Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Swashbuckling Toddlers and Angelina Jolie

Much is being made of a recent Angelina Jolie interview where she, probably unwisely, spoke nonchalantly about the fact that her eldest son is "into" war and guns and the like, and that there are lots of war scenarios being played out in her house. I am not into movie star apologetics, and I couldn't say I think the Jolie-Pitt parenting scenario is perfect by any measure, but of all the things to pick on, this one just bugs me. Not because I care about stars getting picked on. I really don't, except for the fact that it is a seriously negative waste of time, and it isn't helping anyone....(I digress) But the issue itself is a little ridiculous.

The fact is, she has little boys, there is a war going on, and also... anybody want to tally how many times Ms. Jolie has played an assassin of some sort? These things are inevitable. One ranting parenting blog kept saying "in light of her humanitarian work" it is so distasteful, "in light of her humanitarian work" she should know better, etc. Because lending her fame, time and money to worthy causes in ailing nations is nullified by allowing her kids to play with toy guns? The woman is no saint, but that is SO not the point.

Boys play with guns. Boys play war. Actually, I played guns and I played war too. I had brothers and neighbor boys and elaborate spy action-heroine fantasies in pretty equal proportions to my fair maiden in distress fantasies. That might not even be true. I have much more significant memories of pelting and being pelted by lemon "grenades" from a neighbor's tree, and that's before I was even ten, based on the neighborhood we lived in when we had a neighbor with a lemon tree.

I don't feel the need to get into a deep biblical, developmental or psychological discussion about why kids, particularly boys, engage in this type of play because its been done, and done far better than I could do in books like Wild at Heart, which I firmly believe all mothers should read, by the way (fathers too, but I think a lot of it men may already know instinctively, even if they wouldn't know how to articulate it). I will say, though, that I think this is much ado about nothing, and that it is practically a universal truth that guns and war are a part of the ever evolving imaginative play of growing children.

My son is not yet two and half, and it is already starting. Not even counting the primal violence and literal chest thumping that he acts out on the grown men in his life in the rough-housing periods of his days. Recently, my brother bought squirt guns for my son and his two cousins, that makes two 2 year olds and a 4 year old, if your keeping track. These things don't even resemble guns, really, more like neon rocket ships, but there's a "trigger" and a barrel, and kids could do far more with much less. I'll admit a little part of my brain, the part that has lingering residue from parenting books and well-intentioned pre-parenthood idealism, turned on for a minute and my knee-jerk reaction was to reign in the play when they started after each other, empty squirt-guns blazing, amidst a cacophony of shouted "boom boom boom." (Clearly, they have rarely, if not never, even seen or heard guns fired in movies yet, since they adorably think guns go "boom") But the reasonable part of my brain won as I realized they were all smiles, with nary a malicious thought in their innocent minds and no real concept of true violence or mortality. What I saw was three happy boys embarking on the first of many big-boy adventures wherein they see themselves as brave, strong, able and true.

And I defy anyone to tell me that these boys will grow up to be violent criminals or lovers of war, because of this. A liberal standard requires that we are constantly inundated with the message that "war is hell" and "violence is never the answer." I'll buy that war is hell. Certainly. But it is also real, and ignoring its existence is preparing our kids for nothing. And sometimes violence is the answer. Unsavory as it may be, when a man is put in certain predicaments, and it has to be someones job to protect his family, his community or his country, and so often it becomes an issue when a male is barely even old enough to be considered a man, but he'll still have to be ready. Let's not forget the young and scrawny David taking down the not young and scrawny Goliath.

As a parent of a preschool age child, I often hear that kids learn through play, and I think it would be short-sighted to pretend that the only things worth learning are the ABC's and animal sounds. All the creative and educational play focuses externally, and is undeniably and exceptionally important in teaching our kids about the world. But the relational, imaginative play, whether its playing house or "cops and robbers" as we used to call it, teaches them what it means to be a human, a participant, and someday a man. Sometime, every little boy is going to have to learn what he's really made of.

I love my sweet and sometimes still baby-like toddler, and I'm much more comfortable when he's playing trains or animals or fisherman, but I'm prepared for the days of spy adventures and good vs. evil gunfights. And if the swashbuckling sword fights going on amongst our scurvy bunch of preschool pirates these days are any indicators, things are going to get ferocious, and I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. And you can quote me on that.


Debbi Thinks Deep said...

Here, here! Well said!

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog Elizabeth! My swashbuckling Owen and Sy/Cowboy Liam thank you :)

Anonymous said...

oops, I meant to say Spy/Cowboy liam

Corey Nitschke said...

Very well said!!!

A very rare godly woman who sees it right :)