My roommates and I are shooting the shit out of each other with Nerf guns. We run around the house with our pockets filled with ammo, up and down the stairs in circles. Our socks slip on the hardwood floor, leading us to crash into vases or accidentally whack each other in ways we hadn’t meant to. At any given time there are one to eight players, ranging in age from 8 to 35. We run until we collapse in fits of giggles, out of breath nursing bruises and bumps.
One of my roommates was cleaning up earlier today, preparing for a facilitation retreat for members of Occupy Detroit. I suggested he leave the guns and ammo out on the table to use for their ice breaker this evening, but I knew his response before it came out of his mouth. He was concerned that some folks would be frustrated with what they saw as an endorsement for war. This was a familiar conversation.
Nerf became an integral part of my life about three years ago when I met my would-be lover and his young son. I came to find my favorite reason for being around a child was that they remind you how to shake the cares our of your body and play. I have never raised a child, and can not claim to fully grasp all that it entails, but for the past few years this little boy and his loving father have been intertwined into my life, giving me the opportunity to peek into the mind and relationship of parent and child, to take some part in the trials and tribulations that come along with it.
To most folks Nerf guns are as harmless and normal to a young boy as army men or legos. However, in a community of anarchists, permaculturists, healers, environmentalists, artists, activists, space-age neo-hippie liberal-yuppie whatever, we tend to be more skeptical of toys that reinforce gender stereotype and violence. When you spend a majority of your time working towards a world that is peaceful and postive for the physical and mental well being of all, the idea of impressionable children being loaded up with aggressive, competitive toys that glorify war is sickening. Before experiencing life with a little boy around, I would have probably felt the same way many of my friends and mentors did about these toys. “My kid will never play with that crap.”
Unless you are a parent, you would most likely be surprised how many and which people will butt into your parenting like this, informing you of the potential harms you are doing your child by allowing them to play with these toys. Or sometimes, more subtly going off on “When I have kids…” Often times these comments are made by those who have never taken part in a child’s rearing, and the only folks I know that have been successful at pulling off providing their child a more alternative, open-minded, holistic upbringing are fortunate enough to be in loving devoted relationships within supportive communities, that and their children are still quite young. (Though truthfully if anyone can do it, these families can. The way they live their lives is a source of inspiration and hope for me.)
What I think many people don’t realize is that children are human beings with minds and desires of their own. They are raised in a world where certain norms are set, norms dictated to them through the television, media, and culture. Boys are told to be aggressive, competitive, tough. The greatest honor being to serve your country, or kill the most zombies. You can only control so much of what they experience in this world. Some day Aunt Selma is going to get little Johnny a Nerf gun for Christmas, and what will you do then? What about when little Johnny goes to his friends house and plays a violent video game, what are you going to do, scold him? Add that to the advertisements marketed directly at them, the pressure of fitting in with your class mates, neighbors,or family and having the coolest toys, and the fact that many children are being raised by separated parents that don’t always agree on the rules of parenting. My lover’s son plays Gears of War (I am still not sure what this means except that it is gory) at his mom’s house. He eats processed food, and watches t.v. When he comes to our house he eats organic. If we watch a movie it is online (no boob tube here) and if I can’t find a version with out commercials and I always say “Let’s talk loud over the commercials.” He want’s to be read the Lorax before bed every night. He likes to sing and dance, cuddle with cute animals, play with babies, make silly voices, draw comic books and go to punk shows. He also likes to play with Nerf guns. And you know what, its fun. Its fun to run around the house shooting each other like crazy and it sure beats staring at a screen playing video games, though that can be fun too sometimes. He is so much his own person, with hobbies and interests, and to do anything other than respect that would undermine his rights as a human being.
Personally I believe that it is possible for the world to exist with out war and senseless violence. It is possible for love to prevail. I want to see children raised in a world where they aren’t marketed plastic crap based on their genitals. But that is not the world we live in. You can not hide your children from the evils of the world, and often times by trying they get warped perceptions of reality. By embracing this little boy’s love of Nerf and army men, I find solace in the light hearted play and the aggression outlet, and it opens up opportunity for conversation. The play war is a good way to start a conversation about real war, the fact that it isn’t fun, and you do not get more then one life. This is a conversation that can start early and simple, slowly becoming more complex as a child grows and has an opportunity to understand the manner in which money and politics play into war, and the dirty truths that go along with it. I have always thought it better to confront an issue as opposed to hiding from it, better to be blunt and educated as opposed to meek and ignorant. I don’t think we will be able to create much change if our heads are stuck in the sand. Respect those little beings, their interests and their intellect.
Always remember to keep some extra ammo in your pocket. And its alright to cry when you get shot in the eye, but remember that’s what happens when you play rough and discomfort is the foundation of growth.