We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.
David Orr from "Earth in Mind"

Oct 27, 2008

Guns guns and more guns and a few crummy plastic swords too

For Gio (who won't see this)

I'm having to processing something I experienced the other night. We went to a Halloween party at a co-workers house last Saturday night. The first thing I noticed that Alder was the only child in a home-made costume. All the boys were Power Rangers, Star Wars characters or other "soldier" story characters (although there was one vampire) and all the girls were princesses (and on Pokemon). But the costumes we the supermarket sort and they all really looked the same, polyester one piece suits with a big gaping hole at the back and some indeterminate symbols on the front. I didn't think too much about it because I know not everyone sews or has the time to make a costume.

So we're there, all of us feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Everyone seems to know everyone else and we literally know one person. Not to mention the fact that I don't really like parties where everyone is crammed into a house and there is loud music. So I sort of hover in the kitchen talking with my friend and trying to help with setup. After a half hour I realize that Alder still hasn't left my side (A is usually searching out the other kids, even if it's to just watch them).

So I decide to walk him back to the kids room to show him where they are playing, and to give him a little space. I was not expecting what I would find in this sweet four year old's room. Guns, lots of toy guns, sixteen toy guns to be exact and an additional nine toy swords and knives of all varieties. I was speechless. The kids, even some younger than Alder, were collecting them in piles and shooting them at each other, in each others faces and sticking them in the faces of adults and pretending to threaten them. And no one seemed to care. Luckily Alder is my son and just the noise from the room was too much for him so he followed me back out to the living room.

Now I understand that I live in a bit of a "crunchy" public radio no TV bubble, but I was a public school teacher for five years and I can not remember ever this much focusing on guns. To be honest it really disturbed me. I know that it was a hyped on sugar get together but still it seemed so unchecked.

I should explain that it isn't as if I have a hate of guns, certainly not those used by hunters, in fact I spent many winters in Durango eating the elk, pheasant, venison and turkey that my friends would kill. I can even say one of my favorite toys as a child was a toy gun that my father and I made together that shot little pieces of cardboard. But in all these situations there was a great deal of understanding of what guns were for and the real effects that they can have.

The father of the boy whose room this was is a hunter, in fact he had just shot a bear that day. I thought that if anyone hunters are the ones who try to have their children understand guns and safety the best, because there are real guns around, but it seems as though it isn't always that way.

Besides the fact that they were guns I was also shocked by the quantity of them. Just the idea that a four year old had sixteen of anyone thing is sad to me. Especially when they are all disposable and pretty much interchangeable, why so many?

What does all of this means in relation to how I want to bring up Alder?

Violence is not okay, ever. Not for Alder while he is still young and forming his early sense of self. I know eventually weapons will make there way into his play, whether is pretending to be a medieval knight or a Greek soldier violence will enter the picture. But I would like for it to be introduced within the frame work of a story, one whose meaning goes beyond the fight. But these are not stories that he needs to hear for another four years, at least. Until then I am absolute in my feelings about violence and the associated play. If this means that I may shield my son from certain cartoons or other media (hey we already don't watch TV except fpr movies) I have absolutely no problem with that.

Of course no answer can ever be that simple. Alder already is growing up in house with weapons in it. Kevin practices martial arts and uses swords, staffs and kuan-daos as part of his practice. But Kevin frames it as an art form, sure he can protect himself as need be but he has never deliberately gotten into a fight. Alder may end up learning to use a sword in one of the sets that Kevin does which have more in common with ballet than with fighting (something he pointed out to me). To me this is a good thing, I think that if he learns about weapons first with respect he will be more apt to make better judgments later on.

Of course all of this means that Kevin and I have had to make some choices in our movie watching habits because we like to watch action movies. I can still recite Raiders of the Ark and James Bond (Sean Connery Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan only please) is in regular rotation in my favorites list. But now they are left for later evening viewing.

When Alder is all grown up I'll be able to see whether any of this has an affect, but I'm not going to let it slide just because there isn't a lot of evidence one way or the other (according to one GAO study I read).

How do you approach things like this in your families?


meredithwinn said...

i'm so glad you wrote this. it's often overwhelming. i have experienced the very same scene. and fortunately like you said too, river is my son, and even being nearly four years old himself, it freaks him out. the portrayed violence. it makes him run for my legs and he'll say "i don't like that game" to kids at the playground. sure he'll wield a stick but doesnt' enjoy play fight, he'd rather be a kitty with a diggin stick or something like a walking stick. the arrival of swords has just come into our circle (a pretty green minded crunchy circle of friends mind you) and he just watches, he has just learned that this is "fight" and it's still somewhat scary.

have you read Raising Cain? i have the book and also rented the dvd from netflix (it was a PBS documentary too) and it really touched on the importance of play violence in boys. i still feel so uncomfortable with it, especially this young. maybe when he's six or eight he'll have more a handle on it. he has just gotten into telling wild stories that seem violent to me, but after reading that book i feel somewhat better. but i still want to keep the outside world outside of us!

maybe if we can teach them in a respectful way, like you and kevin do with martial arts, he'll get his *fix* and get it out of his system.

oh and river was the only handmade costume we saw trick or treating last year too! this year he's a firefighter kitty. and i'm almost done with his fuzzy orange tabby pants :) we'll piece it together with other things from his dress up stash at home, just like how it was for me as a kid too.

sorry to ramble on and on, but i just really got how you were feeling, and how the first time it was introduced to river, how i felt too. sick to my stomach at what i was about to face while mothering a boy. but then happily surprised by my own son's disinterest in it.

SpiderWomanKnits said...

Hey, did you get my email about this?

julia said...

I grew up in Germany, so guns are not a part of family life in general. Only in households with hunters, and that changes a lot of things. Germans don't have the 'I have the right to bear arms' thing going, so weapons are a lot less important. At least in my family. There are obviously families with a fascination for knifes, guns, etc, but that has an anti-social feeling to it for the average person in Germany.
Nonetheless, my parents had a hard time unarming my little brother as a child. There was nothing to be done about it. They'd take away his arsenal and he just found a way to get new toy guns. Maybe traded with friends, definitely improvised with sticks and such.
So maybe there is some gun play that is 'normal' and difficult to be avoided.
But your cultural background will play a big part (as does mine) in how you will (and will need) to handle it.
I can't say what would be a good way to deal with it. Dedramatizing works only when there are more people than just your family doing it, shielding doesn't work entirely...
Maybe you and your husband being good and reasonable people is all it takes ?

trish said...

completely off topic. i need to see costume pictures!!

Julie said...

I think that as 'they" say that rape is not about sex but power that killing is not about weapons but maybe power (pain) as well

I think it is important to remember that you can kill with anything not just weapons and weapons are fascinating to a lot of people

on the other side of things my daughter is very "rough" and mean to her dolls and stuffed animals and when I was pregnant I would say "why are you doing that" and she would say "mom it is not alive" and now that baby brother is here she is very careful and protective and even more gentle to her dolls though they still get harmed when she is in the mood

I think some kids and some adults need more violent play and it is just that play-