Henry left for three days of Mountain School this morning. Every year, his elementary school takes the fifth grade class to the North Cascades Institute for a few days to learn about the ecosystems and cultural history of the mountains. On this day in particular, I’m glad he will be screen free. Can’t wait to hear his stories when he returns.
Tonight after dinner, while Kristine and Ruby took the recycling down to the garage, Henry told me he had something to tell me as soon as his mom and sister were safely out of earshot. When he heard the garage door close, he turned to me with a smile on his face and said, “I know that you and Mom buy all the Santa presents. I know you stuff our stockings. I know you hide the Easter eggs. I know all of it.”
I was completely blindsided. It’s August 28th. Who brings this up at this time of year? I mean, it’s not even Labor Day yet. These are the types of questions/assertions one starts to expect around Thanksgiving. Halloween at the earliest. Not in the dog days of summer! I was not prepared, damn it.
As I heard the girls coming back up the stairs, and as my son just stood there, smiling at me, all I could muster was, “Why are you talking about this right now?” I was panicked. What if this was some sort of a bluff?
Well, it wasn’t a bluff. When Ruby left the room again, I loudly started doing the dishes and beckoned Kristine to the sink.
“Henry just brought up a very unexpected topic,” I said, with the intonation of a question.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. He brought it up today after school, so I told him everything. He asked about a bunch of other stuff, too.”
And so starts 5th grade for Henry and 3rd grade for Ruby.
Six months of tournaments culminated this weekend with Henry’s participation in the 2017 Washington State Chess Championship Tournament at the Tacoma Convention Center. To qualify, Henry had to win at least 3 games in at least one qualifying tournament this year. He managed to do that in all six tournaments in which he played. He had to turn it up a notch for Tacoma, though, as every kid there had won at least as many games as he had; and most had been playing for several years. H-man took it all in stride, winning two out of his five games in the state tournament. We’re so proud of you, Henry!
“Would the parent of Henry Fry please report to the judges’ table?” That’s one of the last things you want to hear while at your son’s chess tournament; but this is the announcement that greeted me as I entered the gymnasium after getting some fresh air at Henry’s very first Chess4Life chess tournament on Saturday. “Do you know where your son is?” asked the judge when I identified myself. I had to admit that I didn’t, although I assumed he was watching one of his friend’s chess games.
The judges were trying to clear up a scoring mistake. After five games, Henry had won three. The opponent he’d beaten in his last match noticed that the standings posted on the wall indicated that Henry had lost that game. This boy wanted to make sure the judges knew that Henry actually won. I was impressed with his honesty. I was also relieved, because, with three wins, Henry would get a medal and qualify for the state chess tournament. With two, he’d get nothing.
I was still relieved as the awards ceremony started at the end of the day. Several kids received medals for three wins before the trophies for the top six finishers – with four wins each – were handed out. My sense of relief soon turned to worry as the last medal recipient was called. Henry’s name was not among them. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew exactly what was going through Henry’s mind. Uggh. Then the trophies were handed out. When they got to 3rd place, Henry’s name was called. He knew something wasn’t right as he sheepishly walked up to receive the big trophy that he didn’t deserve. I wasn’t looking forward to straightening out the mess with the judges, because I knew there was a disappointed kid somewhere in the crowd who should have recieved a trophy but didn’t.
After the ceremony, Henry and I approached the lead judge to explain that Henry shouldn’t have received that trophy. Another dad and son were standing next to us, presumably to explain the same thing. The judges quickly caught their mistake, realizing that the other boy had a record of 4-1, with Henry at 3-2. And then the realization hit the judges that this mistake had a ripple effect throughout the entire population of chess players, most of whom had already left with their hardware. All of the results, including final team standings, were probably wrong. Nobody wanted to deal with that kind of cluster.
Before much else was said, I quickly handed the 3rd place trophy to the other little boy, congratulating him and giving his medal to Henry – hoping to avoid a protracted discussion. The trophy winner started to protest, suggesting that he might not have finished that high in the standings. His dad cut him off and said, “sometimes it’s best to just say ‘thank you,’ son,” as he and I gave each other knowing glances. I grabbed Henry’s hand and headed toward the door.
The discussion during the drive home was interesting. I was thankful for the day’s life lessons for Henry: Honesty is the best policy; adults make mistakes too; and sometimes it’s best not to borrow trouble. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, if members of the Fry Lodge Faithful are looking for role models, they need look no further than the grade school chess clubs of Whatcom County.