It’s Sunday noon. It drizzled yesterday morning, then the temperature dropped. The thousand foot long ice patches on Stratton mountain ski trails glisten harshly and brightly in the sun.
I am watching my ski students with pride. By the end of the second day, the kids are smoothly sliding down a black diamond slope with “I-don’t-give-a-crap” attitude. The conditions, challenging even for Vermont, don’t bother them. The kids have learned how to handle ice; they love the speed.
They are siblings – a 12 year old girl and a 14 year old boy. Their dad trained them well on multi-day kayaking trips in Canada and Alaska. They are motivated, determined and easy to coach.
The kids live together, read the same books, go to the same school, solve the same math and physics problems (they are Russian), skate, ride horses and beat their friends in tae kwon do sessions.
They are so different; they could belong to separate species.
The boy could teach a bullet how to fly in a straight line. Coaching him is an exercise in linear dynamics. He gets something right, and I praise him. He screws up, and I explain what to correct. The boy fixes his mistakes. We banter as we ski. He likes me and he wants to impress me. He brags about building robots.
The boy improves. In an hour, his attention starts waning. I show him how to spin on the snow and ski backward. He goes for it like a 14-year-old boy should. There is some fear and frustration involved. He overcomes it and he is happy. Welcome to primitive life forms. One thought at a time.
The girl. Oh, the girl. Girls. I don’t even know where to start. She is as athletically gifted as the boy. She seems to like me and she trusts me as an instructor. She enjoys skiing and she wants to improve.
The complexity of her thinking exceeds that of a 1000 node computer cluster. At any point, she has at least ten processes happening inside her brain, all oblique and unrelated to each other; yet they all aim to achieve one mysterious objective.
She judges and manipulates me. She wails, “Why do I always fail everything?!” with a sincere and almost heart-rending passion. Meanwhile, she keeps looking at me from under her eyelashes, analyzing and gauging my reaction. She needs constant approval. She can only handle a very carefully and lightly meted constructive criticism generously flavored with encouragement.
The girl demands attention. She beseeches, cajoles, gauges, flirts, complains and looks at me admiringly at the same time. She tries to set her dad, me, and her brother against each other. Just a little bit. Just for training.
The kids like each other, albeit with some reservations. Every once in a while, the boy exasperatedly rolls his eyes, “Girls!” The girl looks at her brother with maternal affection but a bit pityingly, as if he is a sweet but dumb puppy who just peed in the middle of a living room. Meanwhile, she talks to me as one adult to another.
Simultaneously , she fully concentrates on skiing. She listens to me carefully; she feels her body, the snow, and the skis; she improves fast. Her brother is two years older, but she matches him in technique and speed. She can maintain concentration better than him and she doesn’t get tired.
She glows when I praise her. Immediately afterwards, she is feeling insecure again.
If she sees me, she complains that she is afraid even when she is not. If she gets scared when she doesn’t see me, she fights her fear successfully. She demands attention. She gets jealous when I spend an inappropriate amount of time with her dad or her brother. She is also demanding of her dad’s attention.
She is a 12 year old girl.
When I was fifteen, I thought that women were like men with boobs.
When I was twenty five, I could not understand women, at all.
Now, that I am forty, I understand a little better what women do. I still don’t have a faintest idea why they do it.