And then came this afternoon. I was trying to make use of some leftovers, including two Ziploc bags of rice, with the help of the roasted Anaheim chiles I picked up at Safeway -- they were doing a fundraiser for cancer research -- and an andouille sausage. What I ended up with smelled promising but looked, well, like olive drab and tan camouflage. "What's that?" she asked me, peering into the frying pan. "Dirty rice," I replied, quickly summoning the vocabulary that comes from reading cookbooks all the time to give the dish a positive spin, "Do you want to try it?"
I was sure she'd say no, given how it looked. Indeed, because it was obviously going to be pretty spicy, I was hoping she'd decline, lest I incur her wrath for exposing her to pain. But, without skipping a beat, she said, "Sure!" I hesitated, then decided I'd give her a bowl and let her figure out from the first bite that it wasn't her kind of food. And then I went in the other room, in the hopes of getting some distance from the indignation I was sure she'd express. After a few minutes of checking scores, though, I returned to the dining area to discover that she had already polished off most of the bowl.
"Isn't it spicy?" I asked. "Oh, yes, Dad, it is. I had to drink my whole glass of milk. Would you pour me another so I can eat the rest?" I was stunned. And practically teary-eyed with the peculiar pride parents feel when their children achieve another developmental milestone, not to mention the realization that all of the reading I've assimilated on the relationship between biology and taste had been dramatically validated. It might not seem hugely important to most of you, but in my world this constituted a Very Big Deal.
Later in the afternoon Skylar also pressed to go play softball, which we hadn't done in a long time. Back in second grade she had shown real promise as a hitter, thanks to her superb hand-eye coordination. More recently, though, she often struggled to make contact. I was hoping that the tide might turn, but rather pessimistic. Thankfully, though, the simple realization that her eyesight has deteriorated enough to make glasses necessary for picking up the path of a ball thrown from only twenty-five feet away led to a dramatic resurgence in her slugging. She hit balls all over the place, farther than she ever had before. Some of them were line drives with an impressive amount of zip, too.
This delighted me, of course, as did her insistence -- no one wants to pitch to me -- that I throw the ball up and hit it at full strength. Being rusty from years of barely swinging the bat, I kept getting under the ball, which made for arcing flies that impressed her but frustrated me. But then, on my last swing, I was rewarded with the capper to a great day by hitting the ball just right. It leapt off the bat so fast that I didn't even realize at first how well I'd hit it. When it disappeared over a utility shed and then bounced on the neighboring tennis courts, though, I grasped that I'd hit a softball farther than I ever had before without the assistance of a pitcher's velocity. It felt good, a personal lagniappe to a day when the baker's first six dozen were testaments to my daughter's inevitable yet still remarkable passage into a new stage of personhood.