Hey all! It’s been a long time since I wrote here, but I’m finally getting myself back in order. Partially because I’ve been reading a ton and wanted to share some of what I’ve learned with you, and partially because I process by writing and I’ve got a tough nut to crack here.
First, we’ve got some cute baby pictures.
Here’s me holding my babies:
Tiny smiling boy:
Obligatory butt shot:
Wearing daddy’s hat:
Helping me with my banana. He’s started developing an interest in our food, and we’ll let him taste things (tiny touches on his lips or tongue) but normally he really doesn’t like any of it. The banana peel, however, he seemed to enjoy.
We’re closing in on 5 months now, which is just crazy. Up to 4 months, things seemed to be going pretty slowly, overall. He was changing so quickly that it felt like a lot was happening, but every time a new month came around it was highly-anticipated so it felt like it took longer to get here. We’ve been so busy the past month that he’s just grown and changed and we haven’t really been paying as much attention to the calendar. Kinda crazy how that works.
He’s still teething periodically, though we still don’t have any teeth coming through. Very drooly and chewy, though. I’ve been reading a ton and so I’ve really changed my approach to how we work with him on developing his motor skills. I’ll have to get into that sometime soon in a dedicated post. Suffice it to say that I’m doing a lot less, and I think it’s a good thing.
In that vein, we’ve been doing less tummy time and more “free time” so he can learn how to move himself into position. he’s getting so incredibly close to rolling from back to tummy. Once he masters that, then I think crawling will come more naturally. To see a baby do these things while really cool music plays in the background, watch Baby Liv.
Okay, now that all the cute stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about violence.
First, let me talk about Teacher Tom, since reading his blog yesterday is what got me thinking about this again. I just heard about him yesterday, through Lisa Sunbury‘s Facebook page. I immediately fell in love with his philosophy and read dozens of his posts. He’s a parent and a preschool teacher, and he promotes a sort of free play philosophy in his school. It’s fascinating and empowering and inspiring to read about the kids he teaches, to learn how they learn, how they interact, and just how much credit we adults don’t give to kids that they very richly deserve. Anyway, I can keep gushing, but suffice it to say that I read a ton of his stuff, learned a lot, and really started thinking about some important issues. One of them is the issue of pretend violence in young children, specifically that involving weapons.
I mentioned his piece “Gun Play” to my wife, specifically the part where he explains that one of the reasons that kids choose not to allow pretend guns in the school is that they’re scared of being hurt by them. She thought it was ludicrous that anyone, even children, should be frightened by a pointed finger and a “bang!” I can’t honestly disagree with her, but I could see small children being scared, maybe? And now I read this piece and it sounds like maybe the adults are supposed to be scared of pointed fingers, too? I’m wondering if there isn’t a balance to be found here. One where we recognize that violence is a part of our history, part of how the real world works, and an important thing for kids to understand. Not with parents wringing their hands, hiding in a corner saying “It’s fine, it’s just a phase, soon he’ll stop pointing that terrifying finger,” but really understanding that violence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as nobody is getting hurt.
Stay with me here.
First, let’s talk play. The general consensus from the articles I’ve read on pretend violence is that it isn’t correlated with actual violence later in life. Play is play, and it’s helpful for kids to learn about their world and how they can interact with it, and with other people. Violence is a way that people interact in the real world and in the media, so clearly it’s going to come up. Kids play around with violence, and all the articles I’ve been reading on the subject agree that it’s not associated with violent behavior later in life. Watching violence on TV or playing violent video games seems to be, but not pretending to be violent oneself. Go figure.
Here’s my experience, so take it for what it’s worth. I have always, always, always been interested in weapons. Swords, axes, bows, catapults, guns, grenades, catapults, spears, and anything else you can think of. Since I was a tiny, tiny child, they were my favorite toys. When my cousins would come over and we would all play “town” (We called it “Fun Game”, and each of us built a shop out of couch cushions and then we went around buying things from each other), we would invariably have a pet store (my cousin Lauren, with stuffed animals), a grocery store (my cousin John, with plastic food), a general store (my older sister, Meghan with random toys, games, tools, etc.) and then me, with a weapon store. Because in a town with four shops, one of them had better be selling grenades and machine guns, right?
We played with water guns, we played with the guns that make a “click-a-clack” noise when you pull the trigger, we played with laser guns, swords, fake bows and arrows, and all the rest. I had a BB gun that my dad bought for me very early and kept locked away for safety. I got a compound bow for Christmas when I was maybe 10 or 11, and very rarely got to shoot it, but loved it all the same. When I got a little older, I started collecting swords. Complete junk, at first. All it had to have for me to love it was a blade. I still own many of them, though my requirements for purchasing new ones have increased rather dramatically. Very early on, I started reading books intended for adults. Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and loads of sci-fi and fantasy novels. Lots of fighting, lots of weapons and I loved every word of it. Later, when I was maybe 13 or 14 I started taking martial arts classes and really excelled in them. I’d played sports before (baseball, soccer, and football both flag and tackle) but martial arts training was really the first one I loved and felt good at. I got into jiu-jitsu and kickboxing at the school and loved those, too. I learned as much Filipino stick-fighting as I possibly could, though I wasn’t great at it.
I loved fighting. I loved the competition of it, the chess match. I loved working on my skills and learning new techniques and then trying them against my opponent. At that time though, I was still a bit of a wuss. I really didn’t like being hurt, and that held me back a little. I was scared of being hit, despite the fact that it happened pretty regularly. This was also about the time that my dad and I started shooting more regularly. Mostly handguns and shotguns, and only ever at paper or clay targets. I had always loved guns, but now I was getting to spend time with my dad and we were going to the range every week. It was awesome. I spent a lot of my time talking and thinking about guns. I still have never shot at anything alive, and I’m not sure if I ever will, but I fire many thousands of rounds a year in practice and training.
Fast forward to high school. I join the football team and the wrestling team and am terrible at both. I don’t go out for either of them after my sophomore year. I get into theatre and debate and take a load of Advanced Placement classes in history, English and French. I stop doing physical activities almost entirely for a few years, and really get into video games. College, now. I join a handful of intramural sports and do pretty well. I’ve grown into my body a bit more (when I played football, I was 5′ 6″, 155 lbs with size 15 feet. Running was not my strong suit.) and I start to do reasonably well at softball, flag football, etc. I still don’t love them, though. It’s fun, but it doesn’t get my blood up. Late in my first semester, I find the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and it’s a match made in heaven. Armored medieval combat, fencing, archery, all of that stuff that I’d loved, brought to life. It was amazing. I went nuts with it, to be honest. I spent every night of the week doing something related to the SCA. Making armor, making costumes, fighting, playing games with my new friends, etc. I spent the majority of my college years hanging out with people twice my age, fighting them with sticks in the park. While my college friends drank and chased girls, I learned how to sew and how to fight with sword and shield. I also toughened up. Nothing gets you used to pain like spending a few hours a night, three nights a week getting hit by a 6’7″, 350-pound man wielding a 3-foot wooden bat. This is also where I started to develop the joy of fighting. There’s something about hitting and being hit, and I can’t rightly explain it. It’s satisfying and primal, and when I go too long without it I get antsy.
So there’s all that. I sound like a freaking sociopath when I lay it all out there. With a lifetime devoted to the study and practice of violence, you’d think I was probably a pretty violent guy, I’d bet. Nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t been in an actual fight pretty much ever. I had one sort of stand-up wrestling match in middle school, trying to stand up to a bully. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually struck anyone in anger since I was a small child. I was picked on mercilessly in middle and high school, but never raised my fists to anyone. I’m the natural diplomat in most situations, soothing hurt feelings and trying to make sure people get along, always with a concealed handgun on my hip. How does this dichotomy work out?
I think it comes from a different view of violence. I see violence as being a very good thing, in certain situations. I never think it’s appropriate to initiate physical violence against someone, under any circumstances. But if someone is going to try to hurt me or my family, I want to be prepared to defend myself and those I love. I hope I never have to, but I don’t want to be unprepared for it if it comes up. Sometimes, there’s no cavalry. In a preschool play yard, there are adults there to separate kids who start hurting each other. In the real world, that’s not always the case. So while I completely understand the desire to teach kids to solve their problems in non-violent ways, I think it’s a mistake to teach them that we never hit back. I think it’s a mistake to teach them that when they’re being hurt, they need to wait for rescue. I think it’s a terrible mistake to teach them that defending themselves from an attack is morally equivalent to attacking someone else. I also think it’s a shame to deny them the joy that can come from violent play. As long as everyone is being safe, there’s a lot to be said for a good fight amongst friends. This might sound foreign to people who’ve never done it, but I like to think it’s a valid perspective that deserves to be heard in the discussion. Sometimes, fighting is fun. Even being hurt (as differentiated from being injured) can be fun, as long as nothing is too serious.
So anyway, where does that leave me? Probably taking my son to martial arts classes early and often. Definitely teaching him about firearm safety. I’ll make him foam swords and axes so he and his friends can have fun play-fighting with minimal risk for injury. I’m not going to discourage violent play, but I will discourage hurting his friends. I want him to grow up to be compassionate, loving and gentle, but with the ability to use violence when needed to defend himself and those he cares about. Maybe that makes me weird? I just want to raise him (and our future children) to be prepared to live in the real world, and the real world is sometimes violent.