Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Letting her babies grow up to be cowboys

When I was growing up kids (in my age-group anyway) didn't play with guns. It was a mindset that most of our parents held: guns were not toys; there was nothing of value to be gained from leveling the barrel of a plastic peashooter in any direction, even at an imaginary foe.

Had we hailed from a family of hunters, maybe we'd have a different take on the subject. But no, we, and nearly everyone we knew, were doggedly anti-gun.

My assumption has always been that the war in Vietnam - which had recently ended - was the main factor behind the boycott. Too many young men our parents had known just never came home, or they'd come home so affected by the horrors they'd seen or participated in that they weren't the same people when they did come home.

I was quite a bit older than most kids' (I think) when I finally saw a child playing with a toy gun. I must admit the sight shocked me.

But then again, I was a girl. A tomboy, perhaps, but a girl all the same. The boy stuff I was interested in wasn't playing cops and robbers or war games; it was going fishing or climbing trees or catching snakes. It was scaling walls and getting dirty.

I have come to think of it as a testament to my lack of imagination. I wasn't interested in thinking and role play as much as I was fixated on getting things done. I wanted to be the Engine Who Could. I wanted to be as high as I could get. I wanted to face fear and stare it down.

Guns didn't frighten me; they weren't even on my radar.

It didn't occur to me until much later, though, that guns were all around as I grew up. They didn't much look like what they were supposed to be, however, a red button on a rectangular hunk of plastic, tethered by a chord to the television screen. The explosive blasts sounded more digital than mechanical, and the targets were little men from outer space.

Few could work up much opposition to something so fanciful.

Shooting aliens, after all, would be a desired skill in the unlikely event of an interstellar invasion.

Of course, my interest in such things never lasted long; again I blame my gender. Even with the advent of Charlie's Angels, I was more interested in the caliber of their coiffs than the caliber of their side arms.

But boys will be boys.

Jed's mom was not much different than my parents. She was another mother who forbade games depicting mortal combat. Of course she herself fell victim when her only son - unhappy with the edict - chewed his toast into the shape of a revolver and brazenly shot her over breakfast one morning.

"Where do they get this from," I recall was her recollection.

I have to admit, I had the same degree of wonderment when The Champ, a few months ago, picked up a roll of wrapping paper, aimed it at the dog and said: "Psssshoooooo!"

I shook it off. He's only 17 months old. It didn't mean what I think it means.

Then a month or so later I found him quietly stalking our furry, incontinent beast with the core of a toilet paper roll. One eye shut. BOOM!

I sent out the APB: "Silas has a gun," but I didn't bother asking where he got one.

"Bond. James Bond." Has been his dad's nightly routine for falling asleep since Santa brought him the complete boxed set.

"We don't family pets," I say ... wondering if it's possible rabies (and not age and a lack of estrogen) is causing the pee puddles around the places she's been, in which case it might not be so inappropr...

NO! It is not OK to shoot the dog, Silas. OW. The dog would get hurt."

"No. Pshooooo?"

"No Pshooooo."

Since the all-out bans haven't really changed society's view on guns, a number of social scientists have found that toy guns and violent play acting might actually have an important role in motivating the later academic learning in boys, as well as allowing kids to explore weighty life issues such as fear, death and violence in a safe manner.

To me it makes sense. Not only do we learn through play, but it doesn’t seem as if outright bans instill knowledge as much as they reinforce fear. And looking back, I can honestly say that none of the kids I knew who played cops and robbers ever became either. Although it's possible one or two are still shooting at aliens.

I suppose the argument over whether children should play with guns is going to be a moot point in our house.

The kid's already found his dad's "potato gun."

And he's got his trusty steed, Butterscotch, to take him Home on the Range whenever he squeezes her ear.

I suppose the only thing missing is the cowboy hat -- although not if you consider his recent finding of a plastic fire helmet in the back of his sister’s closet that he now wears as he rides off into the sunset on the PlasmaCar.

Perhaps I should think about getting the poor old dog an orange vest, just incase this particular mother's son does indeed grow up to be a cowboy. ... We wouldn't want him mistaking her for a wolf, anyway.


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