“Kids these days.” It’s a familiar expression used to express disapproval of how far today’s youth have drifted from the virtuous and well-behaved ways of their elders. But you only need to hear a few stories from my dad about his ridiculous childhood shenanigans to see what a crock that is.
Case in point: the fateful Christmas he got a BB gun.
Now, I don’t know precisely what Christmas in the 1950s was like. I’m assuming it involved things like walking uphill both ways to attend a four-hour Midnight Mass and fighting off woolly mammoths while looking for a Christmas tree. What I do know is that during one of those Christmases my dad and uncle Ted finally got the BB gun they had been begging for.
Like Ralphie Parker and his Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle in A Christmas Story, I can only imagine Dad and Ted’s excitement on Christmas morning when they tore the wrapping paper off their new gun. And like Ralphie, they should have heeded the all-too-familiar warning of “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Leaving grandma and grandpa Martin to their sober second thoughts about their gift-giving choices, Dad and Ted scampered off to the barn to play with their new “toy.” So what’s the best way to test out a new BB gun? Tin can target practice? Drawing a bulls-eye on the barn boards? Both sensible ideas. But both a bit… dull. No, Dad and Ted had different idea. (I won’t say “better” idea, because Lord knows it wasn’t.)
They decided that the most appropriate way to celebrate the birth of Jesus was to take turns shooting each other.
Dad handed the gun over and began racing around the barn while his big brother tried to pick him off. Diving inside a pigpen, Dad crouched behind the low wall for cover. The seconds ticked by as he waited for just the right moment to make a run for it.
He chose the wrong moment. The second he popped his head out, Ted took the shot. And Ted’s always been a good shot. The BB tore through the cold barn air, lodging itself in Dad’s face, mere millimeters below his eye. Blood and tears flowed from Dad’s head in equal measure.
The thought of Dad losing an eye scared the baby bejeezus out of them. But the thought of losing their brand new BB gun scared them more. So rather than rush Dad into the house so their mom could get him to a hospital, Ted decided to roll up his sleeves and try his hand at ocular surgery.
How hard could it be?
Quite, as it turned out. With Dad writhing in pain, Ted attempted to dislodge the pellet from his brother’s bloody face in a dimly lit barn. Unable to pop the BB out of Dad’s eye (which was now completely swollen shut), they eventually conceded defeat. Perhaps Mom wouldn’t notice, they reasoned as they sneaked back inside the house, hoping for a Christmas miracle. Thankfully, a boy who’s been shot in the face is hard to miss, and grandma rushed Dad to the ER immediately. The surgeon told him that an eighth of an inch higher and he’d have lost the eye.
Dad spent five days in the hospital. While his peers were enjoying their Christmas holidays with tobogganing and other merrymaking, Dad was spending his getting daily needles in the butt to ward off infections. I guess a dusty barn filled with pig manure isn’t the most sanitary of places to have your brother try to fish out a BB lodged under your eye.
A memorable Christmas to say the least. Naturally, they never saw the BB gun again. And on a related note: my Uncle Ted has been an avid hunter ever since.
Owning up to your mistakes
Things could have ended a whole lot worse if Dad and Uncle Ted succeeded in hiding the bloody incident from grandma. Facing the consequences for your decisions can be scary and unpleasant. But trying to cover something up can turn little problems into big ones. Don’t let pride, embarrassment or fear prevent you from getting the help you need when you’re in over your head.
In addition to keeping molehills from becoming mountains, taking ownership of your mistakes also shows good character and leadership qualities. Everybody makes mistakes. But being upfront about yours when they happen can help build trust and respect with the people around you, as it shows honesty and a willingness to take responsibility for your actions.
Finally, acknowledging that you’ve made a mistake in the first place is the only way you’ll learn from them. It sucks being responsible for something gone awry, and it’s easy to slip into blaming others or rationalizing your choices. By accepting the role you played in a problem, you’re able to grow as a person and ensure you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Whether you’ve screwed up at work or are laying in a pigpen on Christmas morning with a BB in your eye, nine times out of ten, owning up to your mistakes is the way to go.
Like these stories? You’ll find a whole whack of them — more than 50 in fact — in my book Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.