Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Parenting--the Decline of Good Intentions

7 years ago when we had my son, my husband and I, with the best of intentions, vowed we would never let our kids play with guns, so at the tender age of two when we bought him a pressurized water-spewing instrument, we were careful never to call it a water gun or a water pistol. Rather, “Oliver, you got me with your blaster,” or “I'm going to squirt you. Better run.” And for this I gave myself a little pat on the back until...

One day a year later late in the fall, I look up and my not-yet-4 year-old has his very own finger-gun pointed right in my shocked face. “Bang! I shoot you Mom!” As I collected myself from the mental GSW, my thoughts scrambled, 'Where? Who? Why?' and then it hits me. Preschool. PRESCHOOL. The little psychos in his preschool are to blame. They have exposed my son to gun violence. Well, I wasn't having that. First, we sat down and had a serious talk with our son about the meaning of his obscene little finger gesture, and how guns can hurt people and how we never point them at anyone even as a game, and on and on. Then we diligently informed the preschool teacher of the incident so she would be able to prevent further carnage. Things improved for awhile and in my head, I'm all like, “Phew. Crisis averted.” Until...

One day a number of months later, I took my son and few of his buddies to a park where they were running around happily while I ignored them, happy to be in conversation with another adult on the park bench. Then I saw it. My son and their friends had their finger-guns blazing! They were deeply engrossed in a game of Bang-Bang-I-got-you with the older children of this woman I was talking to, all laughing and having a whale of a time. Now this was one of those awkward parenting moments where you find you are in complete disagreement with the person sitting next to you (who you've only just met) about the appropriateness of a certain behavior, and you have to decide if or to what extent you will intervene. Well, what did I do? I took my posse aside, asked them not to use the words 'kill' or 'die,' and settled on the use of finger guns if they agreed not to point them at each other. Just this once. The boys went on playing while I silently judged the mom and politely excused myself to sit elsewhere.

Well, 'just-this-once' became 'just-this-twice' and so on until they tired of finger-guns a few months later. I wasn't thrilled about this turn of events, and during this time, I occasionally made futile attempts to keep the gun-play on the up and up...whatever that means. Much to my relief, the gun powder settled for some time until my son's 5th birthday when his uncle gifted a him his very first shiny, multiple-rounds nerf gun. His face lit up while my husband and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. We put off opening it for awhile and tried to distract him with his other presents which we did successfully for a few days. We finally relented and let him take it out the package, but not before yet another big speech on the seriousness of guns and the threat that we would put the gun away if he ever shot it at anyone which of course he did...less than half an hour later.

Fast forward a year or so, I take my son and his two little sisters to a park. At this point and at this particular park, my son is a little bored, finding everything a bit too-baby for his liking, so he occupies himself collecting rocks while I alternate between pushing the baby on the swing and catching his other little sister on the slide. Then I notice my son enviously watching a family on the periphery of the park. They have slightly older kids, nerf-guns blazing, and they are heavily engaged in an enthusiastic gun battle. The dad is really into it--falling over, sound effects, and a running commentary—when he notices my son and asks, “Mind if he joins in? We have an extra gun.” Sigh. “Not at all. Go for it, Oli.” And they really did have a good time.

Well, over the next year gun-play made its way into our son's play repertoire quite regularly, whittling away the last of my 'good intentions.' His friends started getting similar toys, he watched movies with all manners of weapons, and came out with random new gun vocabulary that I can only blame on the schoolyard. So if you ask me how we got from the best of intentions seven years ago to where we are today...

Him: Mom, wanna see me gun collection?
Me: Sure. (all Lego, I assure you)
Him: This one is called a Turbo Pistol and it has two triggers and a scope that lets you see bad guys from far away.
Me: Oh!
Him: And this one has shields on it and it can throw bombs. Oh yeah, and this part holds the ammo so you can shoot for like 2 hours.
Me: 2 hours!
Him: And Mom! Do you want to see my biggest one?
Me: Yea! (Who am I to argue with a 7 year-old wielding multiple weapons?)
Him: This. (proudly displaying his creation. You should see it sometime. Really impressive.) THIS is the SUPER DEATH GUN, and it can...

…well I have no idea, but I can tell you this…I’m more than willing to take my turn on the receiving end of other parents’ scathing judgement on this or any other matter. It’s the circle of parenting life really—to judge and then have to eat your words later, to start with the best of intentions, and then find that your children have better ones. As a seasoned parent, you realize a few things… One is that all things come and go in phases, so where he might be into guns this week, next week it will be skateboards, and then Star Wars the week after that. Two is that all of these phases come with their own mishaps and lessons, all of which shape our children into the amazing people they are and shape us into the parents we need to be.  Three is that it’s not about the ‘decline of good intentions’ at all, rather the slow burn of a realization that it is not actually you who is in charge on this journey you call parenting.