Remember before you had kids, back when you had all the answers, back when you knew how you were going to do things once you had kids? Ah, the good old days. Mine were these ones: No TV til they're like, four years old. No labels or television characters on their clothing ever ever. Gender neutral decor and toys. I will feed them as much organic food as I can afford. Of course, no toy guns or violence. I've managed to stand firm on some of my original plans-- for instance, I do feed them. The other goals are works in progress.
I hate to admit it to anyone, most of all to my Early Childhood Education educated self, but television can be a real help. Isaac's big joy in life is Yo Gabba Gabba! The kid loves it, and keeping him occupied for 22 mins and 34 seconds out of the day IS AWESOME! (a little YGG reference for ya. No? OK. I'll show myself out). And try though I might to show him that it's OK to play with traditionally "girl" things, like buy him a doll stroller for Raggedy Andy, he is quick to turn the stroller upside down and play with just the wheels. The few battles I have yet to lose (mostly because they have yet to be fought) are over labels/characters on his shirts-- I don't want my child to be a billboard for The Gap or Marvel Comics. (Star Wars doesn't count, it's a cultural phenomenon. There's a difference). And then there's The Guns and The Violence. (Side note: once, just to see my reaction, Matt told me that he bought Isaac a t-shirt with a picture of Spiderman punching a girl. Of course I believed him and was about to launch into a tirade beginning with "I don't even know where to start!", but then I caught on.)
This isn't the platform to discuss gun control. I will say that I don't really have a problem with responsible gun ownership, it's just not for me or my family. We don't hunt, and I can't imagine what the hell else we'd use a gun for beyond maybe target practice, and that's just not a good enough reason for us to own one. Since we don't and wouldn't use a gun practically, the only way Isaac is going to be exposed to them is through TV and movies (which is why I don't let him watch TV! oh, wait). Since TV and movies rarely show people using guns in a responsible, practical, non-violent way (can't you see it now? "Next, on NBC: Law and Order: Just Plain Old Target Practice and Nothing Else, and later: Regular People Eating What They Kill, For a Sustainable Lifestyle"), I feel that the only way I can provide a buffer for him is by disallowing guns and gun games in the house. Ah, but then I've made a Rule. And you know what happens when you make a rule about Guns in the House? You go to the park, which is not the house.
Jonah and Isaac are park buddies (Names have been changed to protect the innocent, myself, against kids with guns). Jonah is a little older, about 4, and he is always playing guns. Every day he is shooting at something and with something, be it a stick or just his fingers, every day he has a gun. But he's a nice kid! While I cringe every time I hear a "pew pew", I am hoping that Isaac is too young to even notice what his buddy is up to, hoping that all he really wants to do is master the slide the way Jonah has, hoping he's doing anything but noticing that his park friend is shooting him. I can't very well stand up and intervene, can I? My pre-child self would have been all about it. Hell, she'd probably even know the kindest way to say "point that invisible gun at my baby one more fucking time, Jonah, I dare you". It would come out informed-sounding and gentle, like "at our house we don't play guns. He is too young to pretend at something that is the actual cause of death for 500+ children a year in the United States. I know you understand". I'd smile, my long, wavy hair glowing in the mid-day sun. They'd smile, their clean faces the stuff of legend, and they'd go off to play house or boat or maybe even houseboat. There would be sharing and laughter, when it was time to go, they'd hug goodbye and happily leave with their respective guardians...Back on Earth, upon our return from planet Yeah Right, I just freeze in my tracks. Jonah is not my child and I can't very well tell other people's children what is appropriate, and he's not hurting anyone. Plus, I think his grandma could probably kick my ass.
Well today Jonah brought two squirt guns (empty) and a toy crossbow (cause like, why not?). I felt that we were dodging the make-believe bullet, however, because Jonah was already playing with two other kids, and anyway Isaac was too busy doing the slide for real with his dad to even notice the big kids. Wrong! We weren't home ten minutes and Isaac picked up a curtain rod I had taken down and started shooting it! I died a little. I bargained. I told myself that he is just mimicking the noise the boys were making, not the shooting. He would have no point of reference for guns, he's never really seen them anywhere else...So now what? I can't reason with him on this subject. I can't reason with him at all! He's two! Do I actively discourage him from ever playing like that again? Won't that turn into the whole "it's more alluring now because it's forbidden" thing? Do I let it go and hope it won't come up again til he's old enough to listen? When's that? Like, twenty? I am truly at a standstill. I wish I could go back in time, back when I was a legit sanctimommy, back before I had kids and I knew how to raise them.
Someone told me once that boys will always play guns. Or swords. Or Light Sabers. There will always be some kind of weapon in their play. Sigh. I didn't think it would happen with my kid. I didn't think I would let it happen with my kid. But it has. I suppose I know plenty of really well adjusted people who played guns in their youth. Right? A few years of "pew pew" on the playground don't necessarily equate to an adulthood of slaughter and mayhem. I am just afraid of normalizing guns and violence, afraid that he will see guns as an everyday thing, and most of all, like Michael Scott doing improv, or Jonah when he isn't ready to leave the park, I'm afraid he'll see them as a means to end any conversation he doesn't want to be having-- both metaphorically, or god forbid, literally. He's got to learn compromise and kindness. I'd like him to have more practice in peace before he learns alternatives that involve force. I'd like to be able to tell him it's time to leave the park without him saying "No! I just shot you".
It is hard when you realize that the parent you want to be is not always the parent you are. You might have a certain vision in your mind about how things are going to go, but reality is always a little different. You may have trouble growing that glowing mane of beautiful hair, you child's face hasn't been legitimately clean in actual months, and every so often you'll let him eat peanut butter and jelly for dinner in front of the television, just to get your damn blog written. I guess the key is choosing your battles and saving your energy for when he wants to wear a shirt with a picture of Spiderman punching a girl.