Little nervous hands tug at the ruffles of a pink swimsuit as timid feet step onto the rough, wet surface and begin the long journey to the end of the diving board. Ominous shrieks and splashes echo around her as the cold air hits her skin, and she stops in her tracks. The edge is just five feet away.
“C’mon, Sarah-sweetie!” she hears her father call, his calm voice urging her forward and rising above the noise that rings in her ears. “You can do it! Just a few more steps and then you’ll see me.”
The little girl whimpers and wraps miserable arms around her shivering self. Her legs refuse to move.
“Sarah, I can’t see you properly right there. You have to come closer.”
She takes a tiny step forward.
“That’s it, just take baby steps. You’re getting there.”
After what seems to be hours later, she finds herself perched on the end of the diving board with her toes curled around the edge. Her father treads the water below and flashes a reassuring grin, reaching his arms up to her…but she looks down and sees the drop. Suddenly the board seems a million miles high above the swimming pool and much too wobbly. The water looks so deep and dark. The space between her and her daddy is terrifying.
“I'm ready to catch you, sweetie! Ready? One, two, three, jump!”
Sarah freezes in place, small fists clenched at her sides. There’s no way she could possibly jump.
“Come on, you can do it.”
“But I’m too scared, daddy!”
“It’s okay to be scared,” says her father, “but you need to trust me.”
“What if I drown?” she cries. “What if I slip and you don’t catch me?”
“You won’t drown, I promise. And I will always catch you, Sarah.” He holds her eyes in a firm gaze and reaches his arms to her again. “Always.”
She bites her lip and stares at the water again, indecision gnawing at her mind. Should she give up and retreat to the safety of the concrete, or take the risk and join her father?
“No, don’t look at the water,” he orders. “Look at me. Concentrate on my face. It’ll be a lot less scary if you do that.”
Sarah squirms, curling and uncurling her toes. She wants to jump, but can’t muster the strength to do it. Her daddy sees this and his smile widens.
“That’s it!” he encourages. “You’re ready!”
“I don’t know,” she moans, bouncing her knees slightly in agonized suspense.
“No no no, you can do this,” he insists, lifting his arms higher. “I’m gonna count to three, okay?”
She grits her teeth and holds her breath as her stomach does a flip-flop.