I'd coached his mother on what he ought to bring and what to expect - particularly the two large dogs. His dad had recently purchased him a slick little Mossberg .22 (he already had a neat ISSC) in order to let him get the "feel" of a rifle with the inexpensive .22 ammunition. They essentially sent him on the plane with only a backpack of necessities and issued a very large box with everything else he might need under separate cover. It was a superb solution, allowing him to have a generous amount of gear, clothes, and fun stuff without the issues of baggage at the airport.We started off with an expert archery lesson (which gave him his first wound of the trip - a nice string slap bruise that he would display proudly), a trip to the main office of DPS, fully kitting him out in western attire (Wrangler's, pearl snap shirt, boots, Hereford Low Crown hat) and attending a special full-auto shooting event which, sadly, would not let minors shoot full auto. Sigh...
He was, however, able to visit the LaRue tent. I cannot say enough for the patience, kindness and good spirit in which his trepidation was received. He was very worried about recoil, you see. The gentleman shot one round without it shouldered, the PredatAR barely moving. We'd been challenging the young man the entire time to stretch his limits and not worry - that we would not ask something he could not do. He looked to me - "take a deep breath and give it one try...there are only a handful of kids your age who have had this experience..."
He sat with a sigh - I knew his eyes were moist with his fear but he sat at the bench and shouldered it. Five rounds per gun per person, the sales rep asked him to shoot just one. After, he sat back, looked over his shoulder and called out, "Five rounds, please!" And, yes, he contacted with at least one of his last. DING! went the metal silhouette and I know that bell rang inside his soul, expanding his confidence in ripples. Of course, I took my turn - the OBR was calling my name. It's an amazing weapon and nigh unto impossible to miss with it. Again, those people were the very kindest, most professional folks I've met. Smiles all around...
Of course, he had to meet and ride along with a Special Ranger from the Texas Cattle Raiser group. This was perhaps the most impactful portion of the trip as it was just the guys - real men just doing manly things. He seemed to come home from it with a bit more steel in his spine. And then a Krav Maga class with a wonderful instructor that allowed him to get a taste of it - we think he'll want to continue it at home.
We took him shooting at a private range, allowing us to do what we liked. He handled his ISSC with confidence, and we added a scope to the new Mossberg, getting it sighted in. We had a bowling pin duel which Trooper won, of course, shooting his beloved first .22 rifle. He's had it since he was 8 or so and can shoot anything with ease. Toward the end of the evening, the young man asked if he could do rapid fire shooting as that isn't allowed at their range. I laughed and told him that he could do whatever he liked. He loaded up his mags and set to. At the end of the first mag was a perma-grin. At the end of the second was an evil cackle.
The date I had feared arrived: SeaWorld. I'd acquired appropriate footwear a week prior to break them in only to find they needed no such help! They performed superbly and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The same goes for the amazing Neutrogena Sunblock Stick. It was over 8 hours in the intense sun and heat...perhaps 4 different applications throughout the day prevented any sunburn! I fully expected a light glow but it did a terrific job - it was particularly well-met by the boys who always hate to have lotion-y hands after application. (It also fit in my pocket and was easy to have in hand anytime for reapplication.) I will be putting sticks in every vehicle, go bag, and range bag.
The park was surprisingly neat, clean, and well-managed. We opted for both the premier parking - no long hikes at the end of the day - and the all-day meal passes. The latter paid for itself with one meal and we didn't have to cart in a lot of supplies. The godson and I had a couple firsts - first coaster and first water slide. We both declined the Steel Eel (which Trooper said chewed his tailbone up and did not ride again) and the Great White (which the others rode at least twice). But the wussified Atlantis flume was just right for the us and he was proud to have accomplished the goal.
Trooper was enthralled with the main show, watching the orcas cavort. It really was a very nice production. By the end of the day, we'd strolled all over the place and eaten far too much junk - precisely what one is supposed to do there. At the start of the day I'd given the young man one of our Ranger Up rubber bracelets. I told him to ignore the naughty word on it (RTFU in short) but to use it as a reminder when he got scared during the day. I knew the companion (we'd recruited another boy to join us often during his stay) was afraid of nothing and it might produce a bit of tension. He smiled at the bracelet and would finger it often during the day, noting that he might have to put a death grip on it once or twice.
At the end of the long day, his heels burning from wet shoes rubbing raw spots, he held to the black ring, stating that he was "Rangering Up!" Not a complaint, just a slowing gait as we made our way back to the car. He asked me if he'd earned the right to keep it and I had to smile and admit that he had. (What his parents will say I do not know.)
We took him to the airport the next morning, and he donned the full regalia in order to better surprise his father. He loved the hat and boots - word is he was hardly recognizable to his father. And that when his father tried on the hat daggers flew from his eyes. Yes, he has taken on that Texan trait already.
I guess all this is just to relate how wonderful it was to take a young man who never experiences these sorts of challenges and to push his comfort zone out a bit. I know it made Trooper melancholy for a son. But we both know they don't come that way naturally - the boy is a very good one because his parents work very hard at it. Still, I know it bothers him, deep down. And I feel something of a failure in not being able to give him one.
When we were home and packing all the small clothes away to ship back I wiped away tears at the miniature boxers, the tiny rolls of socks...all his treasures stuck inside with a secret gift included - a Maxpedition bag for him to carry all his manly things in...
I suppose there is a kind of satisfaction that if everything goes to hell he will at least know how weapons work and have a rudimentary concept of coping with stress. We wish we could do more. We wish they'd move here! Until then we'll just have to make do with annual summer camps. They were already making plans for 2012 as we drove to the airport, me sitting in the back, knitting, and grinning.
This is how I like to remember the trip...one of my favorite photos...he has his mother's hands and his father's wild hair. And, now, memories that we hope will stay with him a long time.