A couple of weeks ago, LD#1 went to play in a chess competition in Loughborough.
Both LDs have been playing chess since they were about 5. Our county junior chess organisation sent some promotional leaflets around about some competitions they were running, and we went along and they’ve played on and off ever since. Both of them played for the county girls’ Under 11s, and then the U14 teams, although LD#2 has now finally retired, as she would rather go to dance or athletics club in her spare time.
It’s quite a tough thing, playing chess and I think the kids have to be really brave! Competitions are all day events, they have to play 6 1h games in a day! And in an average competition, LD#1 would usually win about 3 games… but it still means that 3 out of 6 times, she’d end up losing the game after a whole hour’s tough concentration.
The very first time we went along to one of the county competitions, LD#1 was 8 and it seemed that the whole place was teeming with hot housed kids from prep schools. However, the Junior Chess organisation was really encouraging even though LD didn’t do very well, and we just ended up going along to more events, and she ended up improving.
It was also really important to me that LDs had the same opportunities that it seemed the little prep school children had been given, just by virtue of going to a school you had to pay for. In those days I was only working part time and I felt all the time that there were so many things I couldn’t afford for my children, compared with what other children could have.
It’s one of those things that time has given me perspective on. By the time they get to 14, most of the little prep school kids (and LD#2!) have dispersed into hockey or music or whatever other interests their schools got them into at the age of 8. The ones that are left are the ones that have a genuine interest in and ability for the game, which tends to be a mixture of state and privately educated children.
The competition in Loughborough was LD’s first ever two day national one – this year she won the girls’ age group competition in Sussex, and then played well enough in the South of England regional final to qualify for the national.
Here are some pictures of the nice grammar school that the competition was held in:
LD#2 stayed overnight with grandparents, and that left me and LD#1 to have a nice evening in a hotel.
Day 1 was quite successful, as LD won 2 of her 3 games. (Day 2 was another story – I think she was exhausted!) Afterwards, I had a swim in the hotel pool and then we had dinner, and hot chocolate, and we talked. LD told me about how much she hated her primary school, and how shy she had been, which made me sad. She got psychologically bullied by this horrible spoilt girl for much of primary school, although I didn’t find out until right at the end of primary school. She did end up dealing with it in her own way though, which I think made her stronger, but still it’s really upsetting to know that you’ve had to send your child off somewhere they hate every day.
Yesterday, we went to the optician, and remembering how nice our dinner was, I took LD to have coffee in Waterstones afterwards. Waterstones in Lewes is lovely. You can sit in the window seat and drink coffee and eat cake, surrounded by books. I said, “Why don’t you apply for a Saturday job here? It would be amazing!” LD went all red and looked stressed and said she couldn’t do that because she would have to talk to people.
I said, “Why don’t you like talking to them? Is it because you don’t like them, or because they make you anxious?”
In some ways, LD is really brave, like playing scary chess games and dealing with bullies. But she’ll never give herself credit for anything, and she’s terrified that she won’t be good enough for other people. She’s found a way of getting round her anxiety by being very terse and intellectual with people, especially adults, wearing DMs and a lot of black and thus generally discouraging run of the mill social interaction. But she does acknowledge that her problem is going to affect her getting a job. And as a parent, I’d just really like her to be able to enjoy social interaction so that she can make the most of sixth form and University, as I was never able to.
I think there’s always been something different inside her compared to her sister, and to other kids. My child was always the one who was a bit odd, who would look away from strangers at the age of one if they noticed her, who didn’t speak in nursery school, who would get fixated about things in infant school and be upset if things didn’t arrange themselves the way she thought they should be, who couldn’t let go enough to join in with the other girls’ friendship circles in junior school (not helped by this other girl, who was deliberately excluding her.)
It’s not, I don’t think, that she is on the autistic spectrum, as she shows a very mature intellectual understanding of other people’s motivations and reactions (and of her own). She is just crippled by self consciousness and over awareness of the way she appears to others and it’s difficult to know what to do about it. I tell her – you are the most important person in your life! All those experiences are there for you to take, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks!
But nothing is stronger than her self-consciousness.