Updated: Oct 24
(Words in Italic are Ralph's)
My friend, Melissa and I booked a camping site on a Thursday afternoon to go to a kids triathlon on Saturday two hours away. Ralph had plans already, but I was willing to go without him.
I was torn about not going to a volunteer training that I had committed to a month prior. I struggled with breaking a commitment, but I didn’t want to miss out on being there to encourage the boys at their second triathlon.
Even though I really wanted him to be there with us, I didn’t want to manipulate him into going. I told him on Thursday night before we went to bed that I was OK with whatever he chose to do. He had to be the one to decide. I understood if he felt like he needed to stay behind. This training would be fun and good for him.
On Friday morning, I decided that being present for my kids was more important than a volunteer training that could be re-scheduled. I don’t often break commitments, but being there for my kids is a high priority of mine. So I canceled my training and texted Courtney that I would be coming with them.
The boys, myself, Melissa and her kids had a birthday party to attend that afternoon so we weren’t able to get on the road until the evening. It was worth it. The birthday party was for the first boy to approach and spend time with Liam and Devin at our first Wild and Free meeting.
Shortly after the party, we caravaned two hours to Paynes Prairie State Park. When we arrived after 8pm, it was dark and the gate was locked with no way of getting in. Within minutes, thanks to God's perfect timing, two dudes that were staying at the campground pulled up behind us. My friend, Melissa started singing in a joking manner, but still meaning it all at the same time, “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” It’s one of the many things that I love about her.
While our friends efficiently got their camper leveled and hooked up, Ralph was trying to pitch our tent for the first time in five years in the dark. The boys and I helped as best as we could holding flashlights and the tent up. Ralph wasn't happy. Camping isn't his favorite thing and these circumstances weren't making him feel any better about it.
It made me want a camper.
When the kids weren’t around, I seized the moment and gave him a loving pep talk saying, "We don't wait for perfect. We don't do ideal. We are living and making memories. Devin has told us that he loves us at least 4 times in the last 30 minutes because he's having so much fun right now." Ralph hadn't heard a single one of those “I love you’s” because he was so frustrated at trying to put up the tent (you'll hear him say it again in the video below). Ralph’s mood improved after that.
Jake, Melissa’s husband came over shortly after the pep talk and helped Ralph get the rest of the tent up. We all fought mosquitoes and tent poles, heard an armadillo scurrying through the woods, and worked around giggling children playing hide and seek in the dark. We were making memories and I couldn't help documenting them. Click on video for a 4 minute compilation.
Finally at 10pm, we were settled in our tent and the boys were excited to sleep in a tent for their first time (Liam's 2nd). It was going to be short lived because we had to be awake at 6am to get ready for a triathlon, but it didn't matter to them. Ralph and I laid in sleeping bags on broken up rock while the boys shared an air mattress.
I laid there so happy as I listened to the cicadas singing. It was so peaceful. We had done it.
Our family was tent camping for the first time.
I wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff that Courtney was thinking. I was tired and wanted to go to bed knowing that we had to get up early in the morning.
Typical guy. The night was long. Connor managed to find us on the ground and squeezed in between us. I had to scoot over and was now laying on a bulging rock. Neither one of us could move much to get comfortable.
It was still dark out when our alarm went off at 6am. We had to get dressed quickly and quietly. During the hustle, Devin whispered, “mommy, I didn’t think I would sleep well in a tent, but I did! I whispered back, “Devin, you were talking in your sleep!”
Liam and Devin woke up refreshed and ready for their race. I woke up and just wanted to go back to sleep.
Within 30 minutes we had gotten dressed, emptied our tent, slid it over to our friends RV site, and hopped into a van full of mosquitoes. As we were driving, Devin pointed out that it was still dark out. I said back to him, “yup, we are up before the sun today!” We were headed to Liam and Devin’s 2nd Triathlon.
We had a 20 minute drive, so I gave the boys hard boiled eggs in the car. I then pulled out my homemade monster cookies as an added treat. I viewed it as a source of fuel for Liam and Devin. Connor ate his hard boiled egg just so that he could eat a cookie for breakfast.
It was a cool morning and we were thankful for that. Liam and Devin felt more confident as we helped them put their bikes into place and get them lined up. The sun snuck up without me even realizing it. The boys were in place and we were ready and excited to cheer our boys on.
(click arrow on photo to view the rest)
We were hanging around for the awards ceremony because our friends kids often make either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. Their dad is a triathlete and their mom helps them train almost every morning. They all love it and we see why.
While the trophies were being given out, I didn’t expect Melissa to say to me, “Liam has a good chance of placing.” Upon hearing that, I pulled my phone out and started filming him from behind just in case his name was called. I am so glad I did. Click on video below to watch what happened.
I was both happy and proud of him. Excited. It was fun to see him get a trophy for something he enjoys doing and that he wasn’t forced into doing.
Swimming, biking, and running are all things that come natural to him. Our new friends brought to our attention a new way to channel that love for him. I didn’t even know that kids triathlon’s existed.
As we were walking to the car after the awards ceremony, I told Courtney “This is why I came. I would’ve missed Liam get his first trophy.” I believe that our children need a father’s constant presence. In my old job as a Correctional Officer I worked most weekends and evenings. I missed out on a lot of activities with the family that I can’t get back. Now I am able to enjoy these moments with my children while they are still little. With my new job, I am more able to make it a priority to be there for my kids.
Another thing that I love about my friend Melissa is that she is full of adventure. Despite the fact that our children had just participated in a triathlon, after resting for a short bit in their camper, we went on a long hike through Payne’s Prairie in hopes to see some wild horses and buffalo. We climbed up a tall tower, soaked in the breathtaking view, snapped some photos, and headed into the sun and partially muddy trail. We probably walked for 4 miles.
I could’ve done without the hike. Some of the kids were extremely tired and I agreed with them in not wanting to go on a hike. None the less, we all made it through with hand holding and carrying of children because we weren’t wise enough to bring a stroller.
I snapped a few photos of the tired faces in addition to other sweet moments. The woods we walked through reminded me of our property in NY. Those woods were one of my favorite parts to where we lived. I definitely miss them, but God keeps reminding me that He is doing a new thing.
We are making family memories. We are spending more quality time together. It is by no means paradise, but life is not nearly the same as what we experienced in NY. The sunshine, the warmth, the water, the hikes, the road trips to do triathlons, the camping, and the budding friendships; all have been wonderful gifts for our family.
We are so grateful that God lead us down to Florida. It took five years of praying, asking, pursuing, and exploring, but it was worth the wait.
Yes, God is certainly doing a new thing.
"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:19