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Just Call Me Aunt Yoda

I have a young nephew. He's super bright, very articulate, 10 years old and ready to rule the world. Succeeding in school comes easily for him and he enjoys demonstrating his prowess in his knowledge - his version of what he believes to be a mastery of subjects. I don't see him very often and when I recently did, it was the longest time I've spent with him - over dinner, with his grandparents, and my own daughter, 10 years older than he.


He came to the table ready to play - and when I say play - I mean win - a game of his own design. Not complicated...but definitely a bit weighted toward someone in school - who's running through these kinds of facts on a much more regular basis. His grandparents probably haven't thought much about the subject matter in great detail in decades, and I have no idea how rigorous his parents' knowledge is on the subject - but I remember, when I had a kid that age who's that bright (and I had two) often I was mentally exhausted and just kinda sorta let them run with it. To an extent. I was not the parent who let my kids win all the time. I don't think they are either, but it's a lot easier to sometimes just go there. And don't grandparents always let them? Isn't that some unwritten rule since the dawn of time (okay, maybe like since the 1950s)?


The topic? Geography. Unbeknownst to him - my favorite category in Trivial Pursuit™ - that blue wedge always won handily. I have countless hours poured into atlases - and when Google Earth™ became a thing - I lost much, much time spinning myself around the globe. I still do.


My daughter, also a solid geographic performer, is a current college student - so just a bit more tuned in than post-study adults with all things academic. She always did well on geography tests - even though she relies heavily on GPS™ to get herself anywhere.


My nephew had no idea what he was up against.


Not only was the subject stacked in our favor, my kids grew up with me constantly drilling them with all sorts of trivia. Nary a road trip went by without some kind of knowledge dive - and often, it was geography. So my girl was primed for this type of challenge with at least an additional decade of rigor in her back pocket.


I asked if there were any rules or structure. He looked at me quizzically, then shook his head. I asked how broad he was thinking - he replied with countries. I asked if we needed to connect the prior answer to our answer - whether by location or in a more word-smithing manner, by spelling (the country must start with the same letter that ended the one prior, for example). He squinched his face up a bit, waved his hand and said, "no, no, no - just name a country. If it gets to your turn and you can't, you're out." I mentioned that this could on a while and he said, "what do you mean?" - that was my first clue, the first chink in his armor.


I said, "Well, there are at least 185 recognized countries, so..."


"That's not true!" he said.


"Check your watch!" my father (his grandfather) threw out there.


My nephew quickly called upon Siri, and she offered up that there are 195. His eyes popped open. I nodded quietly. The challenge was on.


He started with the U.S. - which I argued shouldn't even be allowed - but I gave it to him. I'm not that cold. I kept it simple to start. Five of us were playing, and we all cranked through what is likely the most common list of countries to think of for most people residing in America and being in elementary school - Canada, Mexico, Japan, France, England and the like. About three rounds in I threw in Bhutan. There was a pause...and we continued.


I added Lichtenstein, my daughter mentioned Lesotho - not unknown countries, but not at the tip of most people's tongue. My nephew brought up Domenica and the Dominican Republic - I was glad to see him branching out, and that he knew those were two separate places. My parents got a little stuck - and I provided clues and cues for them - for me, these kinds of games are about spending the time together and finding laughter - and that we did - especially with my creative hints for places like Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. We also had to check a few times, as there have been so many changes over the years, and countries that were in play when they were in school, and even when I was, no longer exist.


I offered up Côte D'Ivoire and things got a little tense. My daughter didn't miss a beat with Zimbabwe. She and I both steered away from the more obvious choices that were left as we had no idea what he really knew. He went southeast Asia, and then South America - and so I followed and went with Suriname. He rolled his eyes and said very confidently, "That's NOT a country." I said, "Ohhh, indeed it is!" and he shook his head. I looked to my daughter and asked her, "What is it I've always said?" She obligingly uttered, "She doesn't say what she doesn't know..." and I jumped on to her words with, "and if I don't know, I won't say it - or I'll tell you I don't." and I leaned in toward him for emphasis.


"Check your watch!" my dad suggested.


I'm not sure if my nephew's been bested at this before. He didn't quite know what to do. To his credit, when Siri confirmed it, after a bit of repose, he sighed, acknowledged it and insisted the game continue...and so on it did. I was proud of him.


Our food came and the game sort of naturally fell apart as we started to explore other topics of conversation. Though before we fully left the game I said to him, after another moment of frustration when he didn't recognize another couple of other countries like Montenegro, and Tajikistan, "it's hard to get better unless you play against someone who is." I did follow it up with, "and when I mean 'better', I mean more knowledgeable in a subject than you." I didn't need him going home and telling his parents that I said I was better than him, nor implied that I was better than they. Great aunt, right?


We laughed a lot more, we all enjoyed our meal, it was all around great late afternoon. Later that evening, I told him about some resources for him to use - some simple games he can access online that will expand his world, literally and figuratively in this case. He nodded and thanked me. I told him I was impressed by his command of geography and that I hope the next time I see him, that we can have a rematch, and that he will beat me. He nodded again, gave me a high five and a hug and it was time to go.


I expect to and look forward to being bested.






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