In our house we only shoot pucks and balls. We stick to family friendly shows and movies that don't have weapons, we have no weapons in our house unless you count vigerously waving fishing poles and hockey sticks, and we have avoided the mayhem that is the equivalent of the Princess Pink, until now.
Once Henrik started school his world expanded, which we knew it would, we just weren't sure how it would play out as he was around kids who wore super hero shirts and played "bad guys" on the playground. Occasionally, through the years, Henrik has been drawn to the bold reds, blues and greens that the Super Heroes wear and has asked, "which character is on that kid's shirt". We've always answered him honestly and have somehow managed to stay away from purchasing clothing with superheroes on them.
It's not that I don't want those shirts or toys, heck, I love the angst of a good super hero film and would love to sport a retro version of a comic book hero t-shirt, but I don't want to have to deal with the "fighting bad guys" or "shooting bad guys" all day long. I'd rather my kid created towns with Legos and drew parking lots and drove cars, or even created the best train track in the world by themselves. I'd rather read, or play outside or do a project than have to deal with "AHhhh I'm dead" and plastic weapons scene. To me, there is such a negative connotation to those things that I'm honestly afraid of. I don't want my kid to be the kid on the playground getting talked to every day about kicking or shooting. I don't want my kid to be the one that other kids go home to and say, "Mom, that kid is mean, he kept telling me I was the bad guy and he was the good guy and then he was shooting me". You see, it's not that I don't have a problem with the figurines, or the clothing, but, I don't like the violence. And perhaps it's because I'm a girl and was just never around it, but I already have enough wrestling and hitting and pushing in my house, I don't know if I have room for bad guys too.
It's hard enough being a military family and being in an environment where we go through security at the gate just to get on, and are greeted, usually by a man, wearing all types of weapons on his person. When Henrik one day asked why we had to stop and talk to the man at the gate I simply told him that he was keeping us safe. MISTAKE! To him, that implied that we were not safe. Dang. How do I teach a child how to be careful of his surroundings and yet still feel like the world around him is good? When he asked if bad people were trying to come to our house I told him no. I then told the boys that the men at the gate were protecting us and were heroes that helped make the world better. They were making sure that we lived here and were allowed near all the cool stuff Daddy works with. Situation averted? For the moment it was enough and now my boys like to have the windows down and like to salute to the gate guards on our way through.
Being in the military we are also faced with another issue, the military bases we live on and go to frequently, have static airplane displays, Henrik, who is in love with learning, asks all about them (I'm getting pretty good, BTW). "What's that big one called, mom?" "Oh! That's a B-52, a bomber! That one was actually flown in a war called Vietnam, and one of my professors in college actually flew on that bomber." DANG! I thought, I did it again! Wait for it..... "What's a bomber?" Henrik excitedly asked. Go ahead Abbey, walk your way out of this one... to shield or not to shield? That is the parenting question, isn't it?
"Well, it drops bombs on places that are not nice". He didn't say anything else. A few seconds later as we were driving up the Academy, I spotted a huge herd of elk. I said, "Moooove elk! Get out of the road! We don't want you in the road," in a joking manner. This spurred an interesting conversation in our car, "where do elk live?" "Are elk nice?" "Dat's not an elk, it's a MOOSE!"
Then Theo started yelling, "GO AWAY ELK WE DON'T WANT YOU HERE!" Fan-freeking-tastic, now I was teaching my sons about bombs and some how have implied that we don't like wildlife. Great. Parenting win right here folks.
"No, Theo, we DO want them, they are part of nature, we just don't want them in the road," I tried to explain. Then Henrik said, "Mom, where do they live?"
"In the woods, probably in a den or just under some trees."
"What's a den?"
"A little shelter, like a bunch of branches that fell over, or some weeds and sticks..."
"We should just bomb it and build them a house," he said matter of fact.
WHAT?! I didn't know what to do. I felt completely helpless, but at least he wanted to build them a house, right? So I finally said, "No, Henrik, we want them to live in dens, they are not like dogs or cats that live in houses with people. They are wild animals. And it's not nice to drop bombs on animals or people, but sometimes we do drop them on buildings. I can't explain why, really, but sometimes, we drop bombs on places that are not nice to other people."
Good, I thought, we were done and let out a sigh. We pulled into the field house at USAFA and just as we came to the top of the hill, Henrik yells, "OOOoooh! A Missle! See it mom? See it?"
Head. On. Steering Wheel. Defeat.
So, after that day, I decided to not cringe every time they asked about bombs, or shooting. I answered them honestly and told them that we just cannot play shooting games AT each other and we can't drop bombs on one another, and most importantly, we cannot play shooting games if the other person doesn't want to play. They seemed to be fine with these rules and often are found making shooting noises when they find an L shaped object, hanger, or Lego creation.
I get it, it's natural for people, especially little boys, to want to destroy stuff, I just don't know if I'm ready for it. I mean, as a parent, where do you draw the line? I have a three year old and a 21 month old, are they too young? How do I teach them about the world or things they see on TV (like the End of the World video game they saw every other commercial during the baseball playoffs?) How do I teach them that Soldiers and Airmen and their DAD are heroes, when really, some of the jobs that these men and women set out to do are harmful to others and I may not agree with? How can I make that agony of good vs. evil from a Super Hero movie relevant to my sons? How can I allow them to play these good guys against bad guy games while they start to discover the good and bad in others and the world, but not let them shoot other people? It's not that I don't want them to know about guns, it's that I want to teach them proper use and how to be extremely careful around them or kids that may have them. I want them to know that Super Heroes exist because there ARE bad people and sometimes we need a little magic to help us see the good in the world. And the whole idea of a Dark Knight is too much to handle at this age, but is SO important when I want to teach my sons about how to be a good man and do what is right. If only I had played with Action Figures instead of Barbies, maybe I'd know the answer.
The other day, Henrik casually came up to me holding a hot wheels car that happens to be Optimus Prime, "Mom, I think I want a car that turns into a robot". Again, surprised. "OK"I said. And because I knew we weren't going to just go out and go buy him what he wanted, I told him I would look for some and we could put it on his Christmas list. He was satisfied. And now, here we are, in that point in a child's life where they genuinely want big boy toys or the "it" toy of the season. He knows that these transformers exist, I've showed them to him actually, at the 5 Below Store, but it was small and didn't have any parts, so it was mostly a car. He didn't know their names until now, and up until this point, he self named these characters "Heroes" probably because they are boldly colored and have a lot of muscle. We also have a few from Happy Meal prizes as we traveled from North Dakota to Michigan and the boys happily played with them and didn't really care about what they were or why. But now, Henrik knows, and it's a big deal.
When we went trick or treating at the zoo we came to a station where Spider Man was handing out comic books, actually, he let the kids pick out their own, and I was really impressed, they had all kinds, ones with your typical Super Heroes and some with characters that were more silly and some with Elmo. Since my kids wouldn't go to the table, I grabbed the Elmo one, and the one that did not have the Avengers or Bat Man on it. Yes, I did it on purpose, I could have flipped through the book, but instead I assumed that there would be robbers, weapons, and "scary" villains that I didn't want to expose my sons to. Shame on me? Maybe. Henrik was thrilled to see Spider Man, he was very curious about him and cautious too, but ended up giving him a hi-five and was pretty proud that he'd actually met Spider Man. And that's where I felt even more conflicted. Here was my son, dressed like a Scuba diver holding his candy bag tightly, but so in awe of this character he knows as a Hero.... and to have the opportunity to actually meet him! But does meeting an idol make my son want to be like him? Does it mean he now wants to fight crime and hurt bad guys? Or does it mean that he found someone who was pretty cool and he just got to hi-five him?
Later, we went to a Halloween party where one kid, about six years old, was dressed up like a ninja. (The only ninja my kid knows is the Fruit Ninja). This boy had at least three different knives and swords with him and handed one to Henrik to play with. The kid wanted to have a sword fight and Henrik looked at me every so carefully. I told him he could play, and as he took the smallest knife (I guess we'll have to teach him about that) he let out a huge smile. He was so happy to be able to participate in an actual boy game with an older boy! He didn't really understand what would happen after they banged swords for a while, but neither did I, and to my amazement, the older boy didn't "go for the kill" or stab himself for the dramatic "I'm dead" scene. Instead, they decided that they were done and went to play play-doh, the knives were used for cutting it. I'm surprised that I let him play, I think Eric was too. I think that we're still on the same page as far as weapons go, but at that moment, for some reason, I knew it was important to Henrik to participate, and since were were right there, it seemed to be OK. And again, I'm torn.
Yesterday we went to a birthday party, the theme was Princesses and Super Heroes, it was a wonderful party where the girls were given crowns and the boys were given capes. Henrik wanted to wear it, in fact, he never took it off. He loved every second of being a Super Hero, he some how knew all the poses Super Heros make and declared he had "Super Fast super powers", he held his cape out with such confidence and pride, and he ran around the playground with his friends yelling, "To the rescue! Super Heroes are coming!"
When I went to get the boys so they could come in for some food, I put out my hand for Henrik to grab. Normally, something he'd initiate, but instead, he said, very politely, "Mom, Super Heroes don't hold hands unless they are rescuing or with their Super Hero Friends". I was taken back, I smiled and then let out a little sigh.
Later that night, the boys wanted to go outside, and of course they wanted to wear their new capes. It was so wonderful watching them run around and holding their capes out, I really don't know where they learned it, or how they think that capes make a world of difference to a hero, but they do, and while it's a little sad to see it happen (because I thought they were still babies), it's absolutely adorable. There they were running about, "rescuing" and yelling, "SUPER HERO!" Their smiles were huge, they were getting along wonderfully and it made me happy to see them playing this big kid game in such an innocent manner.
When it was finally time to come inside, I asked Henrik about Super Heroes as I assisted him with his shoes, "Who were you rescuing? What do Super Heroes do?" Henrik looked at me like I was silly, but then, he stood up (while trying to balance while I slipped off his socks and shoes), put his hand out and said, "Mom, I rescue people who need help." 'Like who? What do they need help with?" I replied, yes, I was fishing here. "Like, some people need to be saved from a fire burning their house, or a flooooooddddd..." I tried really hard not to tear up, "And how would you rescue them?" I was seriously holding back tears and trying not to let my voice tremble at this point. Henrik answered, but spoke quickly and waved his arms about, "I would scoop them up and fly them away to a safe place and then I would help them build a new house like Daddy". I gave him a huge hug. And he wiggled out of it only to grab his cape and quickly turn away yelling, "TO THE RESCUEEEEEE".
I guess, what I've learned from all of this (it was a very busy few days) is that I don't have to buy clothing, books or let them watch shows that have weapons, bad guys or violence, but I have to let my boys play these games. I have to teach them the proper way to play and how to be safe. I have to teach them what a true hero is and why it's important to be one. I must let them go off into the world and see good and evil, and I must let them learn how to walk away when they are uncomfortable, don't like it or feel unsafe. I can't hide or shield them from everything, and I don't want to be that parent. I also have to be proud, when Henrik gave me those answers about what a Hero does, I was astonished. I guess between car races and playing in dirt he's heard me when I've tried to teach him about helping others and being a good person. No matter how I feel about it, we are now at a phase in our parenthood where we have two BOYS that want to do older, more adventurous things, and sometimes it will involve a cape and super powers.