My family is at Target doing a little post-report card shopping. Both kids have a grand total of fifteen dollars to spend, courtesy of thirty days worth hard studying, good grades, and not getting into trouble.
They stroll the toy aisles with daddy in tow, trying to decide what to buy and lamenting the rising price of Matchbox cars and Barbies. Inflation, I tell them. They don’t know what that word means, but they shake their heads in disgust like tiny adults.
My daughter decides on one book and one stuffed animal. My son is torn between a new Buzz Lightyear and a Nerf gun. He’s leaning toward the gun. The long-range kind with a scope and a ten-round clip. I nod my approval. Nerf guns are cool.
Daughter is nestled on the sofa, book and stuffed animal arranged just so on her lap. I am trying to get the Nerf gun out of the package despite one antsy little boy and what appears to be a secret Chinese plot to destroy America by means of thick plastic twist-ties. Ten minutes later, he’s locked and loaded. But before he goes off to stalk invisible bad guys, we need to have a talk.
I bend down so I’ll be at eye level and he can both see and hear me plainly.
“Do…not…shoot…at…anyone,” I say. “Okay?”
“You can shoot at the walls, the windows, your bed, a poster, stuffed animals, Matchbox cars, bedposts, chairs, and tables. But no people.”
“Good. Now what did I say?”
“You said I can’t shoot my new gun at nobody.”
Ten minutes later, my daughter screams. Not the I-saw-a-bug kind, either. The other kind. The painful kind. I find her in the hallway holding a hand over an eye, the victim of a long-range headshot.
She’s sent back to the sofa with a washcloth over her wound, and I round up the usual suspect.
“Did you shoot your sister?”
“Do you remember what I told you about shooting people?”
“Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not good enough.”
He pauses, carefully weighing the pros and cons of telling the truth versus telling me what he thinks I want to hear. He opts for the former.
“I just couldn’t help myself,” he says.
True maybe, but not good enough. He should know better. Couldn’t help himself? Really? I fight the urge to hang my head in shame. Not for him, but for me. I should be raising him better. I should be teaching him to control himself and obey the rules. I should be teaching him to be a man.
“Maybe you should go and sit on the porch for a while,” I tell him. “Get some air and think about what you’ve done.”
And off he goes to swing and think and listen to the birds. I take the Nerf gun and put it somewhere safe, where he can’t reach it.
My son is still on the porch swinging and thinking. He’s not alone, though. I’m keeping company beside him.
He knows why I’m there. I told him. Told him that I intended to take the Nerf gun and put it somewhere safe, and that I was actually doing that very thing. But then his mother decided to do some laundry. She bent over to gather some dirty clothes into the basket and…well, let’s just say my son gets his aim honest.
“I just couldn’t help myself,” I tell him.
He offers me an understanding nod and says, “Tough, ain’t it?”
So we swing, my bare feet pushing us forward and back and his hanging off the edge. Two men trying to figure out why they do the things they sometimes do. We talk about it for a bit. Just a bit. Because in the end we both decide that everyone screws up, which is bad, but that we still love each other even when we do, which is good.
And that God still loves us both, which is best.