Pregnant and Camping: A Winning Combination

A tent and a lantern overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Miss.

By Frank Michael McCormack

Jennifer and I went camping last weekend at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Miss. That means we were pitching our tent on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico about 7 weeks away from Jennifer’s due date.

We’re expecting our first baby sometime around December 5.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park has a special place in the story of our pregnancy. Little did we know at the time, but when we camped there in March, Jennifer was newly pregnant. And as we approach time for her to give birth, we wanted to “bookend” the pregnancy with a second trip.

I mentioned the potential trip to a few friends, all of whom gave me looks of disbelief or words of caution. Sleeping in a tent isn’t what you do when you’re pregnant, they said. No one believed me when I said Jennifer wanted to go just as much (or more) than me.

Really, I’m telling the truth. I don’t think anyone believes me even now.

After a little deliberating Saturday morning, we decided to go for it. Zero chance for rain, blue skies, moderate temperature, cool evenings = camping goodness.

(And to be honest, we try to make a habit of disregarding “no, you can’t” comments.)

We arrived at the park around 4 p.m. Saturday and pitched the tent in no time. This time around, we made a few key camping innovations, like securing the tent with heavy duty stakes for stability. The wind blows on the shore, and our lil tent needs all the help it can get to avoid blowing away.

With the tent in place and secured, we picked up a few supplies and headed to the seedy seafood restaurant we discovered last time. I guess it was seedier than we thought, because it had gone out of business. We opted for Mexican.

We returned to camp for dessert. Last time we made smores, but this time we popped popcorn over the camp stove. We’ll go with smores next time.

We crawled into the tent for the night pretty early. Then around 11, I was roused by a feeling no camper wants to experience. Icy darts of rain were hitting me in the face.

I scrambled out of the tent and put the rain cover on just in time for the rain to stop. The wind was still blowing as it always does there, and the rain flap wasn’t helping the tent’s aerodynamics, so I decided to stuff it back in the car.

I dozed for awhile, then the wind picked up and the rain returned. And this time, it was heavier. I consulted while Jennifer and I threw our weight against the sea-side of the tent as we struggled to prevent the tent from collapsing. On the radar, I saw a rain squall coming off the Gulf, moving to the northwest right over us. Fortunately, the rain was coming in more-or-less sideways, so we were able to zip up the sea-side window and block most of the rain.

In about 20 minutes, the storm passed, the rain stopped, and the wind kept blowing. I guess you can’t have everything. We settled back down for sleep.

In no time, Jennifer was asleep again, but I laid there wide awake. I was really worried that our tent wouldn’t be able to withstand the wind the whole night. So there I was wide awake, whispering to myself “peace, be still” and praying that God would calm the winds much like Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Mark 4:35-41 tells of when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. As they crossed, Jesus slept soundly in the stern while the disciples captained the boat. During the night, a storm blew in and brought with it some rough seas. Mark 4 says, “the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” The disciples woke Jesus, saying, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” Jesus got up, rebuked the storm, and said, “Silence! Be still!” The wind died down and the lake returned to calm. He asked the disciples, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?”

Most times when I think of this story, I focus on the “peace, be still” part where Jesus speaks and the wind calms. It’s a demonstration of Jesus power and authority over the elements and a testament to his divinity.

But like all good stories, the story of Jesus calming the storm has another side, and that other side of the story is captured in his question, “Do you still have no faith?” In a very real sense, the storm was a test of the disciples’ faith. I wonder what would have happened if they would have had faith and not cried out to Jesus for help. Would the boat have held up through the storm, with Jesus commending them for their faith? There’s no way to know. As it is, the disciples actually kind of blame Jesus for the tense situation (“Don’t you care…?”).

That got me to thinking of the times I’ve responded to adversity in my life with that same kind of blaming, faithless outburst directed toward Jesus. “Don’t you care?” or “Can’t you see?” or “Why this and why now?” And if I’m honest, more often than not Jesus puts out the fire or calms the winds, spares me from serious consequences, then turns and asks “Do you still have no faith?”

And yes, I was thinking over this as I laid there on an air mattress on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico in a tent shuddering in the wind last Saturday night.

After thinking through that, falling asleep in the wind-blown tent wasn’t so hard after all. Oh, and it took the edge off having a baby too.

That is, until we went to that birthing class the following Monday.

Surprised by sailing

By Frank Michael McCormack

In Wednesday night’s regatta on Lake Pontchartrain the sailboat crew I’m on finished third of 10 in our class. Yes that’s right. Regatta. Lake Pontchartrain. Third.

I’ve been chasing the sailboat dream for a while now. It started when I met my friend Tony, who was living on a sailboat in Chesapeake Bay at the time. That got me looking for a sailboat, though I’d never been on one. I tried hard for a while to get Jennifer to let us buy a big boat and live aboard.

I didn’t get too far with that idea.

Another friend of mine later invited us for a cruise on his boat that’s docked at Southshore Marina near the Lakefront Airport. It was our first time out on a sailboat. We were hooked.

(As an aside, another friend of mine described boats as holes in the water that you just throw money into.)

Now I love power boats. Fishing boats. Offshore boats. Ships. Really anything that floats. But there’s just something about cutting the engine off and the boat continuing to move along just because of the wind. The steady movement. Rocking with the waves. Wind filling the sails. It’s better when there’s wind.

After my third time out on my friend’s boat, I went several long months without ever going out for a sail. No joke, every time he called to invite me for a sail I was always out of town.

So to scratch the sailboat itch, Jennifer and I began eating dinner at the Lakefront, watching the sailboats come and go. We stuck with that for a while. Then one night we drove by a sail dealer on Lake Avenue in Metairie and I spotted an old school Pearson Ensign sailboat parked outside.

Just out of curiosity, I emailed one of the guys at the sail dealer about the boat. It wasn’t for sale, but he did put me in touch with a guy who he said was looking for some crew members for the weekly Wednesday regatta (sailboat race). I emailed with that guy a few times and it was settled. I raced with him and several others just a day or two later. As it turned out, it was the marines and me.

I was terrible. It was like everyone was speaking in a different language, and I’m not talking about marine-speak. There’s port, starboard, aft and whatever the other one is that I can never remember. We didn’t just make a right or a left turn. We attempted these maneuvers using sails like the “spinach-curd” and “jibber jabber.” I’m exaggerating a little, but I really can never remember that other side of the boat. To top it off, it was stormy and we raced a short course, which meant close quarters.

Everyone was very patient with me, but still I was really only good for ballast. They were experienced sailors. It was my 4th time on a boat. I tried to be as vague as possible about how many times I’d been on a boat. They might have figured me out. Afterward, we stopped in at the Southern Yacht Club for a sandwich and to get to know one another some more. I discovered some mutual connections with one of the guys. New Orleans is a big small town, after all. We even talked religion and politics.

I thought I’d never hear from those guys again (because of my sailing performance, not the conversation). Graciously, though, Joel the boat owner invited me first for a training cruise this past Saturday (I was out of town) and then back for this Wednesday’s regatta.

Wednesday, the winds were calmer and it was a much longer course. Both those factors made the race much more low key, which was great for crewmembers like me (okay, just me) who were still getting their feet wet (or struggling to keep them dry).

I had a job this time. A purpose! A responsibility. I stayed near the mast and was responsible for fine-tuning the downhaul and the outhaul (both adjust the tension on the mainsail). I also made sure the headsail passed smoothly from one side to the other when we tacked. The headsail almost got me one time. The race was great. We were constantly fine-tuning the sails. Checking our speed against the wind speed. Setting goals. Targeting boats to pass.

In the end, we finished third in our class – an incredible improvement over a few weeks ago. After the race, several of us went up to the New Orleans Yacht Club and had hamburgers as we awaited the results. I texted the colonel my number. He responded with “Rgr.” The next day I sincerely thanked Joel for another great time on the lake. He said the same, adding that he hoped I considered myself a regular crew member now.

Now I’m not totally crazy. I’m no expert yet. I couldn’t sail across the Gulf by myself, nor across the lake, nor across the marina. But it’s not about that. It’s just great to be doing something fun and different, enjoying the outdoors, learning new skills and making new friends.

And it all happened because I drove by a sailboat on my way home one night, sent an email and took a chance.

I’m kind of an introverted extrovert, I think. I really thrive off being around people, but left to my own devices, I tend to be a loner. But what would happen if I was more disciplined and intentional and took some more chances in order to widen my circle of friends? I bet I’d have more friends on my block, learn some good hobbies and habits from other people, enjoy a broader support system, and have a wider sphere of influence.

Not too bad an outcome for a chance detour on the way home one night. Just think, a seemingly unconnected series of events led to me being a member of a crew with a group of great new friends, all of whom I didn’t know three weeks ago. Now, why am I sometimes afraid of trying new things again?