So That Happened…

(I’d like to think that) I have a pretty good handle on most things parenting. I’m secure and happy regarding most of our parenting choices. There are very few bits that seem to completely elude me. However, doesn’t it seem like the one issue you have yet to truly figure out is the one that continuously pops up? For me, that issue is: guns/gun play.

I’ve written about it before, about how the concept of gun play (and violent play in general) makes me uneasy and a bit cautious. About how I get a visceral reaction watching my son turn his fingers into a gun and point them at somebody.

I still think about it, constantly: when EZ picks up a stick at the playground, calls it his gun and goes waving it around as he runs. When I’m watching the news and a story about gun violence pops up. When a show he’s watching somehow lets some guns sneak in.

I have yet to buy an actual toy gun (and doubt I ever will), and we haven’t even bought water guns, despite my son’s pleas for one.

So how did we end up shooting lasers at each other this past weekend?

EZ Gets His Gun On

To be honest, I’m still not quite sure. But I have to admit, I loved every second of it.

We were at a birthday party at a kid’s play center. It’s a fabulous place filled with a cool climbing structure, ball pit, arcade games (I need to brush up on my Dance Dance Revolution skills apparently), and… a laser tag room.

After pizza and cake we were told that they had reserved a few rounds of laser tag for the kids. EZ couldn’t even contain himself, he was so excited. Then he asked me what laser tag actually was, and his excitement shot through the roof. Immediately the kids began deciding teams and making strategic plans (as strategic as 5 year olds can get at least).

EZ was already suited up when I finally was able to say something.

“These are just toy lasers, you know…not real guns.”

My son looked back at me like I was out of mind.

“Of course,” he said. “They can’t hurt you.”

He seemed to need to reassure me. I wanted to say something else. About how uneasy I felt about the whole thing. How I didn’t feel okay with basically giving him permission to turn these guns on his friends and shoot freely.

They’re just lasers – I reassured myself. Much different than actual guns.

While I was having this internal dialogue the kids were set loose – out into a black-light filled room filled with various places to hide. I was nervous…would he get scared? Would an actual experience shooting real(ish) guns at friends flip some sort of mystery switch inside of him, relegating him to a life of violence?

Nah. All that happened was that he ran around for 15 minutes with his friends, having a blast and laughing a ton. And to be honest, that didn’t really surprise me.

However, what did surprise me was the fact that I wanted to play now. A second round started up and I wanted in. Watching him have fun, I had to admit, I was intrigued and more than a little eager to try it out myself. I slipped on the weighted vest and got myself ready.

And then? I kicked some major laser tag ass.

No, really, I did. Perhaps it’s my innate competitive nature, but something certainly flipped inside of me once the game started. I strategized, I didn’t play easy, and I kept hitting vests over and over. I felt a rush each time I tagged somebody, and I found I actually liked it.

I ended the game, a bit sweaty, with my heart racing and a huge smile on my face. And then, on the drive home it all sort of sunk in. Just earlier in the day I had refused to allow EZ to play some Jurassic Park video game because it involved using a gun to shoot dinosaurs, and yet there I was, only a half hour later, cheering him on when he successfully tagged me with his laser. I wasn’t sure what to think about it.

I’m still not.

I certainly haven’t jumped on the “Yay kids & guns!” train, and I’m still adamant that I won’t waste our money on purchasing toy guns.

But I have to say, in the few days since the party, my son hasn’t all of a sudden become more violent or aggressive. He hasn’t asked us to buy him his own gun or even a laser. He has asked to go back to this place since he (rightly) thinks his dad, who missed out on the birthday party, would be super into laser tag. And I have to admit, I already feel a little thrill at the thought of suiting up and heading back into the black-lighted laser zone.

7 thoughts on “So That Happened…

  1. Man, we deal with this one every day. Our boy is 3, and everything he picks up is a gun. The only TV they watch is PBS, no guns there. There’s the occasional gun in a Disney video, here and there. But it’s constant. He makes guns out of his tinker toys, sticks in the yard, and when those are gone, his fingers.

    We aren’t gun people either. And gun “play” just doesn’t sit right with us. Parents before us told us “there’s nothing you can do. It’s gonna happen whether you discourage it or not”. We didn’t want to believe it. We still don’t.

    There’s no easy answer to this one. Parenting is murky, confusing business.

    -DD

    • Oh yeah – I learned long ago that just because we don’t bring actual toy guns into our home, doesn’t mean that our son won’t figure out ways to construct them himself if he really wants to. (In the post I linked to above, I mention his “french toast gun.” sigh.)

      Gun play really doesn’t sit well with us either, which is why I was so shocked at how I really got into the laser tag – it felt like it came out of left field.

  2. The English major in me wants to believe that the word *tag* is really important, especially at age four, five and six (and up), when kids are so literal about language. And, well, literal about everything. I also really want to believe that the black light helps enforce the idea that this is an activity that takes place in a specific setting on specific special occasions. Is that just because this also sounds like fun to me? I hope not…

  3. I can totally understand how violent play can be a source of discomfort and cause a visceral reaction – especially for folks who are peace oriented. We haven’t crossed the violent gun play bridge yet with my son (he’s two), but I have previously worked with young children for many years. One of my favorite professors Diane Levin, who researches, lectures and teaches about children’s play – and violent play – gave me a great perspective about violent play. That it’s actually something that children use to work through and understand their emotions (of course with limits and exceptions – there can be violent play that is NOT appropriate), the piece of violent play (and any play) that is not good for children is the imitation of shows, cartoons, images etc, etc. She’s written two great books about it. You should check them out – it might help you make sense of gun play.
    The War Play Dilemma &Teaching Young Children in Violent Times,
    http://dianeelevin.com/

  4. Guns have never been a big deal for me. I mean, I’m not yet a mom, so maybe I just haven’t thought about the issue in great detail up to this point. But I grew up in a pretty rural area where many boys and girls were given *real* guns at a youngish (10? 12?) age and taken on hunting trips with their family members. I think the most important part is emphasizing safety, and responsible use. Kids I grew up with had a firm grasp on reality because guns were a part of life, and learning to use them appropriately was a sort of rite of passage. Playing with water guns and stick guns was one thing, but dealing with real guns was another thing entirely.

  5. I am actually proud of you for leaving your discomfort of guns aside to have fun with Ez. I know that guns as a form of play makes me feel uneasy too, and the “idea” of laser tag does not appeal to me. However, running around to play “tag” does have its appeal for sure!

  6. Pingback: Bang Bang | The Mamafesto

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