Yesterday afternoon I sat relaxing in a speedboat watching someone try waterskiing for the first time. Her name was Sandra, and waterskiing wasn't her only adventure: She had flown here from Paris last week, chaperoning ten French teenage exchange students on a three-week jaunt.
Marine, one of the students, is staying with my daughter and granddaughter. Sandra speaks perfect, almost unaccented English, but Marine is still learning. My daughter, granddaughter, and I are no help whatsoever. In typical American fashion, we speak only English—and not always perfectly.
I could never have been an exchange student. I would have loved to have gone to Europe, but only with my parents and at least two of my best friends. And maybe my French-speaking grandmother. Even recently, my idea of a big adventure was my weekend at Yale: three days in another state with 250 people I didn't know, all of whom spoke English.
I look at Marine and Sandra and wonder who is braver—the 16-year-old or the 20-something responsible for ten 16-year-olds?
Sandra's first attempt to get up on water skis ended within seconds. I learned to waterski in my twenties, too. It took me all afternoon. Poor Joe—over and over again he'd hit the throttle, and over and over again I'd bomb out. He suggested we go home and try another time. But I refused to leave the lake until I succeeded. It was embarrassing . . . the sun low in the sky, strangers on the shore (with thick New York accents) yelled, "You can do it, kid!!" Kid eventually did it.
Now Sandra is about to try for the second time. Chuck reminds her that the most important thing is not to bend your elbows, and Liz and I echo him: "Don't bend your elbows!" I wish I'd had this Greek chorus—indeed, this good teacher—30-odd years ago, when I was learning.
Liz and Marine are constantly firing digital cameras on either side of me. I feel as though I somehow got stuck in the middle of the paparazzi. "Okay!" Sandra calls from the water, her voice only somewhat tentative. Chuck hits the throttle, the boat surges forward—and Sandra is UP! I give her the most American of cheers: You go, girl!!