Suzanne Tobias

December 5, 2013

Suzanne Perez Tobias: Mastering chess latest sign kids conquering knowledge gap

Jack has been whupping me in chess lately.

Jack has been whupping me in chess lately.

It’s gotten to where, rather than ask me if I want to play, he will point toward the board – a wizard chess replica at perpetual ready in a room near our kitchen, much the way the gigantic version loomed in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – then motion toward me, lift his chin and say, “You ready to lose?”

Well all right, I usually respond. Since you asked so nicely.

I’ll move a pawn, and he’ll move a pawn. I’ll move another pawn, and Jack will move a knight. It continues that way for some time – pawn, knight, bishop, pawn, pawn, rook – until somehow, without warning, he captures my queen and, a few stealthy moves later, traps my king.


I’d call it humiliating, but it’s gotten beyond that. I laugh and throw up my arms and demand a rematch, only to lose again.

It’s bizarre and unnerving and also strangely comforting when you realize your children know more than you. About some things, anyway.

It happens gradually – a chess game here, a much-improved pasta recipe there. Your daughter teaches you how Skype works. Your son explains the exterior angle theorem.

Then suddenly you’re sitting in your brother’s living room in Colorado, digesting turkey and sweet potato casserole while the family plays CatchPhrase, and your son says, “(Blank) Lithuanian Commonwealth!” and your 23-year-old nephew answers, “Polish!” and you don’t even know what to say.

“(Blank) Lithuanian Commonwealth?” That’s the clue Jack gives when the word “polish” appears on the CatchPhrase screen?

I would have said something like, “You put this on your nails when you want them to look pretty and colorful.”

I spent much of the recent holiday weekend marveling at how quickly babies become toddlers, toddlers become teenagers, and teens become mature, responsible, charming young adults who sip wine, follow politics and gripe about the price of gas. And they actually teach you stuff.

We gathered at my older brother’s house, where his four children and my two took over the big table and relegated the adults to a card table alongside. (But that’s OK. We kept the wine.)

Our first night in Colorado, the three girls stayed up talking about the ethics of genetic engineering.

During Thanksgiving preparations, my niece Melissa extolled the virtues of organic, grain-fed, cage-free eggs and explained how lavender oil can help heal everything from minor burns to hay fever.

My niece Allison taught me a great joke: What to you get when you cross a brown cow with a brown chicken? Brown-chicka-brown-cow! (Bow-chicka-wow-wow Get it? It cracked me up for several minutes.)

When we teamed up for Trivial Pursuit, I was paired with my nephew Gregory. I’d swear that just a few years ago, he was wearing a tiny cape, brandishing a pretend sword, hanging from the end of a shopping cart and shouting “Friend or foe?!” to grocery store passers-by. Now everyone calls him Greg, and he scored us a slice of Trivial Pursuit pie by knowing that semaphore was a system of sending messages using flags.

Then again, I knew that “Strangers in the Night” was the first Frank Sinatra song to feature his signature “Dooby dooby doo.” And if I didn’t feel old before, I did after getting that question right.

My parents often joked that “it must be nice to know everything,” referring no doubt to the confidence (bordering on arrogance) with which I once answered questions or offered suggestions. I still have some tiny areas of expertise, such as grammar, Madonna songs and dog breeds. I also can estimate, with scary accuracy, which Tupperware container will best fit the leftovers. I’m basically a Tupperware savant.

But just as my parents predicted, each passing year illustrates how much our children are learning and how little we parents truly know. That knowledge gap closes, like a bishop and rook inching up on your king.

It doesn’t bother me. But I demand a rematch.

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