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Shooting Mouses, Monsters, and Fighter Jets

Before we had kids, we had a few ideas about how we would raise them and what we did and did not want for them. One of these preconceived (pre-conception?) ideas was that we wouldn’t have them play with toy guns. Knowing they would be around real guns as appropriate, we didn’t want them to get the idea that guns are something to be played with.

Then along came Toby. I’ve written here before about Toby’s odd fascination with guns. Who knew that plinking a few mice would make such a big impression on his little mind? But this impression has become an enduring fascination. It has been fostered (completely unintentionally and even against our best efforts) by a few things along the way.

I would not expect the movie Top Gun to feed a three-year-old’s firearm fascination. But it has. He loves the movie and quotes a number of lines from it during play. He plays fighter jets, and all of his planes – even the innocent Lego planes – have “guns” on them. He finds random objects that do not necessarily resemble bullets and affixes them under the wing of every plane. And of course they’re guns that shoot "bullets with fire in them [like the missiles from the movie] that fly off and shoot other fighter jets, right Dad?"

One night last week, Toby woke up a little after ten in the evening. He came out to the kitchen where Stephanie and I were talking. He came and said to me, If a monster comes to get me, you’ll shoot it, right? I didn’t want to validate the existence of monsters or the need to shoot anything or anyone, so I simply assured him that he didn’t have to worry about anything, and that I’d surely take care of him. But then he asked again, But you’d shoot it, right Dad? And I pivoted again with, don’t worry, if a monster came I’d take care of you, and you would be safe. Again, Toby said, You’d shoot it and kill it with your gun? This exchange went on for a few more similar volleys back and forth until finally Stephanie said to me, You’re just gonna have to say it. And so finally, after he asked yet again, I said to him, Yes Toby, if a monster came for you I’d shoot him. I’d get my gun and shoot him dead. I’d shoot him with every bullet I had. I’d kill him so he wouldn’t hurt you. And this, finally, satisfied him. Yeah, he said fully and finally. He embellished the monster’s demise a little bit more[1], but then wandered back towards bed.

Stephanie gave me a pump up BB gun for Christmas. She thought it would be something I could use around for plinking mice or whatnot, and she also thought it might be something to introduce to the boys at some point. I was a little surprised by this coming from her, but that’s fine. One night over the Christmas holiday, I set up a target (with the capacity to safely catch and contain very low powered BB’s) at the end of the hallway. Jacob was out with Jamiee, and so it was just us and Toby. He watched in fascination as I shot it a couple of times. And then Stephanie shot it a few times. Maybe it was the festive holiday atmosphere and Toby’s superabundant eagerness, but I let him hold the BB gun up to his shoulder while I carefully held it,  and shoot. Oh my, that was a happy boy. His eyes were as big as saucers, and his smile stretched wide across his face. He loved it. And of course he talked about it every day for a week.

Jacob doesn’t care about them. Jamiee doesn’t talk about them. Stephanie and I don’t promote them. For the most part (okay, expect for that one time at Christmas), we discourage any talk about the subject. But for Toby, the fascination remains. And he returns to the subject in some form or other at least a couple of times a day.

Tonight, after Toby asking me if he could have a long gun for Christmas, and me telling him yes, he could, as soon as he was This Tall (holding my hand palm down in front of my chin), Stephanie made an interesting observation. She said it is a little sad. Jacob has been infatuated with whales and marine life for all this time, and we have fostered his interests. We have bought him books and videos, taken him to museums, encouraged him in conversation, and given him experiences that have helped him explore his interests. Here Toby seems to have found something that appeals to him in equal measure, but every time he tries to talk about his it, we change the subject. We don’t let him explore his thoughts or play out his interest with new toys and new information. We just ignore it. And by extension, maybe we are ignoring a part of him. She’s right. It is kind of sad. But what is the alternative? He’s three. Are we going to let him play with toy guns around the house? Give him more exposure to real ones? Do we just listen to him more when he talks about shooting mouses, monsters, and fighter jets? What would we do if it were some other kind of fascination that we didn’t want him to pursue? Where is the happy medium?

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[1] “It would fall off the bed like this, right?” (Toby pantomimes the monster falling off the bed.) “And then we could throw it outside. We could throw it out in the dark, right?” Yes, Toby. “I could get a toy and throw it at him.” Toby makes the throwing motion as he says the word. “And I could kick him, right?” Talk about beating a dead horse.  

Posted on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 11:48PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

a year or so ago, Mothering magazine (as left as it gets for parenting) did an article on this. I assumed when I saw the article headlined on the cover that it would come down against toy guys. But guns and boys, it turns out, go together. Even if you don't own ANY toy guys, sticks and even arms and fingers turn into them. I wish I could find the article for you. They just suggested things like encorporating first aid vehicles and hospitals to aide the injured into the play, and the victims families so kids can see what guns do to everybody, not just the bad guy. If I find the article I'll send it on. On another note, I had a dream we came up for 10 days this summer to visit you. I tried to talk Bryan into it at 2:30 this AM (we wouldn't have to pay for 2 of our 3 kids airline tickets), but I'm not sure he heard me.
January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarissa
I have never owned a gun, although sometimes I wished I had a 22. As long as you trained him to respect it, I don't see why he can't have a toy one. Maybe you and him can go hunting rabiit someday soon!
January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDad

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