A Knight to Remember

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, January 14, 2007

Looking back now on the holidays, did you cherish the moments? Really? How do you know? There were, almost certainly, a lot of moments you neglected to appreciate, a few family eggnog experiences you missed altogether because you happened to be unloading the dishwasher or something, and plenty that you slept through. So, now what? Poof! Those moments are gone, baby, gone!

Welcome to my pain.

Cherishing moments is something you hear a lot about these days, most especially if you happen to be a parent of little kids. I get this at least four times a week. "Cherish these moments, because they won't last forever." This may be well-intentioned advice, but it is, I've decided, cruel. It roughly translates to: "Better smile now, because everything after this is gonna stink." It puts fear in the mind of anyone who dares speculate about the future of her children, but, more significantly, it puts misery in the mind of anyone taking a peek at the past.

The first baby step, the first Christmas morning, the first haircut, the bike ride, first kite-fly. (And what of the second and third and fourth?) Did I cherish those moments, and, if so, did I cherish them enough? How do I know? Inevitably, we reach to technology. We take photos and roll tape to capture the memories, thereby giving us time to rewind and treasure. I have a cabinet full of digitized moving moments, as well as a hard drive full of stills, that I'm going to get around to cherishing one day. As soon as life slows down, maybe when my daughters are off at college and my husband has taken to napping the days away in the corner while quietly drooling, I'll sit down and watch the videos and lament the passage of time. And isn't that something to look forward to?

No, it is not. This whole thing is so messed up.

I have, in this very moment, an opportunity. Today, my second-grader is going to play in her first chess tournament. Camera slung over one arm and video equipment around my neck, I will attend this event. I am determined to cherish. I have a plan. I have decided that cherishing is a two-step process. The first thing you have to do is simply show up. Go to the event. Skip work; call in sick -- whatever you have to do. Go to the events that matter to your kids.

The second thing: Let go. Nothing will turn out the way you think it will. In my imagination, my daughter not only wins the chess tournament but is invited to play against a band of tall, pimply Russian teenagers. But stop. Think. This will not happen. Look, it's hard to cherish a moment of failed expectation. So dump the expectation.

Show up. Let go. That's all there is to it.

The tournament is in the school cafeteria. When I show up, I immediately feel smug, because I am the only parent in attendance, and then I turn into an idiot: Why am I the only parent in attendance? The chess teacher tells me that parents are supposed to come next week, for the awards ceremony and the party. "This week is just . . . a lot of chess," he says, looking at all my camera gear, which I can tell he finds pathetic. He says I can stay and watch if I want.

These junior chess players could stand to be a little more competitive, I think. I know little about the game, but I can tell by all the black pieces remaining on the board that my daughter just beat the pants off Hudson. "How did you do?" I ask, when she comes over to me. She shrugs, tells me she made a stupid move with her rook. She ties her second game, going head-to-head with Liam. Her third game she loses to Andrew. In her fourth round, she is paired with a lowly first-grader, whom she takes quickly and with confidence. Neither she nor any of the kids show much reaction to these results. This is just what they do once a week in the cafeteria: play chess. The awards ceremony next week is, I'm told, the last week of chess club and when they'll all get trophies. "So this isn't really a tournament at all?" I ask the chess teacher.

"We just call it that," he says.

Oh. Frankly, I could use a little more drama. How am I supposed to cherish a nonevent?

When we get home, my husband has flowers for his "little chess champion." (We really need to read these school bulletins more carefully.) She looks confused. He asks her how she did. She says, "Good." He asks her if she won any games. She says, "Yup." He asks her what place she finished in. She thinks and says, "In the cafeteria."

He looks at me. I tell him I think that next week we'll have a little more to work with.

I take a picture of him, her, the flowers. I'll probably remember nothing of this day, a fact that makes me want, somehow, to hug it. This time is slipping away; she's growing up; I'm growing old; he thought to get flowers. I'm not sure if it's even worth it, but, damn it, I'm cherishing.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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