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

Welcome To Lego Stress Land

Thus far, I regret breaking three things in my lifetime. More will surely come, but here’s where the list stands now: Willard Woodrow’s heart in the third grade; my dad’s Alpha Romeo convertible roadster, crumpled nearly beyond repair, in high school; and the Lego model of the Hyena Droid Bomber from Star Wars that my five-year-old recently spent an entire afternoon constructing.

Guess which still makes me wince with guilt? The $30 pile of plastic, of course.

Star Wars junkie, er … devotee that he is, my kid had just started tinkering with bigger models. And with 232 pieces, the Hyena Droid Bomber was the most complex project he’d tackled yet. I’d pulled him away, reluctantly, briefly, for dinner. But afterward he was back at work. He wanted to finish the model before bed. A few more steps and he’d be done.

Then I picked it up.

Almost instantly a piece fell out of the middle. Oops. I shoved it back. It wouldn’t connect. I tried to force it. It fit before, why won’t it fit now? More pieces came off in my hands. Crap! This wasn’t good.

“Fix it, Mommy! Fix it!!” Fletcher hopped up and down, beside me, visibly upset.

“I’m trying,” I growled. I could feel a headache starting at the base of my skull.

“Maaah-meeee!!!!” he whined.

Now I was getting really annoyed. It’s my least attractive quality – being easily angered when frustrated … especially when I created the frustrating situation myself. How did the eff-ing pieces go together? I flipped back through the instruction booklet’s assembly diagrams, trying to guess where to even start. Fletcher glared at me, angry tears filling his eyes. The model lay in chunks on the table. Somehow, in my hands, a day’s efforts had come apart in under a minute. And I didn’t have a frickin’ clue how to put the thing back together again.

“YOU DESTROYED IT!!!” Fletcher turned on me with all the wounded fury of a five-year-old, grievously wronged.

“Do you know where these pieces go?” I demanded, my anger – at the Legos, at myself for breaking the Legos – about to boil over.

Fletcher shook his head furiously.

“WELL, NEITHER DO I!!!”

Welcome to Lego Stress Land. If you have a small boy and a short fuse, you’ve been here many times yourself. To read more, please click here and follow me over to Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog where I’m blogging today and the second Friday of every month on my misadventures in late-in-life parenthood.

Got your own tale of Legos gone horribly wrong? Leave a comment at the end of the post or below and tell me all about it!

HEY — DID YOU MISS THESE POSTS? CHECK ‘EM OUT HERE!

*Hanging ‘Round The Men’s Room

*I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

*How New Moms Bond

*Circum-Decision

*Vomit

Toys R Us Has Exploded In My Living Room

pile-of-toys-51I’m a woman of some talents, but home-making … cooking … cleaning … decorating … alas, those skills are not among them. I was reminded of this singular shortcoming, recently, when hanging out with my cousin Jaimee. She’d just had a baby, and when I was in New York, I stopped in to see her and meet Logan, the newest member of our family. Jaimee lives in D.U.M.B.O, which is not, as you might suppose, a Disneyfied city like Celebration, Florida, but actually an ultra-hip Brooklyn nabe located Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Get it?

This nabe, like many once-downtrodden Brooklyn areas had gentrified from a place where you wouldn’t want to walk alone at night (unless you were in the business, say, of providing blowjobs to slumming Wall-Streeters) to a chic neighborhood jammed with fab new condos, locavore restaurants and moms navigating $1000 strollers. Jaimee lives in one of those new fab condos. Looking around, I had some serious decorating envy. Jaimee knows just where to put a frame, hang a picture, place a vase so that everything looks, not fussy, but effortlessly … casually … elegant. And even with all the tumult a new baby creates — and all the extra gear a new baby comes with, which could really warrant its own apartment — her place was still picture perfect. Not a photo frame, glossy art book or a candlestick was out of place. As if the style mavens at House Beautiful had just parachuted in to prep her living room for a cover shoot.

Now since watching my own tot morph from stationary baby lump to active, running, bouncing preschooler — whose favorite activity is seeing how many times he can jump from couch to couch and back again without slipping, falling and splitting his lip open — I’ve come to realize that one’s kid status is reflected in the state of one’s living room. Totally tidy with various objets arranged … just …okay … there … no … there …so? You’ve either chosen to remain childless … or you’ve already shipped them off to college. Or — behind Door Number 3 — you have an infant who hasn’t yet reached the crawling, grabbing, throwing, tearing, climbing stage.

“Your apartment is so gorgeous — ”

I wanted to break the news gently as we sipped hot tea on Jaimee’s crystal blue, still-stain-free couch. “But you know …when the baby starts crawling and pulling up –”

“I have to put it all away, don’t I?”

 Jaimee sighed. Her eyes swept across the beautifully appointed living room. I could see her mentally calculating: How long could she maintain the splendor before it would have to be packed away in boxes … and where it would all stay until the risk of anything shattering in the hands of a curious crawling, walking, climbing child, who insisted on playing ball in the house despite numerous reprimands not to, was past. Like when Logan was old enough to vote. I suspected it wouldn’t be too long after Logan learned how to scramble around the apartment that her elegant living room would start looking a lot more like mine …which is to say, as if Toys R Us exploded in it.

pile-of-dinosaurs1I should have taken pictures because I cannot even remember what our lovely living room looked like before we installed the brightly colored play kitchen — which came with hundreds of little plastic dishes and fake food! — parked a line of ride-along trucks and front-end loaders against the back wall and set up the train table by the French doors. Our shelves, once full of grownup DVDs like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, The L Word, Six Feet Under and Band Of Brothers are now packed with kiddie flicks like Finding Nemo, Madagascar, Over The Hedge and the complete Baby Einstein oeuvre. The art books on our coffee table have been put away, replaced by puzzles and busy boards. Wicker bins flank the TV, a repository for dozens of electronic toys that all beep, sing, chime or squawk as well as cars, trucks, trains, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Transformers and other assorted action figures too numerous to count. We did buy a new living room chair not long ago. It’s red, fuzzy … and has Elmo’s face on it. It also shakes and giggles like a mental patient when you sit in it. Fletcher picked it out himself.

At first, we tried to contain the onslaught. “Fletcher’s space” started as a generous baby blanket on the living room floor with a small plastic bucket filled with things that spun, rolled, crinkled and otherwise entertained a wide-eyed infant with no place else to go. I suppose he could have played in his own room, which we’d so lovingly decorated before his arrival with heirloom furniture that had been my husband’s when he was a boy. But then — and here we have no one to blame but ourselves actually — we couldn’t keep one eye on the baby and the other on all The Daily Show episodes we’d DVR’d. Because, yes, playing with things that crinkle and spin may be endlessly entertaining for an infant, but keep that up without reprieve and you’ll soon be hitting the Grey Goose harder than an out-of-work hedge fund manager. And drinking before 5 is probably not the best example to set for your little one (though if you hide the vodka in the cranberry juice, really, who’d be the wiser?) And puh-leeze …. don’t even get me started on those Baby Einstein DVDs. C’mon. Someone behind this baby product goldmine had to be nipping at the electric Kool-Aid in college. With their hypnotic, spinny, whirly, swirly, kaleidescopy images set to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, these DVDs positively cry out for a Timothy Leary Special, or at least some psychedelic mushrooms.

Let this be a lesson: Addiction is bad. While we fed the TV monkey on our backs — and our preschooler learned to request Jon Stewart by name — his toys multiplied exponentially — faster than closet hangers — until our living room, which once had just a few random toys strewn about, morphed into a giant playroom with some couches and a TV.

I still fantasize about getting my living room back, especially when the new wave of Pottery Barn and West Elm and Ikea catalogues hit the mailbox. “Not for a while yet,” says my sister Shari. She waited a full year after her youngest, then 6, doodled on her velour chaise lounge — with marker! –before getting her new living room furniture.

Recently we tried to clean up the superfund site that our living room has become. We moved some of Fletcher’s toys upstairs to his room, and Stewart gave up the fantasy that the big empty room he’d earmarked when we bought our house would be his “playroom” with a full wet bar, pool table and dartboard and gave it over to corral the toys. But somehow, all that did was s-p-r-e-a-d the mess. It’s like The Blob slowly overtaking our home until eventually it will all be just one … big … toy … pile. Maybe we’ll be able to dig out when Fletcher goes to college.

pile-of-stuffed-animalsStill, I suppose the colorful, homey clutter of toys is better than the alternative: When I was a kid, our living room was “for company,” and my sister and I couldn’t even pass through as a short-cut through to the kitchen. (Once my mother got new carpet, she didn’t want to wear it out by actually walking on it.) So I grew up with “Not through the living room! Go around!” ringing in my ears. I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of times I was allowed to be in there. Once was my father’s surprise 35th birthday party. The other was … my baby shower, when I was 39.

A few weeks ago, we visited my friend Sonia who I’ve known since first grade. She used to be an emergency room doc in Hawaii. Now she’s a (mostly) stay-at-home mom to 5-year-old twins in Tampa. I’m trying to adopt her attitude. Says she: “Anyone who’s coming over knows we have kids so they’ll just have to get over themselves and step around the toys.”

Which is why I nearly passed out form shock when we walked in and found the living room immaculate. Not a toy in sight. Spit spot. Mary Poppins couldn’t have done better.

It lasted about 10 minutes.

In the time it took for Sonia and me to share coffee, bagels and some gossip in the kitchen, our 2- and 5-year-olds had completely ransacked her living room. Not a square inch of carpet was visible beneath the spread of cars, trains, tracks, electronic musical instruments, marbles, plastic food. In other words, it looked as if a mega-ton Toys R Us bomb had exploded there.

We felt right at home.