Irreverent Mom

Fun and Games


Grandma got my 8-year-old daughter Violet a checkerboard for Christmas. She was giddy the first time we got it out, enthusiastic right up until the point when I jumped one of her pieces and removed it from the board. Her face fell and she begged to undo her previous move. Since it was our first game, I let her, then took it easy for a few turns. After leaving a few of my pieces where they could be jumped, I watched Violet’s confidence and understanding of the game grow.

Within 20 minutes Violet trapped my final kings in a surprise attack and won. Then she did it again. And again. The kid is clever.

When Violet wins, her joy is palpable.

But when I dare jump one of her pieces, there’s a scowl and a groan. I noticed her cheeks turning red after I jumped one of the three kings she had left on the board. Then it was four kings against two, with me in the lead.

“You OK?”

“I’m fine,” Violet mumbled, more growl than words.

A quiet tear rolled down her fiery cheek. “Wanna take a break?

“No!” She glared at the floor. “Just go.”

Fast forward five minutes and Violet’s sobbing and begging for a rematch while her dad’s calling out that it’s bedtime. They argue and I wish I hadn’t pulled out the game at all.

“You can’t cry every time you lose a game,” Dad says, not unkindly, but not helpful in the moment either. “Would you cry like this on a playdate with Ella if she won?”

“I’m not crying!” Violet shouts while crying.

As she storms down the stairs I think back to our mid-pandemic outdoor preschool days when Ella won every running race and Violet developed a habit of sprinting into the woods sobbing with every loss. She usually came in second place while Amelia, not far behind, would gleefully jump up and down at the finish line unfazed, just happy to run and play outside with her friends.

Violet’s dad and I each sigh before heading downstairs for post-check- ers-meltdown bedtime. She’s not crying anymore but there’s a pillow over her face and she refuses to come out.

“Buddy, it’s OK to feel upset but Dad’s right — it’s important to work on your calm-down strategies, like breathing and the finger counting thing you learned at school.”

“It’s called ‘smell the flowers, blow out the candle,’ ” Violet grumbles from beneath the pillow, naming but refusing to do the thing.

Bedtime books don’t go well. When Dad leaves the room I try again: “You know, it’s OK to have strong feelings.”

“I don’t.”

“I have strong feelings,” I said. “I’m just older so I’ve worked longer on handling them.”

Or maybe I’ve just gotten good at hiding them.

“I don’t have strong feelings. I’m like Dad.”

Oh boy.

“Dad has big feelings too. He just doesn’t show them the same way.”


“Having strong feelings isn’t a bad thing; we just need to work on calming down rather than ending up so mad, OK?” I try to take Violet’s hand but she pulls it away, then grabs a small sketchpad and starts drawing.

Stifling the urge to look at the page, I take a deep breath and sit in the silence. A minute or so later Violet says, “I’m mad at myself.”


I think back to myself at 15 years old. Sophomore year I decided I was going to become perfect. After ghosting my troublemaker friends and quitting minor teenage vices, I spent hours at the library most evenings, counted calories obsessively, argued shamelessly with any teacher who docked me even a single point on a test, got straight As and won nearly every track race I ran.

Until State.

There’s a photo of my 4-by-400m relay team on the podium at the State Championships in Spokane wearing 6th place medals. Most of the girls are smiling. My face is red, scowling, and dripping with tears.

I was so mad at myself.

“Violet, you’re in the perfectionist trap.”

She’s quiet. We’ve talked about this before.

Then in barely a whisper, she asks, “Tic-tac-toe?” and hands me her sketchpad. She wins. Then I win. Then she wins again. There are no more tears, not that night anyway.

As I leave her room, I worry I’m not doing this right.

The door’s almost closed when I hear, “Mom.”


“Checkers rematch tomorrow?”

I go back in and reach for a hug. Violet hugs me back and I’m mostly telling the truth when I say, “I can hardly wait.”

Krisa Bruemmer is an award-winning writer. She lives in Vaughn.