"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

to keep up with the Joneses' kid?

A few years ago, I was taking a walk with Evan, then just a baby, around my neighborhood. As I turned the stroller around the corner and down another street, I saw a bunch of the neighborhood kids gathered together.

One child, maybe 8 years old, was on his knees in the grass, with his hands behind his head. Another child, not older than 10, had a rifle slung over his shoulder and was grasping him by his raised arm. A third boy stood in the road facing the boy on his knees, separated by a distance of less than 10 feet. His rifle was raised, pointed directly at his playmate's face.

The guns were fake, but my horror at the scene was real. I went home, shocked and saddened by what I had seen. Where had these kids learned to "play" like that? And what kind of parents allowed that type of play and those types of toys in their houses?

That night, I fired off an email to the parents of the kids involved. I described the scene I had witnessed and wrote that, if MY child had been "playing" like that, I'd want to know about it. I also wrote that what I had seen offended me and that, as the parent of a very young child, I didn't feel comfortable with that type of behavior going on in plain view around my neighborhood. I asked the parents, because the guns used actual BBs, which could actually be physically harmful to a casual passer-by, to please restrict their children's play to backyards only.

I'm sure my email was met with a bunch of irritated eye-rolls and mutterings of the "overly sensitive, naive, first-time mother." I don't know what the real responses are, actually, because I never received any.

But the gun-play continued, and it continued in the streets and front yards in certain sections of the neighborhood. And so, we stopped taking walks in those areas. The kids have grown up to be middle-schoolers and so the gun-play was neglected in favor of texting and sulking in their bedrooms (and sports, art, music, and volunteerism, to be hopeful).

But the guns are still in my neighborhood, passed down to younger siblings and picked up by the next wave of elementary school-aged kids who live here. The parents of the kids who play with the guns now are my friends, and we've talked about the gun-play. None of the parents are happy about it and most have rules related to the type of play allowed and when and where the guns are to be used. But if none of the parents love the idea of their kids playing with guns, then why the hell are there so many kids playing with the damned things?

It's because everyone else is doing it.

Every parent says the same thing: All my kid wants for Christmas/his birthday is an AirSoft Rifle, and if I don't buy my kid one, then he'll have no one to play with because Every Other Kid is playing with his own AirSoft Rifle.

Well, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: my kids will Never Own an AirSoft Rifle or any other BB gun. Evan's never even had a squirt gun. I just plain don't see the point.

In my house growing up, we didn't have guns. The kids in my neighborhood filled our summer days with baseball, Barbies, and bike riding. We did have the occasional Super Soaker and Nerf Ball Blaster, but they didn't look like real guns. And we certainly didn't stage mock executions in our front yard. Yes, times have changed, I get it....but it's BECAUSE times have changed that I feel even more strongly about my position: my kids won't play with guns because REAL KIDS are USING REAL GUNS to inflict REAL terror and harm. Why would you let your kid make that into a game?

So where's the line? This is where, as parents, we're going to have to figure it out as we go. Is "Cops and Robbers" okay if the cop is holding a gun-shaped stick? How about soldiers? Can my kid play at defending his country?

And what do I say when my 10-year old begs for the ONE thing that EVERY other kid in the neighborhood is playing with? Do I set him up for social isolation? Do I prevent him from going to other kids' homes for fear of him being involved in gun-play where I can't monitor what he is playing?

What's a parent to do?

Seriously. That's not a rhetorical question. I know my oldest is only three, but I want to be prepared for when he DOES ask for a toy (a gun, a video game system, whatever) that we don't necessarily approve of, but that every other kid has......do you give in and get it for him? Or do you, ahem, stick to your guns and risk his social standing in the neighborhood?

Lesson Learned:
It's really easy to say, with absolute certainty, how you'd act in a certain situation before you're in it. Just like I swore I'd never use TV as a kid-sitter while I surfed the web on the couch during Quiet Time, or use marshmallows and chocolate chips for bribes to get my kid to use nice words or pee in the potty. When exhaustion, desperation, or lack of a better option has set in, I've been known to change my position.

So can I say, with absolute certainty, that my kids will never play with guns? Maybe not.

But I'm sure going to do my best to prevent it because I CAN say, with sincere and complete certainty, that the thought of seeing Evan or Max, on their knees in my front yard with a rifle pointed at their face, makes me want to throw up.

1 comment :

  1. Oh, the push and pull of parenting. I'm with you, I feel like I have my lines drawn, but I try to remember to "never say never."