You learned to climb the tree outside when you were just 4. The older children gave you ideas and you were determined to do it. The footholds they used were a little high for you, so I thought you’d have a few goes and get fed up. But no. My intrepid little adventurer found a way all of her own.
I had no idea how you did it at first. One minute you were at the bottom; the next, you were half way up the trunk grinning at me in fearless triumph. I think part of your success was that you had no fear of failure: no fear of falling. And there, in that moment, I had no idea whether I wanted to grab you down and hold you tight (and perhaps even tie you down to something heavy and close to the ground) or to be plain proud of your tenacity, determination and athleticism.
I chose to let you climb.
I watched from below, ready to catch you, or break your fall if needs be. Or help you down. But it wasn’t necessary. You were in control. You climbed into the first branches, then stopped. You didn’t push yourself past the point of feeling safe, and you didn’t need me. You were probably only a metre or so off the ground, but it was terrifically heart-stopping to watch you take steps into the freedom of that tree: slightly out of my reach and slightly out of your depth.
I tracked your climb down: you had developed a technique all of your own even on that first climb. Your little legs, too short to reach the bumps and branches used by the bigger kids, dangled loosely below you, searching for a place to land. You held onto the trunk and slid down on your tummy like a little treetop fire-fighter. Then, once you had reached the bottom, up you went again. Pulling yourself up, bravely scaling the rough bark of the trunk inch by inch, gripping the tree’s tiniest bumps with the sides of your shoes until you had a bigger hold to pull yourself up by. Each time you reached the top and shouted to tell me you were there. Excited, thrilled, free.
I had no idea how you had managed it; I am sure that if I had been faced with a similar, proportionate obstacle I wouldn’t have done even half as well. I’m not even sure how we can be from the same gene pool considering my innate lack of athletic ability; except I obviously know we are.
It seems like seconds ago I carried you within me; I sometimes still think I feel the flutter of your kicks and nudges. But it is in my head – and you, well, you were half way up a tree.
You were the youngest and the littlest. But you climbed it faster than those bigger and stronger than you. And when one of the boys remarked that you couldn’t climb because ‘she’s a girl’, you didn’t even hear; you were already so far above him you didn’t hear his words. And I was proud. Proud of how brave, determined and powerful you were, my tiny little one.
That summer you got more and more confident. You climbed higher and faster, but there were times you got scared. There were times I had to help you down, holding your hand or letting you lean on me. There was also the occasion your pants got caught on the branch as I lifted you down, so that you ended up dangling upside-down and half-dressed over my shoulder, screaming with laughter. It was all part of that first little adventure.
And while I hope with every ounce of my being that you don’t develop a taste for extreme sports as you grow – I’m not sure my nerves could take it – I am so excited to watch you climb, my amazing little girl.