Sometimes I think back on my childhood and find tremendous evidence for the existence of God. Just the presence of guns on the farm greatly increased the chances that God was real and interested in protecting me… and my neighbours. My brother was a gun fanatic for a while and when he moved away to college his guns happily stayed behind for me to play with. I have wonderful memories of shooting bottles of gas over small fires and sending fireballs soaring into the sky. There was the hunting of small vermin, and the pleasure of watching my dog retrieve my prey. (Incidentally Monty wouldn’t fetch to save his life unless the object he was to retrieve was a muskrat in the throes of death splashing about in the pond.)
I have many wonderful memories that involve guns, but two of the best involve guns and my mother. My mom wasn’t as crazy as my great Aunt Irene who would sit with a rifle by her sewing table so that she could take care of the rabbits eating her vegetables while she worked, but my mom still liked to shoot from time to time. One time, possibly shortly after my brother bought his 12 gauge shotgun, my mom decided to give it a try and did some practice shooting with margarine containers in the backyard, and managed not only to hit her targets but also blow a hold in the irrigation hose as well. I can just hear my dad saying, “Oh Wilma…”
But the best gun-mum memory happened during the flood of 1997. Living along the Red River we had a large dike that surrounded our farm, but in 1997 we had to install sandbags all along the top of the 1/2 mile dike to keep the water at bay. One day we saw that the muskrats were active so my mom grabbed the .22 and headed out for a bit of live-target practice. Using the sandbags as a gun-rest she carefully aimed and shot. Nothing. So mom took aim again and fired a second shot. Again nothing, which was confusing because apparently she was such a bad shot that she couldn’t even hit a body of water swollen to 40 kilometres across; we didn’t even see a splash! And the muskrats were thoroughly nonplussed, swimming ignorant of what should have been grave danger!
I don’t know how many times mom tried again, but she finally realized that although the raised gun scope was looking past the sandbags, the front of the gun was actually pointed directed into a now rather holey sand bag. At least that was dead, but the muskrats lived to see another day.
Hidden within my childhood memory lies some parenting principles that I think can particularly help new parents. Here’s what I mean.
New parents have a tendency miss the mark. It’s going to happen in fact it’s bound to happen; you are going to bring your precious new baby home from the hospital and after a few weeks you are going to come up against the profound unpreparedness that is your parenting. I remember when our first son, Malachi, was born. A thought that ran through my head, often was, “Who is this stranger?” He really was a stranger! I didn’t know why he was crying, what he needed a lot of the time, not to mention what he wanted and was left to make shot-gun attempts at figuring it all out. When you’re hunting with a shotgun, you often just shoot in the general direction of your target and because the shotgun shell is actually filled with dozens of pellets, you kind of just hope one or more hits the target. And then occasionally you blow a hole in something that shouldn’t have a hole! What you need to know is that you are normal. In fact, chances are good that if you have more than one child, you will be picking up a parenting shotgun approach all over again with the new one because every child is radically different. But don’t worry – eventually you find what works, so don’t get too stressed along the way.
Second, remember that you don’t always have the whole picture. There will be times you are positive you have something figured out but it will just miss the mark over and over again. I’m not kidding when I say there will be times when the mystery is just too great for you to figure out. I know that it is SUPER annoying how everyone seems to turn into an expert when you are pregnant or have your new baby. You will feel the pressure to breast feed – because EVERYONE knows that breastfeeding will put your baby way ahead in the world. Well guess what, that isn’t going to work for everyone, let it go, formula works too. You will feel the pressure to crib train and potty train and do baby signing (because so and so’s baby can say please and thank you and your kid is just an impolite lump.) Yes I know all the pressures and stresses you will feel from the people in your life, however, there are times when you need an outside perspective. There are many, many sensational parents who have raised well-adjusted kids who can speak to the simple mistakes you might be making… like shooting directly into a sandbag. Your scope might be set too high! You might need to stop and think for a minute! You might need to ask for advice. Don’t feel less than for asking loads of advice, just ask it from people you trust.
Finally, you don’t stop trying just because you missed to mark once or twice, or 13 times. My mom must have murdered that sandbag half a dozen times before she figured out what was happening. Parenting is not an exact art! You need courage, wisdom, humility, a small dose of insanity and many other ingredients to pull it off, so don’t give up! Of all the things you will need however, perseverance has to be at the top of your list. It will take perseverance to make it through the sleepless nights! (Actually I understand it takes some perseverance just to make it through the pregnancy…) It will take perseverance to figure out your baby’s schedule and then to slowly direct it towards “awake in the daytime, asleep at night” as opposed to the other way around. It will take perseverance to potty train. It will take perseverance to discipline. And it will take perseverance, or maybe restraint, to make it through the pre-teen and teenage years. Parenting is about perseverance!
You know, I just thought of another thing that made my mom a superstar, she knew how to laugh at herself. I am not as gifted at this particular trait but she really did know how to enjoy the solution to the mystery. Many of the challenges you face will melt away if you learn to laugh. Guess what? Poop on the walls is like a rite of passage for new parents! So you might as well laugh and then post it on Facebook for the rest of us to enjoy. (You might as well, because if you don’t your grown children will one day!)