“You’re not in trouble,” I reassured him. “I’m just curious.”
Eitan was sitting across the table from me. He was still wearing his pajamas, as he usually is when we eat breakfast, and his hair seemed to think that it was still in bed. His almost-six-year-old face looked nervous, as though he did not believe that I only wanted to talk. He had just started to tear off a new piece of his French toast to dip in the syrup on his plate when I asked the question.
“I don’t know,” he said quietly and took a bite.
I didn’t blame him for feeling uncomfortable. Trudy and I have had a number of discussions with Eitan where we were just trying to understand why he was behaving a certain way. My social work instincts told me to avoid the word “why” so I wouldn’t come across as confrontational or interrogative but I could tell that Eitan was still on the defensive.
Plus, this particular situation was… well, it was different. Even if it wasn’t.
I was asking him about a note I’d found on my phone, which I knew I had not written:
I was also thinking about the fact that I found the note the day after seventeen people had been murdered by an eighteen-year-old young man at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
I returned my focus to my sweet, innocent boy sitting across from me. Eitan’s cheeks showed the slightest shade of pink and I thought I saw his lip tremble. He gazed back at me for a moment before tearing off another piece of French toast. Eitan wasn’t fidgeting the way he usually does when he has been caught doing something wrong but it was plain that he did not want to maintain eye contact.
“Eitan, I promise you’re not in trouble,” I said softly. “Do you remember what made you write that note?”
Eitan shrugged. “Because I thought it was funny when Han Solo shot Greedo.”
I paused to think of what to say next.
Trudy and I have been consistent on the “gun issue” since Eitan was little. We have not allowed any toy guns into our house, aside from water pistols. We didn’t buy Eitan a toy gun when we visited the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and we’ve talked with him about the differences between real bullets and the projectiles that some of his toys shoot. And I was very careful to speak with Eitan about the differences between the Stormtroopers’ blasters and real-life guns before we watched Star Wars together for the first time a few months ago.1
“You’re right,” I answered. “I thought that moment was kind of funny too because of what Han and Greedo were talking about and because it’s a movie. I bet Greedo didn’t think it was too funny to get shot, though.”
Eitan looked down as he chewed. “No, probably not,” he said.
My lips shifted into a half-frown, much like the emoji I use all too often in my text messages.
“Do you know why I was so surprised to see that note in my phone?” I asked.
He looked up at me, but didn’t answer. His eyes still showed a hint of fear.
“Well,” I started again, “do you remember what guns are used for?”
“To shoot people?” Eitan asked meekly.
“Yeah,” I answered. “And what happens when people get shot?”
I could barely hear him as he spoke.
“Right,” I said, my half-frown returning. “Or they get hurt really badly. That’s why Mommy and I don’t want you to play with guns or pretend you have a gun. Because we don’t like the idea of people getting hurt or of you pretending to hurt people. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” he said, nodding.
“Good, I’m glad,” I said. Then I added, “Again, I’m not mad. I promise. I just wanted to make sure you understood how Mommy and I feel. Plus, guns themselves aren’t necessarily bad; there are some people who use guns to hunt for food.”
“Right,” he said, starting to smile. “And police officers use guns to keep us safe, right?”
“Right,” I said, returning the smile. “People who use guns just have to be trained and we have to be really careful around them.”
I changed the subject at that point, feeling confident enough that the message had gotten across. I’m not worried that Eitan will grow up to be a serial killer or that he’ll shoot up a school but there have been so many mass shootings2 and terrorist attacks3 since Eitan was born that the idea of him playing with guns makes me sick to my stomach. I know that I can’t control what he does at recess at school or when he’s playing with his friends; I wouldn’t want to. Eitan will make those decisions as he grows and learns more about himself and the world around him. Trudy and I are just going to have to keep having these conversations with him as he gets older to make sure that he’s making informed decisions and considering the consequences of his choices.
He’ll have to take things from there.
1. I know I wrote once that I was going to wait until Eitan was older to show him Star Wars. I wrote that piece over a year ago, though, and Shayna and Trudy were both not feeling well one weekend this past fall, so he and I watched it together while they slept.↩