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.
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.
Through the end of 2016, Kaitlyn and I were running buddies. Each race that she ran, I was there to guide her to the finish. Then, 2017 came along, and Kaitlyn decided that she wanted to run races solo.
It was easy for me to be OK with her running her first 5k by herself since it started and finished at her school, and the course traced a neighborhood that we frequent when we go for walks as a family. Plus, with so many of her friends and school staff out there running and supporting the runners, there was little chance that she would go off course (and she didn’t).
Picking her next solo race was tough for me. I wanted to enter her into one that would be on a relatively closed course, which means I had to find one that didn’t get her too close to the crazies who take to the streets around here. I settled on one that benefits our local Girl Scouts, the Run 4 the Cookies 5k.
Throughout the week, I kept checking with Kaitlyn to make sure that she didn’t want me to run with her, and she assured me that she didn’t; Amber kept telling me that she would be fine, too.
We showed up this morning at the site of the race, our local community college, ready to race. Kaitlyn told me her race strategy, and assured me one more time that she was running this one solo.
I ran next to her for about 100 yards after the start, then I was on my way. I saw Kaitlyn on the course twice during the race, once right before mile 1 and again right before mile 2, and it made me happy to see that she was pushing herself and that she was having a blast.
I finished a little bit ahead of Kaitlyn, so I was waiting for her when she crossed the finish line. She finished in 31:02, which shaved over 2 minutes off of her first solo 5k time.
As we were walking back to the car, Kaitlyn kept asking when she could run another race by herself (she wants to use these as practice for when she tries out for cross country in middle school this fall), and I told her we would have to look at the calendar to see which ones looked interesting to her. For me though, not running with her and crossing the finish line with her signals another part of her that I have to let go, and while I know it is inevitable, it doesn’t mean I have to like it (I know I will get to run at least one race with her…the Turkey Trot 10k in November).
Amber and I are extremely proud of Kaitlyn’s determination to succeed and keep getting better with each race she runs. Before too long, I think she will spend a lot of Saturday mornings riding with me to one race or another. I can’t wait!
It’s just about time to send 2016 into the books. And honestly, it has been a long time coming.
For Kaitlyn, 2016 has been a year of ups and downs.
There was the extreme joy in being part of Jen and Ethan’s special day back in February.
Her first experience with math competitions turned out great, too.
Kaitlyn continued to excel in school, making the honor roll each grading period and blowing her reading goals out of the water, too.
April brought Kaitlyn her greatest joy, as Jen and Ethan welcomed their son to the world. It’s been a tad over 8 months since that day, and there hasn’t been a day that Kaitlyn hasn’t inquired about him and thought about him. She even included him, along with Jen and Ethan, in a speech she gave for the Tropicana Speech competition in December.
Summer came along, and Kaitlyn turned 10 in style. After spending some time in Gatlinburg, we made our way to Nashville, and Kailtyn celebrated her birthday at the Grand Ole Opry, and had her name in lights and also her special day announced to the crowd and those listening on the radio. It was really cool!
August also brought heartbreak as Kaitlyn’s great grandmother passed away. She struggled to come to grips with her passing, and still gets down on occasion when she thinks about her; the holidays weren’t exactly easy for her.
We made what is probably going to be our annual trip to Charlotte in November to visit Jen and Ethan, and Kaitlyn hasn’t stopped asking when she can go back and spend more time there.
Kaitlyn and I ran our last Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving; next year we are running the 10k.
Our Christmas Eve tradition continued this year as well. Kaitlyn just loves going over to spend the evening with the Sinclairs; Amber and I do, too, of course!
Overall, 2016 was just an OK year. Hopefully 2017 will be so much better, and hopefully I will write a little more, too!
Amber and I found out today that it is never easy delivering bad news. Today was the first time that we had to break the news to Kaitlyn that a family member had passed away.
I knew something was wrong when Amber called me at 7:23 this morning. When I saw that she was calling as Kaitlyn and I were walking out the door, I figured/feared that she had gotten into an accident or something. I was way off. I could tell by her voice that it was something way worse than an accident. Amber let me know that her granny, Kaitlyn’s great granny passed away this morning.
We agreed that there was no way that we were going to let Kaitlyn know before school, so I did my best to not let on that there was something wrong.
Unfortunately, Amber had the task of telling Kaitlyn the news. It was as bad as we feared it would be. Kaitlyn was crushed. As I write this, she is still a mess.
Kaitlyn had become very fond of her great granny over the last several years. She loved going to visit her and staying in her big house on the lake, and just spending time with her. They would talk about how Kaitlyn was doing in school, what granny was up to, politics, and so much more; it was quite fascinating to sit back and listen to an octogenarian and an elementary school student talk politics as good or better than most “experts” on TV.
Kaitlyn lost a wonderful great granny today, and the world lost a caring, often stubborn, always thoughtful woman today. There will be a void for Kaitlyn for quite some time, but Amber and I will make sure to ensure that she thinks about of the great times the two of them had together.
Amber and I appreciate the outpouring of support via texts and phone calls, and that one very special delivery of flowers. As Kaitlyn works through her emotions, we are so grateful that we have so many friends and family we can count on to be there for us.