I looked at his Christmas list and felt a pain in my chest. I was hoping he wouldn’t put it on there. That all my subtle comments and discussions about how violence is never the solution would make him change his mind.
But I was wrong.
Right there, in his hardly legible 4-year-old handwriting, was the word “gun.”
When my first child was born, my husband and I both agreed that toy guns would never be allowed. They promoted the wrong message, we said. There were too many shootings, too many wars where guns were becoming sensationalized, and we didn’t want our children having anything to do with that type of play.
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And for our daughter, who was born first, it wasn’t ever an issue. She would much rather have played with her art supplies and her dress-up toys than wield a weapon in her hands.
However, when our son came along, the game changed.
Suddenly a pencil was a gun. A tissue box was a gun. A paper airplane was a gun. Heck, even the banana I gave him for breakfast every morning was a gun. And no matter how many times we talked to him about never playing guns, he still sneaked into his room and pretended to be some sort of shooter who loved to blow up things.
I didn’t get it. What did we do wrong?
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It took one small conversation that made me see that maybe we hadn’t actually done anything wrong.
On the morning after the San Bernardino shooting, my children were eating in the kitchen as I watched the news from the living room. Tears welled up in my eyes thinking about the innocent people killed by the actions of two disturbed people. People who were parents themselves.
My son quietly walked into the room without me knowing. “Mommy, did they use guns to hurt all those people?” he asked, holding his banana.
“Yes,” I said, wiping my face quickly so he couldn’t see my tears.
“Oh.” He looked down. “I don’t hurt anyone when I pretend with my gun. I just like to make the sounds.”
I smiled, his innocence so refreshing. He paused, obviously thinking of something, though I was unsure what. “Is it OK if I cross out something on my Christmas list?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “What is it?”
He walked over to the list on the refrigerator, the one we were about to send to Santa later in the week, and took the pen from the junk drawer. Without a second thought, he crossed off the word “gun.”
He turned back to me. “I think I just like to make my own gun. That way I know it won’t hurt anyone.”
My heart swelled when he walked off, shooting his banana into the air and making the popping sound of things blowing up.
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I couldn’t stop his imagination. I realized right then and there that I didn’t want to. It was actually pretty amazing to see how creative he could be in making his own weapon.
But I could teach him that the real thing wasn’t fun at all. That it hurt people and could take away all the people and things we loved.
I smiled as I walked by the edited list. Maybe he had been listening all this time.
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