The BB gun was put into my hands when I was eight years old. Black birds were a nuisance to my papa’s bird feeders. He put them out so that he could watch the cardinals eat while he drank his coffee in the mornings over the kitchen sink. He told me when I saw a black bird shoot it and I’d get a dollar for everyone I killed, but if I hit a red bird I’d be in trouble. I would sit on the front porch with that Daisy propped up on the brick rail and sit patiently. “Don’t pul the trigger, squeeze it.” No it doesn’t matter much with a BB or pellet gun, but he was preparing me for the moment he put a real rifle in my hands.
He was teaching me how to shoot a gun, but there was so much more to it. He taught me patience, because I had to sit there and wait for the right moment so I didn’t hit a red bird. He taught me observance because I had to make sure I was shooting black birds and not thrashers. He taught me to persevere, because as much as I’d like to say I was always a good shot, I wasn’t. Every time I missed I sat out there a little longer until I got at least one bird that wouldn’t come back to ruin my papa’s morning routine. He taught me early how to do a job, do it right and get paid for it. Earn what you want and need. Most importantly, he spent time with me, taught me, encouraged me, was proud of me and told me he loved me. All of those lessons by putting a gun in my hand.
A skeen of yarn, a crochet hook, and just me and Nana sitting in the living room. She taught me how to make a chain first. Tie your first loop, hook the string, pull it through and keep repeating. Over and over again I’d hook and pull, hook and pull until I had a seriously long chain that looked nothing like a blanket or scarf or hat. Hook and pull. Then she stopped me and showed me hot to go back and double crochet. Wrap around, hook under, pull through twice. That that chain grew a little ticker. It still looked more like a rope than a blanket. At eight years old your attention only goes so far and it didn’t look like I’d have anything like the blanket that covered my nana’s lap. I retained the lessons and when I grew older I made little things like pot holders and place mats. Now I’m twenty-seven and making hats, working on a blanket, fingerless gloves and scarves.
My nana taught me a different kind of patience. While papa taught me to sit and wait, Nana taught me to keep working through even thought it looked like no progress was being made. She taught me to keep at it because I would eventually make something beautiful. She taught me to enjoy the quiet. Our family was so big and so busy all the time, we never really had time to appreciate the quiet moments. I think the most important thing she taught me was how something extravagant and beautiful can be made from one piece of string. These big, beautiful afghans, baby blankets, shawls, hats, even Christmas ornaments. They were all made from this one long piece of yarn at a time. It took time, patience and practice but it taught me that even and eight year old little girl could do great things with very little.
Bad things in life have turned into lessons too. They aren’t lessons you ever want to learn that way, but lessons are priceless no matter how they are delivered. My parents’ divorce taught me that great father’s are’t made of money and material. Great fathers are made out of effort. A parent shouldn’t have to be forced or guilted into spending time with their kids. When my parents split up, I learned that the reason my dad was around when I was younger, was because my mother would tell him he hadn’t spent any time with my sisters and me. When he left it was more important to find someone to be with than find a way to support his kids. He always turned the tables to say it was all about money with us, when we never wanted anything more than knowing our father would make time for us without saying something like “I don’t have the money to take you out to a big dinner.” “I don’t have the gas money to come see you.” “I don’t have the money to buy groceries.” If he would just say “Sure, come over and see me.” or “I’ll be there in ten” and then not say one negative thing about our mother then it would’ve been enough.
In that same time my mama taught me what it was to be a parent. Not that she hadn’t taught me before, but I watched my mother drop everything to be the best single mom in the world. She supported her girls, she fought tooth and nail to give us what we needed and was there for us when we fell down. There was never an excuse of “If I had the money I would….” It was always, “I’ll figure something out.” “We can make something at home with what we have and pretend we went out to Quail’s Nest.” Then there were those times when we were up until 2am watching TV and a Steak n’ Shake commercial came on and she said “Let’s go get Milkshakes.” Just because. It was never much but it was everything. So when drama is brought up about my father, I think back to the excuses made and the negative things he says, claiming everything was about money when really it was about effort. His heart belongs to another family and that’s okay. That’s the life he chose and I’m better for it in my opinion. I think that entire section of my life taught me about strength I never knew i had. It taught me to let go, because many people judge me for not talking to my father. “He’s the only one you’ll ever have.” I’m grateful that he did his part in bringing me into the world, but I’m not here to be his crutch, or his counselor, or his confidante, or the buffer between him and my mother, and I’m not here to be his grown up. I’m supposed to feel like his daughter and that is something I felt less and less like as I got older. He never fought for me and I’ve come to realize that he never will. That’s not the kind of person I want in my life or in my son’s life. My son needs people who will fight and advocate for him, not claim that there’s only so much that can be done without money. I’m a better, happier person without my father guilt tripping me every day, blaming my mom and lack of money for the issues we have with one another. So those people can judge me all they want, but until they’ve learned the same lessons the way I learned them, their opinion is invalid to me.
There are so many more lessons I’ve learned that would make this an awfully long blog post, and I’m sure some people didn’t even make it this far. I’m sitting her lying in bed before I have to go to work this afternoon and thinking about things I’m teaching Braiden and what he’s actually learning from them. He learns so much differently than I did. He remembers so many things that you don’t expect him to. Like I came home from work and asked him how his day was. He told me “Daddy honked the horn. The car went whooosh and daddy said are you serious and the horn it honked at the car on the road.” And Tim looked at me saying that it lasted maybe two seconds with someone trying to come over into his lane on the way home. He told me February is red because of hearts and love and valingtimes (Yes that’s how he gets it out). I can’t argue with him, he’s not wrong. I just pray that the things I teach him while we’re doing therapy at home have so many of these priceless lessons that stick the way the car horn honking does. I want to be the best I can for him, and I want him to think as highly of me as I think of my nana, papa and mama when he’s my age.