Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Boys and Guns

I hate guns. I do. I think they're entirely unnecessary outside of the military and law enforcement. I get there's a second amendment, but really, I'd like it better if no one was armed.

Guns = power. Those that have guns have the power. Those that don't -- are weak. And up until this year, I've managed to keep X-man happy with just his renaissance fair bow and arrow (somebody hand made it out of bamboo and then made 3" padded pillows at the ends.) They were declared a basement or outdoor toy.

But this year, he's been way into guns. He sees guns, any gun at any play date and immediately picks it up and says things like, "I am a bad guy. This is a stick up!" Or my favorite, "I'm going to kill you." Seriously, even the revolver from a Clue game.

Now, I know this is all part of normal development and play. It's just the way some kids are. They navigate the whole good/bad spectrum this way. And X-man is good if he notices someone getting upset with saying, "No one is a bad guy! Let's go hunt an imaginary bad guy down."

And yes, I get that he's too young to understand that vigilante justice -- isn't really justice.

But I hate it.

Today at a play date with two new friends, brothers, we went to their community's swimming pool. There a band of boys (most of them in 4-6th grade) had mega sized super soakers. X-man asked if he could play with one. The boys said yes. Then as he engaged them in "war"over the next 20 minutes they decided that they were going to gang up on him. Then they took the gun they said he could have and replaced it with a lame one with 1/45th of the spray power to make him weaker.

Now, please note that these were NOT the boys we were there to play with. And for a while the new friends got tired of how crappy the big boys were being (after they used kick boards to shield X-man like awesome friends), and were happy to go lie out on their towels. X-man was not deterred. There were, after all, guns to be played with!

I called him out and asked what was going on. He told me that the other boys weren't being nice. I told him he wasn't in trouble, but that I didn't like how those boys were talking to him and treating him. He was negotiating, using his nice words, telling them that they made him uncomfortable and that he didn't like having the guns pointed at his face. And couldn't they all be on the same team? They kept taunting him, making fun of the fact that I wouldn't let him go in areas over 4' deep. I explained that what they were doing was bullying, and he should play with his nice friends.

But, again, there were guns to play with.

Finally, when they decided to take his "lame" gun away and abandon him entirely, he started crying in the pool. One of the boys' mothers looked up and asked what was going on. I explained that he wanted to play with them, and they were ganging up on him as the new kid. She called the bigger boys over and made them give him a gun to play, but again, when Mom's interfere with big boy dealings, they get embarrassed. No one wants their Mom to tell them who to play with, and they kept their distance from him for the last 10 minutes we were in the pool.

When he got out of the pool to dry off, he looked at me with such sincerity and said, "Mom, I promise, if I can have a water gun, I won't ever shoot you or Lily. I'll water the garden. I'll shoot the fence. But I won't hurt anyone or bully anyone ever."

I told him I'd talk about it with his Dad tonight. I'm not a fan. Guns = power, posturing, violence to me. But watching him try to fit in was difficult, and maybe it's because we had just seen Dr. April, his therapist, but he was doing an OUTSTANDING job of trying to take the high road, especially for a kid who was at least 4 years younger than the big kids.

The other thing that my friend recommended was going over and talking to the other children's parents. I felt at the time that it would only make X-man's embarrassment worse. Plus, I really, was sitting there watching him try to handle it himself. He didn't tattle. He didn't hit. He didn't resort to so many of the things he learned in kindergarten. He really did try to engage them as a big kid, but he also learned that not all kids respond to compromise and discussion, particularly when they know it's their toy and that they get it back just by asking for it. And that was REALLY frustrating for him. He felt that holding onto that gun was the only thing that gave him -- Power. And I learned not to jump in and try to manage everything, even though I really wanted to tell those boys where they could shove their guns.

In the end, X-man said he wanted to go back and just play with his new friends at their house with their toys. I'm hoping that happens, but we also had to have a long talk about how you don't play with bullies and follow their rules just because you want to play with their toys. How having friends without cool toys, who treat you nicely are worth far more than mean boys with guns.

But he wasn't the only one who felt left out, one of the new friends asked if he could go to and check out the guns there when we got back to their house. X-man asked if he could do that, too. So, I think all three of them were a bit envious.

Here he is fishing at Dana Colbert Park a couple weeks ago. One of these days, maybe he'll bait his own hook!

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