo by Sabrena Deal S. Carter Studios

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