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A night and a girl and a book of this kind

April 27, 2010

I did not finish a chapter today. It was bound to happen. There’s no way I could keep up that pace on everything. But it has had the effect of making me feel like I didn’t get enough done, when, in fact, I did a lot. I discourage easily these days. But I’m trying to ignore it.

While my new routine is good for getting work done, it is not so good for blogging. I get up. I get AJ off to school. I write real, non-bloggy stuff. I do chores. I do something else in the afternoon. I make dinner. I collapse in a heap. That’s pretty much it. Thursday and Friday I’ll be on campus to attend lectures by my undergrad advisor, the one who hosted the conference I spoke at in February. She’s in town visiting for a couple of days. Unfortunately, my grad advisor is out of the country, so I’m not actually going to be able to get together with both of the, which was something I’d been hoping to do. Oh, well.

But there area few things to fill you in on.

1. Adventures in Eating

Last week, Mark Bittman’s food column in the Thursday Dining section of the New York Times offered a recipe for pad thai which sounded a) much simpler than other recipes I’ve attempted and b) called for ingredients I happened to have in my house. This is not to say that it calls for ingredients most people have in their houses, but seeing as my brother was, until recently living in Thailand, I am well stocked in rice noodles, tamarind paste and nam pla.

I’ve only ever used the nam pla I can buy at World Market before and it smells fairly mild and tastes like soap. Blech. So in recent years, I’ve worked around the nam pla and used soy sauce mixed with various things to approximate it. But the nam pla my brother sent from Thailand is a, er, whole other kettle of fish. It stinks to high heaven. The sauce for pad thai involves mostly nam pla (which is, essentially, rotten fish and salt), tamarind paste, honey, and vinegar in a classic Thai mix of sweet, sour and salty. This was by far the stinkiest nam pla I’ve ever cooked with. The aroma permeated the house and drove Mr. Spy out into the garage. To make matters worse, I accidentally spilled a little on the stove. Ugh. I feared for our dinner. But something magical happened when I put all the ingredients together (and opened a window with several fans on high). It was hands down the best pad thai I’ve ever tasted anywhere. And that’s saying something. Everyone’s looking forward to tonight’s leftovers.

2. At the ball park

Yesterday, when I rode my bike from School of Rock to AJ’s baseball game, I tossed my fiddle on the bleachers and sat down behind my favorite 5-year-old and her 6-year-old sister, the younger siblings of AJ’s friend N, whose dad has been co-coaching assorted sports with Mr. Spy for several years. It was warm and I am in need of a hair cut, so I’d pinned my hair up in a scraggly French twist under my bike helmet to keep from looking like a total wreck when I took it off. After about half the game passed, the 5-year-old tugged on my arm.

“I have to tell you something,” she said very seriously.

“What is it?”

“Well, when you first got here, I didn’t think that I knew you.”

“Because I have my hair up today?”

“Yes. Mom’s don’t wear their hair like that.”

“They don’t?”

“No. They wear pony tails.”

It isn’t the first time I’ve been doing it wrong.

3. Checkmate

“Mom?” AJ asked first thing this morning when he came into my room.

“What is it?”

“So, I haven’t lost any games yet at chess club, have I?”

He sounded nervous.

“No, not yet.”

It’s true. He was undefeated. Today he got assigned to play his friend N. They were excited about that, as they used to play chess together before chess club, just for fun. AJ is a better player than N, but N had a good day and AJ, nervous did not. Toward the end, N took AJ’s rook, leaving him with just three pawns and his king. N had many more pieces. It was a pretty unwinnable situation. AJ was fighting back tears. N, who is often in the position of fighting back tears over lost games himself, extended his hand to AJ.

“Let’s call it a draw.” AJ, his left arm still covering his face, extended his right. But his teacher came over to see what was going on.

“Why did you want to do that, N?” he asked.

“Because I wanted him to be happy,” said N.

“No, N,” said the teacher gently. You can’t do that when you play chess. You need to play to win and you need to finish your game. But AJ, I think I have news that will make you both happy.”

They both looked up as the teacher pulled out the tournament record sheet. “See? N has 1.5 and you, AJ, have 3. If he wins, he get 2.5 and you still get to be first. And you will win again, right?”

AJ nodded.

“You can’t win every game. You can only try to win every game.”

The boys nodded.

“And it was very nice of you, N, to try to make your friend feel better, but to really help your friend, you need to play your best and help him to play better, okay?”

Both boys nodded seriously. They went back to their game. A few moves later, they shook hands for real and AJ had his first loss of the session. And he survived.

It’s harder, in many ways, not to lose than to lose. Every time you go back, there is the pressure to win again. You don’t feel like it’s possible to lose. You don’t feel like that’s an option. It’s easy to forget it’s just a game, especially with a kid like AJ and a game like chess where losing can feel like stupid. And yet one of the things I love about chess club is that they both understand that about these kids and also don’t give into it. They will all win. They will all lose. And they will learn that that’s okay, that the only thing that’s not okay is not getting in the game.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 7:54 am

    Oh yeah–I always worry when Walker has a string of successes in chess, that he’ll expect that of himself and be disconsolate if he ever does lose. He always had a hard time being a good sport in games when he was younger. But the chess culture does encourage kids to give each game their best and then go on. It’s a little like baseball that way–there are a lot of games in a season, so even the winners sustain some losses.

    And speaking of endurance, you don’t want to become the kind of person who glosses over things just to get to the end of a chapter faster!

  2. freshhell permalink
    April 28, 2010 2:04 pm

    Dusty doesn’t get too upset when she doesn’t win though, obviously, she prefers winning. Red on the other hand often won’t even try something if she thinks she’s going to fail. Like brushing her teeth which she’s just recently decided to start doing.

  3. April 28, 2010 2:30 pm

    AJ has always been of the Red school of thought on that. Or at least, he won’t try things in public until he’s sure he’s got them down. He’s getting better, but I think the reason he drags his feet about chess club is that he doesn’t always win and he feels stupid when he loses.

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