I played chess with my four year old son last night. Not checkers. Chess. Playing chess with my four year old son was not my idea, it was my four year old son’s idea. I was pretty dead set against it, and had in fact told him no on numerous occasions. It wasn’t so much that he wanted to play chess because he’s curious about chess, it’s just that the chess set happens to be stacked right underneath Candy Land and The Ladybug Game. Finally last night, it occurred to me: why the hell not play chess with my four year old son? Besides the obvious fact that it sounds like a ride on an expressway to Aggravation Central? I considered the excuses I’d been using: he’s too young. It’s too complicated. I’ll have to repeat myself 10 to 23rd power times. And suddenly my excuses sounded like a poorly aimed stream of piss landing on the tile next to the toilet, and I hated them. Of all the voices that he’ll hear over the course of his life telling him he can’t do something, why should I add my own to the throng?
So out came the chess set.
I’m not much a chess player. I’ve had two freaky brilliant friends in my life who were excellent chess players, one of whom was a national champion who could play with his back to the board and have somebody call out his opponent’s moves to him, and then he’d call out his desired move. And he didn’t just play that way, he won. Consistently. Like I said, freaky. Brilliant.
Getting the name of the game right was the first challenge. Chess, not chest. Chess. Chesssssss. There’s no “t” at the end, just hiss it out. Sssssssssss.
Then there was the process of getting the pieces on the board. Their names, their placement, their movements. All of which had to be repeated over and over and over. In some other dimension, I’m telling him for the 700,023rd time that it’s called a knight, not a horsey. Who decided how knights should move? The knight’s movement on the board has always seemed so arbitrary to me, like anytime they were in a position to take another piece had to be an accident. Oh, and try explaining check and checkmate. Or the gender politics of a game where winning involves trapping the male leader whose limited movements make him all but useless, even though the female leader is the most powerful piece on the board.
And right there in the middle of a chess game with my four year old son, it occurs to me: this is a metaphor for something. This, what we’re doing right now, it’s something else. It just has to be. But what? Think, Holmes, think! Playing chess with a four year old is ________. Or more precisely, ________ is playing chess with a four year old. I’m not talking about things that are like playing chess with a four year old. Fuck similes. I’m looking for the thing that is. But that something eluded me, so much so that I started to wonder if I really know what a metaphor is. Like when people started making fun of Alanis Morrissette for her misuse of the term “ironic” and she looked at herself real hard in the bathroom mirror and asked, “do I really know what irony is?” At least I imagine she did.
What is playing chess with a four year old?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s its own thing. Somehow, none of the other answers that I came up with seemed to do it for me, probably because the feelings that arose while playing chess with my four year old were as varied and complicated as the game of chess itself.
It’s going to make our next bout of Candy Land look pretty weak.