Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday afternoon

by John D Ramsey

On Sunday afternoon, Claire had her last session in shooting sports. She has enough hours to count it as a completed 4-H project, and that is likely where her interest will end. Since the beginning of the year, her shooting has improved dramatically. The instructor introduced her to the rifle sling for the first time Sunday and she immediately shot four of her next ten shots in a ½-inch group. The rest of them were close in comparison to what Claire shot early in the project.

When Claire signed up for shooting sports it was hard for me to know how to react. When Cara was in college on the east coast, I made a big deal about getting photographs of her shooting everything from her uncle’s carbine to her grandfather’s .50 caliber Dessert Eagle. My impression was that her friends out east had never seen a firearm that was not securely strapped to a police officer’s waist. Photographs of Cara shooting various weapons were unsettling to them. I encouraged Cara to try out her grandfather’s guns for the camera because I know that sometimes it helps to be different. When Claire decided to take shooting sports, I suspected that the reason had something to do with me. When I asked Lisa, she said, “Duh.”

Claire will probably still want to go shooting with me on the rare occasion that I go, but I think she’s finished with the thought of competitive shooting. There is just too much downtime between pops. For every instant of accomplishment, Claire waited over 3½ minutes. With the pellet traveling at about 800 fps, and at a distance of 10 yards, that means that in an hour and a half Claire spent less than one second actually shooting. The rest of the time Claire lay prone on her Pilates mat just waiting to pull the trigger.

Not everyone would have the same perception of an afternoon at the range, but for Claire it was excruciating. In some ways, Claire is like her father, that is, she can be philosophical. Claire spent the time wondering why there was a sign on the building that read, “No Weapons Allowed” when the facility is primarily used for shooting sports and archery. I do not even try to explain to my kids that bureaucracy is a special type of mental disease or defect.

Before shooting sports, I promised Claire that we would ride bicycles to the church picnic later Sunday afternoon.That gave her something for which to look forward. Gabby hates to be left out of anything she considers herself capable of doing, so we loaded up her bicycle in the Explorer so she could ride at the picnic. Claire and I rode to the park. Claire was disappointed again. The park was only a mile from our house, and the ride was almost completely downhill. It was not like riding at all. Lisa and Gabby passed us before the parking lot, and I stopped to take Gabby’s bike out of the Explorer. She rode with us into the park. She did not start the ride with us, but she finished with us. She beamed.

I perceived that the brevity of the ride frustrated Claire, so I offered to ride the trail with her when she was ready. She came up to me after she ate and announced that it was time. As we walked to our bicycles, Gabby ran up already wearing her bicycle helmet, “Are we riding?” she asked. Claire was exasperated, but I could not deny such an eager child. Gabby and I rode slowly around the park. Claire backtracked a couple times, but finally she rode off without us. She passed us again as we were nearing the home stretch. After Gabby completed the lap, she played with kids on the playground. I rode around the park one more time with Claire. Claire rode several other laps by herself in between sessions of play and gab with her friends.

Both girls had something to prove on two wheels. Gabby wanted to demonstrate that she is big enough to keep up. Claire wanted to demonstrate that she is big enough to venture on her own. Neither girl’s perception of herself is quite accurate, but my job is not to confront them with reality, but rather to help them realize their vision. That means that I ride slowly with Gabby, and much faster with Claire, but not too fast. When it was time to go home, I rode to the playground to retrieve Gabrielle. I carried a cup of ice, which she begged away from me. I rode with her to the Explorer and put her bicycle away. She could not finish this ride with us, but she could start it.

On the way home from the park, the hill that Claire and I had ridden down worked against us. When we crossed the last busy street I called to Claire, “I’m racing you home!” Claire shot off in a sprint, fighting her way up the hill. She did not look back until she had stretched her lead to 100 yards. I shifted down and just enjoyed the ride. I kept her in my sights, but hers was the victory. Claire realized that I was not seriously competing, but she pressed on proving to herself that she could out-pedal Dad.

When I arrived home, Claire was waiting for me at the curb. She had already put her bicycle away. I think she was a little concerned for me, but mostly I think she wanted to gloat. She had ridden further Sunday than she ever had before. She had handled her bicycle well on a busy street, and she had managed the sharp turns on the trail without finding too much grass. She had maintained a hard pace all the way up the hill and home. She had ridden well.

I walked into the house and sat down in front of my computer to check email, as I always do. Gabby had a cup of ice waiting for me on my table.

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