Just bought the kid an airsoft pistol. Big deal, right? Lots of families own airsoft. Well, it’s kind of a big deal here for a bunch of reasons, as well as a year in the making. Getting here has been a learning experience that I am very grateful for.
Adults tend to think they’ve reached the apex of self-knowing, got it down, figured out, know what they think and feel about things and that’s that. They certainly don’t think a kid could open their eyes to much of anything. Well…
He first asked about airsoft a year ago and I admit my initial reaction was not welcoming of the idea. See, we’re a peacenik kind of family, not big on weapons, war, gun play. We had given in to Nerf years ago, even then only after lengthy discussions with a very tolerant 7 year old about real vs. toys, safety even in play, the reality of actual guns — blah blah blah.
But airsoft is another animal. They look realistic. They can feel realistic. They shoot ammo that can hurt more than Nerf. It’s more of a weapon than Nerf. It’s just different. Obviously, I was not quite on board (but neither did I just put my foot down and say no. I simply hesitated.)
However, we’ve also been committed to treating our kid like a thinking, intelligent, reasoning individual with his own, independent feelings, thoughts and opinions.
So we started talking. REALLY talking. Not, “No I don’t like it and that’s that.” “But –” “I said, no.”, but an actual dialogue. I’d express my concerns and issues, he’d listen. Then he’d respond and I’d listen. It might go something like this:
ME: “It just makes me nervous. I’m not a fan of guns. I’m not sure how I feel about you being interested in them. These aren’t Nerf. They are closer to the real thing. And the real thing is dangerous, not a toy and…”
HIM (keep in mind he’s not even 12): “I absolutely hear you and understand your concerns. Let me say that I really do understand the truth about real guns. That they aren’t toys, they are tools for certain people who need them. I know what they can do, and I know this is different from Nerf…”
And we’d go on, this child and I, back and forth with a most civilized and mature discussion. My issues, his answers to them. So compelling and thoughtful were his explanations that I began researching. I asked him to share what he’d been looking at and what he had learned about them. I asked him why he was so interested — what was fun about it? Why didn’t Nerf just fill this desire? We looked together, him having a chance to share his interest, have it heard with an open mind and without judgment for what it is — a hobby. A curiosity. A desire to feel what it is like to be the various people he is curious about (military, police, special forces, black ops) within a bubble of safety, to try his hand at a skill.
We’d still negotiate — target rifle as opposed to military automatic assault. Target shooting, not war games. And as the year went on I (actually, his father and both) learned the why’s, I learned the depth of his understanding and maturity, as well as his willingness to compromise and find middle ground between his perfect wishes and the limits our comfort zone.
Along the way I discovered a few things about both of us. One is that while others his age are dissolving into video games, or immersed in sports or games like Magic The Gathering or Catan, while he’ll do those things, he still retains a strong and vivid imaginary life, and is happiest when he is deep within an imaginary world, being an imaginary person, doing exciting, dangerous imaginary things. He will happily gear up, drape his fort in camo-netting, set up his Nerf rifles and run recon and skirmishes with neighborhood boys all day long. He’s sad when they want to shoot hoops, or go in for Xbox. He wants to imagine. He wants to be the hero, the good guy, the one who serves and protects — without ever being in any real danger.
It’s no different than cos-play, really. No different than actors who love making action movies.
But — and here’s the next discovery — what if he does grow up and decide he really does want to join up and be a soldier? What then? Huh. At first, my gut reaction is, “Um, yeah, no. No thank you.” And in fact he, himself says he doesn’t want to be a soldier, or a cop. While he’s interested in the idea, the fact of the very real danger of those jobs makes him not interested. He’s more into Paramedics, he’d say.
However, I realized today that, well, what if he did?? What if he came up to us and said he realized that what would make him happiest, proudest, most content was to be a soldier?
Well, if he came up to us and said paramedic, surgeon, animal rescue, DPW worker (all things that he bandies about) we’d get behind him, thrilled he found a passion for his life. So?
Yup. I’d spend some time throwing up (not because I hate soldiers or the military, but because I’m saddened that we need them at all and that anyone anywhere ever needs to risk their lives that way). Then I’d be sure he did his research, that he talked to people and found out the best and the worst of it. Then I’d probably throw up some more and eat a lot of chocolate (and maybe have a beer). Yes, I’d struggle with it. But in the end — I’d support him. It’s his life, after all. He needs to be happy in it. Whatever he finds his calling to be.
If he wants his hair long or shaved. Wants to wear all black or mixed plaids (he doesn’t, btw), wants to dig ditches or save the world — it’s his life. What we are doing is raising him to be free to find his passion, what he’s good at and loves. To be secure in exploring different things, experimenting what’s out there and finding his place.
In the end, though, I don’t actually see him going into a dangerous field. I just don’t. He might always be interested in guns and weapons, may always love target shooting, collecting, learning the history of them, whatever. I think right now he’s just a kid. He’s curious. He’s an explorer, an investigator and a child with a rich and deep imagination.
In treating him with respect, in acknowledging that he has his own independent thoughts and opinions and in encouraging him to find out as much as he can about the things he is interested in with our support and guidance, we gain a truer, deeper and more honest relationship with him. He learns we respect him as an individual, separate from us with his own value and values. And we learn — well, we still have so much to learn — and sometimes, it might even come from a child.