As a parent of three small children in a townhouse community FULL of children, I’m only just starting to experience the anxiety of letting them play outside the safety of our front lawn. At one time, they would happily stay close to home and never considered crossing the street to interact with the older kids. But now that my oldest is five and my younger two are three, I suddenly find myself lapping our block and crossing into the next cul de sac to hunt down escapees.
They’re still a bit young to seriously join the roving gang of elementary schoolers on bikes and scooters. But when the games involve running through the woodsy common areas with plastic guns and gun-like sticks, the possibility for blending in with the crowd becomes more likely.
And as usual, my first concern is how my five year old with communication delays and all of the awkward social behaviors that accompany them will handle this. I worry that Oliver will opt to disengage and continue to play by himself in the dirt. I worry that he’ll try to play with the other kids but be rejected. I worry that he’ll manage to stay with the group but take their game too far and come across as aggressive.
There are so many things to worry about… So ultimately, I just don’t. I follow Oliver’s lead and try not to interfere. But when I see an opportunity to help him figure things out – I do make the effort.
So I recently bought some cheap dart guns from the grocery store. Then one quiet afternoon when the twins were napping and the other neighborhood kids were scarce, I set up a little shooting range for us. I showed Oliver how to cock, insert the dart, aim and pull the trigger. I, who have never expressed any interest in hunting, paintball, popular college “assassin” games or war movies, yet again had to push my own preferences aside to help my child be normal.
And what at thing to teach him! I mean – aren’t we supposed to discourage guns? Or at the very least, tolerate them within limits? I’ve never heard any experts suggesting that you teach your child to be the quickest draw on the block to help him fit in. But at the end of the day, I have little concern for my son’s future of wielding guns on clock towers or in convenience stores. I’m a bit more focused on him not getting pantsed in Kindergarten.
To be honest though, it doesn’t look like I have much to be worried about anyway. When I suggested that we turn our guns on each other (cringe), he didn’t much like that idea. My little pacifist! We compromised by shooting at our reflections in the windows. And a good time was had by all….sigh.
While I can’t say that I think he’ll be quite the gun fanatic that I see budding in his three year old brother, George…he does now have a clue about what to do if he encounters a pick up game of Armageddon with the guys.
I miss the days of watching Oliver toddle around. Of being oblivious to the future of special needs hurtling at us with a speed and force that would literally knock us flat. But you can’t look back. In fact, I’ve found that you can’t look that far into the future either.
It may sound short sighted to say that I’m not worried about the long term effects of encouraging what most parents consider “inappropriate toys,” all in the name of a short term goal to help him fit in. But just as I had no idea that my seemingly typical baby and then toddler would develop such complicated learning and social delays, how could I possibly predict the person he will eventually become? I personally think that he will be someone pretty wonderful. And a few unorthodox parenting strategies will not greatly impact the the bigger picture of his future as a law abiding citizen.
Like I said – he doesn’t seem to be all that gun crazy anyway. In general, he largely ignores the war games going on around him. But the other day while we were standing outside, he actually picked up a stick with the rudimentary shape of a gun and pointed it at one of our neighbors, a very enthusiastic war mongering six year old. He even made a little shooting noise.
I nearly burst with pride.
That same evening I witnessed something truly amazing. My Oliver, who has a hard time figuring out how to even be a follower with the neighborhood kids, actually took the lead.
Our next door neighbors have a cat named Tony. He’s a sweet black and white kitty who lounges around on various front steps and cars. He’s friendly and more importantly, extremely patient with the grasping and groping hands of the local tots.
Oliver loves this cat. He will lie down next to Tony on the sidewalk while petting him. He will follow him around when Tony tires of his advances and tries to leave. I’ve even found Oliver’s little feet sticking out from under our car where Tony had taken refuge (I can’t take my eye of those kids for a minute…) And there was no exception that evening when Tony came strolling around the corner. He was immediately attacked by my adoring son.
After a few minutes, Tony decided that it was time to extract himself from all of that suffocating love. And of course, when the poor cat darted away, Oliver followed. As luck would have it, this grabbed the attention of our six year old neighbor friend and another little boy who was standing nearby. They ran up to see what Oliver was doing.
Oliver just said, “want to go get Tony?” and out of nowhere, a wild chase ensued. Now joined by my twins, the three boys ran like crazy after poor Tony all around our side of the block. They chased him under back porches and crowed with delight when they saw him streak by in another attempt at escape. I would have been happy to just see Oliver joining in the game, but this time he was actually calling the shots, “this way!…there he is….get him!“
I have never been so thrilled to see children torturing an animal.
Okay – “torturing” is a rather gross exaggeration… But I think it’s safe to say that Tony would have preferred to spend that thirty minutes sunning himself in the last few rays of daylight.
Of course, none of the children actually hurt, let alone touched Tony. And he’s still fond of us, willing to let Oliver pet him for limited periods of time. But that evening, he was more than just the neighbors’ friendly cat. He was the catalyst for what would be the first time Oliver played with a group of children for that long without losing interest and wandering off. I almost cried to hear him say “follow me!” and then to actually see the other kids do just that.
So yeah – yet another example of allowing behavior that should probably be discouraged. I admit it – I make some iffy calls…but I generally stand behind my choices.
I don’t look too far ahead. It’s simply too much for me to take in. Too many unknowns. Too much worry…too much hope… Instead I try to aim for the more attainable goals in the here and now.
I don’t know much about shooting, but my guess is that you have to keep your range realistic. Anything can happen – sometimes the easiest target might give you the slip. But it goes without saying that you should take your chances when you’ve got a clear shot. One that’s close enough to touch. Even if it seems a bit risky. Life is always risky, so why not take our chances when the odds are in our favor. You take a risk every time you walk out your front door. Just ask Tony.