Location: Reno, Nevada
Hannah and I just spent five days in Reno, Nevada competing in the National Scrabble Championship. According to my nametag, which indicates the number of national championships I have played in addition to my player number and hometown, this was my twelfth NSC. I had thought about missing it this year, since Reno is not at the top of my list of vacation spots and it is both financially and logistically challenging to get there. But Hannah was eager to keep our streak alive and I am so glad she talked me into it.
Neither of us ended in the money, which was particularly disappointing for Hannah since she actually had a shot at it and it came down to her final three games. I was playing in Division 2, one above hers, where the players do things like study and whip out words like zaidehs and wysiwyg. There were some games where I felt ridiculously outranked, especially when the tile gods did not understand that I needed all the help I could get, but there were others where things came together beautifully and I thought, “I do belong here. I doknow how to play this game.” All games – even the one huge loss I had where my spread was almost bigger than my actual score – were fun. I love the nervous anticipation that accompanies each trip to the challenge computer, the relief of finding that your opponent did not block your great play, or the satisfaction of finding an obscure word or tricky spot on the board, when your word knowledge and your rack coalesce into a eureka moment that may be short-lived and may not win you the game, but is exciting nonetheless.
But here is the thing – Scrabble is only a small part of what I love about going to Scrabble tournaments. I loved carving out this special time with Hannah and getting to catch up over meals, long walks, and hanging out in our hotel room at night. That kind of quality time is hard to come by these days and I value it even more now that the kids are out of the house. I also love seeing our friends, some of whom we only see at the national tournament each year. This year, we got to spend some time and share some meals with folks whom we really enjoyed getting to know better, and none of whom we would have met but for Scrabble. It is also fun having friends in common with your kids, people whom we met together and are not my friends or Hannah’s friends but our friends.
And perhaps what I loved most of all at this year’s championship was getting to see Hannah in her element. Whether it was cohosting the nightly broadcast about the tournament or regaling folks with stories about all she is doing in the Big Apple or triumphing at the board (amassing the best one-day record of anyone in her division), Hannah made me so proud. On our last day, we had a good laugh when we discovered that her picture on cross-tables (the website that lists Scrabble tournaments, statistics and players) is the one that was taken at one of her first tournaments. I snapped the picture above because I love the contrast of adorable Hannah and adult Hannah…both freckled, thanks to the Nevada sun! But I also love the similarities, the thread that ties all those freckles together. Scrabble has been a constant over all these years, as has our mutual love of babies and dogs (both on full display during our time together in Reno, when we would often cross the street to exclaim over both) and our shared joy in spending time with fellow word geeks and with each other.
Eliza and I have a road trip in our immediate future (and a Scrabble tournament before she leaves for Ireland) and Noah has promised me that the two of us will go on a cooking excursion at some point. Lucky me. I love having shared passions with my kids and it is great to be able to connect with them in a context other than mother and child. But what I appreciate more than the shared pursuits and interests is the opportunity these things provide to be together. I am so grateful that my kids have matured into people whom I genuinely enjoy and with whom I am eager to carve out time together. We have so many fun stories about all of the Scrabble tournaments we have competed in over the years and all of the decidedly interesting (somewhat inadvertently so) people we have met in the Scrabble community, but the best story of all is the one that continues to unfold. Here’s to shared passions and travels and time together… and to spouses who only grumble a little bit about the time it takes away from being with them!