Our first summer apart

It hit me over the weekend: this will be the first summer in Kaitlyn’s, Skylar’s and my lives that we do not get to see each other at all.  As for summers past, we always had our week vacation in Ocean City, NJ except for one summer when we decided on a stay-cation at home.  With this in mind, I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on some random memories of summers past.

Some of the pictures in these collages are of our time in Ocean City over the years.  There’s a couple of pictures from April 2015.  The girls made sand castles, we had picnics on the beach and they even went swimming (and beat their dad’s record for taking the plunge by a couple of weeks sooner and a few degrees colder).  Then there are pictures from our family vacations in Ocean City in earlier years.  Whenever we were at the shore, we managed to do it all: the beach; the ocean; sand castles; games of “shells;” the boardwalk; the fireworks; Kohr Brothers ice cream; Johnson’s popcorn; the Anchorage in Somers Point for a dinner; vanilla cream donuts from Dot’s pastry shop; Brown’s; Jilly’s Arcade; and the list goes on.  Having grown up in Ocean City, it was so much fun to share my hometown with my family and more recently with my children.

There’s a picture of Skylar on the trail-a-bike.  The two of us took a ride on the boardwalk one morning in July 2011, found some cool rings and earrings on the boardwalk (and Skylar got the same for Kaitlyn) and even stopped for lemonade at Kessel’s Korner on our ride back to the beach house.  Kaitlyn saved a horseshoe crab she found lost on the beach.  (I probably should mention that, like her father when he was her age, she wants to be a veterinarian.)  We always tried to make the vacation the week of 4th of July so that we got to see the fireworks.  And, don’t let me forget the rides.  Kaitlyn and I loved the Tilt-a-Whirl to the point we almost got sick and we would laugh so hard….

Summer was more than just Ocean City.  For me, it was trying to leave work at a reasonable hour to meet my family at the park or out at one of our favorite restaurants after the park for dinner, which was typically The Iron Frog, Little City Pizza, Abigail’s or Plan B.  We rode bikes around the neighborhood and into town.  On any given family bike ride, we would typically race home up Stratton Brook and into our little neighborhood for fun.  It was mommy & Sky (on a trail-a-bike) vs. daddy & Kaitlyn (on a trail-a-bike) most days in a mad dash uphill to the finish line at our mailbox on Stillwood Chase.  One Sunday in 2011, Kaitlyn and I rode the rails-to-trails towards Granby, CT and found a little turtle scared in the middle of the trail.  We stopped and saved the little guy by helping him cross and get where he was going.

Oh, and then, there were the “missions.”  Errands in the Jeep, a snack at Starbucks, playing at Froggy Park (our name for the park because the slide was a big frog), practicing soccer, playing with Daisy, flying Kaitlyn’s pink unicorn kite and impromptu solos and duets of Adele songs by the girls at the Simsbury Meadows amphitheater were all dubbed missions (which sounded better than errands or chores and, besides, I am an Army guy).  Whether they were an errand, an item on my “honey do” list, something the girls wanted to do or just plain fun, I looked forward to weekends and missions with my girls.  And, I know Kaitlyn and Skylar loved going on missions, too.  Wherever we went, meant riding in the Jeep and singing songs ranging from Taylor Swift’s “Stay, Stay, Stay” (which Skylar and I could sing on repeat over and over again) to The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” to Def Leppard’s “Photgraph” (complete with air guitar and drums) to Neil Diamond’s “Forever In Blue Jeans” to Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn,” (which was one of Kaitlyn’s proclaimed favorite songs).

If we had to go on a mission to Lowes in Bloomfield, they knew they got to sit on all the tractors and pretend they were driving.  Even better, we had to drive by a Starbucks.  I would order my venti coffee (always a treat when Sumatra was the featured dark roast) and sit down.  The girls then placed their order like big girls and paid all on their own with my card.  They each got a warm frothed milk and picked a treat, which was typically an old fashioned donut and the lemon loaf.  The bonus was a cake pop for each of them.  Kaitlyn always did the explaining when they came back with an extra cake pop: you got a better price if you bought three; so there was one for me if I wanted it.  (I always smiled inside and out hearing her explain her rationale.)  We would take turns and cut each pastry into quarters and then cut each quarter into thirds so we could share equally.  We each picked a piece from each section, with the girls alternating who picked first.  Again, I loved watching them always grab the biggest pieces, sometimes looking at me as if they knew my piece, the third piece, was always the smallest.  I always smiled, nodded and sometimes said, “It’s your turn.  Pick the one you want.”  My joy was watching their joy, talking with them huddled around a little round table (or on the cushy chairs if we were lucky to get them) and being not just any dad, but their dad.

A Starbucks pumpkin loaf divided up for three.

While the girls took swimming lessons, I basically taught them to swim — I am a swimmer (including, two years of Div. III swimming and coaching 9-10 year olds for the town summer season during college).  There’s  a couple of pictures of the girls first time off the diving board in 2012 (Kaitlyn was 7 and Skylar was 5).  Could not keep them out of the diving pool after that.  We had so much fun one day at the pool after camp in August 2013 that they both became hunchbacks.  We all started singing, “Baby got back.”

Kaitlyn was cautious, but trusted me in the water.  By the end of the summer of 2008, at four years old she was able to swim across the town pool.  I was so proud of her because we worked most of the summer to reach this milestone.  Skylar, on the other hand, had no fear at all and thought she could swim before she was taught how.  On the last day of the pool season in 2008, I’m getting our stuff situated with their mom and out of the corner of my eye see Skylar (who is two years old) drop her stuff on a chair, walk right over to the edge of the pool and jump in….  No warning, no parent with her.  No care.  No fear.  No worry.  I threw off my shirt, jumped in — splashing a group of moms along the edge of the pool (and apologizing  profusely afterwards — and grabbed my sinking child.  Sky looks up at me with a smile and wipes the water off her face.  When I asked her why she jumped in because she couldn’t swim, her smile got bigger and she said, “I just did, Daddy.”  We would play in the kid pool, but I always enjoyed the adult pool because the girls clung onto me like two little monkeys as we bobbed around the pool or took turns swimming back and forth to me from the ladder.

When we played inside, summer was just another excuse to be silly.  There’s Kaitlyn using Chiquita banana stickers as an impromptu cover-up, Skylar styling in her zebra-striped shades, a typical weekend afternoon tea party before Kaitlyn’s nap when she was almost two years old, Skylar trying on her suit and goggles to make sure they fit (I actually think she wore them around the house all day excited for vacation), playing dress-up with Kokie, camping inside the house, and one of our many trips to the aquarium.  Last but not least, the girls always looked for an excuse to play spa day (and even better when daddy was their cosmetic guinea pig).  I have had manicures, pedicures, nails painted and hair done.  I remember being in the men’s locker room after such a weekend, getting strange looks and wondering why guys were looking at me weird.  That is until I started to put on my shoes….

We would go to the St. Mary’s carnival and Celebrate West Hartford! for our summer kickoff each year.  There were the ponies, but the giant swing was always the biggest hit.  The girls would ride the swing repeatedly until we ran out of tickets.  Their smiles were always from ear-to-ear each time they passed me, waving as they whizzed by.  If Skylar was ever borderline for the height requirement for a given ride, we coached her on how to gain an inch or two.  If that didn’t seem like it was going to work, her mom and I would stuff a sock, napkins, anything we had in her hat to give her that extra height she needed.  (I know, shame on me.)

The girls love sports, and summer means baseball.  We typically got to a game at the New Britain Rock Cats once a season.  In the early years, Kaitlyn would come out to watch me play in the Wilmington, DE law firm softball league.  Even though I wasn’t the greatest outfielder to play the game, just her (and her mom) being their made me play better.  I believe coaching Kaitlyn and Skylar’s Kindergarten and First Grade soccer teams made me a better soccer coach, too.

No night was complete without bedtime stories.  For almost the first eight years of Kaitlyn’s life, I read to her every night I made it home from work in time for bedtime and on weekends.  In 2012, I started alternating reading to Kaitlyn one night and Skylar the next.  Reading to both girls at night was one of the highlights of any given day for me.  And, many nights I fell asleep before they did after lights out.  While on vacation in Avalon in 2006, Kaitlyn decided one night that stories should be read in the closet.  And, I could read Skylar the Elmo book over and over and she would laugh and laugh each time.

Looking at all of these pictures, I am so glad I have them.  There has been a lot of sadness the past couple of weeks thinking about all that has happened over the past four years.  To see picture after picture of the girls smiling, laughing and just enjoying themselves truly makes me proud to be their dad and helps me realize I gave them the best childhood I could.  Remembering most of the memories behind the pictures because I took them, is a true gift for which I am grateful.

Most importantly, Kaitlyn and Skylar gave me a fatherhood during our time together that was better than I had ever dreamed or expected.

Kaitlyn and Skylar, “I love you to the end of the universe and back, and then some.”


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