I was never going to let my kid play with guns.
I hate guns. Guns make it far too easy to kill people (exhibit A: America). Yes, murder would exist without guns, but pointing and pulling a trigger is simple. Hacking someone to death with a weapon? At least a would-be killer has to work for it. And the time it takes allows potential victims the chance to fight back or escape.
My childhood playmate had no chance against a rifle. She was ten when she was murdered.
I let Baby D play with cars, trains, Legos, and stuffed animals. His screentime consisted of shows like “Thomas the Tank Engine” or “Bob the Builder” or documentaries about firefighters.
He still came home from preschool and promptly turned his Lego cars into Lego guns. He stopped using our dog Woofie’s tail as a fire hose and aimed it while making machine gun noises. When I put a stop to that, Baby D said, “Mommy, can we walk the dogs now?”
“Yay! I can find some sticks and use them as guns.”
I took my worries about raising a warmonger to a therapist. She explained that most boys have a receptor site in their brain for weaponry (or something like that). Other studies show that “gun play” is important for childhood development and there is no correlation between kids playing with toy guns and criminal behavior.
Despite all the studies, parenting is the newest, least exact of all the social sciences. Parents must choose: ban weapons and risk making them even more desirable forbidden fruit or allow toy guns and risk them becoming a gateway drug to actual weaponry.
Baby D is as stubborn and contrary as children come. I opted for Nerf.
Once the ban was lifted, Baby D went wild in the toy aisle of Target with the piles of Lucky Money showered upon the Number One Son of the Number One Son. Occasionally Baby D opted for other weaponry, such as the Nerf mace (now discontinued because Nerf miscalculated and that sucker can actually do serious damage). For the most part, Baby D chose the latest firearm: zombie shotgun, six-shooter, and even the machine gun (of course there’s a Nerf machine gun). His weapons basket grew into a garage armory. The older kids on the block assigned him the role of sheriff or security when they played town, since he always had a gun. Various visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins engaged in Nerf gun shootouts for days.
I’d like to say Baby D eventually got bored with guns. Instead, he requested a bootcamp themed birthday party in first grade. Then a laser tag party with inflatable tanks all over our yard in fourth grade. He proceeded to use everything he learned from reading The Hunger Games to form short-term alliances, shoot his friends in the back, and win the “Last Man Standing” round. I didn’t know whether to be proud or horrified.
Sometimes, when no other playmate was available, I would take up Nerf arms and play with Baby D. But I think he always knew I’d rather play a board game, or pit a plushie dog/bear army against his plushie cat army.
One day, Baby D grinned mischievously and said, “Hahahaha, Mommy, you’ll be so sad if your little boy grows up to be a soldier.”
I instantly countered with, “Oh, no, Dalton. Our family goes into the NAVY.”
“Absolutely. Your great-grandfather served on a warship at the Battle of Midway in World War II. Your grandfather was a Navy helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. And my big brother went to the Naval Academy before serving on submarines.”
Dalton thought about this for a few seconds and then said, “But why?”
The real answer was probably because being on a ship is safer than being Army cannon fodder.
But parenting is a long game and mothers are crafty. I leaned down and whispered: