Inadvertently, I think I began my son’s interest in guns.
I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even realize what I’d done until my husband commented that the cool “Star Wars” light saber I’d just bought our son could constitute as giving him his first weapon.
I was quieted by this parenting mistake. I make them, as do all parents, often, and I hung my head in shame. But I let him play with it anyway. I was indulging his “Star Wars” interest and he very clearly knew that “Star Wars” was just pretend. We then got a “Star Wars” Legos set but this time I took the storm troopers’ guns and put them back in the box. But soon enough Benjamin was playing, shouting, “Blasters!”
This went on for a bit and actual guns never really made it into his play or even his vocabulary. And I was pleased. I’m not one of those extremist moms (he watches TV, he eats ice cream), but I decided early on that we would be a household free of gunplay.
But then the light saber led to pirate swords and then of course blasters and then to my utter sorrow, guns.
When Benjamin holds a stick or a plastic golf club and says, “guns!” there is usually a smile on his face. He doesn’t seem to understand the complete terror a gun can bring. And I don’t feel ready to explain to him the horror I felt when my best friend and I had a gun pulled on us when walking near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, even though the guy then put it down and started to laugh and headed off into the night. My 4 year old does not need to understand that kind of fear. But I feel I should explain to him why I say guns are bad.
I am stuck now between explaining it to him honestly or letting him continue with his 4-year-old innocence. I would prefer he not know about them and stay in his happy place. But they are seeping in with or without my guidance. It’s there when we read Babar and the hunter kills his mommy and Benjamin asks why. It’s there when “The Storm Troopers” come raring in chasing Luke and Han. It’s there as he plays cops and robbers.
Perhaps boys will just be boys. Perhaps. And I don’t want to hinder his imagination. When he tells me he wants to be a policeman when he grows up, I try to recognize that it is because he knows policemen help people, it is not because he wants to wield a gun. His imagination is growing and merging with real, harsh events. But he doesn’t need a push to get there. He doesn’t need me buying him toys that behave as weapons. One friend of mine was rightfully appalled that toy guns were given out in a birthday favor bag. When guns and adult ideas come up, we can explain it to the best of our ability, but we don’t have to hand it to them with a bow on top.
My best friend, the same one who was there with me that scary night in Paris, recently told me about how her 3-year-old son was at the playground and met an older boy. There was a baby near by and at the older boy’s urging, her son and this boy began circling the baby and started chanting, “Let’s kill the baby!” My friend was horrified and took her son home saying something simple like, “That’s not nice.” Later, while cuddling in bed, he began chanting again. “Kill! Kill!” She began to cry at these words coming from her little boy’s mouth and seeing his mother cry, then so did he.
As I look back on this story, I realize now I got a little “sanctimommy” on her and told her this was a perfect opportunity to talk to him about what kill and death mean, to discuss his feelings, that it was a missed parenting opportunity. It was only once I retold the story to my husband, that he looked at me directly and said, “You would cry too.” And he was right.
As our children discover new ideas, both good and bad, it is hard for us to keep up with how to broach the subject with them. I wanted to be the all-explaining, patient, honest mother. But some things are just so big, they are hard to explain to a child. And I don’t want to say the wrong thing, like when I was discussing his grandfather’s death with him, I said something like, “Well, someday we’re all going to die.” He looked at me with such fear and searching that though I was being honest, I knew I had said too much and then just said, “Who wants ice cream?”
I am not sure what the answer is. I don’t want to make guns and violence more attractive by making it completely off limits with no explanation as to why.
So when it happens again, perhaps I will follow my best friend’s lead, because seeing his own mother cry might have been the best explanation her little boy could have been given.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.