My world changed the moment my daughter was born. I followed her around the delivery room like Pac Man chasing those blinking ghosts, talking baby talk, and sounding like a total buffoon while doing so. I was spellbound to the point of being oblivious to everything else, including my recovering wife. She still brings that up in arguments by the way.
I knew nothing of raising girls. I feared we would have little in common, and she would eventually trade me for a vehicle and cell phone. I shuddered at the thought, and vowed I would show an interest in whatever she aspired to do, hoping she would find at least one of my interests appealing.
My fears of estrangement subsided a bit as Aubrey grew. Now a quirky two-year-old, she is my shadow. For the time being, Daddy is the most interesting person on the planet, and Daddy loves his bows and arrows. Therefore, Aubrey loves bows and arrows.
She began watching me from a distance, sending a bubbly “Daddy again!” after each arrow. She would then do a little celebration dance consisting of small hops and numerous laps around my legs until eventually collapsing and wanting a hug. I started shooting a whole lot less, and laughing a whole lot more.
I initially dismissed her behavior as curiosity, underestimating her level of comprehension. She knew exactly what was going on, a fact that became more apparent as she began to communicate more efficiently, and more often. I soon realized there would be no escaping her as far as bows were concerned. She would not be letting me out of her site.
My forays to the basement for a quick shooting session were now accompanied by a squeaky “Dad-dee? Are you shootin’ yo bow?” from beyond the baby gate at the top of the stairs. Tantrums would ensue should her questions go unanswered. There is no escaping a toddler’s knack for obnoxious repetition at high volume. Bringing her with me seemed the only reasonable option, and my heart was happier for it.
A little game developed over time, and I’ll never forget the first time we played it. I was shooting at a cardboard deer silhouette, and Aubrey was standing safely behind me as per usual. I was shooting from a stool, and paused for a moment to exam an arrow from the quiver lying next to me. Aubrey skipped up and began stroking the feathers, so I asked her to hand me another one. With careful thought, she selected the one that spoke to her the loudest — a gaudy, black and purple cedar with white shield-cut fletching.
“Here Daddy,” she exclaimed, as she handed it to me. “Shoot dis one.”
I gratefully accepted the arrow and praised her for the selection. I then pulled her close and brought her attention to the deer target.
“Aubrey…” I whispered. “See that deer down there? I’m going to get him. Be very quiet, or he will run away and Daddy will miss.”
The results were as expected. She squealed, clapped her hands over her mouth, and began hopping up and down, which is something we will most definitely have to work on if she ever goes hunting with me.
“Okay, stand back.”
“Okay, I stand back Daddy!” She repeated, hopping back several feet.
I drew to anchor and released. The arrow hit the cardboard with a load thump and buried into the bale behind it.
“Ohhhh,” Aubrey shrieked. “Let’s go get it.”
She then led me across the floor by my index finger and lunged for the end of my arrow. I gasped, as chubby toddler fingers wrangled the end of my carefully crested cedar, and torqued it in a manner that reminded me of prying open a crate with a crowbar. She sensed my being startled, let go of the arrow, and backed away. Her bottom lip quivered.
“I broked it Daddy?” She sobbed.
“No, it’s okay honey, but there is a special way to take Daddy’s arrows out of the target. First you twist, then you pull, and they come right out!”
I wrapped her hand around the arrow as near to the target as possible, and showed her how. She picked up on it quickly, believing she was actually removing the arrow herself.
“Tweest and pull. Tweeeest and pull Daddy.”
Once the arrows were removed, I turned to walk back to the shooting line, but Aubrey lingered, tracing the holes my arrows had made in the cardboard. She glanced back at me.
“Is right there Daddy,” she grinned. “Is right there!”
“You’re right Aubers. Did Daddy make a good shot?” She nodded. “Is a bullsheye.” She gave me a high five, grabbed my finger, and marched me back to the stool.
“Sit down Daddy,” she ordered. “Let’s go get it one more time.”
We play our little game a few nights a week, and I look forward to it. I’ve even incorporated a little plastic bow with suction cup arrows into the mix, but she still insists I do the shooting. That suits me fine for the time being. I am perfectly content with her being little a bit longer. The “terrible” label that often accompanies the age of two is unwarranted in my opinion. There are moments when boundaries and buttons are pushed, but they pale in comparison to the personality and character that begin to manifest at that age. These are beautiful years. Magical years. I wouldn’t trade the love or laughs for anything in the world.
I have a hunch my daughter will still be marching me around the range 10 years from now, and that brings a smile to my face. A friend much wiser than I once told me we raise our kids by giving them the best of us, and those things in which we are the most passionate become the glue that strengthens the bond. I’m not sure if this means Aubrey will be an archer or a bowhunter, but I am willing to play “Let’s Go Get It” for the rest of my life should she want to. I’ve even mounted that gaudy black and purple arrow on the wall to remind me if I ever forget.