Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cowboys Don't Sleep With Their Guns On

I am deep in the midst of writing the sequel to Escaping Destiny, but I didn't want any more time to pass without sharing something with those of you kind enough to follow this blog.  Please join me as I brush the dust off a blog from 2001 when my eldest daughter was still a toddler...

I was a four year old bundle of energy, a blonde-haired tornado with grass-stained knees who spent his days in treetops and ankle-deep in local streams. In my mind I was the lone sheriff in the white hat. The tree was the high bluff overlooking the badlands; the speed with which my well-stained sneakers raced over yard and field became the wind felt from the back of my trusty steed. To fight the outlaws, I wore a pair of six guns, my imagination containing more firepower than the caps the plastic revolvers had been designed for, my sidearms slung low on my hips from a leather-like vinyl holster.

I still remember the day well. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and I wanted nothing more than to dash around my grandmother's backyard, the fenced perimeter main street in an old west frontier town. I'd spent the morning practicing my draw, winning again and again against an old walnut tree, the speed of its limbs no match for my deadly reflexes or the righteousness of the star I wore pinned to my chest. But into every childhood fantasy, a parent sooner or later treads and I was sent off to my grandmother's spare bedroom, assured that I needed a nap, that the villains would wait for me to get a little rest and a little more lunch.

My sneakers were kicked off at the foot of the bed, but my six-guns would remain at my side. The Sheriff couldn't be caught unarmed; there were too many villains whose criminal companions had been gunned down by a dirty scowl and a rat's nest of blonde hair.

"Let's take them off," my mom said in that motherly voice so used to struggle that the sound had become a resigned monotone.

"But mom," I protested, unsure of how to explain that it was just like the Hampton brothers to wait until I was asleep to wreak their vengeance, that they were lily-livered cowards with a streak of yella as wide as-

"Real cowboys don't sleep with their guns on."

I was stunned, my mind shocked into silence. Had I been wrong? Could the young sheriff be something other than a real cowboy?

I came to my senses as she tried to thread my vinyl gun belt through its plastic buckle.

"How do you know?" I asked, grabbing my holster, demanding some kind of proof. "Why wouldn't they wear 'em while they sleep?"

My mom stood up, leaving my treasured possessions in my grasp. "You wouldn't want them to go off while you slept, would you?"

Suddenly I was back on the farm, an honest sheriff with a home-cooking type of mother. The kind that knew why chickens laid eggs and how come milk came from cows.

And why real cowboys didn't sleep with their guns on.

"You're sure?" I asked.

She nodded, holding out her hands.

The gun belt came off and I reluctantly accepted a kiss, preparing to drift off into dreams of the saddle beneath me and the wide open prairie stretching as far as the eye could see.

I do my best to remember that day as I raise my own children, as I watch them grow up before my eyes. Sometimes, it's not so important that they embrace my reality as is it is for me to understand where they're at.

When my daughter was in that magical realm between one and two years old, when every day was filled with new discoveries, I would watch her hold her arms out straight from her side and spin in circles until she fell down, laughing, rolling in her self-induced dizziness. Was she simply embracing the sensation? Was there a fantasy filling her mind as strongly as my gun-toting alter-ego gripped my own?

The thing was, I didn't know. I had never taken the time to enter her world, to let go of the fantasy that I was a responsible adult who was too mature to spin in circles until I fell down, laying motionless as the world continued it's circular dance.

So I did the bravest thing I think I've ever done.

I looked my daughter square in the eye. I smiled. And then I stretched my arms out and began to turn in circles.

We fell down together, laughing. She didn't have the words to explain her perspective of the event, but she did have that look in her eyes. It was the same look I imagine I held when my mother told me that my six-guns were filled with lead. That I couldn't wear them to bed. That she didn't want them to go off and shoot me in the foot while I slept.

Every so often, not quite every day, but more often than not, I try to take a moment or two and enter my daughter's world. She turned two this last April. Words are beginning to come in short sentences rather than in single entries from the dictionary. She's discovering the magical abilities of "please" and "thank you." I'm rediscovering how exciting it can be to realize that something is blue.

But more than any of that, I've come to realize that my daughter is a person. She may not have the vocabulary to express everything she's feeling or the maturity to temper her emotions with responsible reactions, but she is certainly not an inane little entity that so many people seem to think children are. There are too many people in this world that believe there is a mystical age where children suddenly develop a personality, when they grow intelligence or become someone worth spending time with. In the third Indiana Jones movie, Sean Connery's character tells his son Indie that the boy left, "Just when you were getting interesting."

My daughter is one of the most fascinating people I know. She has the freedom to dance whenever a song captures her. She will draw with an indescribable focus and want to show the entire world the pictures she's created. We can look at a photo album a thousand times in a row and each and every time she is so excited to see "Papa" and "Mama" displayed there in a series of photographs I now know by heart. She can laugh like there's no tomorrow, beg to be tickled so she can laugh some more, and cry in my arms like she knows there is nothing that I can't protect her from.

There are some that say they would give anything to recapture their childhood. I revisit mine every day with my children. I used to wonder how two children could play together, without any rules, somehow adapting as the parameters of the game slowly changed. I don't wonder any more; I play those games again. There are days that I dance with my daughter in front of our big picture window, not caring if the entire world stares as they drive by. I find that when I create something I'm proud of, I now want to show everyone I know, not to receive their praise, but to share with them something magical I brought into the world.

I always thought that life was a gift that parents give their children. I was wrong. Life is something that children remind their parents how to live.

So I'm patient when I pull toy after toy out of the inside of our stereo speaker box. After all, I have no idea what game, what thought process led them to their sacred storage place. Uneaten cookies continually appear behind the couch in our playroom and instead of thinking about the waste, I wonder how the untouched treats continue to call that particular spot home.

After all, my daughter does have a certain passion for cookies.

I think we understand each other, my daughter and I. I take the time to explain things to her, regardless of whether we're exploring something new or she's being corrected for a behavior she knows she shouldn't have continued. Sometimes I lose my temper; sometimes she loses hers. But in the end, I'm the guy racing across the yard with her laughing as she holds on tight on my back and she's the girl who pats the carpet next to her when she slips into her private spot behind our overstuffed chair and invites me with a simple, "Papa."

There are even days when she's on my back, when she's laughing and goading me on with her plea of, "Fast," that my sneakers once more become a horse's hooves and the sheriff of old is racing across the open plains with his young daughter behind him in the saddle.

And if you're wondering, my holster stayed on the chair beside my grandmother's bed while I slept that day. But not the revolvers. They found their way under my pillow.

Just in case.


  1. A very touching and well written piece. I can't wait to get home to my 2 year old and race around with him.

  2. I have a wonderful 4 month old daughter and she is just learning to laugh and play. Every day it amazes me how much my world has changed in the short time she has been in it. Thank you for a wonderfully written post letting me know what to look forward to and reminding me how special these times are.

  3. Excellent post, you are a wonderful father.

  4. Fantastic Jeffrey thank you for sharing!!!

  5. Scott: Being a father has been the most fascinating, rewarding, and illuminating journey I've ever embarked upon - and my life has had some interesting twists and turns! I'm very excited for you and the magic that awaits ahead.

  6. Nancy and Lori: Thank you both. :)

  7. Great, touching post. Thanks for visiting Nancy's blog and leaving kind words about my book, Roland

  8. Roland: Thank you! Nancy did a beautiful job of sharing your novel and I'm really looking forward to reading it. :)

  9. This piece made me a little teary..I loved it!

  10. Great post it really makes you want to take a step back and enjoy every second with your family.