Jeb wants me to play with his dudes.
The dudes being a gaggle of plastic, two-inch tall fighters representing three distinct groups: cowboys, Indians and the military. They come in the rainbow colors of red, green, blue and yellow and look to be circa 1954. Each one strikes a pose of some kind of offensive stance while holding their respective weapons. The cowboys and military wield guns and cannons while the natives hold other more rudimentary tools of attack.
Jeb has brought these aggressive (albeit inanimate) little warriors back from his dad’s place. There’s a no-toy-gun policy at my house (which does not apply at dad’s) and Jeb’s pushing the pacifist envelope by lining up these warring dudes on the floor of our living room.
As he does so, he explains to me the backstory.
“The cowboys and the Indians used to fight each other. But now they’re on the same side and they’re fighting the military guys.”
As Jeb fills me in, I’m on my hands and knees in the bathroom wiping down baseboards with biodegradable, geranium scented cleaning product. I know this is an opportunity for a teaching moment. There must be a way somehow that I could distill the complexities of war and history into an age-appropriate conversation. But over by the toilet bowl, the conscious parenting portion of my brain is drawing a blank.
“I want you to come see my dudes. It’s fun. We can play with them.”
I finish up and come to see each guy standing flat on his little rounded platform of plastic. A few characters are engaged on their bellies in aimed attack.
Jeb reaches an Indian out to me. “Here, you’ll probably like these guys the best,” he says, without needing to say that it’s because their weapons aren’t guns.
I sit with him and he takes to positioning the different guys in odd locales, including attempts to balance one on my shoulder. A blue cowboy stands on my knee, legs bent, with a gun pointing out in each hand.
I take him between my thumb and forefinger. “This guy needs to chill out. He’s got a gun in each hand. He needs to relax a bit.”
And since we’re by the tub, I turn on the faucet and position blue, double-fisted cowboy under the tap. The water cascades over his head until just the tips of his gun barrels break through the stream. “Ahh…there we go. It’s like he’s under a waterfall. There you go, cowboy. Just relax.”
I circle them up so that their outstretched gun barrels touch. “Maybe ring around the rosie!”
“Oh, and these guys…” I find two more replicas, both in blue, with weapons as extensions of their hands. “These guys want to hug each other. Ahhhh….”
No profound teaching moment here. I’m more a parody of myself, really.
But Jeb already knows my feelings about guns. They’re tools, not toys. He knows I don’t like war games (in real life or in play).
And taboos can make things more enticing. I try to find balance in my responses to his intrigue with weapons and war.
On this afternoon, I was willing to play with his dudes. But I couldn’t hold back from taking his fearsome warriors, giving them hydro-therapy, making them hug, hold hands, and dance.