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death by nerf

When I’m feeling like a crap mom, I like to remind myself that it could be so much worse. Like, “They might not eat vegetables but at least they eat Pirate’s Booty which is made partially of hydrogenated corn,” or “I let them watch TV but at least they don’t play Halo.” Or, “I let them watch TV but at least they don’t play with guns.”

Except now, they play with guns. I am laying this particular parental failure of mine at least in part at the feet of my friend Kathryn. We dropped by for a visit and were immediately surrounded by four neighborhood boys, all bearing Nerf guns that, had they not all been neon orange, would have been alarming in their verisimilitude. I observed as Kathryn attended to the situation with equal parts concern and resignation. And I observed Finn, wanting desperately to play, but having no weaponry of his own. And then it hit me. I get why moms, even exemplary ones like Kathryn, permit their boys to play with guns and swords and plastic nunchucks and throwing stars. Because we want our kids to belong, to have friends, to be able to speak the vernacular of the age they inhabit. I know Tom feels that he suffered because he grew up without video games.  He was the only kid in his neighborhood without an Atari, and given how often I hear about it, is apparently still reeling from the deprivation.

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I suppose fear that I’m depriving my kid of happy childhood memories is about 30% of the reason I bought the Nerf gun when we saw it at Costco. The other 70% is that the toys are way at the back of Costco, like two miles from the cashier, and I sensed that my kids might go AWOL before we could get to the checkstand. So when Finn begged for the gun, I dangled the carrot. “Let’s see if we make some good decisions.” For the next 30 minutes, my child behaved so perfectly that at one point, when I saw him standing patiently next to the cart—just standing there, not hanging on the cart, or whining, or pointing at someone’s motorized wheelchair and shouting “Mommy can we get one of those?”—I did a double take because I thought it was someone else’s kid. You know, like when you feel a kid tugging at your pants and you look down and it’s not your kid, and then the kid realizes that you’re not his mom, and totally freaks out. Anyway. I bought the Nerf gun, because we had a deal, my Finn and I.

The next morning, when I found Finn in my bed in his usual early morning snuggle mode, I wrapped my arms around him for my usual spooning, and touched my hands to cold hard plastic. Because Finn, in turn, was spooning his Nerf gun. With daybreak comes Nerf fun for the whole family. Like a real gun, a Nerf gun uses bullets, has a chamber for those bullets, and requires loading and reloading. Unlike a real gun, a Nerf gun requires that Daddy un-jam the gun at regular, 3 minute intervals. But it’s not just fun for Daddy.  While Tom is unjamming the gun for the 800th time, I can go all Nerfy myself by digging out wayward bullets from behind heavy, immovable furniture. Here’s the dirty secret about Nerf guns–it’s not the guns that are worth anything, it’s the bullets, which are like styrofoam gold. Once you lose those puppies, your Nerf gun becomes about as useless to your kid as your Comcast remote would be to your husband, if the remote were to suddenly lose all its batteries. Actually, if that happened to Tom he’d probably run out of the house, wild-eyed and screaming.

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Finn knows he has to guard those bullets, and account for each one.  When he gets off a shot, he immediately scrambles to pick up his bullet and put it in his plastic bag. Between the plastic bag that he carries around and the inexplicably loud whirring noise that ensues once the Nerf gun is turned on, I end up feeling sorry for him because he looks so stupid.  It’s all the more heartbreaking because I suspect that Finn thinks he looks really, really badass.

Nerf guns are extra awesome if you have a younger child for whom gunplay is patently inappropriate. Because as soon as your older kid gets a Nerf gun, your younger kid’s main goal in life is to lay his tiny toddler hands on that Nerf gun when the older kid is not looking. Tate gave up after a half day of loitering around Finn, and moved to active sabotage. I found Tate in the dining room with one half-chewed bullet hanging out of his mouth, dropping three more bullets down the heating register.

Out of the original 18 bullets, we’re down to about 7. At this pace, we should be done with the Nerf gun by Thursday. Here’s hoping.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Courtney #

    They sell replacements for those bullets at Fred Meyer I think. I actually learned from my stepson recently that my son had gotten a real gun of some sort (like a BB gun) from his dad a few months earlier. At first I started to freak out but then I realized that I really didn’t care. He’s not the type to shoot animals or birds or his siblings. And kids who engage in armed robbery of liquor stores don’t do it as a result of playing with nerf guns or even BB guns. My kids seem to have no difficulty distinguishing between real and play violence. And we really dig the Second Amendment in our house. People shouldn’t be scared of their government. Our government should be scared of its people. Maybe that should be the subject of another blog.

    October 18, 2012
    • Are you talking about a post about libertarians? You really may have to guest post that one

      October 19, 2012
  2. emilymv #

    I feel your pain! My 6 year son won a BB Gun in a raffle at a community fete. How can you say ‘no you can’t have that’ when they have spent their hard saved money on a few raffle tickets and then have actually won something! And a BB Gun is one step worse than a Nerf Gun, it is proper gun-coloured and comes with bullets the size of actual bullets! That was a few months ago, it hasn’t been played with for a while so it may be making into a toy black hole (aka the bin)……!

    October 18, 2012
    • oh man. i didn’t know they still even made bb guns. they seem so dangerous. i mean, it’s all dangerous. it’s really a miracle anyone gets through their childhood

      October 18, 2012
  3. What I love about the Nerf guns is that you get a little mommy pay back -if you will- because you know for a fact you are going to get a bullet to the neck or face or other body part! So you then take the gun and go Rambo on the little ones! Which they love because let’s face it-sometimes moms are just lame to boys. Nerf guns are like Legos for me…if they are left on the floor they are fair game for the vacuum. My son just had the opportunity to buy his very own Nerf gun with his very own money and he has been very good about keeping his ammo picked up and taken care of. Have fun with this new adventure!

    October 16, 2012
    • i want to go rambo on them. this thought had never occurred to me before. and it’s interesting how there’s this synergy between nerf guns and the spending of one’s hard earned allowance money

      October 18, 2012
  4. Long ago and far away in the mists of the first wave of politically correct furor over “negative gender-reinforcing war role-play accessories” (aka toy guns) I was able to keep our eldest, a boy, fully occupied with all sorts of non-military industrial complex based learning toys. At a preschool “playtime visit” I stood with a group of similarly smug raised-consciousness Moms as we watched a herd of toddler boys handing out sticks which they then pointed at each other and began making shooting noises. Nobody dared be the first to laugh.

    If you are truly wishing to delay your own boy’s introduction to anything, be aware if his play dates are with other firstborns or rather with boys who have older brothers. It is the younger brothers of the world who are typically introduced early on to whatever it is not quite age appropriate for them to know or be doing, and they are always only too eager to share that advantage with (lord that advantage over) their friends. Toy guns? Violent videos and/or videogames? Sex miseducation? All the dark arts as often as not appear courtesy of somebody else’s older brother.

    October 16, 2012
    • younger brothers are SO dangerous. i am getting that sense already. you get a flavor for it at halloween where you are used to dressing your three year old as a monkey or whatever. those little ones don’t want to be cute, they want to be deadly. ninjas, superheroes, whatever. don’t they know they won’t be cute forever??

      October 18, 2012
  5. LOL! I love this! I was soooo anti-gun when my oldest was a toddler but then it happened. He started making guns out of everything! Now my three boys (2,4,5) will fashion a gun out of a carrot. It just got so pathetic watching them do that, that I caved and bought them nerf guns too. It made me feel better reading on-line that gun play is actually developmentally appropriate for little boys. Hey, whatever reconcilies it in my head 🙂 Check out http://www.4mothers1blog. We write a lot about our crazy boys . . . and yes, sometimes their gun play.

    October 16, 2012
    • I’ve checked out the blog, love it! So true about kids making guns out of whatever is available. Tate made his own from Duplo blocks, and then spent time trying to jam the nerf bullets into it. sigh

      October 18, 2012

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