Amber and I knew that it was going to be difficult to top last year’s trip to the Grand Ole Opry for Kaitlyn’s birthday. For several months, we batted around several ideas, and we finally decided on taking a trip over to Panama City Beach so Kaitlyn could swim with the dolphins (finally!).
It took a lot of planning, and a lot of secrecy (the whole “loose lips sink ships” thing comes to mind with us not wanting anyone to slip up and ruin the surprise),we were able to pull it off. We were able to get Kaitlyn on board with the trip to Panama City Beach, but didn’t even hint about a possible swim with a dolphin.
We made the drive over Friday morning, and Kaitlyn just figured we were going to spend time on the beach and hang out at Pier Park for a while, then have what seems to be becoming our traditional birthday dinner for her at Dave & Buster’s. There was no disappointment from Kaitlyn that she couldn’t go more than about shin deep in the water thanks to strong rip currents in the wake of Tropical Storm Cindy; we searched for shells, and Kaitlyn managed to get wiped out by a wave once, so that was fun!
After a quick lunch, we took a stroll on the pier, and stood at the end for about 15 minutes searching for some wild dolphins. Sadly, we came up empty. About this time, Kaitlyn was resigned to not seeing any dolphins on her birthday trip. Amber and I knew better though!
This morning, we had Kaitlyn put on her bathing suit, “just in case we went to the beach before coming home,” and she was fine with that. She didn’t suspect a thing, even when we pulled into the parking lot at Gulf World, and while we stood in line. It wasn’t until the door opened and those with a reservation for a dolphin swim were allowed in. Her face lit up, and she asked, “wait, I’m going to swim with a dolphin today?” It was right then that our efforts were worth it.
There was no way the smile could have been wiped off of Kaitlyn’s face as the swim neared. She was given a life jacket to wear, and we headed to the dolphin pool (her swim ended up being in the same pool where her meet and greet took place back in 2014). She was in a group of 7, and was the only one who paid complete attention to the trainer and was not intimidated by being in the water with the dolphin; at one point, the trainer had to have Kaitlyn move several feet closer to the shallow part of the pool because she wanted to maximize the distance of her swim in.
Today was another step in Kaitlyn’s progression to becoming a dolphin doctor. For her, it was more than a mere swim with a dolphin on her birthday; for Kaitlyn, today was the first of countless days that she will spend interacting with dolphins. Amber and I know that before too long, instead of being observers of her in the pool swimming with a dolphin, we will be observers of her in and out of the pool training and caring for dolphins, and educating the public about them.
2,105 calendar days.
1,080 school days.
No matter which number Amber and I look at, the one thing that is true is that the time flew. 2,105 days ago, we took our shy, timid little Kaitlyn to elementary school for the first time. 1,080 school days have passed since then, and Kaitlyn is officially finished with elementary school.
And what a ride it has been.
Over the last 2,105 days, we have seen our share of ups and downs, and we have weathered the time as a family, and we have become stronger for it. We’ve been fortunate that there have been a ton more ups than there have been downs over the last almost 6 years.
It has been amazing to see the growth that Kaitlyn has experienced over the last 6 years. If you would have told Amber and I on her first day of school that she would have a speaking part in the 4th grade play, we would have suggested that you get your head checked; but she did have a speaking part, and she nailed it. Amber and I have countless examples just like that one, and they all elicit wonderful memories for us.
We knew even before day one that Kaitlyn would succeed at her school, and that her teachers would be in her corner the whole time. Amber and I can’t thank her kindergarten teacher enough for reaching out before that first day and having us come in so Kaitlyn could get comfortable; the cool part is that Kaitlyn will get to see her for the next 3 years in middle school.
If it weren’t for her first grade teacher battling for her to get another shot at the gifted test, Kaitlyn would not have been as challenged as she needed to be in the classroom over the last few years. Jennifer knew that Kaitlyn missing the cut by a point or two was a fluke, and Amber and I are very thankful to her for believing in Kaitlyn.
Amber and I firmly believe that Kaitlyn had the absolute best teachers during her time in elementary school. Each of them challenged her when she needed to be challenged, and none of them allowed her to ever take the easy route.
During the journey from the first day to today, Kaitlyn has made some amazing friends (we were even fortunate enough to become close with some of her friends’ parents, too) It was really neat to observe the way these kids interact with each other as we rode the bus to and from Sea World last week.
Kaitlyn excelled in the classroom over the last 6 years (if you’ve read this blog any, you already knew that!), and she earned the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence at her Completion Ceremony yesterday. In addition to her success in the classroom, Kaitlyn was an outstanding citizen. I can’t even tell you how many times her teachers, coaches, and administrators would tell Amber or I, unprompted, what a joy she is to be around. They would cite her kind heart, her sweetness, her gentle spirit, and her respectfulness; for Amber and I, those things affirmed to us that we are doing a few things right!
Most of the last 1,080 school days have a fist bump and high five for Kaitlyn and I, and that is one of the things I will really miss as she heads to middle school. Sadly for me, I won’t be sitting in the drop off line for the next three years; I think (hope) that Kaitlyn is a little sad about it, too (I know she will miss watching the “sunscreen/bug spray dance” each morning!).
These last two days have been somewhat bittersweet with Kaitlyn finishing up a great 6 years. During the Completion Ceremony, the class sang a song titled, “Do I Make You Proud,” and yes, Kaitlyn makes us proud every day. The future holds great things for Kaitlyn and Amber and I will be here to support and encourage her, just like we have for the last 2,105 days (1,080 school days).
In about 80 days, middle school starts. Kaitlyn is ready for the new adventure!
As the school year reaches its conclusion, I figured it would be a good time for me to have Kaitlyn count up the money that she earned from reading this year. It’s not that we had to bribe her or pay her to read, but given her history when it came to continuing to take AR tests after she met her goal, Amber and I had to come up with some way to keep her motivated to take the tests after about the second or third week each grading period.
Luckily for us, Amber convinced me to reduce the per point payment for excess points from a dollar to a quarter. Let’s just say that I would have been in a bit of trouble when all the cash was counted this past weekend.
For the year, Kaitlyn exceeded her total point goal by 395.84 points. She ended up banking $98.96 for the year. Not a bad payout for doing what she already loves to do…read. In fact, she’s already gotten a head start on her summer reading assignment. By “head start,” I mean that she has already read the assigned book and is making steady progress into completed the questions about the book.
Amber and I couldn’t be happier that we have such an enthusiastic reader, and I doubt that her love of reading will abate at all in middle school.
For her 5th birthday, Kaitlyn wanted to go to Sea World, and Amber and I were more than happy to oblige. While we were there, we were checking out the dolphins, and Kaitlyn proclaimed that when she grew up, she wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Knowing her the way we do, Amber and I knew to take her seriously.
Over the past almost 6 years, Amber and I have done our best to continually encourage Kaitlyn to pursue her dream. We’ve taken her to Gulf World in Panama City Beach several times, and surprised her on our first visit with a dolphin encounter where she was able to get up close and personal with several of their dolphins, and we’ve encouraged her to research the educational path she will need to follow to achieve her dream. Within the last 12-18 months, she has even read the National Audubon Society’s Guide to Marine Mammals of the World at least once, too.
Recently, Amber was able to convince Kaitlyn to look at being something else other than a dolphin trainer; Kaitlyn is now striving to be a marine veterinarian with her specialty being dolphins. By adjusting her track, Kaitlyn realized that she will be able to make even more of an impact.
To help her keep focused, I had Kaitlyn really hone in on what it will take to be, in her words, “the best dolphin doctor in the world.” She has started to live intentionally. What that means is that she has her goal, and she works every day to make her dream become a reality. It means that she is determined to succeed, and that she will not be deterred by anyone or anything.
Amber and I know that once Kaitlyn sets her mind to something, like she has done with her career goal, nothing is going to stand in her way. We are fortunate that we get to witness her steely determination each and every day, and we look forward to her realizing her dream.
It’s hard to believe, but Kaitlyn has finally entered the homestretch of elementary school. Six years sure have flown by. Kaitlyn has come so far as a person and a student during the past six years, and Amber and I certainly have grown as parents during that time.
We’ve seen Kaitlyn grow from a shy little girl who really had trouble adjusting (though we are still thankful to this day that her kindergarten teacher helped make the transition easy) to a little girl who participates in a speech contest, has a speaking role in a school performance, and who has made an incredible impression on the teachers at her school. It has been great to have a front row seat, and while there have been bumps along the way, it certainly has been quite the ride.
Today was the first day back to school from spring break, and as if to drive the point home to us, Kaitlyn had to turn in her course request form for middle school today. For the core academic courses, Kaitlyn has been recommended for gifted courses, which is really not much of a surprise. A half a year of PE is required as an elective, and Kaitlyn got to list her top 5 choices to fill out the rest of her electives. Kaitlyn is certainly content, with some encouragement from us, to take courses that while challenging, will offer her somewhat of a break from the grind of her gifted courses.
There are still a few things for Kaitlyn to focus on before she crosses the finish line of elementary school, including her science fair project and a field trip to Sea World. Amber and I are not really in a hurry for the last of Kaitlyn’s 1,080 days of elementary school to be over, but we are excited for what the future holds for her.