I picked my son up from a playdate last week, and he and his buddy were playing with guns. They were of the Nerf and plastic variety, but nonetheless, the experience rattled me to the core. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and have some insight to share because it led to some big conversations and a serious dose of Parenting Practice What You Preach 101.
So I picked up my first grader from a playdate with undoubtedly an equally sweet little buddy – the two of them giggle and play creatively whenever they’re together, but they’re six-going-on-seven, and they get wild, too. When I walked in, huge smiles and huge Nerf blasters were in play, and it was no biggie. But then my boy came zipping around the corner with what appeared to be a cowboy-kinda gun – of the shiny, metal, hand-gun sized variety. And it freaked me out!
It startled the other mom, too, who immediately told her son that it wasn’t supposed to be in the playroom. We exchanged uncomfortable looks, I demanded my boy put it down immediately, and the mom and I chatted a few short words about how that terrifying little toy came to be in her home.
An international relative had recently gifted it to her son. She wasn’t comfortable with it, but hadn’t yet taken the stand to take it away. But she said that she would, and I had no reason not to believe her. But I had a big reason to have a talk with my little man…
How’d You Know, Buddy?
We said thanks and goodbye, hopped in the car and had approximately four minutes for me to send a big message that needed to be loud, but not traumatizing, and clear. I launched right in: How was your day? Did you have fun with your bud? And how did you know that small, metal-looking toy gun wasn’t real?
He said: “I picked it up so I knew it was plastic.”
I used everything I had not to turn into a crazed cartoon mom screaming: “Why’d you pick it up?!?!”and instead said, “But, love, when something looks like it could be a real gun, even if it’s in a play room or your friend’s room or wherever, you should NEVER pick it up to see, and never let a friend touch it either. It could be real, and then you’ve touched it and risked it going off.”
In my rearview mirror, I saw a thoughtful, wide-eyed stare from the back seat.
My boy is sweet and sensitive and can shut down when confronted, but he didn’t. He was listening. So I pressed on: “When you see something like that, you need to find your courage to speak up, to tell your friend not to touch it and to tell a grown-up immediately that you’re uncomfortable. Even if it IS a toy, it’s not an appropriate one.”
Then, tick, tick, tick… my time was up as we pulled into our garage.
But before I had really thought through my next steps, I promised him that, like I expected of him, I’d find my courage to speak up and tell the mom that I was uncomfortable with that toy. And so I did…
Do You Have a Real Gun In Your Home?
Having only chit-chatted at pick-up or texted with this mom, I started with the easy way out -- a conversation via text. I simply said that I could tell both she and I were not comfortable with that particular toy and that it had sparked a conversation in our home about what to do when you’re in someone else’s home and potentially see a gun, or something you think might be one. And I said: “So I have to ask if you have any real guns in your home.”
I explained that I was happy to talk, but that I started with text so as not to make this any more uncomfortable. And then I waited… But I was satisfied and proud already, because I had practiced what I preach: Speak up when something makes you uncomfortable!
Later that evening she responded: “… I completely understand your concern… we do not have any real guns at home and never will.” She followed up even later that evening with a long email, explaining how upset she was, how sorry she was, how she supervises playdates closely and doesn’t even let the kiddos use electronics when they have friends over. My gut told me I had every reason to believe her, trust her and know that our giggling little guys would spend lots more playdates together in healthy, active play, even if meant a Nerf blaster every now and again.
The conversation went just as I’d hoped, but certainly it was scary, empowering and more important than ever. I revisited the G-Word Talk with my big girl, a friendly reminder that guns are nothing to take lightly and that more so now than ever she should understand truly how dangerous they can be in the wrong hands. And those hands include, albeit accidentally, her own or her friends’ hands.
I share this story to inspire… I’m not going to say it’s easy, and I’m not going to say the fact that I managed to tackle this one incident head-on makes me an expert, but I’m certain and I’m grateful that the current atmosphere in our country and the changing wave our future generations are making in the gun conversation have inspired me to find my voice, find my courage and speak up when something doesn’t feel right.
I practiced what I preach, and you bet, I told my kiddos about it. I wanted them to know that grown-ups sometimes have to do things that are uncomfortable. But just like we expect for them, we take on the uncomfortable in the name of growth and safety for ourselves, those we love and cherish, and to better the world one challenging conversation at a time.
Have you been brave enough to start a conversation? Tell me about it, please. Here or on Facebook at Grateful Girl.
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