I have an intrepid niece. You have to see it to believe it, but I can give you an idea of what that looks like from a few memories of this summer.
For example, have you ever heard a three-year-old say, “Gwamma, can I have a peach?” I heard Danielle say this too many times to count when my brother and his wife brought her from Maine to South Carolina. Of course, my mom had hauled home a carload of peaches from Fishers Orchard as a treat for them, but it’s still surprising to see such a miniature person approach her in the middle of the afternoon and matter-of-factly request a peach.
Once Danielle tried this novelty, peaches became her obsession. She could have played with toys in the basement like any good three-year-old, but the trays of ripening peaches were too beautiful for her to resist. They were always in the forefront of her mind. Our after-dinner conversations were repeatedly interrupted by sucking and smacking. Dani, with her face in half a peach, eyes glazed over with pleasure, ignored our laughter.
Her capacity for food was established long ago. She was raised by two culinary graduates, after all, but that simply meant that it was broccoli and beans she was chowing down on with toothless gums at nine months old. At one, her favorite pastime was chewing straight through an apple, and her favorite game was finding Alpine strawberries in the yard. It was only a few weeks ago when I was walking with her in my brother’s ever-expanding garden that she put me to shame by strolling past the tomatoes, picking a couple of nice yellow ones, biting deep into one, and holding the other out to me. Then, for a midmorning snack, she pulled up a carrot, washed it off at the hose, and walked around the yard solemnly crunching. Yet despite this she is still in the seventh percentile for size!
Imagine this feather-light child charging down a stretch of Hilton Head beach toward the Atlantic Ocean a few days later. Dwarfed by it but never daunted, Danielle was not content to stay in the tide pools as my siblings and I had at her age. No, she had to be on the “buggie board,” with waves slapping her in the face, holding on for dear life as her daddy took her out deeper and deeper. One afternoon we headed onto the beach as a storm was coming in. Not a soul was on the windswept sand, but Dani and her parents jumped and laughed in the breakers as clouds piled up overhead. Once off the beach, she didn’t want to stop swimming. In the pool, it took her one week to go from holding on to the steps to desperately doggy paddling (though she gulped water when she should have gulped air).
Soon after she and her parents returned to Maine, Danielle turned four. She received a tiny bicycle—a real one, with pedals. Having scooted around on a balance bike for months, she hopped on and was soon careening around the neighborhood. I haven’t seen her fall yet, but if she does, she will inevitably jump up and try to act like nothing happened. Because my niece, though she loves being the center of attention, doesn’t want anyone to think she’s weak. When she slammed a cupboard door on her hand, Dani only glanced at me, then crawled onto the couch and disappeared under the pillows until she figured I had forgotten about it. Then we played kitchen like nothing had ever happened.
Dani’s only four, but she can eat anything. She can swim like a fish. She can ride a big-kid bike at top speed. She can shake off pain.
I think she thinks she can do anything. Perhaps she can.