Yesterday's life was full of nothing in the morning, a long game of Life Twist and Turns in the afternoon, a little Addams Family at night, and reading an outdated atlas with one of my favorite, favorite boys. I loved how he was able to identify just how out of date the atlas must have been to include things like the USSR and to exclude all the -stans. Never mind the half of Africa that was all confusingly different. Today we compared a current world map with the atlas from 1984 and we came up with 34 new or differently shaped countries in the past 27 years. That's pretty outrageous, especially considering that I was alive for all of those 27 years, and I knew about maybe 10 of them off the top of my head. (Germany as opposed to East/West Germany and the USSR being the major ones.) It was one of those experiences, though, that made me wish I could homeschool him, instead of him getting sent to public school: it was just such an authentic and child directed learning experience, the kind teachers are always searching for but the harder you try to manufacture it the further away it goes.
NephTwo (As I've decided to call No Longer Youngest Nephew) is such a smart kid, and he's genuinely interested in so many diverse subjects: When he was a baby it was cars, to the point where he'd point out the window and name the type of car and I'd have to say "Yes?" because I knew nothing about cars. At all. After that, we learned about dinosaurs. And not just "Oh, this is a T-Rex" kind of dinosaur learning, but "Well the Oviraptor was called ovi because he's an egg stealer and ovi means egg" and "All the ceratops named dinosaurs were herbivores which means they only ate veggies, which I don't like." When he was 2. Dinosaurs lasted for a good long time, and I had to memorize more than an entire era full of creatures that I really had no interest in.
Somewhere around the same time, he watched A Night to Remember with his Grandpa, and it lit something up in his brain. All of the sudden we had to learn about ships. About the Titanic specifically, but about any ship that ever sank. I had happened to go through a Titanic phase myself, way back when - when the original National Geographic documentary aired, my Nana taped it off the TV and we watched it over and over again that summer. I don't know why, but it sparked something in the seven-year-old me, too, so I was kind of excited when NephTwo was so interested in it.
Of course he was only 2 or 3, so we had to adapt somethings along the way. We read Robert Ballad's Discovery of the Titanic, and learned about the Knorr 's search and how Alvin and Jason Jr managed to get down there and take pictures of the wreck. We saw all the pictures of broken china and suitcases covered with algae, shoes with no matches and bathtubs encrusted with rust. We watched any version of the sinking that we could find (fast-forwarding through the little naked parts in the Winslet/DiCaprio version, of course). He managed to learn all the details, and would often play "Saptain Smith" and order everyone into our lifeboats, being a stickler and not allowing his dad on them, because he was not "a girl or a baby". He would recite the tragic tale to all of us, every day, or, if we were out and about, even to people in lines at stores.
Eventually, the Titanic wasn't enough, and we had to learn about other shipwrecks and sea disasters.
I ordered a ton of books on shipwrecks off of Amazon, and he surprised our local librarian by reciting all the facts about how the "Californian was there, but they thought the rockets were for happy reasons, and so they didn't come, and then the Carpathia showed up and fished out the people in the icy cold water" when we went searching for even more information. He knew about Titanic's twin sister, Olympic, and the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria. He knew about underwater mines and missile strikes and the dangers of drifting in the fog.
After the shipwreck stage came trains (and Thomas the Train specifically, and let me tell you I did not enjoy that nearly as much as the ships), then space (he used to build little models of the galaxy and memorize the order of the planets and how many moons they had. He was crushed when Pluto lost its planetary status), and then, eventually his interest shifted to things on our planet. The geography of the world, the history of certain places, which countries did what and whose land was in a cold area and whose land had oil and which groups of people didn't necessarily get along with each other.
The geography thing has been high on his list for a few years now, and during most of our sleepovers, he drags out the giant world map we found at Costco for $3 and and DryErase markers and redraws the boundaries of the world. Sometimes he expands the United States into a true empire, conquering Canada and absorbing Europe; other times he usurps Mother Nature and decides it will snow in the desert and freeze in the tropics. Often, he tests my knowledge of the world, making a game of matching flags to countries or having me guess the capitals of places like Djibuti and Honduras (stuff I used to know, but my brain now protests trying to remember). It's amazing to watch him interact with the world this way, and it makes both the auntie and the teacher parts of me gleeful.
Today's experiment in finding the differences between the way the world looked when that book was published and the way the world looks now was only the beginning: We wound up talking about the revolution taking place in Egypt, and the recent voting in the Sudan on divvying up their country. (I swear, knowing that he will ask these type of questions is half of the reason I pay attention to what's going on out there.) He told me that he knew more than his teacher about something we'd been discussing two weeks ago when he was here last, and how the teacher had to Google it to check if he was right. How awesome is that?
Anyways, I've been doing a lot of (probably necessary) complaining about and assessing of the current status of my life, so I thought it would do me - and my loyal readers - some good to remember that I've still got some pretty bright spots here and there.
And this boy (seen here with his super ball version of our galaxy) is definitely one of them.