I spend a lot of time pondering the disparity between the mom I thought I would be, and the mom I am. I was such a good mom before having kids. I had dreams of my children playing with quaint wooden toys, learning piano at a young age, and having picnics in meadows (eating only organic food, of course). Somehow my reality of motherhood involved a lot more plastic, McDonald's, and trips to Target than I ever imagined. That meadow picnic? Yeah, that's never happened.
Also in my dreams of motherhood, our home would be free of toys that represent weapons. My oldest was a boy -- but I imagined that somehow, with careful guidance, I could free him from the gender expectations that give way to a desire for violent objects. Unfortunately, no one warned me that a predilection for destruction seems to be coded in the DNA. Despite the fact that I've provided my son Jafta with a playroom full of peaceful, docile toys, he seems to be drawn only to things that produce explosions, loud noises, or (best yet) wounds of the flesh. He was begging for a sword by the time he could talk. Once he got wind of this light-saber business, everything in the house (paper towel roll, umbrella, drumstick) was brandished as a light-saber. And now, despite the fact that he's never seen a movie much darker than "Stuart Little," he is totally and utterly obsessed with guns.
I blame this on the tawdry influence of some of his older friends. These friends' parents have given in to the obsession and allow their kids to play with pretend guns, and on more than one occasion we've been on a playdate where he has observed these kids gleefully chasing each other with said toy guns, whereby I scramble to distract him with some benign fire truck or other object that seems incredibly boring in comparison to A GUN! A GUN! I'M 5 AND I WANNA PLAY GUNS!
I finally confessed my concerns to one of the other mothers, who is the mom of several kids older than my own. She laughed knowingly, and patted my shoulder, and said, "Oh, that's right. Jafta's your oldest. I remember feeling that way, too. But now that I've watched three boys go through this stuff, I gotta tell ya: you're fighting a losing battle. All boys want to play with guns. You can do everything you can to outlaw it, and they will make a gun out of a stick. Just let it go."
I suspected she might be right, but I was sticking to my guns (or lack thereof). At this particular playdate, I encouraged Jafta to find other things to play with, as he stared longingly at the other, seemingly cooler kids as they ran and chased and rendered each other dead. I tried to distract him with Legos and trains. He stared longingly as every other boy ran by, brandishing a weapon. He also spent the playdate alone -- excluded because his mom wouldn't let him engage in what everyone else was doing. I left the playdate questioning my judgement. Jafta left the playdate devastated.
A few weeks later, we went to another playdate with the same group of boys. As soon as we arrived, I could see that the other boys were enraptured in another game of gun play. Jafta looked forlorn, and I had a little moment where I decided that my value for Jafta being included with his peers was more important than my rule about guns. I told Jafta to go get a gun, and start running. He looked at me like I was crazy. And then I heard myself saying, "Seriously, Jafta. You can do it. Go get yourself one of those guns. Get it! And RUN!!"
And as those words I never thought I would utter came out of my mouth, I reminded myself that parenting is not predictable. I have to be willing to change, to reconsider, and to budge a little. I watched Jafta look confused, and then hesitant, and then I saw a huge grin break out on his face as he joined in with the other kids. He had a great playdate, and he felt included.
We still have a no-gun policy at our own house. Although, he seems to be working his way around it.
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