All posts by Ric Hallock

About Ric Hallock

Ric Hallock is the managing editor of Kitsap Sun marketing publications that include Gig Harbor Life, Bainbridge Islander, Silverdale Life, Poulsbo Life, North Mason Life, Port Orchard Life and Bremerton Life.

Paying Tribute to an Umpire, a Volunteer — a Dad

The community of Gig Harbor lost one of the good ones on April 5.

Alec Douglas left us far too soon at the young age of 34, leaving behind many family members, including his two children, daughter, Callie, and son, Dane.

I had the good fortune to first meet Alec by chance three years ago, while serving as manager for a AA Gig Harbor Little League team. One of the tasks at the younger-age teams is having to draft the team fresh each year, and with that comes the often mind-boggling task of rating hundreds of kids during a daylong turnout.

You get a few minutes to watch a child catch, throw, hit and run and the only sane way to maintain some sense of judgment is to ignore the names and faces and reduce it to a game of numbers. During that time in 2008, I saw one particular 9-year-old that I had not taken notice of in previous years. Unlike many of the other kids running around the field, his demeanor was all about work and his face showed a focus and determination I didn’t see elsewhere on the field. That was Dane.

It was an easy choice to place him at the top of my list and when I was fortunate enough to draw the first pick in the draft, Dane became the top draft choice. At that time I had no idea I was also drafting an experienced umpire in his dad, to our team. How fortunate that turned out to be.

As another manager noted recently, Alec was never one to say no, so when I asked if he would help out with the team, he jumped right in.

At the end of a very fun season of baseball, Alec and I agreed to team up together to coach a AAA team the following year. But those plans fell through when I was passed over to be a manager the next season. Our two sons drifted to different teams and we crossed paths only occasionally when Alec would ump a game we were playing.

We were reunited again this year when our sons joined the same select team. It was good to catch up with the two of them, and to see how Alec was still deeply involved as a volunteer with umpiring (as well as coaching in youth football).

As both a coach and a parent, it was good to have Alec be a part of the team as he helped fulfill team requirements to umpire games as well as being able to explain to the boys specific calls. But it was also sometimes a bane when he would umpire one of our games, as he always seemed to call his son’s pitches a little tighter than he would other pitchers.

No doubt he did this as part of the routine of most other father/volunteers in giving that little extra effort to assure that he was not favoring his son over others.

Three days before Alec died, we had a scrimmage for our select team with another team in our organization and Alec — of course — volunteered to umpire. I’m no umpire and I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but that day I asked Alec if he wanted some help with me umpiring the bases.

He accepted and gave me the two-minute crash course of umpiring that he took weeks to develop each spring.

He told me I had the tags and bags on 1 and 2 and tags on 3. I nodded affirmatively, not wanting to let on that he’d already lost me as he ran down a quick list of regulations.

He finished by saying there were three rules to abide by, above all else.

“Don’t overrule me and I won’t overrule you,” he started. “And don’t rush to make the call. See it through to the end of the play and then make a call.

“And always remember, once you make a call, stand by it,” he said.

Three days later when word of his passing first reached me, his gameday advice came back to me, his baritone voice still giving those words weight in my head.

This child’s game has often been used as a metaphor for life. And I’ve come to realize in the days since, how Alec’s words reach far beyond the game of baseball.

And so I tell you, from the limited perspective I have from the few short years I’ve known Alec, he will truly be missed by all those involved in Gig Harbor youth sports. I feel privileged and honored to have had the chance to get to know Alec and Dane. And I look forward to watching Dane’s progress as he continues to grow and develop in the Gig Harbor youth sports world.

That’s my call and I stand by it.

Ric Hallock is managing editor of Gig Harbor Life and has coached youth baseball, football and soccer since moving to Gig Harbor in 2004.

Be Wary of Barely Clad Tattoo-touting Coffee Sirens

With a sense of full-disclosure on my part (and not my subject matter’s part …) I relay the following true event — if for nothing else, to serve as a warning to other unsuspecting parents of budding, hormone-driven teens.

On a really recent Sunday, my 12-year-old son’s baseball team called a hastily gathered scrimmage with another team to prepare for the season. Sunday being my “putter-about-the-house” day, we were slow to rouse ourselves (it also being his “sleep-until-the-sun-sets” day) to get out the door in time to make the scrimmage.

Jetting toward the field in our jalopy, I took note of the fact I had not yet been caffeinated for the day — a matter I could rectify in one of two ways. We were headed for the highway, which was the quickest way to the field site, and I was faced with a conundrum: I could purposefully go the wrong way at our exit and backtrack about five minutes to get to the nearest coffee purveyor of Seattle fame with the naked mermaid for a logo — or — I could save those backtracking minutes and head for the nearest local stand that had a neon sign flashing “open.”

I opted for the latter.

To get there from the direction I was headed, I had to pull into a road that ostensibly was a one-way going the other direction, with a 170-degree turn back — a move that had to performed with some deft driving on my part to not get stuck doing a five-point turn.

I managed the semi-illegal turn in quick order without garnering any undue attention of a county deputy and pulling up to the stand, I noted it had not one, but two windows less than a car length’s apart, so wasn’t really sure which one was the proper serving window. (I was baffled and temporarily distracted by this design flaw: an important detail in my defense.) I rolled slowly past the first window and stopped at the second.

This was your typical home-grown coffee stand, a free-standing shack, plastered with stickers and posters and hand-scrawled signs everywhere, all but obscuring what little glass was left uncovered. I began looking about for some sign I was actually going to be able to order a coffee when the stickers on the windows registered in some part of my non-caffeinated brain: flaming pink lips.

Then I uttered the words my son will not soon forget: “Uh oh,” I started. “This isn’t one of those places, is it?”

No sooner had the words parted my lips than the lips stuck on the sliding window moved aside and we were greeting by a smiling, cheerful barista … wearing scant but her string bikini, asking how she could help us this day.

The thought of speeding off in a cloud of dust and gravel fleetingly crossed my mind, but my sense of decency (if you will), prevailed. I reasoned that would be just plain rude to this finely shaped lass, who was obviously so very proud of the art running the length of her body from her shoulder down to her left flank.

I muttered some obscure coffee order and shot a quick glance at my young charge in the passenger seat as I dug in my pocket for some money. He was laughing, trying to look, but trying not to look — not having much success at either, and having great difficulty keeping any composure (as if a 12-year-old could muster such self-control).

The body tattoo asked what had us out on such a chilly, windy day and I was sorely tempted to ask her the same. but again, my sensibilities told me to behave and I bit back my tongue, just saying something about baseball.

Following an interminably, awfully long time waiting for her to make a simple mocha (no whip), she handed me my coffee and I handed her a bill (I hope it was a $5) and drove off with a hasty “thank you,” not waiting for change. My son then began laughing much more loudly, telling me how he couldn’t wait to share this moment with his buddies at the field, convinced I knew all along what kind of stand this was.

Now when we drive by this stand, I catch him craning his neck to look back for as long as he can. And I feel secure in my mind that I’ve cemented yet another nomination in my bid for Father of the Year — NOT.

And the coffee? Not as good as the naked mermaid, nudity notwithstanding.

Shameless, Blatant Plug (for a Worthy Cause)

OK, I’m not above promoting the arts.

If you find yourself in Gig Harbor tonight and are hungry for some good pizza — why not sate your appetite while supporting Peninsula Youth Orchestra at the same time?

Any order placed between 3 and 7 p.m. tonight will have 25 percent donated to PYO. For the uninitiated, PYO fills the gaping hole not being filled by the Peninsula School District music program. The district offers band in middle schools and high schools, but only features woodwinds, brass and percussion. No strings attached (no pun intended). So PYO comes to the rescue, teaching students from kindergarten to high school the string family and the organization is growing every year.

So if you’re hungry and like pizza (who doesn’t?) — and like to supports the arts and the youth of Gig harbor (again, who can say no to that?), then stop by Blue Cannon Pizza (in the northwest corner of the Costco parking lot in Gig Harbor North) and take care of both needs with one stop.

Your stomach and ears will thank you.

Bordering on the Edge of Sadness

OK, took a little hiatus there. But as this darned post seems to be permanently a fixture of the Gig Harbor Life website, figured I better step up and place a new post every now and again. But I’m gonna take a slightly different tactical approach, given that the amount of  available time to muse randomly — and wax ever-so-poetically — is ever shrinking.

Instead of planned out diatribes and essay-length posts — I’m now going to opt for the guerrilla-style journalism of quick posts — in out and real quick — leave no casualties behind. It will be up to the online readership to keep any one topic flaming (or quenched) by your comments or lack thereof.

Case in point: The Borders bookstore in the Uptown shopping district off of Point Fosdick Drive announced today that it will be closing the doors for good come April. Seems the surge in online book orders, portable readers and mega discounters (Costco, WalMart, Target) have combined to spell the demise of what was at one time one of the industry leaders in book sales nationwide.

What does this mean to the Gig Harbor reader? Will the locally owned Mostly Books benefit? Will library use spike upward? Will track a higher percentage of sales to GH? Or will we follow the trend of the rest of the nation in simply buying less books and reading less overall?

I know I’ll miss wandering into Borders and getting lost amid the smell of fresh coffee and soft lighting for hours on end. Of all the upscale, pricey stores that seem to define Uptown, Borders was the one locale I didn’t feel out of place.

I would have thought that nothing could replace a good bookstore — but then I also thought the same about Tower Records in Seattle.

I Keep Muttering, ‘I’m Too Old for This’

“Oh, dear sweet Mother Mary and Joseph, not again!”

Would that my knees, ankles, shins, feet, thighs, elbows, shoulders, biceps and back could all but speak — that would be their collective lament. What could possibly have my body wailing in protest so loud you can actually hear it?

One word: softball.

Funny — looking at the word sitting there so smugly and cuddly looking on the screen — one wouldn’t think a word containing “soft” and “ball” (even babies and puppies love to play with a ball) could also entertain such thoughts as pulled muscles, bruised bones, torn tendons and lacerated ligaments.

OK, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ve only suffered about half of the above — but really, isn’t that enough?

Last season it seemed I injured some new muscle set hitherto unknown to me before playing each game. And unlike the days of youth, instead of taking a day to recover — it took me the better part of the week to be able to walk like a normal human once more — just in time for the next game and a whole new series of painful lessons. Good thing we didn’t practice during the week or I’d have been unable to muster the strength to make it to a game at all.

I attended the first practice of the new Gig Harbor Church Softball League season last night and afterward I walked and moved something akin to Abe Vigoda playing the role of Frankenstein — after aging another decade. My ever supportive bride scoffed at my slow shuffle from room to room, saying “it was just a practice.” My young son — who just wrapped up his Little League baseball season — just delighted in counting my errors.

Hmph. No respect for the old man. And I place the emphasis on “old.”

Without giving it away, let’s just say I’m fast approaching a milestone bithday and really only have one more on the horizon before I settle into the sunset years.

It’s been a long, tough battle between mind and body — but lately I’ve found the arguments being put forth by my aging frame to hold sway. For years, I fought the notion that I could no longer move like I did when I was 20. I could see it in my mind, so surely I could manifest it in my body. And the mind will play tricks on you — working in tandem with your body to make you believe you still have the grace and speed of a carefree youth — despite the decades of working a job where the only muscle action is to reposition my butt in the chair to keep from creating a permanent cushion indentation.

Like the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, I went through the usual litany: Denial (I’m every bit as strong and agile as I was 10 years ago, 20 years, 30 …); Anger (#@&*! I know I’m as strong and agile as I was 20 years ago, etc.); Bargaining (please, please, please I’ll give up Dr. Pepper forever if I can only throw the ball from second to first without bouncing it); to Depression (OK, so I bounce the ball to first, but at least it gets there).

And now I’ve hit the final stage: acceptance. My days of running between the bases without something snapping, popping or tearing are over.

It’s been a difficult battle, but the body has won out. I concede. The white flag is flying. But what my body doesn’t realize is that my mind is only conceding the battle — not the war. Sure, I’ll admit it — I can no longer play the game as I did in my youth. But I will not give up trying to play. Ha!

That is, at least until this Sunday, when we open the season with a double-header. I may be singing an entirely new tune by Sunday night.

Volunteerism Leads to Maritime Gig Fest Microphone

In a town the size of Gig Harbor, it helps if your head can fit a lot of hats. This weekend, I’ll be donning a new one — as a result of wearing one of my old ones.

Through my years of hosting a radio show on KGHP, I’ll be taking one of three microphone stations along Harborview Drive to help announce the parade entries in the annual Maritime Gig Festival in this year’s “Yo Ho Harbor!” parade on Saturday.

Some may say it’s not necessarily a good idea to hand me a microphone amid the throngs that will be lining both sides of the street — but then again, the good folks at KGHP let me in to the broadcast booth back in 2005 and I haven’t yet brought the full weight of the FCC down on the small, but rugged radio station — despite being on the air nearly every week since.

I’m looking forward to the parade and giving shout outs to the many local and regional parade entrants as they go by. I’m sure I’ll see plenty of familiar faces both in the parade and watching. And I look forward to making some new acquaintances along the way. There are more than 100 parade entries so that means no yelling at the kids on Friday night — gotta keep the pipes rested.

For me, this is one of the perks of living in a small community. I certainly wouldn’t have the same opportunity with the Seafair parade in Seattle, for example. But then again, the opportunities are there to be a part of the community, large or small.

From putting in some elbow grease at FISH food bank to keeping ivy from taking over the Wollochet estuary, anyone in the community is just a phone call away from lending a hand and helping to make the community a warm and inviting region.

The opportunity to announce the parade this weekend came about through volunteering at KGHP. You never know how one opportunity may open the door to another.

The city even makes it easy to volunteer, with the Gig Harbor Volunteer and Visitor Information Center, located at 3125 Judson St. Call them at (253) 857-4842 or go online at and click on the “Learn More” button and select “volunteer opportunities.”

I heartily encourage others who haven’t yet done so to step up — volunteer today in some way, big or small, for an ongoing project, one day or even for just one hour. Pitch in and see what kind of difference you can make in the community — and maybe opening that one door may lead to another and next year, you might be helping announce the parade at the Maritime Gig Festival.

Your head always has room for another new hat.

Anyone See the Same UFO as This Guy Did?

Despite sitting in our backyard a few weeks ago at night roasting marshmallows and dogs over a campfire, no one in our immediate family saw anything unusual in the sky. But one Gig Harbor resident saw something on May 1 — enough to write a report of the sighting and send it in to the Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network (MUFON).

Anyone else from Gig Harbor to Port Orchard see anything that night? below is an excerpt of the filed report, which — according to MUFON — has not yet investigated by the organization:

My name is –. I live in Gig Harbor Washington on the water facing SW towards an area we locally refer to as the Purdy (Wa) spit. The Olympic Mountain range is in the back ground.

Three-Four weeks ago while driving down our road at around dusk I saw something. At first I thought it was a very bright star and then realized it was moving. I pulled my truck into the driveway and grabbed my scope, fixed it directly onto the object and viewed something far beyond my knowledge of technology.

I could see it very clearly through my Orion 90 refractor scope. It was the shape of a diamond. The top half was amber red and the bottom half was as bright as a star. It hovered a while at around my guess 20-25 thousand feet and then dropped to around 8-6? in a matter of a minute or two as it approached then just cruised right over the top of us towards Mount Rainier. It made no sound though I felt like I could hear something like being close to a power line or similar almost like maybe all sound went away, hard to explain. As it passed over I then grabbed my scope and went to the driveway to view it as it moved away. From behind it was no longer the shape of a diamond, it looked liked an elongated circle eight figure of light, all amber red. And no, I am not an alcoholic nor drug addled so I know what I saw.

Two nights ago,coming from the same direction, this time it was around midnight, a round orb like thing with a half circular arc just as bright coming out of the orb from top to bottom. It came from the same elevation and traveled the same direction as the first. Then one hour later another one. These objects were without a doubt not planes nor helicopters. We have had quite a bit of F-16 type jets and apache/military looking helicopters buzzing over I think as a result these past few nights. We do not normally see these military type craft directly over us.
Other than the usual black helicopters that rattle our windows every other night from 10 p.m. to midnight, we don’t see (or hear) much going on in the skies above us.

My boys have become quite adept at spotting satellites as they silently pass overhead and we’ve been able to confirm sightings of the International Space Station on different nights. So it seems unlikely we would have missed this particular sighting — unless we just weren’t outside at the exact same time.

Years ago, I was one of several witnesses watching a bonafide UFO cross the sky, but not being one to quickly assign the unusual site of lights crossing overhead to alien technology, I assumed it to be some space debris breaking up as it entered the atmosphere.

But as this posting was recent, I’ll once more be watching the skies and I can guarantee this: If I ever spot anything unexplainable and odd, I won’t settle with getting some grainy, blurry, shaky images that look like a blob of light.

K-9 Units at Peninsula Area High Schools Pass the Sniff Test

Peninsula School District is going to the dogs … to sniff out illicit narcotics.

The area’s three high schools — Gig Harbor, Peninsula and Henderson Bay — will begin getting random visits by a drug-detecting K-9 unit from either the Gig Harbor Police Department or the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, looking for the identifiable odor of drugs. According to a school district official, the dogs won’t be checking students, but will roam halls, lockers and parking lots. When the dog alerts to an area, the school principal will be notified.

A first-time offense will result in a 15-day suspension (and hopefully some counseling and follow-up, although that wasn’t made clear) and a second offense would warrant a more harsh response.

A story like this quickly separates people into one of two camps:

It’s a Good Thing: Drugs may be prevalent in our society, but they have no place in public schools. Although this kind of proactive measure won’t eliminate drugs entirely from school campuses or even change the nature of the drug culture, it does send the message to users and dealers that school grounds should be like the signs say at the school entrances: A drug-free zone. And if a kid doesn’t have drugs at school, they have nothing to fear.

It’s a Bad Thing: Bringing drug dogs in is one more step in eroding our basic human rights. This isn’t a case of investigating a specific report of someone carrying drugs; it’s more a dragnet attempt that will only serve to nab the small-time recreational drug user. The dogs aren’t trained to alert to many drugs out there so the result will be minimally effective at best. It just moves the drug problem to another location.

As a parent of two students who will soon be roaming the halls of high school, I must say I tend to agree more with the former, with just a smidgeon of the latter.

I don’t kid myself: This one gesture won’t halt the drug use that is common in our kids’ culture. But it does show that the district isn’t just paying lip service when they say they have a zero tolerance of drugs. It is, indeed, a proactive stance to establish the schools as a safe zone designed for learning — not dealing or using.

Critics charge that the lessons of drug use fall upon the parents. Most assuredly it does. But it shouldn’t stop there. Schools see our children for more waking hours than the parents during the week, so any influence the schools can add to support the message of the parents is only going to help. And for some students who don’t get or have the parental support, the message the school imparts may be the only positive message to stay away from drugs that they hear.

But this isn’t just a message that drugs are bad. It’s a life lesson that there can be consequences for the actions you take. Want to carry your stash to class in your backpack? Then you risk a suspension, a possible arrest and more.

The hardest lesson to teach your child is to allow them to make a wrong decision and then face the consequences that result. But it often results in the best lasting effect. Now before you write in, I’m not advocating you let your child try drugs. I’m saying that we can’t always coddle/protect our children from the big, bad world out there. If we want them to be functioning, capable humans, then as some point we must equip them with the tools to make choices on their own, as well as teach them to accept the results that follow those choices.

As parents, we’ve been teaching the lesson about drugs  to our kids since they were tiny — using each opportunity as a teaching moment to point out the dangers/follies/idiocy of drug use. But we also teach our children to be true to their own self — to learn to make decisions on their own. And with self-reliance comes ownership of your choices and the consequences.

Will my children choose to try drugs? Maybe, maybe not. But even if one of them does, I hope that at that moment my words come echoing through their brain and they make the right choice.

In the meantime, I applaud the school district and the law enforcement agencies for taking a proactive stance in helping parents to send home the message in a clear and visible way: Drugs and their use have no place in our schools.

Online Commentary: It’s a Jungle in There

One needn’t look far to find a new-age battlefield where anything goes, low blows are the norm and bitterness, nastiness and just plain old meanness rule the playing field. No, I’m not speaking about youth sports (this time) or no-holds-barred cage wrestling (that has too many rules) — I’m speaking about online commentary fields commonly found on news websites.

Anyone who has read a news story online has seen them. They follow the story; an open field where readers — most often hiding behind pseudonyms like SillyPutty, newsjunkie32 and lord_of_the_rants — feel free to add their two cents’ worth. And God knows, there’s no shortage of opinions these days. It’s such a cultural phenomenon that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t already produced a summer romantic comedy titled “When Harry Tagged Sally’s Blog,” a romp of errors and misunderstanding when a seemingly offhand remark gets taken way out of context, to the delight of Sally’s coworkers and the horrors of Harry’s friends.

Only in real life, there is seldom anything very funny about the comments posted — humor being intended or not.

Mean spiritedness is not in short supply. It seems people with an axe to grind find news commentary sites rich and fertile ground to spew forth vindictive and spurious comments. Given the anonymous nature of the sites, seldom are random statements backed up by facts or even reasonable supposition. It’s as if the Wild West has been reborn, but instead of a six-shooter, today’s gunslingers wield smoking keyboards behind their oh-so-clever avatars.

These people are so commonplace in the virtual world, they have been given labels to quickly identify them: the most common being sock puppets or trolls. The latter conjures up a not-too-hard-to-imagine image of a person sitting in a darkened room, hunched over a keyboard, with only the glow of a screen to light their way to posting snippets of vitriol.

It wasn’t always this way. Having spent the better part of the past two decades in newsrooms, I’ve watched them metamorphose from X-Acto blades and waxed galleys to electronic publication of stories on the Internet before  — and even exclusive of — print. Ever since the days of newspapers themselves, people have been given the opportunity to comment and vent upon a writer’s words.

The difference is news used to take time. the news cycle used to be 24 hours — sometimes a week in outlying communities and rural areas — the time it took the local paper to report on a story. Television would give you the headlines, along with a snappy soundbite and a busty weathergirl — but the meat of the news was always reserved for the printed word. And the same could be said for the commentary that would follow in the subsequent editorial pages.

But as news budgets shrank and online media began to take ever larger bites out of the more traditional print and broadcast news markets, the powers that be in those old worlds saw a need to meet the new age at least halfway. So papers  — grudgingly at first — began to allow readers to comment on stories. Understand — writers and editors are good at two things: writing and editing. So be kind before finding fault in their not seeing the maelstrom brewing on the virtual horizon as readers warmed up their typing skills and polished their fangs.

Many newsrooms were caught unprepared for the anything goes world of online commentary. Some quickly pulled the plug on allowing commentary on controversial stories while others closed up online commentary completely. But most outlets — in an attempt to appear hip to the times and not demonstrating a knee-jerk reaction to the backlash — continue to allow comments while working in the background to find some way to bring a Wyatt Earp to their online Tombstone.

Few papers have the capital to hire a full-time online editor to view, edit and respond to the many posts a paper receives. Many have turned to their online “community” to help police the streets — asking for informants to flag the Bonnie Parkers and Clyde Barrows of cyberspace. This has been at best a Band-aid fix. Bitter comments still get posted — and are only pulled based on the working hours and due diligence of a harried editor who has much better things to do and more pressing needs than to babysit a thread.

For the gunslinger, he/she has lost nothing. Their comments still have been seen by any number of others (their intent) and even if they eventually get banned from a site, they simply change their online presence to an as yet unbesmirched screen name and begin again or they simply move on as there are an untold number of sites they can comment on from Aachen to Zwolle.

many of these wily worthsmiths don’t even care about the gist of the story — they know how to post a lively comment sure to draw in others into a protracted debate over issues that have no pertinence to the original posting. They appear to delight in just getting others all ruffled and twitchy.

So what’s an ethical editor to do? (Yes, they do exist, you just have to really look.) Allowing comments on stories is like running herd over a freak show; while pulling the comment threads is counter to the ideal of community support and responsible journalism.

And as newspapers grasp at the next latest things to somehow remain relevant in an irrelevant world, the buzzword has become “hits,” and the hits that count are the ones being compiled on the websites. And, of course, nothing drives the hits like a little controversial commentary …

Aldus Huxley warned us it would be a Brave New World. But his dire prediction centered around an Utopian government of predetermined castes, while H.G. Wells predicted a government run amok and watching our every move in “1984,” both dire in their own way, but not on the mark of where find ourselves today. Perhaps the most prescient prognosticator of our own worst nightmare coming true is a philosophical little possum from Okefenokee Swamp, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, where he surmised, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Parental Ideals Don’t Die, They Just Evolve With Reality

With few standing exceptions, most parents have high-minded ideals when they have children, hoping to instill a sense of new-found freedom and unbridled imagination in helping to shape the next generation’s Indira Gandhi or Thomas Edison. To help unleash the untapped potential surrounding their children, they establish by-and-large traditional — yet radical — rules to control the environment surrounding the tots as their youthful charges are slowly exposed to the world around them.

You know the ones, things like: “They will ingest no sugary sweets or drinks” and “They will only hear classical music.”

I, too, had high ideals when my children were still captivated by my ability to “disappear” behind my hands in a classic round of peek-a-boo. But in the seeming blink of an eye those cherubs have morphed into preteens on the verge of hitting ages 12 and 10 and I find myself looking back (with some healthy chagrin) at the many values and ideals lying strewn about in our past like cheap dollar-store toys the day after Christmas.

An apt example of an ideal gone AWOL was that television would not dominate our waking hours and never serve as a babysitter. To be sure, a hour or so of public television, with an occasional dabbling of Discovery channel a week would be the limit (notwithstanding a good ballgame or two). This bastion of parental rules in our abode has, over time, given way to not only non-stop SpongeBob marathons, but by the youngest even recording episodes for all posterity on DVDs, so the one half-hour in a week when SpongeBob is not actually being broadcast, he can still be found filling our TV screen with lemon-yellow joy.

In defense of many other parents who have succumbed similar high-minded ideals for the reality of everyday life: We don’t give up these rules lightly or in sudden bursts of apathy. Instead, they are eroded over time like a gentle meandering stream that ever so slowing eats away at the shore, until the next thing you know, you are staring at the Grand Canyon — your heartfelt ideal but a wispy glint on the far shore, evermore out of reach.

I realized another of those ideals had melted from my grasp this past weekend as I sat on the back stoop with my boys shooting at pop cans in the yard with a pellet gun.

Yes, their mother and I didn’t favor military toys and vowed not to have toy weaponry in the house. Anyone who has a male child will know instantly how utterly futile this ideal is in reality. Before they could even walk, a pencil, a twig or even their hand would easily make do for a weapon in any given instant. The very first Lego construction ever made by the oldest was that of a gun. Over time, the influence of “Toy Story” brought the ubiquitous bag of army men into the house, followed by policemen Halloween costumes complete with handcuffs and batons.

Unless you shelter your children like a religious zealot in the desert, then you know the kids have friends — and those friends have video games that feature more ways to kill people than Hollywood could ever imagine or depict. And despite your best admonishment that they play outdoors when visiting friends, that just means — according to youthful wisdom — that the PSP and Gameboys be used under the shade of a tree. And what kid doesn’t play with a squirt gun in the summer? Did I say squirt gun? I mean those high-tech devices that fire off long streams of water like a fire hose.

This, of course, leads to Nerf weaponry of every kind — that shoot soft, foam “bullets” and “missiles” with some degree of aiming ability. And a Nerf gun is really just an air-propelled pellet gun sans the spring-loaded velocity and tiny ammo– which is exactly what we found ourselves shooting off as we spent some down time on our back porch.

That’s when it hit me — like a pellet shot square in the middle of a Dr. Pepper logo — another erstwhile ideal had been gunned down,  lying DOA on the back steps.

And like the woeful parent who’s child has just slain 20 nuns and orphans during the International Peace to Every Living Thing parade and then states on worldwide TV, “But he’s a good boy,” I kept the blinders firmly in place and refused to see the carnage of another ideal down the drain. Instead, I took heart in the unexpected “good” I found in the moment.

The oldest, a self-proclaimed “expert” at hitting moving targets, was having some degree of difficulty in putting a dent in any cans. His younger brother, who had to this point never been allowed to fire off a pellet gun, was reluctantly given the opportunity (the reluctance coming from both myself and his sibling). With little fanfare, he fired a single round and a can 30 feet away dropped. He cocked the gun a second time, aimed anew and a second can 40 feet away fell over. But being only winged, this can fell but stayed atop the tree stump it rested upon. A third shot pushed it off the stump. All while his older brother pumped several rounds into the weeds around these cans, mumbling about “wind interference” and the other gun being “better.”

I just smiled and took heart that in his ever-growing litany being a future, expert violinist/engineer/mathematician/astronaut, I could now add marksman.