Thursday, October 19, 2006

"I Will Never ..."

Before I had kids, I had a long list of things that I would never do. They ranged from the reasonable (I would never leave my children alone in the car at the grocery store) to the vain (I would never let my children dress themselves in mismatched clothes) to the hysterically funny (I would not get morning sick, since it was all psychological anyway).

As it so often does, reality intervened. I only leave them in the car long enough to put the grocery cart back. Mary can dress herself during the week, but I get to dress her on Sundays, and she may not wear a striped top with differently striped pants if she's planning to leave the house. Morning sickness ... well, let's just say I only adhered to the letter of the law on that one, because "morning" only covered about 25% of the time I was sick, and "sickness" falls laughably short of an adequate description of the misery my pregnancies put me through.

Within days of bringing Mary home from the hospital, I suddenly understood why women went around with hairstyles that would scare the cast of "Night of the Living Dead." I understood how "clean" could become a relative term. I understood how one could make fashion choices based on whether or not the stains on the shirt in question could be disguised by a cleverly positioned infant. "I will never" quickly degenerated into "I will probably not, at least I don't think so, as long as it never really becomes an issue, but then maybe."

One rule that I stuck to, though, was that my children would not be allowed to play violent games with gun-related toys. We ended up with a couple of vaguely pistol-shaped squirt guns (fifty cents at Wal-Mart!), but I didn't worry much about them because a) they were purple, b) the kids had no aim to speak of, and c) they lost some of their menace when they they emerged from the lawnmower in ninety-eight tiny purple pieces. Other than that, though, I was consistent on this important parenting decision.

It wasn't without reason, either. I knew women who were convinced that by keeping all weapon-like toys out of their homes, their sons would grow up to be gentle, sweet men who would never dream of doing anything violent. I didn't set my hopes quite that high, but I feel that it would be a safer environment if my children were not playing with the increasingly realistic-looking toy guns that are now on the market for little kids.

Michael backed me up on this, not too surprisingly. His father came home from Vietnam with a Purple Heart and a list of surgeries that would curl your hair if I told you about them, and he had had quite enough of guns by the time Michael arrived. Michael and his brothers played with all manner of toys as kids, and the lack of toy guns didn't seem to have warped them too terribly. My sister and I never particularly wanted guns, and we turned out just fine. When Michael and I started a family, we had a gun-free house, and violence was simply never an issue for us. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong. What I didn't realize was that our initial success was due to one thing, and one thing only: We had had a GIRL.

Peter didn't have guns. Peter didn't NEED guns. He was a stick man from before he could talk, and let me tell you, if you're into sticks, everything is a stick. You could hear him coming from several yards away -- Whack! Whack! Whack! And as he got older and his aim improved, Whack! Whack! "OWWWW! Mo-o-o-ommmmm!" We encouraged him to touch softly, to use gentle words and soft hands, and to "pat pat pat" instead of hitting everything with impartial enthusiasm.

I didn't realize quite what a grand and sweeping failure this approach had been until he got his own sword. He is heavily into all things "Peter Pan" right now, and since the little curly-toed green shoes were more than I wanted to tackle as the family's chief costume designer, we took the easy route -- pirate hat from PaPa, red turtleneck from Target, and pre-packaged hook and sword from Fred Meyer. He was Captain Hook, or so I thought, until he geared up for battle and announced his intentions.

Here was my sweet, soft, fuzzy-headed little boy, standing on the arm of the couch with a plastic sword in his hand and the fiery bloodlust of a grog-swilling, foulmouthed, grizzled old swashbuckler in his eye. He brandished his weapon, eyed his audience, and roared, "I CHOP Captain Hook! Like THIS! Right in the NECK!" This pronouncement was followed up with a startlingly realistic-looking slash that would have at the very least given the old pirate reason to shave carefully for the next few days.

I shouldn't have laughed, but I did. I laughed so hard I was afraid I was going to fall right out of my kitchen chair, and I'm still laughing about it.

I think it's probably the best response, when I get thinking about the other "I have nevers" that have escaped my lips in the last few years. If "I will never let my daughter drive my Mustang because she might drive it into a mailbox" goes the way of the rest of the list, I'm going to need all the practice laughing I can get.


At 10/23/2006, Blogger Scott William Carter said...

Great post, Brenda. Your last one, too -- nice stuff.


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