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.
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.
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.