Monday, February 8, 2016

Playground Play... Am I Anti-Fun?

We had nice weather this past weekend (around 50 degrees), so I took the girls to the park Saturday morning. The sun was shining and we had a very pleasant time. They are in a big swinging phase, so we spent 2/3 of our time with me pushing them in swings (Zuzu is learning to pump her legs and was trying to teach Coco, who ignored her and giggled every time I pushed). Once they hit their fill of the swings, Zuzu headed for the big-kid equipment (the one that says "for kids ages 5-12") and Coco wandered around holding Cooper's leash, content to walk the dog and then play for a little bit on the little kid equipment.

The playground wasn't crowded, but there were several families there, enjoying the sunshine. I saw Zuzu talking to a little boy who looked just a bit older than her, and she must have told him her name because they were playing together and he kept calling for her to chase him, but she would then act shy and duck her head. So I watched them play for a while and then decided it was time to head home for lunch and Coco's naptime.

Zuzu has gotten SO MUCH BETTER about leaving the park without fuss. We talk about it on the way there, I give her a lot of transitional reminders "5 minutes," "2 minutes," "choose one more thing and then we're done," and then I throw in a positive incentive: "We're going to go have lunch and icicles!" But we've always tried these strategies, so mostly I think she's just gotten older and that's helped.

Coco, on the other hand, is now in the back-arching fit-throwing phase, so she fusses as we leave the park each time, and Zuzu sits next to her in the stroller acting all morally superior as though she weren't the one throwing the EXACT SAME FITS just a few months ago.

Anyway, I had just delivered the "Choose one more thing and then we're done" (thank you, Daniel Tiger's Mom, for all of my best parenting tactics), when another kid came onto the playground. He was there with his dad, who took a seat on one of the nearby benches. There were probably a dozen kids running over and around the equipment, and this kid (probably in fourth or fifth grade?) was older and bigger than almost all of them.

He was also carrying a toy gun.

It was OBVIOUSLY fake. It looked like a water gun--it was a bright neon green. But it wasn't one of the tiny little water gun pistols. It was like a super-soaker machine-gun style. You know the type. My brother and I had guns like this when we were kids. We had plenty of water gun fights in the backyard. They are awesome because they can shoot a stream of water really super far.

This gun did not appear to have water in it. At least, he wasn't shooting water at anyone.

But he was definitely pretending it was a loaded gun. At least, he was lurking around, hiding, running, carrying it,and pointing it like it was a real weapon.

And as I write this out, I think What's the big deal? He was a kid on a playground. Playing with a toy. 

But it TOTALLY creeped me out at the time.

I think it was because he was playing guns, but he was the ONLY ONE with a gun.

He was a big kid with a (toy) gun and there were all these little kids running around without (toy) guns, and we were on a playground and I didn't see him actually POINT the gun directly in anyone's face, but it was still freaky, I swear. He wasn't confrontational and the kids were paying no attention to him, but as I watched him act like he was sneaking and jumping around corners while carrying a weapon, my stomach felt all twisted up.

It's not like he was doing something WRONG, but it also wasn't something I really wanted my three-year-old to see. It was just weird. And I don't know if I was being hypersensitive (particularly given the fact that gun violence is obviously on my mind), but I really wanted to tell him to stop it.

I even considered going over to his dad, and asking him if he thought it was really appropriate for him to be pretending to use a gun around all of these kids who were unarmed.

I didn't do either of those things. I just thanked my lucky stars that Zuzu was in a cooperative mood and loaded the girls up in the stroller and got the heck out of there.

When I described the scene to David later, I asked him if he would have said anything to the dad, and he said no. I mean, what is there to say? Uh, could you tell your kid to stop PLAYING on a playground with a TOY? Maybe if someone had been scared, but none of the other children seemed bothered (although we left almost immediately, so I didn't stick around to see if he interacted with any of them). It's not like he was breaking any rules or anything. It just felt so inappropriate to me, though I was probably the only one there who cared. Am I crazy?

So what do you guys think? Am I overreacting to kids being kids? We actually HAVE water guns, even a couple of the small super soaker ones. I sometimes shoot Zuzu with one while she's in the kiddie pool (birthing pool, haha) in our backyard. I'm definitely NOT anti-water-gun. It was just SO CREEPY, the way he was acting. But now that I'm writing this out, it seems silly. What would you have done in that situation?


  1. It creeps me out, but mostly just because I'm a nervous nellie all the time. Water guns and toy guns were ruined for me the day I saw the video of Tamir Rice being shot because he had one. The neighbor boys have brightly colored water guns too. It scares me to death (not scared for us, but for them), but I already feel like they have an added target on their back because of their race.

    I'm guessing the kid on the playground was not black. Maybe I'm more tuned into recent stories of men and children of color being shot over the mere assumption that they are always armed and dangerous, but in the current climate I feel like the dad's behavior seems out of line.

    Maybe watergun play is fine at a swimming pool or in a backyard in the summer where everyone has them and the sprinkler is going, and everyone's in bathing suits. But acting like that on a crowded playground seems a little weird. I'm not sure if I would have brought it up with the dad, but maybe I would have. I'm really curious what he might say. Actually, I think I would.

    PS Bright colors shouldn't lull you into complacency. Have you seen guns marketed to little girls?

    Interesting response from David. I'm guessing he'd have a completely different response in his own school. I don't even want to know the protocol there. Ugh.

    1. I don't know I water guns get you suspended... I'll have to ask David. A kid got suspended one year for bringing a shotgun shell to school--not the gun! The shell casing. I thought that was ridiculous, but it was school policy. Remind me next time I see you to tell you another park story.

  2. This is a tough one. Background on me for relativity purposes: I actually have what I would consider to be a gun phobia (so it goes beyond liking or hating them for me; I MORE than hate them). I also would NOT vote for any gun control legislature because, to me, the only thing scarier than everyone having guns is ONLY criminals and deviants having them.
    A girl at my daughter's school (one of her friends, in fact; we still socialize with them 5 years later) was actually suspended in kindergarten for shaping her hand into the form of a gun on the playground. (She had nothing IN her hand; it was her hand itself deemed offensive.) I was not in agreement with this punishment. I can also remember playing cops & robbers and cowboys & indians as a kid (no offense intended; this is actually what we played and what they were called). This play involved 'stick' guns but the overall objective was to restore order.
    I don't have an answer, I guess. I think the situation on the playground could go both ways. It's possible he was pretending he was a cop or something, you know? The waiting at a corner kind of thing and peering around. It's also possible it was more of a stalking thing. The fact that the gun was obviously a water gun is helpful. I probably wouldn't have said anything either, but I would have kept an eye on it, for sure.

  3. Creepy indeed and inappropriate I think. I wouldn't have known what to say to the dad so I would have just left too. Wtf?

  4. That would have bothered me too, but I am also not sure I would have said anything to the other parents. Probably like you, I would have decided it was time for us to leave.

    We were at the playground about a year ago when a boy took a hard fall and his dad started yelling at him that there wasn't any blood so he shouldn't be crying and crying was only for girls. I didn't want my kid exposed to that sexism and nonsense and we just packed it up quickly. I would have liked to say something but I didn't think that would end well.

    My brother played with toy guns when we were kids and the rule was always that always that he was not allowed to point them at people. That was a different time and now toy guns totally freak me out... Too much has happened since then. even when some kid uses his fingers as guns and points them at someone, I don't like it.

    We actually try to call water guns "squirters." I just don't even want the word "gun" in my kid's language.

    Point being, no, you're not crazy.

    1. Omg other parents at the playground are the WORST. I would have been seething at the sexist dad. And I like the idea of calling them squirters!

  5. I can understand your concern especially since you have girls and are used to everything Disney. As a mom of 3 boys and an 8 yr old obsessed with army, guns and everything to do with war that is complete normal play. We have Star Wars battles, zombie battles, war of every name it it's an every day occurrence. Layton had perfected dying/chalk outline by the age of 18 months. It freaked me out at first (7 yrs ago) because I just didn't understand where it was coming from because I am so anti-gun, violence, etc.. I was on him constantly about appropriate and not appropriate, but I can promise you that has been my kid at some point and probably scared some parents like yourself. My son is impulsive and all boy and over the years I've relaxed (or they've just beat it out of me most likely) about it and let him run around with his buddies pretending whatever it is they are fighting. My mom was a first grade teacher for 30+ yrs (1977-2010) and she said it didn't matter if it was a stick, block, Legos, Popsicle stick, etc...boys can and will turn anything into a gun.
    Don't know if that helped at all, but I can promise you the dad probably did not think it was inappropriate...aiming at little kids is not a good idea and I definitely would have addressed that.

    1. Yeah, some of it is probably just the fact that we have (so far) avoided that game at home. But playing violent with other kids somehow feels more "normal" than slinking around on your own... Still, it's probably my mindset more than anything!

  6. I would have said (to the kid), "it doesn't look like anyone is playing guns with, leave these innocent civilians alone!!" With that last part in a playful tone. But I'm a loud mouth like that, especially eith big kids (who sometimes know better). I'm knowing for telling gradeschoolers to pick up their lunch wrappers when it's an outdoor lunch and I'm at the nearby park. "Looks like you dropped something there" *shouts from across the playground set*.

    I don't like gun play. Even though I did it as a kid from ages 5-10 probably. Cops and robbers was always played on my dead end street growing up. But it creeps me out an adult in this world full of crazy gun violence!

    1. I totally call out litterbugs too! I also tell kids to watch their mouths in front of my kids even though I used to be MORTIFIED when my mom did that at the swimming pool.

  7. I can understand how that would've felt particularly uncomfortable with the recent training you had, but honestly, it sounds like something my 13 year son old would do while I was playing with his 4.5 year old sister.

    That being said, I don't think I would've allowed him (my son) to point the guns at any kids, sniper-style or otherwise, bc even if it is just playing, another, *older* separate child taking aim at my preschooler would seriously annoy me. Oddly, if she was for some reason playing with that child, it would be OK with me. Just last week, my two younger teens and their little sister were all happily playing with the nerf foam dart guns with three other older boys, shooting each other and having a blast.

    So, the sort of "lone shooter" image would make uncomfortable too, but unless he was making my daughter uncomfortable or scared, I wouldn't have said anything to the dad. And honestly, non-confrontational as I am, and having been raised rather rabidly pro-gun (I'm not personally, but hoo boy ... My childhood.) (I man, I just said "hoo boy"!) I would be much more likely to just leave than to say anything if there was no direct aggression towards my kid.

    1. Yes, I definitely could have said something to him or his dad if Zuzu had been scared or bothered. That would have been a good enough reason. And we had a particularly fun family Christmas when everyone got nerf guns. It was just the "lone gunman" scenario that was creeping me out!

  8. That sounds creepy, just too close to home. If it was 30 years ago and school shootings were virtually unheard of then it wouldn't seem as weird. Unfortunately our reality is that shit like that has happened and it is terrifying. I probably wouldn't have said anything because I'm a wimp about confrontation, but I definitely wouldn't have wanted Bode to see it and would have left. I'm glad the supersoaker really looked like what it was. I have a major problem with toy guns that look real!

  9. I have 3 boys and we still avoid gun toys. We actually just got them these obnoxious toy swords at Disney Live this weekend (bad bad idea) and that's really the first 'weapon' type toy they've ever had, and honestly the toy swords even gave me pause (obviously for good reason because they beat the crap out of each other with them but whatever.)
    I think it's a little weird for a 4th or 5th grader aged kid to be playing on the playground alone anyway, but maybe that's me and because I've always had siblings? I don't know. Just seems a little old, go ride your bike or play soccer kid.
    I hate guns and playing guns. Luckily my kids are still mostly pretty oblivious to them. It would have bothered me, but I wouldn't have said anything, I don't think.

  10. My feeling is that if you thought something was "off", it probably was. Go with your gut. I wouldn't have spoken to the parent either.

    That said, from your description, I don't think I would have noticed anything unusual. It sounds to me as if the boy either plays or knows kids who play paintball and/or laser tag. Both are very realistic in how they are played. My kids used to attend the games at West Point each year. There, they would reenact various battles and see who won.

  11. I should have mentioned this in my comment yesterday, it just didn't cross my mind until I was reading some of the other comments today.

    I would really encourage those of us who are uncomfortable with / scared of / staunchly against guns (well, I would encourage everyone to do this, regardless of your feelings on guns - I do this with my kids) to treat them kind of like we treat drugs, sex, cigarettes, things of that nature, with our kids. Talk to your children, at whatever age you feel is appropriate, about what they are, what they can do, and how to respond if presented with one in an unsafe setting, like at a friend's house.

    As much as we all like to think we know our friends and how they live, unless we've talked about it, we don't know if they have guns in their home, or how safely and properly they are stored. You want your children to know what to do if they're at a friend's house and that child decides to show them a weapon. You want your child to know that they need to get out of there immediately, and tell the first reliable adult they come to that, "Billy has his dad's gun, I need your help!"

    And if your child seems to have a curiosity about guns, and you have friends or family who you trust who also own guns, I would encourage us to ask that person, or maybe call local law enforcement to see if you could bring your child down to the precinct to see a gun, and learn about them in a safe and controlled setting. Fulfill their curiosity in the safest way possible, so if they're faced with an actual gun, they'll be less likely to want to explore it on their own, having already been allowed to in a safe way.

    Of course, in a perfect world, this wouldn't be necessary. And in a reasonable world, guns should and would always be stored in a gun safe and / or with trigger locks and separately from the ammunition, but we don't live in that perfect world, and most of us don't ask our friends, when we drop off our kids, "Do you have any guns in the house, and are they properly and safely stored?" You know?

    1. That's a really good point. I almost felt like I wanted to get Zuzu out of the park before she saw the gun, but I probably could have/ should have used it as a conversation starter, because making guns totally off limits could definitely be an incentive for some kids to try to examine or test them out on their own. I just heard a Story Corps submission on NPR about a 10-year-old boy who found a gun and accidentally shot and killed his 8-year-old sister with it. A family's worst nightmare.

    2. For real. And that's exactly the scenario I would hope to avoid by teaching more kids how to respond to those situations. It's not a perfect solution, but it's something. It's better than total ignorance, for the kids, as much as I'd like to shield mine from any gun related activities.

    3. We ask this question of parents we don't know as well, if our children are going to be at the house with their kids. It's not something you always think of when they are really little and grownups are around and they are playing in the dress up bin. But when they get old enough for independent play, that's a really important conversation.

      If you read or follow any of the gun fail roundups, you'll see that the occasional story of one child accidentally shooting another one isn't a horrific, freak accident. It's something that occurs all.the.time. So if I had to name one thing about this mess that makes me mad, it's the suppression of real studies about the very real risks posed by owning guns. No one likes to talk about that, just the bad guys with guns.

  12. I have never posted before but have always been anti-gun. I have one boy and two nephews who are always playing star wars, superheroes, etc. They are 6,5 &4 (my son). While we have yet to have a toy gun in the house and probably never will. My son went through an odd phase of building guns out of lego and paper.
    When i told him to stop my 6 year old nephew said "You cannot stop us from being creative." LOL touche.
    Generally we never play these games at the park as they know others may not like it.
    But it seems although this kid was too old for this kind of play at a playground in the first place.
    odd for sure.

    1. Okay, your nephew is funny. But I get what you mean, here. I think if we'd stayed at the park, I might have said to the kid, "Please be careful that you don't scare anyone. Some people don't like to play with toy guns." But it's hard to know where to draw the line...

  13. We don't like Finn to play pretend guns, but he does. As soon as he started going to school it just happened and he will make guns out of Legos, bristle blocks, you name it. We will call it different things "that's your freeze gun to freeze the bad guys" but I really think so much of the gun play is just a boy thing. Obviously it can be for girls and some boys probably have zero interest, but generally speaking here. I also could see an older kid who doesn't want to play on the playground or with the little kids to just play on his own. So I actually don't think it's that weird for him to be playing solo. I'm glad his gun was obviously a toy, and am just sad that we live in a society where even that is upsetting. I wish things were different for our kids. And for us as parents. Your fears and even just your unease with it all is sadly justified, but I wouldn't have said anything unless he was pointing it at someone or scaring them.

  14. I will throw in my perspective, for what it is worth. I come from a "pro-gun" family. My dad is a collector, hunter, and gunsmith. Growing up, our quality time with him was spent on the shooting range (imagine a little girl with ear protection sitting on her Dad's lap shooting at targets...that we me and my sisters and my brother and we are all pretty good at hitting a bulls-eye). I was raised to respect guns for what they are, serious weapons and not toys. He made a point to show us by shooting a large clay blocks what damage a bullet could do. He always pointed out in movies when guns were not being handled correctly (which is ALWAYS in movies) and explained why. We were never allowed to point any gun (toy or otherwise) at a person, ever. That was probably the most serious offense ever in the eyes of my parents. Guns were stored in my home, many guns, but ammunition was kept locked up in different place from the locked guns. And to this day I would not dream of touching a gun that did not belong to me without permission. I would not dream of having a gun and ammunition stored together. I know how to handle and shoot weapons. I understand they are not toys. I respect them and wish more people did. I am raising my kids the same way. I look back and cannot remember me or my siblings ever engaging in "gun play" like you described (we did have water fights with squirt guns and the hose but who didn't?). Because it was drilled into us that guns are NOT toys and if we wanted to actually shoot, all we had to do was ask. My little brother didn't have any toy guns, he had light sabers. Same with my boy. And this was not purposeful but a secondary effect to my huge distaste for making serious weapons into toys and expecting kids to understand the difference. I feel it is important that kids understand that guns are serious weapons and the media does a a bad job. They are all over movies/video games/television being mis-used for entertainment. Is it our place to talk to kids that are acting out what they see during screen time? That would be confusing. I don't have a good answer, but I would like to see safe and responsible gun handling discussed more with kids and clear rules about never pointing guns at people (toy or otherwise).

    1. This is spot on, and you articulated something that has always bothered me.

      " huge distaste for making serious weapons into toys and expecting kids to understand the difference."

      Try to imagine other items that we KNOW are dangerous to children, or our health, or to the safety of others - try to imagine those items being dressed in primary colors and marketed to children. Ok, fine, they often are - but we usually come to our senses and regulate those sorts of things. (I'm thinking of cigarettes or alcohol or pills, etc.) Can you imagine buying your kids packs of plastic cigarettes for their cute little play kitchens, or stocking their little tikes bar cart with plastic liquor bottles? Once we study and understand the dangers of certain things to ourselves (or especially children), we don't see them glorified as toys as much. I'm guessing Zuzu isn't likely to come home tomorrow with a box of candy cigarettes from her Valentine's Day party.

      I think that's why the actions of the kid didn't really come across as weird or strange at all, but I immediately zeroed in on the actions (or inaction) of the responsible adult with the child. My urge to start a conversation with the dad was mostly fueled by my distaste that he appeared to be doing nothing about the situation.

      Maybe he is as responsible a dad as Davilyn's father on the subject of gun safety with his children, and maybe that kid has had it drilled into him from the time he was out of diapers. But he's hanging out in a public place with kids and parents that aren't actively engaged in the same form of play, and that seems really irresponsible. At the very least, he's modeling a behavior with a toy gun that would be completely unacceptable behavior with a real one, and his father seems okay with the fact that all the other kids on the playground may or may not understand the difference.

    2. OMG this makes me think of candy cigarettes and how much I loved pretending to smoke them. My parents never smoked, but obviously it was something that I saw adults do (my Nana smoked). One of my friends remembers her favorite part of Bushwhacker Days (a summer festival in our home town) was buying fake cigarettes that puffed as you pretended to smoke them and walking around the square, fake-smoking. We can't even IMAGINE giving our kids toy cigarettes.

      I am laughing right now as I imagine how her Montessori school would respond to candy cigarettes in Valentines: "Valentine, you make my lungs burn."

    3. @Davilyn, I could've written your comment, word for word, except the part where your dad was a gunsmith. Mine was just the hunter and collector. But we were raised the same way, (quality time involved guns or racing cars) with the same rules. I was shocked the first time I played with other kids and they pretended to shoot each other. We weren't allowed to point even our made up toy guns (I don't remember having a store bought toy gun) at each other, and the basic breakdown was "don't point a gun at anything you don't intend to kill, don't kill anything you don't intend to eat" and as we got older, Dad would add, "...unless it's trying to kill you."

      With that engrained, and gun safety a topic we literally talked about on a daily basis, playing with friends who knew nothing about guns always made for some interesting conversations. The misinformation was amazing.

      Kristin, you make such valid points. I too remember loving candy cigarettes, of all things! And I'm appalled by toy McDonald's stuff (like for a play kitchen) but here I am with a house full of neon nerf bullets and guns. Hmmm.

      Just chiming in with shared experiences - the ability to talk with each other and see different perspectives here with Brooke is really refreshing.

  15. Valentine, You are smokin' hot. Love, Zuzu.

  16. For crying out loud, I forgot the one sentence I really intended to add to that last comment, and it basically, how are the kids (people) who aren't raised with guns supposed to know how to teach their own about guns? Unless you're either a proponent of gun rights or actively fighting against gun rights, how many would even know about the information Kristin mentioned, about how commonly children accidentally killing other children really is? And it's one of those topics that rains down hellfire and brimstone if you bring it up in most arenas, which is sad and typically just perpetuates ignorance, and helping no one.

    So again, Yay Brooke for starting a conversation!