“Ease the string back…”
“…keep your stance open…”
“Dad. I know.”
I watch as my oldest squints an eye and lets an arrow fly the full 25 or so feet towards our makeshift cardboard target.
It was the first time he had gotten to use his bow since he had received it from his Grandpa. Seven. Months. Prior. When I was told that the idea was given to Papa to get him the bow, I was a little concerned. It was something that the older one REALLY wanted, and our philosophy with gifts is quality and importance over quantity. We had already planned on getting him the real skate board. Wasn’t that enough risk for one holiday? Not to mention Papa is a hunter, and I knew full well the bow would not be a toy set. Before gifting it, he called to let me know that the man at the store wondered about getting a 7 year old this bow for, while it was the lowest in “draw weight”, it might be a little tall. ‘He’ll grow into it I guess,’ I heard myself say, as if he were buying him slacks or a nice Sunday coat.
Growing up I remember we had access to all sorts of medieval weaponry. Old BB Guns, tools, bows and arrows. Heck even our lawn games were products worthy of a WWI weapons expert. Without firm warnings or hovering from our parents, I don’t remember any one of us getting (seriously) maimed.
Ever since he opened it on Christmas morning, I was expecting a continual onslaught of requests to go out and shoot it. However, the fervor of the holiday distracted him enough from it. And when we finally brought it into the house, and I separated the bow from the 6 arrows lovingly gifted, I hung it up on his wall near his bed. And with the exception of two or three questions, he seemed content.
I can remember a game my cousin and I would play, a version of war. We would hid in the lilac bushes which encircled the bend in our long U-shaped driveway and wait for the mail truck. Sure enough, at the same time every day, we’d excitedly watch as the mail was exchanged in the box, the flag was raised or lowered, and the truck began its slow open door crawl around. Of course he’d know to expect us waiting, wearing surplus steel WWII helmets and armed with (non-working) wooden-stocked-steel-barreled-daisy guns. BANG-BANG! And he’d slowly drive by, dodging our pretend hail of bullets and shoot back.
Can you imagine how much prison time I’d get as a parent if my kids did that to a postal worker tomorrow?
Somewhere along the way, things started changing. Risk became a bad four letter word. With each high profile kidnapping, children were reigned in closer and closer to home. With each shooting, kids were shepherded away from things that could become violent. Old broken guns were demoted to toy guns with orange tips, which then were reduced to finger guns, which are now not encouraged on playgrounds around the country. Then it seems the video games and cartoons our kids were escaping to indoors became a new source of violence.
I wondered why then had my son not become overly aggressive? I mean, he had a real bow on his wall. Then it occurred to me that perhaps, just the idea of him being able to own it, to be able to see it, and know he was trusted with it was enough. Just as my playing war with the mailman was enough of a risk outlet for me.
It was the day I walked into the living room and the older one was admiring his bow, I knew the time had come. He looked up at me and smiled, then drew back a notched tinker toy log in the string, and let it fly at the younger one. (Fortunately, they had had the presence of mind to outfit the shirtless younger one in a steel wire storage basket for protection) After a brief discussion about safety and idiocy, we made a plan to take it up camping with us.
“This is a weapon.” I said it firmly handing over the bow and looking into the older one’s eyes. He seemed to understand that if not respected, this was something that would very well be taken back, not to come off the wall for a long time. We walked quietly towards a path in the woods where I had hastily erected a large cardboard target. His bow, as tall as he, was being tenderly carried. As solemn as our procession seemed, I knew our hearts were racing in excitement. I placed the six blunt tipped target arrows on the ground next to him, and walked him through the basics.
String arrow down.
A wide stance.
Locked arm out front.
Pull the arrow next to your ear.
Find the target.
The arrows will always be kept away from the bow, which will always be hung high enough off the ground to not be mistaken for a toy. But the pride on his face watching his arrows sink deep into the cardboard let me know he was getting just a little bit of risk back, in a world that works hard to pull him away from it.