Boys And Guns...Don't Fight It
The ribbons and wrapping paper were still fluttering in the air as I leaned back, exhausted, on the family room sofa, surveying the detritus of another Christmas past. My three-year-old son climbed up beside me, wrapped his arms around my neck and said, "Merry Christmas, Mama. Thank you for my guns."
Now, anyone who knows my family recognizes the oddities in this little tableau was. Odd because my "big boy" has recently insisted that he's too big for hugs, especially from his mom, but also odd because of the gun thing. I hate guns. Since Benjamin was born, I've maintained a strict Zero Tolerance policy that would put Rosie O'Donnell's efforts to shame. Real or fake, plastic or metal, I don't see a place for guns in our household, nor in my little boy's hands.
Benjamin's not allowed to watch television shows with gratuitous violence. I steer him away from the shoot-'em-up video games at the arcade in favor of tamer fare such as Ms Pac-Man or, preferably, Pong (I've had trouble finding that one lately). I even insist on opening the boxes of his little plastic superheroes so I can confiscate the guns and knives before he plays with them.Benjamin balked at this ban and, like any creative child, found ways to circumvent it. His hands became lethal weapons, index fingers pointed, thumbs straight up, other fingers curled to make the universal symbol of "bang." He broke pretzels into gun shapes, turned blocks into hand grenades and continued to play his war games. I knew I was fighting a losing battle but I couldn't just give in.
Then one day I took the kids with me while I picked out frames for a few posters. As I studied matting and wood choices Benjamin disappeared into the playroom, emerging a few minutes later. "Mama, I made something for you!" he announced brightly, pulling his hands from behind his back to display a very realistic-looking sub-machine gun -- built entirely of Legos.
With a sick feeling in my stomach, I tried not to scream as I wondered what the other customers -- all women -- would think of me.
"Benji, you know Mama doesn't like guns. Why don't you go build something else for me?" I said, steering him back into the playroom and then returning, red-faced.
"It's hopeless," one woman sympathized. "It's in their Y chromosome. It's just how boys are."
"It's true," another woman chimed in. "My son never saw a gun, not even on TV. He had never even heard the word, 'gun.' Then one day, when he was about your son's age, he pointed to a Play-Doh sculpture and said, 'Look at this, Mom' 'What is it?' I asked. 'You know,' he answered. 'It's one of those things that shoots the little balls at people to kill them.'"
Well, at least it wasn't just me. Despite their reassurance, though, I still didn't want guns in my house. But was I making too big a thing out of this? Were guns becoming more appealing to my son because of their illicit nature? Flash forward to Christmas. My son and I were wandering from store to store at the mall when we came across these cool futuristic, battery-operated handsets with flashing lights and whirring noises that spit little multi-colored foam disks at amazing speed and distance across the room. We got in a huge battle right there with the display models, ending in a heap on the floor, giggling and laughing like maniacs. So of course I bought him two for Christmas.
Are they guns? I didn't think so -- after all, they look more like the spaceship Enterprise than an instrument of death. But when Benjamin opened them and gave me his verdict, I had to admit they're awfully gun-like. Does this mean I've changed my stance on firearms? Not really. He's still not allowed to point his little finger-gun at me, especially in anger. He's still not allowed to play "Shoot-Out at the OK Corral" at the arcade. And he's definitely not allowed to watch Dirty Harry.
What was once a black-and-white issue, though, has moved into shades of gray. I'm not exactly sure where the line is, but I'm learning. Bit by bit, I'm learning.