"Dad, I want to play chess."
I shuddered. Playing games with preschoolers is always torture. But at least most kiddie games are simple, so it doesn't take long to explain what to do. Then you just pretend you're interested, when in fact you're bored out of your mind. Kind of like being in a staff meeting at the office.
"BabyGirl, that's a grown-up game," I said.
Katya sat down and opened the box. "Let's play," she said. "Sit down now."
"Maybe we should play puzzles."
"No. I want to play chess. I want to play Katya chess."
"What's Katya chess?"
"It's my chess."
I sat down and opened the box. The quickest way out of this was just to play. I put the board on the floor and started to put my pieces in place. I chose black.
"Katya, put your pieces on your side of the board exactly the way I'm doing it," I told her. "The white ones. Ok?"
Katya looked at her pieces. She already knew what some of them were, though she still called the knights horsies. Then she picked up her queen.
"She goes here," she said, putting her queen in the middle of the board.
"But that's your queen," I said. "She's supposed to go in the back." I pointed to the correct position.
"Because that's where she goes."
"No. She's a queen so she should be in the front." Katya put the rest of her pieces on the board. None of them were in the right position. I considered explaining where they should go, but realized it would take longer than the game would.
"OK, move a piece."
Katya picked up a knight. It flew over the board, and knocked over one of my rooks.
"You can't do that," I said. "It has to move two squares forward, and then one square sideways." Katya knocked over another piece, a bishop. Then she took both pieces and put them in the box.
She was definitely not playing by the rules. She didn't even want to know what the rules were. So I took a pawn and captured her queen. Just like that.
"You can't do that," she said.
"Yes I can. You got two of my pieces on your turn."
"The queen and king are supposed to kiss first." She took her queen and king, held them together and made kissy sounds. Then she put them both in the box.
"You just lost," I said. "That was your king."
"No I didn't. I have lots of guys left."
I couldn't argue with that. We played on.
The game evolved faster than a rogue virus. Soon we gave up the board and just played inside the box. A little later, you could even capture your own pieces. That sped things up, so I didn't protest.
I'm not sure who won the first game. Or the second, or third. Or any game of Katya chess. But it didn't really matter. Katya chess turned out to be a great mind-opener. Everything became possible. You could forget about history, tradition, and rules.
Eventually it was was bedtime, so I put her to sleep. Enough of Katya chess, I thought. I turned on my laptop and escaped into Facebook.
The next evening, I came home from work. I took off my coat, threw it on a chair, and lay down on the couch. I rested my head on the armrest, and shut my eyes. For a moment, everything went black and I felt a little dizzy. Then I heard Katya. She was coloring. I could hear the sound of crayons on paper. She was so absorbed in her work that she hadn't even noticed that I was home.
I sat up and looked at her. I glanced at my laptop.
"Katya," I said. "I want to play chess."