Mothering a Boy

Over the weekend we were in Los Angeles so the grandparents could see Little Mr. B. We are under no delusions. The grandparents are excited about seeing our son and the fact that they get to see us, too, is secondary. Then on Monday we cashed in our "Give A Day, Get A Day" vouchers at Disneyland. Oh, did we have fun!

I usually give wide berth to anything which comes packaged with over commercialized marketing -- esp. anything which markets heavily to children (sometimes I think there should be a separate circle in Dantes Inferno reserved for all things Pokemon, Bakugan, Star Wars, Ben-Ten, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, Transformers & Bionicles.) However, I have a soft spot in my heart for Disneyland. I was raised in Los Angeles and grew up loving all things Micky Mouse & Disney. As soon as I could, I moved away from L.A., but never escaped the part of me which could go around all day humming When You Wish Upon a Star or the music from It's a Small World.

When we arrived at Disneyland on Monday, Little Mr. was informed that he could choose one souvenir (and one souvenir, only!) As soon as we got off the Pirates of the Caribbean ride he made a beeline for the adjacent shop and set his heart on an electric-green flintlock pistol. Up until now, my policy on toy weapons has been that, if the toy weapon is under 2 inches long, it is permitted -- hence we have little knight figures with 2 inch long swords, pirate figures with 2 inch long flintlocks and Star Wars figures with 2 inch long light sabers. If Little Mr. wanted to play with a larger sword or gun he had to make it out of blocks, paper, card board, tree branches or his bare hands (this has led to a lot of creativity on his part...) But I have to say, the electric-green flintlock (with orange trimmings) was pretty groovy. When the trigger was pulled it emitted a funny, scratchy, vaguely gun-ish kind of sound, little lights twinkled inside and a Jolly-Roger shaped light shone out the end if you pointed it at a flat surface.

And so now my son is the proud owner of an electric-green, plastic toy gun...

Over the last 2 years I've struggled with how to deal with my son's growing interest in what some call violent play (I've also seen it referred to as super-hero play and bad-guy play.) We limit toys which might be conducive to violent play, limit media and carefully pre-screen it via Common Sense Media and provide ample opportunity & inspiration for other types of play... I've looked at books, talked to teachers and discussed the phenomenon with friends who have advanced degrees in developmental psychology (plus I, myself, have a masters degree in counseling psychology!) I see how this type of fantasy play helps boys assimilate experience, provides an opportunity to express feelings, gain a sense of competence and mastery, it allows for social interaction and problem solving, etc... But it still unnerves me.

I was reading an article last night which moved me a few steps forward in trying to wrap my head around this phenomenon. The article, Stories Bad Guys Tell, describes the pitfalls of banning bad-guy play and the efforts of a group of teachers to bring social awareness by creating dialog with the imaginary "bad-guys" in their classrooms. In our family, one way we have tried to dialog about violent play is to use the example of Harry Potter. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for creating a character whose trademark spell is "Expelliarmus!" -- a spell used to disarm, but not harm, your opponent.

In my moments of concern around violent play, I sometimes forget just how tender little boys can be, but I'm never short on reminders about this tender side. Many years ago (long before my son was born), when I first started performing as a puppeteer, the arrival of older boys in my audience would unsettle me. The target audience for my library performances were 2-6 year olds so I wasn't sure how the 8 or 9 year old boys who swaggered in would receive the show. Sometimes, while making final adjustments to my sound system before the start of the show, an older boy or two would march up to me and ask whether I had any Power Ranger or Ninja Turtle puppets. I would explain that the show was really for 2-6 year olds but they were welcome to stay and model good-audience-behavior for the younger children. During the show, I would watch these older boys through my stage scrim. They tended to lurk in the doorway or hang at the edges against a wall, but usually, during the show, they would edge their way closer and closer to the front of the room for a better view. After the show an older boy would invariably sidle up to me and whisper, "I liked the fairy puppet the best..." Even today I am humbled and slightly ashamed that I could so misjudge and underestimate these children...

And, true to form, Little Mr.'s tender side showed up during our day at Disneyland. After flying through the air on the Astro Orbitor, after blasting Zurg with lasers on the Buzz Lightyear ride, after a swashbuckling adventure on Pirates of the Caribbean, we headed to Fantasyland. As we passed the new Pixie Hollow area (where you can take photos with Tinkerbell and all her fairy friends) Little Mr. insisted he wanted very much to meet Tinkerbell. We wandered our way along the paths through the fairy grotto and Little Mr. oohed and aahed over tiny fairy houses (with real lights in their windows) which lined the water-ways along the trail. Afterward, we poked our noses into a shop which specializes in bedecking & bejeweling princesses. My Little Mr. insisted that the sparkling fuchsia tiara was the perfect one for me. Next, he wanted to go on the Storybook Land Canal Boats. Little Mr. loved the meandering boat ride through a bonsai-landscape of miniature storybook houses and castles, and I love being the mother of this tenderhearted boy.


  1. Thank you for this, as a new mama to a very sweet little man, I am already concerned about toy weapons, I am glad to be able to see how other families approach them.

  2. My husband used to play 'army games' with his friends, dressing up in full gear, running around the forest with toy weapons and pretending to fight wars. My husband still loves a good 'good guy, bad guy' violent movie or video game.

    Yet, him and his father are peacekeepers, they specialize in post war trauma and recovery, mediation, and violence prevention. We raise our kids peacefully. We're vegetarians. We rarely argue and he's never yelled at me.

    I don't really have an answer because I too worry about 'violent play' with my own children...but I use my husband and his family as an example and it helps to relieve my anxiety. I realize that if we raise them to think and act peacefully then that's just what they'll do...:o) Because you're thinking about it...and it matters to you...then you're doing the best you can and your kids will certainly hear your messages. :o)


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