The tank and action figure gifted to the little boy a couple of years ago was not well received. At least not by Laura, the kid's mother. This year, after receiving suggestions from her sister-in-law on appropriate gifts for her five year-old nephew, Corinna exploded. "I think I'll buy the kid a bunch of GI Joe stuff just to tick his mother off," said Corinna, the Army wife. She was mad. But underneath that stated anger, what she really felt, was hurt. She was stung.
Although her brother serves honorably in the United States Army, Laura strongly discourages her son from playing Army, playing with Army men or anything that could be remotely considered military, or violent. Laura believes that by letting her son experience these things she would be seen as being supportive of a career in the military, or that she would somehow be glorifying violence. There are plenty of parents who see certain toys and movies as harmful, either physically or emotionally, to their children. And that's perfectly understandable. Part of a parent's job is to shield their children from harmful people, things and behavior.
But what really bothered Corinna was that her husband's career choice was being placed in the "harmful" category. Rather than focus on the honorable nature of public service, Corinna felt that Laura was sending a message, albeit understated, that those in uniform had made a poor choice. One which was not to be duplicated. At least not by her son.
On some level, I can understand a mother wanting her son to be a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. Any profession which is physically risk adverse. I can understand the fear that parents have when their son or daughter could be placed in harm's way. But I could identify with Corinna's hurt in this case. And the anger as well. Civilians with no connection to the military can't possibly understand the complexities of military life. But family members of troops (like Laura) should have a bit more perspective and insight than the average civilian, especially ones who have seen their loved one deploy not only to combat zones, but also to assist with humanitarian efforts and help powerless people rebuild their lives and communities.
Corinna, I know you're reading, and there's not much you can do to change Laura's attitude. If the real life examples of your husband or her neighbor (a police officer) don't assure your sister-in-law that should your nephew choose a career in public service, it would be an honorable choice, nothing will.
But here's a little something for you. Allow me to introduce Peter Hartlaub. He can -- and will -- make you laugh.
When my wife saw the Happy Meal toy missile launcher that my son brought home the other day, I feigned an appropriate amount of outrage." How can McDonald's do this in good conscience?" I said, insisting that I didn't know what was inside until he opened the toy in the back seat. "Those things can shoot all the way across the room. And they have plastic tips!"Full article here.
I failed to mention that my 4 1/2-year-old son and I stopped the car on the way home and spent a good 20 minutes taking turns firing his new Nerf-themed Happy Meal artillery battery at targets that I kept setting up on the dashboard of our Honda Civic. "Just don't shoot me while I'm driving," I told him seriously. With kids it's all about setting boundaries.
I find the subject of kids and guns to be a very complex one, and it isn't getting easier as he gets older. While I don't see my stance as hypocrisy per se, there is a certain complexity to the fact that I don't like real guns, but technically make part of my living playing with and often celebrating the use of fake ones. I've never used a gun myself, unless you count the time I saved the planet by firing thousands of rounds from my plasma cannon. You're welcome ...
My parents were also anti-real gun people when I was young. I've told the following story enough for three lifetimes: When I was 6 or 7 years old, my after-school babysitter took care of a yard full of boys, who all had G.I. Joes. When I finally convinced my quasi-hippie parents to buy me one so I wouldn't be left out, they picked what had to be the only African-American doll -- bonus liberal points! -- then removed both of his guns from the plastic bubble that held all of his accessories, leaving only a medical kit and some binoculars. My G.I. Joe wasn't just discriminated against; he didn't have the firepower to defend himself.
And speaking of Army men, another day brings another great blog post from Peter. My dear, there is hope. There IS hope.
My wife brought the boys back from the playground the other day, and told me that our 5-year-old son had played with another kid who brought some plastic green army men. Excited that the family moratorium on guns had apparently been lifted, I went down to the basement and opened up the small black briefcase that contains all of my most awesome toys.Read the rest of the hilarious entry here.
My son already has access to my toy trucks and Slinkys and Rubik's Cubes and other more boring toys from my childhood. The black box is filled with less politically correct toys, including army men, a team of die-cast metal bank robbers, some plastic Indians Native Americans and a couple of cap guns. (My awesome toys also included some rolling papers and a pipe from my pre-college pot smoking days, although those will never be passed on. While I plan to teach both my sons how to drive a stick shift and shoot a free throw with proper mechanics, they'll have to figure out on their own how to roll a tight joint.)
I found about 40 army men inside, not including the ones that had been partially melted in a toaster oven. My son was excited, but I noticed that he quickly segregated the army men kneeling with rifles, standing with flamethrowers and holding their bayoneted weapons over their heads. The sucky ones -- we'll get to those in detail below -- ended up in a pile. More than 30 years after I played with these same army men, my son was equally bored by the mine seeper and the guy talking on the giant telephone.
When I was a kid, I didn't question these things. But now I consider it one of the great mysteries of life: Why did toy manufacturers produce such a half-assed fake military force? It cost them exactly the same amount of money to make a cool guy kneeling next to a machine gun -- and yet there seemed to always be just one of those in the bag, and 20 guys marching in place.
Peter has given me a great idea. Next time you visit the out-laws, perhaps you can take junior out for lunch and stealthily slip some Army men in a Happy Meal. What could go wrong?
Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.