Okay, this post isn’t exactly about dream party themes for teen girls hitting the sweet sixteen milestone. Although guns, quads and a sixteen year old girl’s birthday party are involved. This tale is more along the lines of helping one’s teen understand that even seemingly nice people, even the parents of friends, can not always exercise the best judgement. If a situation sounds strange then chances are there is a reason. It’s a strange situation.
Also, this is not a post about issues surrounding gun laws. As an American I have the right to my opinions about guns, gun ownership and guns laws in this country. I, however, do not have all the insights, information or knowledge to go at such a critical and multi-faceted subject in the depth would be required to argue about gun laws. I’m just sticking with some of the more important issues of gun safety in a situation where guns probably shouldn’t have even been present. Although I will throw this opinion out; mental health care should not be more difficult to get than a gun.
Additionally, this isn’t necessarily a post about my husband and I being better parents than somebody else’s parents. Everybody makes mistakes and bad calls. Even really nice people who happen to be good parents as well. I’m sharing my daughter and husband’s experience (I didn’t go on the excursion. But I did get a very detailed account from both of them) because the other adults involved are seemingly nice, normal, intelligent, well-adjusted, community minded parents. That leads to me to believe that a scenario like the one my loved ones found themselves in could easily happen to a lot of other people. A cautionary tale to remind us all to just take a second, maybe third look when making plans, especially when they involve minors, guns and ATVs.
Here we go.
Our sixteen year old daughter, Caitlyn, has a pretty darn good group of girls in her friend group. Actually they are great. While Daddy-Man and I don’t know some of the parents very well, the brief meetings we have had with some of them haven’t given us any reasons to see red flags wave about.
Last week Caitlyn informed us that a floating campsite trip at a nearby lake that had been planned in celebration of her friend’s sixteenth birthday was off. During the summer our daughter had gone on one of these overnighters at the same lake with the same family. It was the parents, about 5 teenage girls, including our daughter and about 4 or 5 teenage boys. Quite a lot to account for, and with a boat involved. Everything went fine. Caitlyn had been on day trip boating excursions with them before. According to our daughter they were very rules and safety oriented with boating safety; no bodies in the water till the motor was shut off, unless a person was being pulled on water skis or a tube. All equipment had to be used only as intended by the manufacturer. So on and so on.
So when our daughter informed us of what the new party plans were, we were somewhat perplexed and a little curious as to what was really going on.
Here is what our daughter told us the new plans would be:
The birthday girl’s dad (and maybe mom) were going to take her and her group of girlfriends out to his father’s 100+ acre ranch to shoot guns.
Um. What? This particular group of girls, including our daughter, are not really into the hunting, fishing, gun-toting lifestyle. Both my husband and I were raised around guns. I was 12 when I shoot my first firearm and my husband was probably around the same age. He did some hunting growing up. Hunting really wasn’t my family’s lifestyle. My dad’s desire to have guns around was a little more along the lines of be armed, ready and paranoid. At all times. He is still that way. In my childhood home, before my parents split apart, there were loaded guns stored everywhere. I think there was even one deep in my closet, hiding among forgotten stuffed animals and hideous 5-piece outfits given to me at Christmas by my grandma. Certainly being an only child, and a girl at that, kept my liability low. Still, it’s cra-cra to have all that fire power laying around. Fortunately it was drilled into me that every gun you come across is presumed loaded. Never play with a gun. If you point a gun at someone it is because you have already accepted the fact that you plan to pull the trigger. There is no horse-play. There are no second chances. I was 8 months pregnant with our first child and in my early twenties when I purchased my first firearm. Lawfully, I might add. While I have enjoyed target shooting in the past, I haven’t done so in a very long time. Often we have talked about the importance of our children, at appropriate ages, becoming acquainted with gun safety. A group of teenage girls, none of which are into the hunting/fishing lifestyle, with one dad that we know nothing of his firearms knowledge, is not our ideal setting.
“Well, at least there won’t be any boys.” We’ll get to that in a bit.
Our daughter had sweat out explaining the loosely laid plans to our WTF faces.
First responses were “Oh Hell No!”, “Are you sure you heard the plans right?” and “Okay, this sounds jenkie as all get out.”
While it was clear that Caitlyn suspected that we were taking all of this waaaaayyyy to seriously (“Yes, okay. Guns can be dangerous. I get it.”), I think she was also suspecting we knew a little something of which we spoke.
It was decided that Daddy-Man would go with our daughter to this crazy sounding birthday celebration. Still no clarity on if there would be other father-daughter couples. But at least we knew our daughter’s dad would be there. Plus, she had been excited for us to meet her friend’s parents for awhile.
Caitlyn would be getting her first experience shooting guns. Daddy-Man packed up our two handguns and a rifle inherited from his own father. We’ve been holding my husband’s uncle’s ammo since June. This because of a crazy stalker ex-girlfriend who’s prone to breaking in, stealing stuff, and vandalizing our uncle’s car. Repeatedly. We all saw the crazy, he was warned. Sometimes stupid needs to be painful. My hubby asked his uncle if we could use some of his ammo. So, with his permission, they now had some fire power.
On a Saturday morning Daddy-Man and Cait-a-pillar loaded up guns, ammo, water bottles and an uncertainty as to how it was all going to play out, and headed out.
After meeting up at the birthday girl’s house, carpooling arrangements were made with her mother to transport the group of 5 teenage girls out to the grandparent’s ranch where the father was already stationed. So far just three adults/parents were in the equation; the sweet sixteen’s parents and my husband. Three adults are more than adequate for a group of 5 teenage girls for just about any activity. Unless something extraordinary is going on like a group exorcism. Teen girls are vicious when possessed by evil demons. I’ve seen the movies.
Off they all went.
Perhaps the best way to liven up any activity, especially one involving loaded firearms (all firearms are loaded!) is to throw in some teenage boys. Let’s say four of them. Why stop there? Jazz everything up a little more with some ATV 4-wheelers and Go Kart action.
That is what my husband pulled up to. I can only imagine that as he got out of his vehicle he could hear the distant tattooing of tribal drums accompanied by a steady chant of “Clusterfuck, clusterfuck, clusterfuck.”
Shortly after unloading his cargo, my husband got to meet the friend’s father. Nice enough guy and nothing of note out of the ordinary. The birthday girl’s father then proceeded to lay out an arsenal of firearms onto a picnic table nestled under a movable canopy. Just laid them out like one would set out chips and cookies. No group talk about safety or rules. Who shoots when or in what direction. This was not a group of International Biathlon Champions, mind you. I’m pretty sure that none of the girls, including our own, had spent any time around real firearms (even the girl with the cop dad). And don’t get me started on the ridiculous thinking that young teenage boys and guns don’t require close, and I mean kah-lOOse supervision. Oh, and while we are at it, some damn supervision for kids on quads is a good idea too!
Let’s start with the guns.
So as a father rolling up on this with your child in tow do you grab said child, yell “Have a nice life!” and hightail it out of there? Drama and fall out drop where they may. Or do you step up and try to get a set of limits and standards set up for everyone’s safety? One of my husband’s nicknames is Mr. Big Dick (6’4″, first name Richard). At the risk of being considered an asshole, my husband loudly called for some rules to be clearly understood. He received no opposition.
All guns on the table point in the same direction. Fortunately the gun table was the farthest set table from the main hub. You know, where the cookies and chips are. The direction they point; away from people and towards the “shooting range”.
Nobody walks on the side of table that the gun barrels are pointed. Right after my husband said this one of the teenage boys started to wander exactly where he was told nobody goes. He bristled at being scolded by his mom, who I’m sure became enlightened to the fact that those with fore brains yet fully closed, i.e. teenagers, sometimes don’t effing listen or understand the severity of a situation.
Every gun is a loaded gun. Period.
My husband helped to coach the girls about kickback and how to safely handle a firearm, especially when others are around. With the first girl up, “Right after you shoot you are going to feel really excited. You are probably going to immediately want to turn around. If you do, you will most likely be pointing the guns at us. Right after you shoot you need to take a breath and keep the gun pointed towards where you just shot or point the barrel towards the sky.” I’m sure you can picture all of the girl’s friends hollering at her as she started to do exactly what she wasn’t supposed to do. She was excited, but now she, and all the others were informed about a safety protocol.
A couple of the boys were holding rifles a la Call Of Duty style. “Hey guys, I know that looks cool on the video games, but you will probably shoot yourself or your friend next to you in the foot.” Barrels to the sky.
Food on food table, guns on gun table.
Yeah! Nobody got shot!
Those damn quads!
There was an incident with two of the boys and one of the ATVs, commonly known as a quad. Without surveying the surrounding area, two of the boys jumped on one of the quads and took off pell mell. To be honest, I’m not sure that I would have had the foresight to take note of the area before unleashing kids or anyone else on a recreation vehicle. Anytime my kids have driven Go-Karts around, it was on a piece of land that we were all familiar with. Additionally, my kids were always told that as soon as you get reckless you are done. Party over. So now I will lock it into my memory to add surveying terrain as part of a safety protocol.
Anyways, the boys were unaware of a 5 foot drop into a sort of crater in the area that they were driving very fast in. They were thrown a good 20-25 feet from the the crashed quad, that itself had flipped over a few times and had some pretty significant damage to its metal frame. The one boy that wasn’t wearing a helmet (areyouevenfuckingkiddingmerightnow) was surprisingly not hurt very bad. Some abrasions on his side, although its not unheard of for more internal, and potentially fatal, injuries to present themselves hours later. Fortunately he was fine. The other boy, who was wearing a helmet (the full face shield kind) got more banged up. His elbow looked like raw, shredded meat. Worse, and far more frightening, he was very confused about what had just happened. Without going into detail about the hemming and hawing that went on about whether or not he should get checked out by a professional (i.e. emergency room. And again, the loudest voice of being safe rather than sorry was my husband), after the weekend word got around that he did not suffer a concussion. He did however break his collarbone and seriously jacked up his shoulder. This made worse by the fact that he was the starting quarterback for the high school freshman football team. Bummer. So glad no concussion though.
So what was Caitlyn’s take about everything that occurred? Well, she was pretty amazed at how accurately we called it. I think she was fairly stunned that our seemingly over the top predictions that her friend’s parents just were not thinking the situation through adequately could be so accurate. Call it we did.
Interestingly enough though, she did say that she was glad for the experience, even though she was very uncomfortable during most of it, and at times more than a little scared. She felt that she now had a greater understanding of the concept that if something sounds sort of off, or that if it just seems that there is no way someone could have such little forethought, that yes, yes they can have so little forethought. And that the situation is as jenkie as it sounds. And yes, even really nice parents of a good friend can use poor judgement. Perhaps we, as her parents garnered a little street cred.
Here’s the thing though; as I mentioned at the beginning, we all are capable of making mistakes. We all are capable of lapses in judgement, even when we have the best of intentions at heart. Out of no where terrible things can happen. We have had a friend’s teenage son slip on the concrete of our back patio and smack the back of his head hard enough that he blacked out. We immediately called for an ambulance. We should have set up better precautions on our back patio given that we have a pool and there would be sopping wet people. Even though this particular part of the patio was set away from the pool area, it is covered and thus unable to dry quickly and/or sufficiently. No, he shouldn’t have been running on wet cement, but we could have taken better precautions to make a safer surface for everyone. Perhaps we measure every situation differently since our oldest daughter’s best friend suffered fatal brain trauma while staying the night at our house two years ago (a serious and unforeseeable complication relating to her Type One diabetes). Bad stuff happens. Some of it, upon reflection could perhaps have been prevented. Or at least lessened. Some things, terrible things, roll in like a perfect storm. Where do you, as a parent, strike the balance between ensuring that you take as many precautions and safety measures as possible without wrapping your kids in bubble wrap and escorting them through life as if they are wet tissue paper, thus denying them the opportunities to learn valuable lessons and build self confidence and competence. Brain. On. Fire.
Going back to the guns and quads birthday bash, upon packing it in, the birthday girl’s dad did express a wish to chat with my husband, maybe sit and have a beer once they all got back to the house. It didn’t happen due to the expected melee of trying to sort a group of teens to their respective spots. My husband suspects that the dad was a little embarrassed about the over sights in judgement about planning such an excursion. A kid did get seriously hurt, and there clearly was the potential for far worse to happen.
Life is hard and unpredictable. This is compounded when raising kids.
I do think that if you are a gun owner, around 37% of Americans are, it is important to teach gun safety to your children. At appropriate ages and under appropriate circumstances. As far as a girl celebrating her sweet sixteen? Movie marathons and makeovers are pretty cool.