It seemed like a twofer.
The girls wanted their ears pierced. I wanted somebody to play chess with me. In the convoluted maelstrom that is my imagination, I saw a great opportunity.
Learn to play chess, I said. If you can beat me, you can get your ears pierced.
Pure genius. The girls would learn to love the game, I’d gain chess buddies for life, they would have the opportunity to earn a privilege, I would show a willingness to accede to their barbaric fetish of self-mutilation, and we’d all have a fun story to tell our friends and family. Win-win-win-win-win, or so I thought.
So each girl, at her appropriate age, took up the challenge of beating dad at chess. And each girl required far less time than I anticipated to win one game. “Checkmate, dad. Let’s go to the mall.”
Neither ever won a second game against me. That’s the sorta good news. The bad news is that neither ever played with me again. The whole plan turned into more of a win-win for them and a lose-lose for me.
Each of them explained it the same way. I made chess into a chore, a labor, a burden they were required to bear in order to achieve their goal. They didn’t learn to enjoy the game; rather, they learned to endure it. They dug in and focused and kept their eyes on the prize and they succeeded. Hooray for them.
Along the way, maybe, they developed some added discipline and commitment to achievement. Or, more likely, they already had that discipline, which they applied in overrunning my defenses. What they didn’t have, and still don’t have, is an enjoyment of the game.
And so, another lesson learned. Kids like fun. If you want them to like something, make it fun. And if you make it the opposite of fun, don’t expect them to like it. Add this to the list of items that are so obvious they shouldn’t require a learning curve.
I might have a chance at redemption, though. My oldest grandchild, who is four, wants to learn how to play chess. Even better, she isn’t looking to get her ears pierced. Yet.
Who says there are no do-overs in life?