As the sun set on the Georgia coast, I walked with my 5-year-old niece along a sandbar on St. Simons Island.
“OK, I’ll jump in with you,” she said. “Oh my gosh. I’m scared. I might throw up dolphins and a rainbow, but I’ll do it.”
She’s wasn’t talking about the ocean, either. The humidity wrapped around us like a sticky blanket. Before we left the beach house, I joked that it was so hot that after our walk I might just jump in the pool with my clothes on. I didn’t mean it, but my niece liked the idea. She called it “loco.”
It occurred to me that for her this was an adventure and something a little risky. For that reason, I wanted to actually do this with my little ducky. An Ella-and-auntie memory that will remind her to take leaps.
As we left the beach and entered the private pool area, we looked around. She let out a loud and almost maniacal giggle. She couldn’t believe what we were about to do as we flipped our shoes off.
“We are going to do it, Aunt Jeneé. Oh my gosh. OK. This is crazy!”
She held my hand. My baby nephew watched, and my sister got it on video. I gave us the count: “1, 2, 3, Auntie and niece!”
We jumped. Ella laughed as I helped her out of the water, drenched, clothes clinging. We sang a little chant on the way to the house:
Who are we? Auntie and niece.
What do we do? Awesome things!
I know it seems small, jumping in the pool fully clothed. But it was a big deal for Ella. She felt the rush of confidence in doing something a little unorthodox. As her aunt, I like to nurture that side of her. It’s not just about fun and wild laughter. This kind of moment helps you to trust your gut and be a leader, to stand up for what you believe in and to live by faith, not fear.
Bree Newsome did that when she scaled the 30-foot flagpole and removed the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina statehouse early Saturday morning. Debbie Dills said she didn’t think about the danger when she drove behind the accused Charleston shooter long enough to capture his license plate for the police. She says God worked through her.
Listen, I don’t expect my niece to grow up to be an activist. I don’t think jumping in the pool will wash her in rebellion. She has her own dreams of being a princess and a gymnast and a veterinarian and ruler of all things.
When we landed in that water, it just affirmed it’s all right to swim at your own pace, even if no one else understands your stride. And when it seems like you’re alone, someone will always be holding your hand.
She’s starting kindergarten in the fall. She is growing up in the church. As she learns to embrace her values, I see that she is understanding how to respect those who differ from her as well. I’m just doing my part to encourage her to dive into her differences and be daring. She’s got a lot to offer this world. And I know she’s going to make a splash.