Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Toys of War

Dear Son:

Last night we talked about Vikings and Knights and the end of the world. Good guys, bad guys, and the battles they fight are much in your thoughts these days and therefore in mine as well. I suppose it’s inevitable that you would want to take up your wooden sword and your plastic pistol and act out the battles you have been watching in your Viking cartoons and that you have seen the older boys at kindergarten playing, but some part of me is still surprised. I don’t know if surprised is the right word exactly, disappointed is too harsh, but some hybrid of the two is what I’m feeling. In the back of my mind, I knew it was coming but I thought it might wait another year.

Yesterday when I picked you up from school, the girls were sitting together on one side of the room playing with dolls and the boys were on the other side building forts and Viking ships from Lego blocks. Last year at about this time, I would just as likely find you in the play area with the girls, cooking dinner or playing house, but that doesn’t happen anymore. When I was a little boy I played with toy soldiers and acted out battles just as you are doing today, but as my generation came of age, we staged a sort of revolution, in which the toys of war we outlawed. Many of my contemporaries decided not to allow these toys in their homes and for your first five years, I did the same, politely refusing gifts of that sort when well-meaning aunts, uncles and others offered them.

All the little rules your parents impose, the walls we build around you to protect you from the ugly side of life, the boundaries we set hoping to frame the contours of your choices: What effect do they really have in the end? The influences of the world outside our home are strong – they will not be confined within our walls of will and admonition and with every passing day, you are spending less of your time with us and more of your time with your friends, a division that will only increase as you grown up and away.

We played on the living room floor after dinner last night. You refused to go to bed until we had staged a battle. We had been playing earlier that evening, building ships and fortifying the castle, but you insisted on staging a battle with the bad guys. So I gave you a fifteen-minute reprieve from bedtime, took up my position with the bad guys’ ship and attacked the castle. When it looked like I might get away with the chest of gold you had hidden in one of the turrets you threw a mild fit. I knew you were tired and that it had probably been a mistake to keep on playing at that hour of the day, when disappointment so quickly turns to tears, and I tried to calm you, asking you what was wrong. You said you didn’t like losing. Ultimately, we got going again and you captured my one remaining soldier and threw him in jail. As we were making our way to bed, I reminded you that one doesn’t always win each battle or conflict in which he is engaged, that is was inevitable that there would be failures and that failing was ok if you learned from it. You were not convinced and reiterated that you didn’t like losing.

You asked for a story that night, a “real” story you said, something made up, something imaginary. I struggled with what to say (I couldn’t come up with anything) and mercifully, you asked me to tell you the story of your mother. When the story was over and you started to get a little bleary-eyed, you settled into your pillow and got that look you get sometimes, of a tired, old man trying to make sense of the world for his troubled son. “You know Papa, when I die the world will still be here. The world goes on and on. The buildings will fall down, even the Dom Cathedral will fall one day, but not the world.” And with that, you rolled over and went to sleep.

I love you,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thoughtful post, Richard.

Sending the right message--guns are not playthings.

8:29 AM  

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