Why My Six-Year-Old Isn’t Getting A Star Wars Blaster For Christmas

For the last two years, my six-year-old, Fletcher has been coveting a certain Star Wars blaster. It’s hard to tell the differences among the assorted Star Wars weaponry, but I think it’s one of the models the rebels use in the Clone Wars series. His older cousins have one, and he plays with it at their house every chance he gets. The last few times we’ve ridden the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World, which conveniently spills you out into the gift shop, he’s gone right for this particular weapon, touching it with the kind of reverence normally reserved for holy relics. He knows better than to ask me for it outright because the answer to his perpetual Can I have a gun? question has long been a flat No.

It’s challenging to be anti toy-gun when you’ve got a boy. The fascination must come with the Y chromosome because Fletcher’s been enthralled by toy guns since he could pull himself up and grab what he wanted to play with from a toy chest. I could refuse to supply him with toy firearms, but that doesn’t stop others from gifting him with water shooters. Or stop him from playing with toy guns at other kids’ houses. Staying with friends on a family trip to Denver when Fletcher was 3, I discovered my child had unearthed a substantial cache of toy guns that even my shocked girlfriend didn’t realize her son had.

As any parent knows, kids’ persistence is a force to behold. Over time, their repeated pleas can wear you down like water smooths a rock. And so it was that a few weeks ago, I reluctantly reversed my No Toy Guns policy and allowed Fletcher to purchase a stylized flintlock pirate pistol with his allowance. After that, the proverbial barn door was wide open. So when I saw the Star Wars blaster at Target, and it was on sale, I thought, Oh, what the hell. That’ll make his Christmas.

It was upstairs in the guest room closet with the rest of the toys, waiting to be wrapped in festive Christmas paper and tied with a bow. But after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut on Friday, I took it back. After seeing the pictures of those 20 murdered children, most of whom were exactly my son’s age, the idea of feeding my own child’s perception that guns are just big boy toys and the violence they can do is just a game made me physically ill.

And I say that as someone who’s not opposed to reasonable gun ownership. Though because the word reasonable has been so perverted by the NRA and their rabid devotees, let me explain what I mean by that. Years ago — long before Fletcher was born — when I lived off-grid on a remote mountain in Nevada, in an area where it could take 20 to 30 minutes for police to respond to a 911 call, my husband kept a 12-gauge shotgun, a .22 rifle, a 9-mm semi-automatic handgun and a HK91 assault rifle in the house. “I like to shoot things in the desert,” he said a little sheepishly when I asked him why on earth he needed a stash like that. They were his guns, and I wouldn’t touch them. But my husband traveled frequently, and I was often home alone. After an unnerving encounter with one of the other mountain residents (who I presumed was making meth in one of the lonely double-wides loosely scattered over the desert), I wanted to be able to protect myself if I absolutely had to. So I learned how to load and fire a Glock. At the time, I considered it a necessary survival skill.

Now we live in the Greater Orlando suburbs. The guns are gone, and we leave it to Orlando’s Finest to respond quickly if the need arises. No one in suburbia (or a city for that matter) needs that kind of weaponry. Ever.

On the afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting, Lisa Belkin, the Huffington Post Parentry blogger, wrote that “guns are a parenting issue.” She said our job as parents is to keep our children safe, and “easy access to guns keeps us from doing that job.”

Of course, as many, many people have said in the wake of this horror, any real change in our nation’s gun culture has to start with petitioning our lawmakers and holding President Obama to his promise to “use whatever power [his] office holds” to pass gun control legislation that actually bans these weapons of mass slaughter. The same goes for demanding more resources to make mental health services readily accessible to those who desperately need them, and so perhaps prevent the kind of off-the-charts violence these tortured souls can commit. But closer to home, especially with Christmas approaching fast, perhaps it’s also time to think about the messages we send our children when we allow them to play with — and indeed give them — toy models that look so much like the real thing. However unintentionally, that tells our kids that that gun violence — killing — is appropriate imaginative play for children to engage in.

Telling a kid he/she can’t have toy guns isn’t easy. Believe me, I know. But tell me, what part of parenting ever is? Teaching that gun violence is abhorrent has to start somewhere, and maybe it starts with banning the plastic toys that glorify gun ownership in our households … as well as the shoot-em-up video games that I’m just as guilty of allowing my son to play from time to time.

Truth told, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do about the super-soakers and pirate pistol we already have. Though I’m sorely tempted to do a full toy purge, I’m thinking that doing so may actually create more desire for the forbidden playthings. Better perhaps is to simply let them gather dust on the toy shelves and refuse to replace them when they break. Already, that pirate pistol has been forgotten as other toys from Chanukah have commanded my son’s attention. But this much is certain: I won’t be adding to the arsenal on Christmas. Over the weekend, I replaced the Star Wars blaster with a telescope. Rather than pretending to shoot at people and our long-suffering cats, I’m hoping it inspires my son to shoot for the stars.

Illustration: Jessica Ziegler

The End-of-Vacation Realization


Scene: It’s 7 am in the Dworkin-McDaniel household. An eager Fletcher emerges from the bedroom and makes a beeline for the living room … and the TV remote.

MOMMY: Uh-uh-uh. [Wags finger.] School today. Get dressed.

Fletcher stops, puzzled. Then, realization dawning that this means vacation is over, and there will be no TV this morning, he spins around.

FLETCHER: Actually, Mommy, I’m still tired. [Heads back to bed, disappears under covers.]

End scene.

Confessions Of A Birthday Party Masochist

So, it took a few weeks, but I think I’ve finally, fully recovered. No, I wasn’t laid out by mono. Or some rogue virus escaped from a level four bio-safety lab. I didn’t have major surgery. Or lipo. Or implants. I didn’t have so much as a wisdom tooth pulled. What I was recovering from was – and this is the faintly embarrassing part – I was recovering from my son’s fifth birthday party. I believe the official term is Post Traumatic Party Syndrome.

Now you’re probably thinking, Puh-leeze. How delicate do you have to be to get wiped out by an afternoon of ice cream cake and Pin The Tail On The Donkey? If it were only that simple, I could breeze through no sweat. But it would seem that I’m something of a birthday party-planning masochist, enduring all manner of extreme craziness to pull off the perfect party for my child. By the time he blows out the candles, I’m ready for a vacation on a remote island some place where even satellite phones don’t get signal.

It’s not that I go into birthday mode planning to drive myself batty. Every year, I swear it’ll be different. Every year, I promise to keep it simple – just a few friends, a bounce house, some cake. And every year, I get such a rush from picking a theme and writing up the guest list, I just gotta do more. Custom invitations! Special order birthday cakes! Kickass party favors! Spellbinding entertainers! Before long, I’ve gone so far off the deep end, I’m polling perfect strangers at Party City about which color napkins go best with the Star Wars-themed paper plates in my basket. Do you think royal blue, Caribbean blue or electric green to bring out the color in Yoda’s light saber?

Really, these are the things that keep me up nights. It’s a sickness. An obsession. I wonder if there’s a 12-step program.

To read more click here and follow me over to Lifescript’s HealthBistro blog where I’m guest-posting today and the second Friday of the month about my (mis)adventures in parenting.

And what about you? How do you celebrate your kid(s)’s birthdays? Leave a comment at the end of the post or below and tell me all about it.

Photo: anna_elsewhere


*Book Envy

*Hanging ‘Round The Men’s Room

* I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

*How New Moms Bond



The Accidental Latke Lady


So, an atheist and a Hindu walk into a kitchen …

It sounds like the set up for a joke, right? Well, the joke was on me – the atheist in this story – when my son’s Montessori school director pulled me aside to ask if I’d talk to the class about Chanukah, the week-long Jewish holiday.

“You can show them the menorah and the dreidl,” she explained excitedly. “Maybe share a special story that your family reads on Chanukah, or make some of those potato pancakes.”

Now the joke wasn’t that she was asking. I loved that the kids would be learning about all kinds of winter holiday traditions – next up was Kwanzaa, and I think I heard something about Festivus. The joke was that she was asking me. Because, really, I’m the last person to be educating anyone about the rituals of Chanukah.

I’m sure the director just assumed that being Jewish for some forty-something years, I had this stuff down. But I’m more Bagels-n-Lox-Eat-Chinese-On-Sundays Jewish, than Go-to-Synagogue Jewish. I haven’t lit the menorah or said the prayers in years. Other than the fairytale bit about some lamp oil “miraculously” lasting eight days, I barely remembered what Chanukah was about. I mean besides ensuring that Jewish parents had a reason to run up their credit cards during the holiday shopping season like everyone else. Though that holiday explanation seemed a little cynical for the Montessori crowd.

And yet, it wasn’t like there were dozens of moms vying to do this. The ‘burn we moved to a few years ago isn’t exactly overpopulated with members of the Tribe – though the deli’s not bad, and I have found some decent Chinese. My son has attended three schools in his short life, and I’m pretty sure he’s been the only Jewish kid in each of his classes. If I didn’t step up, who would? It was one of those offers you shouldn’t refuse – even as I was trying to figure out how I might. But I somewhat reluctantly promised the director that I’d scare up a menorah and the spinning tops called dreidls and make potato pancakes (aka latkes) for 30.

Now I just had to figure out how to pull it off.

“You’re the school Latke Lady!” squealed my sister Shari — my go-to source for all Jewish holiday knowledge — when I went to her for advice.

Oh joy. I hadn’t realized the job came with an honorific. Shari’s held the … um, “Latke Lady” title at her sons’ school for years. She had this stuff down cold. I, on the other hand, was rusty on the rituals and clumsy in the kitchen. For the umpteenth time since I made the commitment, I kicked myself for agreeing. Chanukah really wasn’t part of our little family’s tradition. Rather, we embraced the holiday season as a time to over-decorate. Each year, we tricked out a tree, strung lights, and hung garland, while the menorah my mom gave me years ago gathered dust on a shelf. For a second, I considered falling on my knees and begging my sister to please, please, please take my place as Latke Lady. What could I barter? A month of chauffeuring her kids to soccer practice? Picking up her mani/pedi tab? A case of her favorite sulfite-free vino? But then I thought, NopeMy kid. My job. Though our little mixed family has no religious affiliation, our son will always be considered Jewish because I am. And being Jewish is a lot like being French or Irish or Italian. You might shake off the belief in the All Mighty. But the culture? Bubela, that’s with you for life. I suppose it was time I passed some of it on. So I mommed up.

“All right,” I sighed resignedly to my sister. “Remind me again what the holiday’s about.”

Now, if this were a movie, here’s where the montage of the newbie training at the hands of the master would be. Shari gave me the Cliff’s Notes’s explanation: Small band of Jewish fighters defeats Syrian army to score religious freedom; returns home to find they’re low on lamp oil that lasts longer than expected. Then she brought me up to speed on playing dreidl, where you spin the top, then either put pennies into the pot or take them out based on how it falls … which essentially means it’s craps for kids. Finally, she loaned me a menorah and griddle and bid me bon chance. “You’ll do fine,” she assured me. I hoped so.

On the first Chanukah morning, I was in the kitchen, nervously eyeing the griddle and potato pancake mixture. Shari had given me a crash course in latke-making, but this was the first time I’d be frying solo. Just me, the griddle and hot, sizzling oil. Having once set my mother’s kitchen ablaze making toast, I kind of have a sketchy track record with the culinary arts.

I called another school mom friend to come keep me company. An ex-pate New Yorker like me, she also shares my one-off status as mom to the only Hindu kid in class. Besides, if things went horribly wrong, I figured she could call the fire department while I tried to contain the flames.

“You’re really making 60 of these?” Gauri asked when she got here, looking doubtfully at my first batch of latkes that were cooking painfully slowly, and then at the clock. I nodded. “What time are you supposed to be back at school?”

“About 90 minutes.”

“You’ll never make it. Mind if I help?”

She shrugged off her jacket, picked up a frying pan and started her own batch. I smiled at her, too grateful for words. Isn’t that the meaning of a good friend — someone who’ll fry potatoes with you in a pinch?

“Think I’m doing this right?” she asked me, pondering the lumps in her pan.

“I dunno. You actually know how to cook. Do you think I’m doing this right?” I asked her.

So that’s how the two of us – the atheist and the Hindu – ended up, side-by-side, making latkes for Chanukah, figuring it out as we went. And if our sons’ classmates, who gobbled them up and came back for more, are any sorts of judges, I’d say we got that part right.

And what of my Chanukah talk? Well … I kept cramming for it on the drive to school, like I was back in college, studying for finals — and it still ended up being awkward, halting and a bit disorganized. But that’s okay. I figure I’ve got a whole year to prepare before I have to talk about Chanukah again.

Photo: Tova Teitelbaum


*Book Envy

*Hanging ‘Round The Men’s Room

* I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

*How New Moms Bond



Summer Holiday Parties

Every family has a go-to holiday house – the place where everyone always gathers to celebrate the occasion du jour. Growing up, it’s what I loved most about spending holidays at my grandmother’s in Cleveland. There were always baked-from-scratch goodies in the oven, assorted aunts and great-aunts bustling in the kitchen and far-flung cousins I rarely saw any other time to play with. That was how I always hoped my house would be. But as adults, it was my sister who earned the holiday destination designation. Her cozy home, always decorated to reflect the season, was where we congregated to eat turkey on Thanksgiving and brisket on Passover, to break the fast with bagels and whitefish on Yom Kippur and fry latkes on Chanukah, make breakfast burritos on Christmas and barbecue before the fireworks on the Fourth.

But once my husband Stewart and I settled into our new house, I wanted in on the action. I had wedding china, and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I started campaigning for a holiday of my own.

To read more, please click here and follow me over to HealthBistro at Lifescript where I’m guest blogging today — and the second Friday of every month. Today, it’s all about finding a niche in the family holiday rotation — even with a wicked case of cooking ADD.

How do you celebrate the summer holidays? Please leave a comment below the post, and tell me all about it!

And while you’re at Lifescript, take a look around. You’ll find tons of great health info for women there.