People are now being admitted to hospital with eye injuries from Nerf Guns. Ouch but yeah. I’m sure many more have suffered quietly in backyards around the world. It happens.
If you had have told me this a few years ago however, I would have been horrified. “Oh my God. What kind of parent would allow their child to play with toy weapons?”
And now that kind of parent is me.
“No child of mine will have a toy gun”, I declared 20 years ago. Hahahahahhahaa. And also lol.
I was a brand new parent and I was blissfully deluded about 100 things. The idea I would be able to control what my child wanted to play with was just one of them. I’m the parent right? My values. My rules (see: leggings are not pants).
My first child had no guns. I wouldn’t allow it. This wasn’t a huge problem because he was a kid who was obsessed with cars and cooking. While other four-year-old boys carried around guns, he carried around a copy of Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess, weighed down with post-it notes marking all the cakes he wanted to make and then eat.
I felt a bit smug about this. No weapons in MY HOUSE. War and violence are firmly discouraged - no, banned. I had a friend with a son the same age who tried a similar approach before she waved the white flag. “I don’t let him have guns and so he just chews his toast into a gun shape and shoots his sister,” she sighed. I made sympathetic noises while privately thinking she was a pussy and feeling morally superior. My child isn’t drawn to mindless violence. My child is drawn to baking.
But when my second son was born 11 years later, he pretty much emerged from my vagina brandishing multiple firearms.
At first, I tried to hold my line. No Guns. But then one night when my son was about four, he came to me holding my highest, most glittery stiletto. “Mum, you know what this looks like?” he asked me.
“A gun,” he said with a grin.
I burst out laughing and that was when I began to see the futility of my attempts at prohibition.
He’s very particular about props and he’s accumulated quite a cache of weaponry. Some of these have been improvised (see: high-heeled shoe) and others he’s made himself by co-opting sticks and sticking toy knives on the end of them to create spears. But there are other weapons that have appeared in our house mysteriously. Again, with a third child you tend to pay less attention. Maybe some came in showbags? Maybe some were gifts? From an uncle maybe? I can’t recall ever buying a gun… oh except for this one time at Halloween when he wanted to be a pirate or a soldier and I found myself at the $2 shop standing in front of the toy weapons. I knew it was a watershed moment. I knew I was being tested as a parent.
And I knew I was going to fail. I stood there for quite some time, wrestling with myself. Eventually, I ‘compromised’ by eschewing all the more realistic looking high-powered weapons and buying an olde worlde pirate pistol. I justified it to my slightly stricken self by noting that it looked obviously fake and very retro. More prop than gun!
But I crossed that line into hypocrisy. I did. And on the other side of my line was a slippery slope into anarchy.
In my defence, it’s wonderful having a child who is self-sufficient when it comes to occupying himself. Every parent knows this. If a child has an active imagination and can play happily with their cars or doll or tea set or... weapons... then your life is simply easier. It’s a good skill for a child to have and it’s a godsend for a parent who has no time or inclination to be a cruise director.
So when he started grabbing handfuls of his weapons when we went out to dinner or to friends’ houses where there would be other kids, I didn’t think anything of it. Somehow, over time, we became the parents of the kid who carries weapons in public.
But a warning. This is where parental gun complacency can lead......
A couple of years ago, I found myself at the airport, trying to hide my annoyance with the security guard who has just confiscated my six-year-old son’s toy handgun. It was hidden in his backpack and he’d only confessed to me nervously as we approached the X-ray machine that he was packing heat. “I’m scared I’m going to get in trouble for having a gun,” he said in a wobbly voice.
“Oh sweetheart, don’t be silly. You won’t.” I reassured him. “But why on earth did you bring it?”
“Because you told me I could bring weapons to play with!”
“I thought that just meant your swords and spears!” I exclaimed as some of our fellow passengers began to give us strange looks.
This is where I’ve landed in my life. From NO WEAPONS, NO WAY to this. Disgraced in an airport security queue on the brink of arrest as a suspected terrorist. Or the mother of one.
“What’s wrong?” asked my husband.
“He brought a gun,” I hissed. “A TOY gun,” I clarified for the benefit of those around us in the security queue who were looking suddenly wary.
Deciding that transparency was the best approach in this awkward situation, I quickly took his backpack and removed the handgun, placing it on top of the bag in one of those blue tubs.
The gun was silver and flouro orange and held together with sticky tape. It looked a long way from real. But still. The security dude blanched when he saw it and wouldn’t let us take it on the plane. “Really?” I said. “But it’s clearly fake." “Doesn’t matter,” he replied sensibly. "It looks real enough.”
As my son fought back tears and other passengers glared at us (with a few sympathetic looks from other parents travelling with small boys) I smelt a teaching moment. “It’s fine to play with toys like this at home in your imaginary games but we really can’t take them out of the house because they can scare people,” I told my chastened small boy.
From that moment, this became my new line in the sand: You Can't Take Your Weapons Out In Public.
I'm the mother of the year, I swear.
Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women’s Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business.
She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she’s the only one not coping (you’re not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No Filter, Mamamia Outloud and Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).
The award-winning podcast Mamamia Out Loud is doing their first live show. There will be laughs, disagreements and you can meet the hosts afterwards! We’re also donating $5 of every ticket price to Share The Dignity so grab your friends and come along to share the love and laughs, get your tickets here.