Swimming in the Pool of 12

For almost three weeks in July, I hosted two students from China, both girls, one 12, the other almost 12.

There were lovely moments and moments when buttons I’d forgotten I had were being pushed.

However, the main thing I learned was that the biggest difference between me and the two girls was not language or culture. It was age.

Like American pre-teens I know, the girls were one with their smart phones and far more skilled at using them than I am. They would have long, spirited, video conversations with kids in their study program here, and with family and friends in China, using my Wi-Fi connection. It was a bit spooky when they would give people on the other side of the world virtual tours of my house. I never knew when I was on camera, although I think mostly I wasn’t because my cats are far more photogenic.

Also, like American pre-teens I know, the girls were not interested in taiji. I took them to two of the classes I teach at my church. The first time they were game enough to follow through the Yang 108 form with us; the second time they opted to connect with the church’s Wi-Fi and huddle over their phones. They said taiji is “too slow.”

Sigh. It had been my fantasy that two Chinese girls would come to America, become turned on to taiji and then study it when they went home.

Oh, well. I did succeed in turning them on to Marie Callender’s frozen dinners. This was inadvertent. I don’t eat them, but I saw some on sale a couple of weeks before the girls came. They looked pretty healthy, and I thought, “Here’s an American thing I can introduce them to.”

The girls loved them, so with considerable relief, I bought more; I’m not much of a cook and had worried about what on earth I would feed them for three weeks. One of the girls even wanted to take one home to her mother. Not just the box, but a dinner. She was disappointed when I said it would thaw and spoil before her mother could microwave it.

Actually, there weren’t many other things that the girls didn’t have in China. They did like shopping, because they could buy things cheaper here—even things made in China.

At the end of their stay, I asked the girls what they had liked doing the most. One of the girls answered “swimming”—specifically, swimming in the pool in the community where I live, which she did quite well and clearly did often in China.

But swimming? It seemed odd that swimming would be the highlight of a trip half way around to world to Seattle—until a tickle in my brain awoke a memory.

I consulted with my sister and, sure enough, it was the summer I was 12 that my parents drove us from Maryland to California to visit my father’s half-sister in LA.

I vaguely recall being in my aunt’s small, dark house—but I very vividly recall sitting in the back seat of the car, studying the AAA accommodations book with my sister to decide which motel we would ask to stay at that night—and if the motel didn’t have a swimming pool, forget it! I even remember being in one of the pools fairly late in the evening; it was spacious, clear and magical, and we had it to ourselves.

I also remember pulling into the parking lot at the rim of the Grand Canyon on our trip home. There were Really Cute Boys in the car we parked next to, so when my father told my sister and me to put on our recently acquired glasses so that we could actually see the Grand Canyon, I refused. He was right, of course, because everything about the Grand Canyon is far away from the rim—but he just didn’t get that there were Really Cute Boys in the car next to ours.

I don’t remember exactly how this little drama played out, but I do know that I did not get out of the car, and I did not see the Grand Canyon—not that I’d been that keen on seeing it in the first place.

But, hey, I was 12….

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