My son’s school had a charity day yesterday to raise funds for the people of Burma and the kids got to go to school dressed as their hero. Although the school didn’t specify, I presumed (wrongly as it turned out) that these heroes had to be of the real life, actual flesh and blood variety which meant that Bart Simpson, Sponge Bob Square Pants and Captain Jack Sparrow would not qualify, much to my son’s disappointment.
Anyway, he decided that since most of his buddies were being Wayne Rooney or Ronaldo, he would be Jonny Wilkinson and wear his rugby kit. I was suitably relieved. No effort needed for that, and more importantly, no expense.
He was feeling confident and proud when I dropped him off at breakfast club until, that is, he saw two of his pals wearing camouflage combat gear. I knew straight away that he would be sick with envy. I watched his reaction and yes, his face was an unmistakable shade of green. He told me in a forlorn voice that he wished he’d thought of being a soldier, which can also be interpretated as meaning why didn’t you think of that mum?
Well, my laddy has never been allowed to have toy guns or anything remotely resembling a weapon (well apart from space guns or Star Wars laser swords . . . and I justify this seemingly double standard by saying that they’re more of a fantasy toy whereas toy guns are modelled on real weapons that are really used by real people and on real people and they really do kill. It’s all in the message). Anyway, it’s never bothered him before although now and then he makes his own guns out of twigs, branches, lego, whatever. But recently he has been begging me to let him have a toy rifle or a toy hand gun or one of those cheap, crappy plastic machine guns that make those dreadful clacking noises that irritate the bloody hell out of you . . . just anything that is a pretend weapon. I can only guess that the turning point was when he went to his friend’s house for tea. I tell you, George Bush should have checked out this boy’s toybox before invading Iraq for WMD’s (yes, I know he was never looking for wmd’s but I’m not going to let the facts get in the way of my cringy one-liners am I). But yeah, the toy chest – what a humongous stockpile of weapons, albeit plastic ones! Lordy! The Pentagon would be envious.
And my lad loved them! Yes, my big soft chunky bear who’s afraid of the dark, who still has his crusts cut off and still sleeps with a million cuddly toys around his pillow was totally awestruck by the firepower! And more disturbingly, he knew exactly what to do with each type of weapon. He knew you had to pull this catch back here and pull that trigger there like so. He knew how to launch a grenade. He also ran around the house in the correct combatty-type positions – you know, where you do things like hide behind doors holding your gun upwards and close to your chest with both hands then burst the door open and shout FREEZE OR WE SHOOT! or something as equally alarming.
How the hell does he know how to do all that? And since when did he know his kalashnikov from his sniper? He hasn’t seen the movie or read the book! Most definitely not! Actually, he did come home from his uncle’s house one time with a PS2 game titled Call of Duty and I was gnashing and gnarling for a full hour because his dad wouldn’t let me take it off him. But apart from that dumb game, the closest he’s ever got to seeing such weaponry was when he watched Toy Story 1 and 2 back to back so where has he got this inner artillery knowledge from? Is it congenital?
And it gets worse! So much was his sudden call-to-arms that he stated the other day that he wanted to join the army when he grows up. I was stuck for words I can tell you. Well, I wasn’t actually stuck for words. I had many words going around inside my head. Pathetic screeching words such as . . . what on earth would you want to join the army for? Soldiers get hurt and killed. Soldiers have to kill. Soldiers drop bombs and shoot missiles. And they miss. And innocent people get hurt. Have you seen the horrible pictures of blown up children? But, tempting though it was, I didn’t like to use such hysterical propaganda on an eight-year-old so I restrained myself and simply asked him what had made him want to be a soldier when he’d always said he wanted to be either a deep-sea diver or a bus-driver. His reply was that he wanted to help protect our country and that you get to learn to fly planes and drive tanks and . . . you – get – to – shoot – guns.
Has my pacifist guidance all been for nothing? Have my moral principles literally backfired on me? I want to know who’s been getting to my lad like this? Who’s infiltrating his mind with glammed-up images of army life with fantastic career prospects and the chance to become a brave hero? Who’s turned him into a gung-ho, gun-mad toy soldier?
Well I’d like to blame George Bush of course but no, it seems that my domestic prohibition of toy weaponry has actually resulted in an outpouring of suppressed military yearnings. That old forbidden fruit argument seems to have been proved right.
Or it could it just be that most little boys will always want to play gender-based games such as soldiers and cops-and-robbers? Clearly, most kids are well able to distinguish between reality and imagination and with the right guidance and supervision are unlikely to turn into crazy, gun-toting sociopaths.
Still, I refuse to buy him any toy weapons. The pro-gun lobby says that guns don’t kill people, people kill people but what kind of message are we giving to our kids when we buy them toy AK47’s or fake magnums?
No, a water-pistol will have to do.