On any given day of the week, my sons are running around the house battling invisible dragons, having epic sword fights, and apprehending pretend bad guys with their toy guns blazing. Yes, I actually let my boys play with plastic guns and run with sticks. So far, no one has lost an eye or been impaled.
On a rare (or not so rare) occasion one, or both, of my little rug-rats will get smacked on the hand or the arm with whatever they are currently using as a weapon. This usually results in a bout of tears, angry words exchanged, and time-outs administered. Then, before I can blink, they are up and at it again, laughing and giggling and back to vanquishing their imaginary enemies once again.
There was a time, not that long ago, when I used to try to squelch their games and rowdy demeanor. I would hover over the kids, worried that they would get hurt or hurt someone else. I was also exceedingly concerned about what other parents would think about my lively offspring, and especially about me as a parent.
What if someone was offended by this kind of activity? How would this affect my social standing with other moms? After all, guns and swords are no longer politically correct.
As if the disapproving stares of other parents weren’t enough, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the barrage of recent news stories about young kids who were sternly disciplined for the public display of the same types of behavior that my children play out on a daily basis.
For example, there was the six-year old boy from Maryland who was expelled for an entire school day for making a gun shape with his hand and saying “pow” to another classmate (Huffington Post). Then there was the 7-year-old boy from Baltimore who received a 2-day suspension for allegedly biting his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. The note that went home to his parents informing them of their son’s suspension only stated that, “A student used food to make an inappropriate gesture” (NBC News).
But my favorite is the five-year old girl from Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, who was suspended for ten days and forced to undergo a psychological analysis because she told her friend that she wanted to “shoot her with her bubble gun.” The gun she referenced was a pink plastic Hello Kitty toy that, if you can believe it, actually blows bubbles. Incredibly, she didn’t even have the weapon on her at the time of the incident.
Thankfully, in her case, the initial 10 day suspension was dropped down to a two-day suspension. But the family had to take legal action to try to get the words “terroristic threats” off their kindergartener’s permanent school record (Daily News). Oh, and did I mention that the psychological analysis revealed that the little girl posed no threat to others? It did, however, expose the fact that she was a perfectly NORMAL KID!
In light of this current societal madness, I thought it would be best to try to redirect my children’s undesirable choices in activities. If they wanted to play swords I would suggest that they play with a ball instead. Or if a gun fight suddenly broke out in the kitchen, I pointed to the massive bin of blocks on our living room floor.
I thought my clever diversions were getting the job done, until I realized that the balls had become bombs and the blocks were now in the shape of hand guns. If I took those toys away, something else would inevitably take their place.
My boys have proved to be inventive little buggers. Who knew a toy guitar would make the perfect machine gun and a clothing hanger could become a bow that shoots arrows? I’d love to know where the inspiration for all their shenanigans come from, since the majority of media they watch is PBS kids!
When it became obvious that deflecting would not do the job, I switched strategies. I decided that I would let them play their little games, but I would dictate how the boys played them. If they wanted to shoot guns, I told them they couldn’t point the guns at each other. A rule that they followed pretty well, that is, until I left the room.
Once, after I suggested that the boys pretend to be hunters looking for deer, my oldest smiled at me innocently and said, “Okay mom, I’m a hunter and you can be the deer!”
I REALLY tried to thwart their natural desire to be knights, dragon slayers, and army guys. I tried reasoning, nagging, lecturing, and yelling. I tried taking toys away. I tried being sweet, and being the tough guy (or girl in this case).
I. Tried. It. ALL!
And then it dawned on me. I was fighting a battle I would never win. No matter how hard I worked to discourage their efforts, they always came up with a new way to play their games.
Are my kids just really cunning? Is this a reflection of poor parenting skills on my end? Perhaps. Or maybe, I have two red-blooded little boys who are compelled to live life boldly. They have an innate need to compete, to fight the good fight, and to be heroes. They want to be ADVENTUROUS.
I don’t think they are alone.
Let me tell you about my six-year-old nephew, my older brother’s son. He has been raised in a non-hunting home. There are no deer racks or taxidermy geese mounted on any of their walls. His family is not on the receiving end of any outdoorsman magazines. They are a gun free home and they don’t watch violent movies.
The fact is that my older brother has no interest in killing animals. Rather, he enjoys watching them. He especially enjoys watching birds. This “old man hobby” is something we occasionally like to give him a hard time about.
Imagine our surprise when, before Easter dinner this past year, my sister-in-law asked my husband if he would consider taking her son hunting sometime in the future. I think Chad’s mouth literally dropped open in surprise! She laughed and proceeded to tell us the story of how she took our nephew into a Gander Mountain store, where he repeatedly pointed out all the animals that he was going to shoot when he got older.
A few weeks later, she found her son out in the back yard “stalking” birds at his dad’s feeders, with a stick that he found and had fashioned into a spear. “I don’t know where this came from!” she confessed, “It’s just in him!”
It’s just IN Him!
I’ve decided not to discourage my sons from playing their imaginative, action packed games any more. They are just boys being little boys. Does this mean that I will let them be crazy and disrespect themselves or others? Of course not! Does this mean we will need to continuously have discussions about boundaries and proper etiquette when playing at school or with other kids? YES!
BUT I refuse to allow my fear of what others may think of me to dictate how I’m going to parent my children.
And I will not allow an over-sensitive and increasingly over-reactive social climate to rob my children of the thrill and joy of being little KIDS. I don’t want them to miss out on these priceless, albeit fleeting, childhood adventures. Soon enough, they will have to grow up.
Until then… Go get’ em little soldiers! Slay those Dragons! Carpe diem!
photo via Amazon