Shooting From the Hip

“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

I sighed.

“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.

“They die.”

“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.

2. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Orlando. Las Vegas. Parkland.

3. Paris. Barcelona. Malmo, Sweden. And these two footnotes are just off the top of my head without doing additional research.

The Force Will Be With You… When You’re Older

Eitan loves Star Wars.

He has masks of Darth Vader and Captain Phasma that he uses when playing dress-up. When Trudy bought him new pairs of pajamas to wear to school for pajama day he chose the Darth Vader set over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set.1 He has a pre-reader book of Star Wars stories and loves pointing out Chewbacca, Han “Sola” and the “Stormtrippers.” He starts laughing anytime he sees C-3PO and R2-D2 and, once in a while, I’ll catch him glancing at the Yoda toy sitting on his dresser that he got from my father. When he was a baby, I would throw him up in the air while singing the Star Wars theme song and I would take his echoing toy microphone and say in my deepest voice, “Eitan… I am your father.”2 We recently had to hide his “light-savers” so he wouldn’t use them in the house because things like this kept happening:

 

There’s one little problem with Eitan’s love of Star Wars, though:

He’s never actually seen it.

Eitan hasn’t watched any of the movies. He hasn’t seen any of the television shows. He knows most of the names and characters but I don’t think he would recognize Luke Skywalker if twenty-year-old Mark Hammill walked into the room. I’m actually not even sure he would recognize the name Luke Skywalker because characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca are marketed so much more frequently.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t even think Eitan knows what the Force is.

Most of this is by design, of course. I could have put Star Wars on for Eitan so he could watch it during any number of rainy days. The biggest reason I haven’t done so yet is because I think it would scare him. Chewbacca is a giant teddy bear at heart, but there are a bunch of aliens in the cantina on Tatooine that are not nearly as cuddly. Emperor Palpatine’s eyes and voice are incredibly creepy and Darth Vader… well, Vader is just terrifying. He’s strong, he’s dressed in black, you never see the face behind his mask and he appears to be unstoppable.

Aside from the fear factor is my hesitation about pushing Eitan’s interests in the direction of conflicts that are sometimes quite violent. The light saber fights are exciting and the special effects of the various gun fights are incredible to watch, especially as a child seeing them for the first time. The problem is that weapons, in real life, are incredibly dangerous and are specifically designed to cause harm to others. Even though Eitan has (unfortunately) had some experience with death and is old enough to understand the concept, at least in a basic sense, I worry about the idea of encouraging his interest in a movie so replete with acts of violence.

I should add, for the record, that my unease isn’t limited to Star Wars. I have the same concerns about pushing Eitan to become more interested in super heroes for the same reason. Eitan “likes” Batman and Superman the same way he likes Star Wars; he has some toys, clothes and books, but he doesn’t know too much of the characters’ backgrounds. Even if Eitan is well acquainted with character deaths from Disney movies – Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, take your pick – the idea of him becoming desensitized to shootings and sword fights just doesn’t sit well with me.

I realize that the desensitization is probably inevitable. Kids act out what they see on television and in movies, whether it’s Daniel Tiger learning coping skills, Blaze the Monster Truck speeding past volcanoes to teach fair play or super heroes fighting off bad guys. I suppose my hope is primarily that I can delay Eitan’s interest in guns so that he stays more of an innocent young child in my mind for at least a little longer before the negative influences of the rest of the world really start to creep in.

Look, Eitan will see Star Wars. It’s one of my all time favorite movies and I can’t wait to introduce Eitan to the stories and characters that I’ve loved since I was a child. The movies teach about magic, teamwork and a sense of wonder that I believe are so much more important than any references to violence, which is exactly how I will present the movies to Eitan. He is also finally getting to the age where I can really start sharing my interests with him in ways he can understand. I can tell he is looking forward to it, if only based on his enthusiasm for a movie he’s never seen and doesn’t even really understand. But I would rather wait another year or so, partially so that I can be more confident that the movie won’t scare Eitan too much, but also so that he understands more about the consequences of physical violence and the differences between fact and fiction.

 


1. Eitan made his choice fairly easily, but five-year-old me would have really grappled with that decision. Seven-year-old me would have had an even harder time.

2. I don’t do this anymore now. I’m scared he’s going to have that plot point spoiled for him before I can show him the movie and there’s no way I’m going to be the one to do it.