Defeating the Kobayashi Maru




GORDONVILLE – As we sat around the dinner table – you know, kind of like “The Waltons” (Sofia even insists we take turns saying grace, which is a challenge when it’s my turn because I feel I need to leave the word God out of it) – we commenced discussing this Syria situation.

It was Saturday, and my head was still spinning from Temple’s 28-6 loss/moral victory against Notre Dame (my young Owls were 30-point underdogs) and the Eagles’ inexplicable roster cuts (no Chris McCoy, really?), but CNN on in the background helped refocus the conversation.

My mother, Sofia’s Nana, seems the most obsessed about it (you know seniors, when they get stuck on something). The wife, Sofia’s Mama, seeks a solution as an intellectual challenge.

Me? I don’t see why the Eagles need six cornerbacks on the active roster when two have broken hands …

Oh wait, Syria.

Yeah, that’s a tough call.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t (and damn, don’t I enjoy the freedom to use a word like “damned”).

“Kind of reminds me of the Kobayashi Maru,” I said.

“Wait … what?” said a little voice.

Yeah, that was Sofia, already talking like Taylor Swift as an incoming missile of a first-grader.

I know, right? (Yep, she says that, too).

So I had to explain that it was not a new Japanese restaurant, which was important to clarify since her Mama has a Sushi addiction (I’ll have to save that line for a song).

It derives from the alternate universe that is Star Trek. As Trekkies know – I am a hidden Trekkie, as I’ll watch the original series for hours but not be caught dead at a convention – the Kobayaski Maru, while not a bad name for a high-end Japanese food joint, is a Starfleet test.

Cadets, as shown in the opening scene of the fine flick “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” have to find a way to survive in a simulated no-win scenario.

After the commander in training, a fine Vulcan chick (despite the ears) named Saarek, flunks – and first-time viewers are led to believe everyone is really dead on the ship – Kirk walks through a door in the mock bridge and engages Saarek in constructive criticism.

“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” he says.

Kirk, as it turns out, is the only cadet to have avoided losing.

How so?

He cheated, programming the computer ahead of time, for which he received a commendation for “original thinking.”

As much of a glass-half-empty type of a guy as I am – particularly with sports and traffic jams – I am kind of with Kirk, a role model of sorts (although Mr. Spock, with his logic, appeals the most).

Syria might be a lose-lose – as most scenarios in the arcane Arab world are (Spring or no Spring) – but the president, blessed with an IQ double that of his predecessor, will at least join Temple and find a way to beat the spread and record a moral victory.

I think Obama should wait – at least until after the Eagles open the season on Monday Night Football, Sept. 9.

The wife thinks he should put the onus on Congress a little, as it is a political wedge issue at home as much as it is a moral one in Syria.

Nana, she just holds her head, not knowing what to do.

“I would attack now,” says a little voice.

Why? We ask.

“To surprise them,” she responds.

And it’s not like she hasn’t been giving it some deep thought.

As soon as she heard about it, she said: “Another war? Not again. I don’t believe it.”

And then she broke out her map to locate Syria and study the logistics.

While she was more upset Saturday afternoon that Disney Jr. did away with her favorite game on its website, our little Hillary Clinton was refocused on world affairs come dinner time.

The question arose about whether or not Syria bordered Israel. I said it did, but Nana dared to doubt me (I guess that’s fair, considering the grades I brought home). Sofia backed her Daddy up, breaking out her trusty map (after grilling me over where I put it after tidying up the family room that often looks like Hurricane Katrina blew through and George W. Bush sent “Brownie” to deal with it).

After she put it away, the question arose as to whether Syria was also bordered by a body of water. In an instant replay, my affirmative response was not good enough. Sofia went for the map again and pointed it out.

“See, Nana, the Mediterranean Sea,” she replied.

And yes, she rattled off that word – with its 13 letters and six syllables – as if it were “gaga.”

It’s been that kind of summer with Sofia.

For me, she has found a way to help me win the no-win scenario.

And I will be so eternally grateful that I vow to spoil her rotten forever.

I know I was already doing that, but you get the point.

That car at 16 is looking good, even if she isn’t allowed to drive it until she is 30.

Meanwhile, at 6, she continues to do and say amazing things – like the morning she got up first (a true rarity, as she is a night owl like her Daddy) and sat quietly under a hallway light and made a list of all the states and their capitals.

Or like the time she got her dolls ready for a tea party for hours, including writing up invitations (she tried to make the cats sit still for the party but it didn’t work).

Or the time I came home late from the recording studio and she scurried out into the hall to issue a whispered warning: “Mommy’s not happy with you.”

It’s terrific that Sofia is smart, but even better that she has – at least so far – a desire to learn.

She had a summer reading list knocked out by June, and her math workbook nailed by July. She has a first-grade primer she does just for fun. Ditto for drawing and crafts.

She also throws the cutest tantrums when she doesn’t get her way, or when she is misunderstood or rushed, and it’s hard to get her off the computer and/or iPad.

She can be bad.

But it’s all good.

She is better than any mind-numbing tranquilizer. It has been the best, most carefree summer of my “adult” life.

We have gone on multi-night stays in Hershey and the Eastern Shore of Maryland (she was a little bored at Annapolis, but was a good sport for my sake). She also took day trips to Dutch Wonderland and Crystal Cave.

She got a new kitten, Hershey, giving us a feline hat trick (even though Sofia is a little allergic).

In between, I have been her chauffeur for all kinds of stuff – piano lessons, swimming lessons, music camp and gymnastics.

But it’s not just about where she has gone and what she has done. It has been a blessing – there I said it – to be in the here and now with her, without having to worry about rushing off to work all the time and coming home after she is already asleep.

There have been glimpses into the future, too. In tears, she confessed that some of the girls in her dance class this past year could do cartwheels and that the teacher praised them – and one specifically – for being graceful.

You could see the betrayal in her face when Nana let it slip, after pinky-swearing not to tell, which kid from Kindergarten Sofia considered her boyfriend (this happened while Sofia was pretending to be at a café in France and making Nana be the waitress).

I played dumb, telling Sofia I didn’t hear what Nana said because my hearing aid wasn’t in, but I don’t think she bought it.

Being able to share this extended quality time with her – negotiating like union-versus-management to get her to practice the piano and watching “The Family Guy” from 11 to midnight (although she thought it was a good idea to put on Al-Jazeera to get “their point of view” Saturday night) – has taken the losing hand I was dealt by being left jobless and turned it into into a royal flush.

They say that it is he who laughs last, laughs the loudest.

I have had some loud laughs this summer, so I guess I’m laughing last.

And it’s all because of Sofia and her ability to turn my my Kobayashi Maru into a win — without even cheating.

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