Monday, November 1, 2010

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A game of checkers

It's a sleepy Sunday afternoon, and my five-year old nephew—my cousin's child, not my brother's offspring—is looking at me with curious eyes.

As I dish out instructions before we begin, Zach asks me the first of many hard questions pertaining to checkers, "But why do we have to pick one color?"

"That's just how it is," I tell him. "So what is it now? Do we use the red or black squares?"

He picks black squares. 

I go on with my lecture. "From now on, don't mind the red spaces, you understand that? We can't move forward like this"—I demonstrate on the game board—"or go back like this. We always move diagonally."

He nods, as if in agreement, but minutes into the game, he asks me what "diagonally" means. I take at least three minutes to figure out how to give him the answer in a form he understands. 

After that momentary setback, we're getting into the groove. Ah, the adrenalin rush! He already knows the basics, but he constantly asks me if he's doing the right moves.

"It's part of the game, thinking what to do next. It's called making a strategy," I say.

"What's a strategy, Tito Lance?"

"It's your secret plan to defeat the enemy."

"Oh, so you're my enemy?"

"Well, not exactly. But let's just say . . . we're opponents because we're on different sides." I'm relieved he doesn't ask any more questions about the topic.

My heart burns with gladness when he jumps over one of my pegs, "Ha! Ha! I'm eating you!" Zach is learning the tricks, and I feel a fraction of the pride teachers probably feel when their students are finally making sense of things.

In the middle of this, I find myself battling with a philosophical question: do I beat him in this first game?

I've been told Zach doesn't take losing lightly. A part of me wants to let him win, but I also think that, yes, maybe this game ought to teach him that losing is part of life, that losing will give him the opportunity to better himself by learning from his past mistakes. 

He only has three pegs on the board, while I have seven. His face has the look of frustration, probably the one I had when Manong Ralph used to beat me mercilessly in our games of chess.

Now Zach tells me, "I want us to switch, Tito Lance." He wants to play my pegs and I his.

"No, that's not how we do it here. Let's finish what we started. Then we can start all over again."

He sighs in desperation. He wants it to be over. He curls up in the couch and sobs, "But I'm losing. I don't want to lose." The world must have stopped moving while this is all happening.

I feel my Adam's apple move as I swallow whatever remains of my saliva. Now it's time to give the kid some manly talk. "Look at me, Zach. I used to lose a lot, do you know that? But how did I get better? I played and played, even if I lost all the time. I studied what I did wrong, and I didn't do them again in the next games. You understand that? When you lose, you get better."

Zach wipes his tears away, gives me a relieved smile, and slowly tells me, "Come, now, Tito Lance, let's do it again."

I let him win the second game.

2 comments:

  1. You write so well, Lance.
    You couldn't have phrased your "manly talk" to your nephew better. :) Ah yea, good call in that second game!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Nico! The trick is to alternate the winnings.

    ReplyDelete

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