“The future lies in the hands of young men like that, he thought.” –Mrs. Dalloway
He was picking up puzzle pieces – the oversized ones that fit together to create a scene almost the size of the rug. He brought them, one by one, to my mother, piling them up next to her while she finished her dinner. On his third or fourth trip from the place he spilled the pieces to the place he was bringing them, he took a piece, held it in his hand so that it was pointing forward, and pretended it was a gun.
He doesn’t say the word gun. It isn’t a part of our family vocabulary, really. He called it a shooter and my mother quickly pretended that they were shooting water out of their puzzle pieces at each other, giving him a paper towel to dry the pretend water from his brow. He went along with the charade, continued to shoot pretend water out of the puzzle-piece turned water sprayer.
I watched and wondered how much time I have before he insists his puzzle piece is something more powerful.
I was in labor with him, my second child, when I was first confronted with the idea that having a boy meant discussing the idea of guns, of weapons and violence. In one of the lulls between contractions, while my OB took time to chat, we somehow talked about little boys and their penchant for guns, their ability to fashion a weapon from a stick or a leaf or a set of legos (we did not imagine the possibility with puzzle pieces). She told me a story of a friend who banned toy guns from her home only to find that her boys made them for themselves anyway.
I had the girliest of girls. My then three-year-old was more herself in princess outfits than in anything else.
Would my son be equally the stereotypical boy we both wondered aloud.
Maybe he will, I thought. And I’ll let him just be him the same way I’ve let her just be her.
But it’s not that easy.
At three, he now loves books and superheros, sword-fighting and dragons. He’s gone through a phase of wearing a cape attached to every shirt he owns and I reveled in the innocence and cuteness of a toddler superhero. And while I’ve tried to push him towards a love of cars or trucks or dinosaurs or art or bikes, or anything that doesn’t portend violence, his first love is pretend-fighting.
I took him to Target about a month ago to buy him the rescue-bot I had promised him as a reward for a few nights of good sleeping. I pushed him down the aisle, took the bots off the shelf, but he insisted that he’d changed his mind.
The first thing he ever begged me for was a toy sword.
I bought it for him, a tiny plastic sword and shield. He ran with that sword out into the world and imagined fighting off dragons that inhabited our backyard, the bad guys he imagined hiding around every corner. He slept with his sword so that he may fight off the dragons hiding under his bed or lurking in his closet.
Isn’t that so cute, I thought, as I listened to him conduct imaginary conversations with imaginary bad guys. As I listened to him insist that he was the good guy, as he posed in the sunlight, sword extended. My little boy. The good guy.
Swords are tools of the imagination, I can tell myself, of times past and creatures of myth. He plays with his sword and I see him weaving stories.
This part of his little boy self I can embrace. I can see beyond the violence.
But he makes a gun out of bristle blocks or turns his puzzle pieces into a shooter and I just see evil.
I had no trouble ignoring all of the anti-princess rhetoric and just letting my girl be a girl. I didn’t worry about her self-esteem or her body image or the possibilities of a lasting sense of entitlement. I just let her be her. I let her wear her gowns and her tiaras and twirl in the mirror without worrying about her place in society.
I can’t do that with him.
I can’t do that with guns.
The news headlines today announced the 74th school shooting since Newtown. Another article says 39 of those have happened in k-12 schools.
It keeps happening. Again and again and again and yet we do nothing. No laws change. No arguments change. It just keeps happening.
There are still guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. In places they should never be.
The future lies in the hands of young men. And I don’t want guns in those hands.