March 6, 2010

Grocery Store Lesson

"Some parents say it is toy guns that make boys warlike. But give a boy a rubber duck and he will seize its neck like the butt of a pistol and shout "Bang!"

-George F. Will

I don't have an official position on toy guns.  I mean, Robotson never expressed any interest in them until a couple of his friends came over for a playdate and brought their Nerf guns with them.  So I got him one for Christmas. There are plenty of opinions about what is normal and acceptable play for boys.  I have my own thoughts, but I guess its pretty obvious that I don't forbid toy weapons.

The Nerf gun was a big hit for a couple of weeks and then the darts went missing.  The girls grabbed it at some point and stashed it in their closet.  It was there for a couple of months before Robotson found it again.  Today he asked me if he could bring it with him during the grocery shopping.  He wanted to protect me, he said.  I had a parenting brain fart and said o.k.

Our first stop was Costco and he had it with him the whole time.  I never saw him do much of anything other than hold it.  A couple of times he pretended he was checking around a corner, but the store was pretty empty.  I was putting the groceries on the conveyor belt when I heard it.

"Do not point that gun at me!" To which he replied, "I have to protect my mom." To which she replied, "Your mom does not need you to protect her."

Oh crap.

I didn't see him actually point it at anyone, and he knows better, but he probably figured since it wasn't loaded there wasn't a problem.  Of course, no one else knew it had no darts in it.  I calmly walked over, put my hand on his shoulder, and thanked the woman for alerting me.  I said to my son, "Thank you for protecting me.  I love that care so much about our safety.  Toy guns can be still be scary though, and we are not supposed to point them at any living things."  Robotson apologized and then helped me load the rest of the groceries.

I wish.

That's what I really, really, really wish had happened.  Here is how it actually went down.

I was loading the groceries and I froze.  I knew instantly that I wanted to handle this is a way that was respectful of Robotson because I know he is a good kid who would never intentionally hurt anyone.  He knew the gun wasn't loaded, and he was playing a game in his head.  Yelling or punishing him was only going to send the wrong message.  But I was embarrassed, so I knew I had to take a moment to compose myself before I went to him.  Only that moment's hesitation led to another woman jumping in to chastise him.  Now I'm more embarrassed and thinking less clearly.  I called his name, and asked him to come to me, which he did.  Quietly, I asked him to give me the gun until we could talk, but he's upset.  He has no intention of giving it up because he is also embarrassed.  Not so quietly, he refuses.  I see the woman in line ahead of me slightly turn to look at us.  I explain that I have not asked him if he wants to hand me the gun.  This is not optional.  We go back and forth a couple of times before he gives it to me.  He's really mad at me now.  I'm probably beet red.  We aren't being loud, but I know the woman in front of us is listening, as well as the two women who yelled at him.  The people who work at Costco know us as regulars.  They are giving me sympathetic smiles and trying to talk to Robotson to get his mind off of things.  It works.  We check out and everyone moves on.

We head over to the food court to order our pizza.  While it's baking, I try to talk to Robotson about why people do not like having guns, toys or not, pointed at them.  The problem is I'm still upset and I sound harsh.  I know I do.  I keep telling myself to stop talking until I feel calmer, but I don't.  He hears me, but he's still mad at me.  On the drive from Costco to our next stop, Publix, I play the scene over and over until I know what I should have done.

What I regret more than anything is that I didn't help Robotson redeem himself with those women.  Had I gone right over and spoken to him calmly, I know he would have apologized.  He didn't mean to upset anyone.  When we get to Publix, I tell him I made a mistake, and I give him the first scenario as an example of what I should have done.  It was the best I could do at that point, but I still feel bad about it.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. Yes, there is SOMETHING about boys and weapons and as a mom i HATE it. We don't allow them at home, but his uncles and friends and grandpa are armed to the teeth and he loves it. But what;s funny is, when other boys point a gun (finger, stick, nerf or what have you) at him he FREAKS... crying and shaking and scared. I think this issue is, for me, one of the trickiest I have encountered in parenthood so far. Don't be too hard on yourself. :)

  2. Thanks :)

    I'm not sure if war play is natural to boys or not. Before he was into robots and Star Wars, he was play fighting. Where did those urges come from if not in his own nature? And if it is just part of being a boy, how much can we really influence out of them? It's definitely one of the hardest parts of raising a boy.

  3. I have a friend, the wife of a UUA minister, who carefully avoided all toy weapons and war-like play around her boys. They never watched TV, and rarely saw movies, all of which were carefully screened by these peace-loving parents. And, the first time each of their three boys found a random stick in the yard, it was immediately turned into a weapon of some sort. I used to think we could control our children's thoughts and impulses (before I had children), and now I understand that there is no (nor should there be) control over their internal worlds. And, coming up against this reality in public is always the hardest for moms :) - Mo

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Wow! What a shopping trip.

    I think it is nature that makes boys more violent than girls. Evolutionarily speaking, they are the protectors, so like another poster said, they will make a weapon out of anything.

    Our daughter Aly really likes weapons. I think it is more nurture in her case...We do have a bunch of swords :|

  6. Thanks Mo. You always make me feel better :)

    Stephanie- I know he's just being a boy. I just wish other people knew that too.