I banned toy guns in our house. It was easy. When our son was about six months old, I said to him, “No guns, not in my house, not ever.” Our son couldn’t walk or talk yet, but I was pretty sure he agreed.
I was on shaky moral ground, to be honest, and I was the worst kind of hypocrite. One of the photos in our family album is of my two big brothers in cowboy gear, big white hats, sparkly belts, rawhide pants and vests, with rifles. I’m about two I’d guess, and I’m reaching in earnest for the rifle of the smaller big brother, which he’s holding above his head. The other brother is staring straight ahead, pointing his rifle at the camera. My mother is to the left, trying to pull me away. I may be wearing an Amish looking bonnet and a frilly frock, but what I want is the gun, there’s no doubt about it when you look at the picture.
As a parent though, I didn’t like toy guns which meant… well, I wasn’t sure what they meant, other than vague thoughts of stereotypes and violence. I mistrusted guns in the same way I mistrusted Barbie.
I was undone by Lego, as it happened, that educational toy that wears non-violence like a badge. Lego had something other than education on its mind when it came to our house – tiny blasters in the hands of storm troopers, a weeny revolver in the holster of Indiana Jones, little pistols packed by every pirate. Mars Mission – which has us humans in orange spacesuits feeding green aliens (whose planet we’ve just invaded, I think) into a conveyor belt – had a weapon so enormous it needed bellows to fire. All the space sets had guns. Even the Lego toy soldiers in Lego Toy Story had toy guns.
Once Lego was on the inside, resistance was futile. And, inconveniently, our son learned to walk and then talk and then argue persuasively (no doubt preparing for NAPLAN). To cut a long story short, we now own an armoury, water pistols, water blasters, foam dart guns, cap guns, potato guns, guns with guns inside them. We have so many guns that when we returned from Canada two years ago I spent $100 on a duffel bag to carry them home. We are Nerf heaven, if you’re ever thinking of visiting. We have at least two scouts, four nite finders, three secret strikes, one maverick, a vulcan, and several reflexes. For our son’s birthday party last year, he invited ten friends over and they carried out an assault on the treehouse where my husband – dressed, bizarrely, in his winter coat and construction helmet and goggles – was laid seige. It’s possible some children are not allowed to come to our house because of the guns. I’d happily hide them, if only we had a cupboard large enough.
I realise now I should have taken a leaf from my mother’s parenting book instead of following fashion when it came to things like guns. Throughout my childhood, my three brothers and I read comics, almost exclusively. I was the Superman specialist, although that may be news to my brothers. My teachers were underwhelmed by my reading choices, and the woman next door, whose opinion I valued mightily, told me once she couldn’t believe an educated mother would let her children read comics. My mother didn’t care what we read, she said when I told her what the neighbour said, so long as we were reading. And she was right. Comics not only taught me to read. Their stories were all the grand narratives you’d ever need as a novelist. Because I loved comics, I became a writer. It was my mother’s greatest gift to me.
But guns. What have guns done for our son? When I think about it, a lot. He’s crafted wooden guns in his grandad’s workshop. Last year, he made a life size Lego pistol, with a rubber band mechanism that fires a block. Now he’s figuring how to modify Nerf guns so they fire further – something the box says NOT to do. He’s learning; enthralled is how I’d put it.
But violent video games? No, not in my house, not ever.
First published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend 9 March 2013. You can Get in touch with Mary-Rose, tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter.