In My Ohio

​On Isabelle's Seven Steps Before Flight

Darren C. Demaree
​The diving board has become a holy place for my five-year-old daughter, Isabelle. She treads the dimpled, green surface of that bouncy plank the way Bob Feller used to work the mound. She’s like the world’s most aggressive ballerina up there. She starts and ends on her toes, but every step in between is forceful, driving, and with great purpose.
The process begins when she is still in her street clothes. She has already packed her owl backup for the day. She jumps out of the car, throws her backpack on, and leads the way to the pool. She gets to the dressing room a good minute before the rest of us make it out of the parking lot.
By the time my wife makes it in there she already has her swimsuit on, her swim shirt on, and she is waiting for her sunscreen. When she emerges from the dressing room she has her hair pulled back into pigtails, and her goggles with the frogeyes have been affixed to the top of her head. I ask her if she wants to play for a while in the kiddy pool with her little brother, and if she does hear those words they are buried in her march towards the board.
Just in case she maybe, might need her father I jump in the pool and swim to the deep end where the she has already begun to mount the ladder. When I reach the spot where I can catch her if she needs me to, she is already waving me out of her way.
There are a lot small moments in parenting that imply that maybe your children don’t quite need you the way they used to, but when my daughter is about to leap into the deep end of the pool, she literally says, “Dad, move. I don’t need you there to catch me.” After a deep sigh, I take my place by the side of the pool, and embrace my role as audience member.
A clear swath of blue in front of her, Isabelle rolls her shoulders, balls her fists, and runs on the dry board (we are the first ones there, of course). Step one is fast. Steps two and three are faster. By step four the look on her face changes, and the level of her forehead dips downs the same way an elegant bull might in the ring. Step five looks like she might already have taken off. Step six is a slight flex of the hamstring. Step seven reaches the end of the solid bend, and she is no longer bound by fear or logic. She flies over the water. She lands four feet past where I was ready to catch her.
My daughter is a lovely girl, and that’s nice. She is a well-mannered, good-intentioned, intelligent little kid, and that’s important to me. What astounds me is the strength and fearlessness she has already displayed. Like her mother, like her grandmothers, like her aunts, she harbors an unseen pulse of energy that propels her forward. All of that emerges when she knows that she is going to get a chance to spend some time up on that diving board.