Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Often, while reading a book that inspires conflicting feelings, I'll scurry off to Goodreads or (no, let's face it, and) Amazon, in addition to whatever other random reviews and blog posts I can find, to get an idea of other readers' perspectives. Almost as often, I will come away more disturbed than I was in the first place. Though there is no getting around the fact that I may take works of fiction a wee bit more personally than most, I've learned that if I have mixed feelings, other readers have also reacted strongly.

This is what happened as I read Lucy Christopher's Stolen. The more I read, the more suspicious I grew - where was this going, and were other people as uncomfortable with it as I was? In a word, no. Most readers seem to love it. This bothers me.

One might point out that I am not in the book's YA demographic, that perhaps I have no business at all reading such a book and judging it by adult standards. After all, how old is your average YA reader? 10? 12? Perhaps I'm out of touch, but the way I remember it, by high school you wouldn't be caught dead reading such a book. Would I watch Sesame Street and scoff at the rather basic lessons it teaches, smug in my ability to count to numbers so high the show does not even acknowledge their existence?

Nevertheless, while I'm not entirely clear on the author's intentions, I know for certain that many readers have fallen in love with Ty, Stolen's fictional kidnapper. Why? Because he's not like other kidnappers. He's hot. Call me a humorless, man-hating feminist, but I think a man who spots a ten-year-old girl in the park, spends the next six years alternately stalking her and building a desolate fortress in a harsh environment with the express intention of her having no chance of surviving an escape attempt, and finally drugging and abducting the object of his...um...affection, is a bad guy. Does it make me feel better about such a man if his victim's fears that he just might be a rapist hurt his feelings? Not really. In addition to their crushes on Ty, many of these readers react to his victim, Gemma, with a similar brand of envious disdain that inspired Chris Brown Can Beat Me tweets.

Initially, Gemma fights tooth and nail, and Ty ultimately tells her that if she wants to leave "I won't stop you. I'll only save you when you get lost." Which is exactly what happens. I harkened back to the first time I saw Disney's Beauty and the Beast as a teenager, and how incensed I was when, terrified by the Beast's behavior, Belle ran frantically from the castle and encountered a pack of wolves. The beast ran after her and saved her life, but it came at a cost. He suffered a thorn in his paw, which Belle helped him remove. As well she should have, because after all, his injury was all her fault.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I Don't Like Guns

Gun control. I'm for it, pretty much. I believe in background checks and waiting periods. I see no reason for anyone to own a weapon that will cause extraordinary damage - am I talking about automatic or semi-automatic weapons here? Maybe. That's what keeps me from being more passionate about the issue. I don't understand gun language, and haven't taken the time to educate myself about it, because guns are boring.

It doesn't matter how boring I think they are - a gun could, at any moment, wander into my life and shake things up in a way that will leave me begging for boring. I don't get the fascination some people seem to have with them. But they do. Especially children. Especially - I'll just say it - boys.

Before I had children, I worked with them. I babysat, worked in daycares and taught preschool. Every daycare and preschool where I worked had a "no gun play" rule.

I could appreciate the spirit of the rule. Kids need to be taught that violence is wrong, and they need to know that guns are dangerous and something to be feared. I was fine with rules against toy guns (aside from squirt guns - I believed, then and now, that brightly colored water guns do not count as guns). However, after endless, futile attempts to squelch games involving little boys making legos, blocks, sandwiches, and their thumb and index fingers into imaginary guns, I grew wary of the no gun play rule. Many boys were drawn to guns, and I started to believe that whatever was going on, it was a phase they needed to work though. Perhaps halting their play was even preventing them from coming out on the other side of whatever this obsession was about. It seemed like a useless waste of energy. "They're playing! God!" I would think. I swore that if I ever had a son, I would relax. I wouldn't give him toy guns, but I wouldn't stop him from pretending he had one.

Eventually, I did have a son. When he was still a baby, I continued to believe that hysteria over gun play was silly and pointless. I'd teach my son that violence was wrong and guns were dangerous, but if, like so many other boys, he was fascinated by them, I wouldn't censor his play. But a funny thing happened on my way to being the cool mom who didn't fly into hysterics over harmless playing.

As he grew, it became obvious that my boy was sweet, kind and sensitive. Not quite or shy - he's always been active, even hyperactive, but never a hint of aggression. All the more reason not to worry, I thought. As my faith in him as a non-violent person grew, I believed that he could probably stage a pretend shoot-out with other children without it weakening the message I wanted him to understand. Violence is bad, weapons are dangerous, and pretending is fine. He has rarely been exposed to any violence, and when he encounters aggression in other people he is confused and hurt.

I was relieved as he got older and guns never came up. "Got older" is probably laughable - he's still not even six. He is an unformed person, of course. I'll learn more about him over time. But he was older than the little boys who had gotten me thinking about this in the first place had been, and I still wasn't sure he knew what a gun was. I thought I was refusing to be smug and take credit for this - I wasn't going to brag about how my strictness about media was responsible for his lack of interest in guns and violence. The truth is, as much as I'd like to be a die-hard no screen time type, I'm not. We watch TV and movies. Rarely are guns involved. Not because we're disciplined, but because, as a group, my family does not find them to be a part of an interesting narrative. Again, they are boring. I thought I was being humble, chalking it up to lack of interest on his part rather than lack of exposure. Perhaps, though, it was simply more important to me to believe in my son's inherent purity and goodness than my own morally superior parenting.

Lately, he and a friend have started playing guns. I could blame the friend, and often do. He's the one who comes to me and says "We're playing water guns, but with no water!" M still doesn't play guns without this particular friend. But he had begun making occasional gun noises a few months before his buddy showed up with his lust for firearms. If he isn't obsessed, he isn't indifferent either.

Here I am, older and more uptight. Wiser? It's debatable.  If my position on children and imaginary guns is evolving, the change is not yet complete. My thoughts and opinions on them are abstract and very removed, and I fervently hope that I never have an experience that leads me to be any more of an authority on the subject than I am right now. I had a non-violent, pacifist upbringing that taught me nothing about guns except to stay away from them. My in-laws, while not as firmly anti-gun as my own parents, are nothing if not eminently sensible. They have them - family heirlooms, trotted out once in a blue-moon for recreational target shooting - but I've never seen them and they would certainly never draw their grandchildren's attention to them. They're locked away somewhere, far away from the bullets.

Here I am, and the sound of my son playing guns provokes a visceral reaction in me in a way little boys who weren't mine never did. It makes my skin crawl.

Before putting a stop to it, I stop and ask myself if I really have a legitimate problem with this, or if it's something that just bugs me. Do I think this is normalizing violence in his mind, or is the sound of an imaginary gun shot simply a dagger (bullet?) in my heart, a reminder that my baby growing up and slowly losing his sweet innocence is inevitable? I don't know. I'm reluctant to make any rules about it until I can decide what I believe, why I believe it, and how I am going to proceed. If I think playing with imaginary guns will normalize violence for him, it's important that I stop him. If I just don't want my baby to grow up, it's equally as important that I don't. As it is, if I tried to make a daycare-like "no gun play" rule in my house, I would enforce it sporadically and inconsistently, depending upon my mood. Not exactly desirable parenting.

What is it about kids? It seems like they have a radar for when I've decided "I'm not crazy about what he's doing right now, but I'm going to let it slide." It causes them to ask me if what they're doing is okay. Kid, could you show me just a little bit of mercy? If not, perhaps you're the type who shouldn't be playing with guns. Is it okay? I just don't know anymore. I have strong feelings about it, but no clear thoughts.

I think of Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation.

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs." 

Gun noises coming out of my son's mouth hit me like the sound of him unlearning all that I have tried to teach him about charity, mercy and patience. I can't stand it. Should I try to anyway? Because he's playing. God! 

I have no clue.