Spending time with my wife and daughter has always been and will always be a priority. I want them to know that I love them no matter what and that just being together is wonderful. Introducing my daughter to different aspects of the outdoors is something I have been doing since she was born. Heck, her first ball cap was a Bass Pro Shops hat. Gee, I wonder who bought that one? As a lover of the outdoors, archery, fishing and the gear associated with each... I also love Bass Pro Shops. I love to walk through the store and imagine what gear I need/want to get next. I also want my daughter to be exposed to hunting and fishing. I want to show her the wonder and excitement that lies within it. She can make her own choices whether or not she wants to continue with it moving forward, but for now I get to share my knowledge and love for the outdoors.
Yesterday, I wanted to share the Bass Pro Shops experience with Riley. More importantly, I had been promising her this week that I wanted to get her her very first fishing pole. Plus, she had mentioned to my wife the week prior that she wished she could go fishing. I had some gift cards to use so it was a done deal! Seeing that Bass Pro is about an hour away from our place, I planned to take Riley for the afternoon. Plus, I knew it would give my wife some much deserved alone time. My wife explained to her that they had a huge aquarium and she could see the fish up close. So, when I asked Riley if she wanted to go you could see her eyes light up. All morning she asked if we could see the fish and she did it as innocent as any child could. I was elated!
After breakfast with my wife and the in-laws, Riley and I hit the freeway. Within five minutes she was asleep in the truck. Anyone with kids knows that it is a blessing when they can get their rest. I love talking with Riley on our dinner dates or truck rides, but the traffic was horrible yesterday and there were some bad accidents on the freeways. I just wanted to get there safely and being able to crank the A/C, tunes and focus on the crazy traffic helped out. About a quarter mile from the entrance she woke up, and by the time we parked she was talking about the aquarium, the stuffed animals and how excited she was. She sure is articulate for a 3.5 year old and can really put a smile on dear-old dad's face!
The conversation we had on our walk from the parking lot was wonderful. It's not so much in what was said, but how we talked and the fun things we wanted to do. Lately she has been playing detective at home, and I found the perfect opportunity to her involved as we walked in. Anyone that has been to a Bass Pro Shops knows they have footprints in the concrete outside and inside the store. When I mentioned this to Riley she couldn't wait to play detective and immediately started looking for animal tracks. It didn't take long and she was on a set. She crouched down and pointed, asking me what made them. When I told her it was a bear I was expecting her to show fear or something, but the glow she had said otherwise. 'Let's follow them!' Like that, the chase was on!
At the front door, I had to snap a few photos. You know, for the blog and all. Some photographer I'd be if I didn't bust out the trusty iPhone and capture the moment, right? I loved all of her questions about what animal this was. She was all about knowing what the hooves were and antlers and it was great! She never once complained, but really wanted to keep following the tracks, see the fish and check out the sights and sounds.
Inside I took her straight to the aquarium. Even with people standing everywhere, she dodged the crowd and darted for the glass box filled with fish. It didn't take her long to climb on the 'rocks' and stare at the giant largemouth bass, the catfish and the blue gills. I started wiggling my fingers and those fish saw DINNER! and a dozen of them shot over to investigate. Of course, little eyes were watching and she wanted to do it, too. It was incredibly cute to watch. I am smiling as I type this because it really was that darn cute.
For the next two and a half hours we walked and we talked.
For the next two and a half hours I forgot about the outside world and enjoyed every second I had with my daughter.
For the next two and a half hours I was a very happy man and enjoyed one of the best days ever.
Seeing the priceless look on my child's face while she pointed things out to me was an experience I will not soon forget. The stuffed bear, elk, deer, hogs, raccoons and big horn sheep amazed her, but most of all, she just wanted to see the fish in the aquarium again. So I had to make a plan. For every item or two I needed to purchase, I promised her we would go back and watch the fish. She loved the aquarium and so did I.
Showing her the fishing poles was something I have looked forward to for a very long time. I remember the first time I went fishing with my dad and how using a large pole was cumbersome. Heck, I just about smacked my little brother in the face trying to reel in. I wanted Riley to have her own smaller pole that she could use. For those that don't know me well, I believe in God winks. Some would call them coincidences, but I just don't accept coincidence. Everything happens for a reason in my book. Having Riley choose her own fishing pole was a God wink. I showed her the Mickey Mouse, the Disney Princesses, and others, but the one she picked absolutely made my day. A little digressing here, but when I came out to Cali for my first date with my wife, we made a joke about how I liked Tinkerbell and how she and I had a connection. Something like that anyway. Then, a few years later while going through Disneyland I found a Tinkerbell pin. It is still tacked into our cork board. More can be shared, but the fact that Riley chose the Tinkerbell fishing pole and NOT the pink ones was a God wink. She was emphatic - 'I want Tinkerbell, please.' So Tinkerbell she got.
She wanted to track the animals some more and we did just that. We tracked some deer tracks throughout the store, so I took her to where the deer and elk were. She loved touching the fur and the hooves. She knows that I hunt deer and when I told her I was going to be hunting elk this year she just looked at me and smiled. She just wanted to gaze at the bull elk.
With all of the talk of hunting and then bowhunting, we ventured over to the kids section to see what they had to offer. There were the games and squirt guns. The race cars and video games (Ugh!), but best of all... the kid-sized compound bows. I asked Riley if she wanted to shoot like daddy and she said she did. We looked it over and guess what else she brought home?
We shared some fudge and goofed around a little. Then I showed her the trout swimming in the stream. Riley showed no fear as she climbed on the faux boulders and sprawled out to watch the fish swimming.
Some fish would race up the stream and back, one kept lurking in one area while many of the smaller fish just congregated around the submerged log. I listened to her as she asked about the fish, told me what they were doing and heard the happiness in her voice when the little ones passed by. It was the best sound ever, next to her laughter. That is until I found some fish food that had been dropped on the rocks. I handed it to Riley and told her to toss it in. The hook jaw rose up and snatched it off the surface with a 'SCHLOP!' and that was all it took.
'Daddy, let's look for more fish food.'
'Ok, let's play detective and find some.'
We found a couple more and she tossed them in. She was very happy and so was I. It was peaceful and she loved every second of it.
We checked out the aquarium once more and then decided to check out. We both were hungry and we needed to eat as it was getting late. This is where I felt God directing us again. I was going to take her to the restaurant there because I wanted to spend some more time chatting with her. What I didn't want was to spend a weeks worth of pay on lunch when we would be eating dinner before too long. After paying for my gear, I couldn't decide if I wanted to drop things off at the truck or just go right into the restaurant and eat. Well, the choice was made for me as one of the items I purchased set the alarm off and we had to turn around at the register. It just so happens that the register was at the far end and we faced out the glass door. Through the glass I recognized the shape of a hot dog stand. Would we want to eat Gator bites or hot dogs? So, I gave Riley the choice and she chose the hot dog. We took care of the alarm issue and them went outside to get a hot dog. We bought our lunch and no sooner was the food handed to us when the people started tearing the pop-up down to close up. We were the very last customers! If we had waited five more minutes or had gone right into the restaurant, we wouldn't have had the chance to grab a quick, less expensive lunch and best of all sit outside and chat.
Halfway through our meal, Riley looked up at me with the biggest smile and said,'We're having a picnic.' I love my little girl.
We had a great day together. I promised to bring her back to see the fish and track some more animals. Some like the zoo or the mall (to me they are one and the same), but I will take Bass Pro Shops any day. Bass Pro Shops, my little girl and a picnic lunch on a wooden bench. And you know what? That was the best picnic I ever had.