When I was in college, I signed up for an archery class. It was the last half of the last semester of my senior year, and I needed one PE credit to graduate. I picked archery because, honestly, it seemed like the phys ed class with least amount of actual physical exertion.
To my surprise, I loved it. Get this: the more I practiced, the better I got. Who knew? But even better, I could see my progress over the course of every hour-long class, each arrow nudging closer to the mark.
I kept it up after graduation, practicing with an informal club at a make-shift range behind a 200-year old farmhouse. I lost count of the number of purple-fletched arrows I lost in the tall grass. I bought more and, eventually, lost fewer. I started doing push-ups just to get stronger arms so I could draw the bow and take my time aiming. And every time I went out there, I was a little bit better.
Not everything is as cut-and-dry as archery, though. Not writing, certainly. Not parenting. You’d think I’d be getting plenty of practice, with no full-time job and the kids both at home, but lately I feel like I’m missing the mark more often than not, no matter how carefully I aim or how much I flex my muscles. Case in point: this is the second essay I’ve written today. The first one was so far off target that I just threw it out. Four hundred words wasted, and a couple of hours of work.
Another example: we were supposed to go camping last weekend. Instead, I pitched a tent in the backyard for the boys. We couldn’t do hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire, so my spouse grilled burgers and we sat outside with our Manhattans watching the kids play with toy bows and arrows, taking wobbly aim at the neighbor’s fence. The kids slept outside for, well, most of the night while the spouse and I watched TV, and they begged to do it again. Tonight will be the fourth night in a row, in spite of the rain.
It wasn’t the family holiday we planned for; it wasn’t the experience we were aiming for at all. It seems like it never is. Every time I think I’m inching closer to the center of that bullseye, the target moves again.
Or maybe practice doesn’t always make perfect. And maybe, maybe the target is bigger than I think, and someday I will find those arrows I lost in the grass and realize they landed exactly where they were supposed to.