Friday, December 30, 2011

Farewell Post

As my posts have grown more sporadic with more and more time elapsing between them, I have come to a somewhat depressing realization: I don't have time for this blog.

My son has reached a very demanding stage in his development, craving the kind of constant interaction that makes it difficult to even form a coherent thought, let alone write a coherent blog post. I still have his nap times to look forward to (and I really, really do), but I've been spending that time working on other writing projects like novels and short stories. And since those will potentially lead to much-needed revenue, I'm afraid they've taken priority over this, my anonymous "mommy blog".

So it is with a touch of sadness that I announce that this will be my last Lucid Parenting post. I appreciate those of you who have followed along and participated in the comments. Writing these posts has been a learning experience for me, and I hope other parents also found them educational, or at least thought-provoking.

Those who simply can't live without my scintillating prose can visit my writing blog, where I may mention parenthood from time to time, among other things (mostly related to writing).

Farewell, and thank you all for reading.

--Sane Mom

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Casa del Viejo

I love going for morning walks with my son. It's become a part of our morning routine over the past few months; I load up the stroller with my Kindle, cup of ice water, smartphone with fitness-tracking app (I've lost fourteen pounds since the summer), and last but not least my very excited two-year-old. Han loves seeing the same houses, dogs, people, and occasional cluster of chickens every morning. It makes him feel like he lives in a safe and interesting place, and up until recently, I felt that way too. That was before the old Mexican man moved onto the block.

Before I go any further, I'd like to say that there are many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who live in my neighborhood. I'm (mostly) white but grew up in heavily Hispanic New Mexico, so the mere presence of Mexicans doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I go out of my way to be friendly to all my neighbors, whether they look like they understand English or not. I've found that with a smile, wave, and friendly "good morning," I've managed to make nice with most of the people who I see out watering their lawns or working on their cars and I feel safer knowing that they know that I'm out there.

But this kindness came around to bite me in the ass with the arrival of el viejo (Spanish for old man, and since I don't know his name this is how I think of him). When I first walked past el viejo, he was out in his driveway glowering at a utility worker across the street. The worker, who looked like a contractor for the city, was standing near a utility pole writing something on a clip board, looking up from time to time as if wondering why he was being glared at so fiercely. I smiled at the worker, as is my wont, and then turned to the old man with a wave and wished him a good morning. His scowl dropped and he smiled delightedly. My unexpected greeting had obviously made his day and I went on with my walk feeling like a good, decent person.

Unfortunately, el viejo couldn't leave it at a friendly greeting and before long he was walking out to the driveway and stopping me for a chat in Spanish. I didn't really mind, at first -- I like to meet people from other countries, and I was grateful for the opportunity to practice my rusty Spanish skills. But then he asked if he could take a photo of us. That seemed a little weird, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had a digital camera or one of those disposable Fun Savers that old people seem to love, and he just wanted to show people back home that he was making friends in his new neighborhood. A somewhat naive assumption, I know, but at this point I still thought he was a lonely but harmless old man. He asked if I would be walking by the next day and I said I would.

But I had forgotten that the next day was Saturday and I was scheduled to attend Dale McGowan's Parenting Beyond Belief workshop. I actually felt guilty all day Saturday, imagining the old guy standing in his driveway holding his camera, forlorn, staring up the street and wondering when I would come. On Monday I walked by again, and the old man glared at me and said, "un foto?!" in an accusatory tone. This should have been my signal that the guy wasn't right in the head -- after all, was I really obligated to take a walk on a day I usually stayed home, just so a stranger could take my picture for some mysterious reason? -- but my guilt won out and I tried to explain (in Spanish) that I only walk four or five days per week, and not at all on the weekends. I finished my spiel with "Lo siento," ("I'm sorry.") and continued on my way.

Big mistake. After that, he stopped me every day, blathering about the alleged "foto" (yet he never produced a camera) and asking questions about my husband, whether I believe in God and where I go to church. I found these questions intrusive and rude, so I did my best to extricate myself politely from the conversation and just go about my walk. But the next time, he put his hand on the stroller handle as if to prevent me from leaving, picked up my Kindle and asked a bunch of questions about it (a real challenge for my limited Spanish) and then, as I tried to push on down the road, he asked if he could kiss my cheek. Now, if anyone ever asks me this again I will firmly say, "No." But I didn't want to hurt his feelings so I gave him a kind of cringing shrug that he apparently interpreted as a "yes". As his leathery lips grazed my cheek (I was leaning away with a look of horror), I decided that enough was enough. I don't take my daily walks so I can stop for long, uncomfortable, boundary-pushing conversations with a weird old Mexican man. I take my walks for exercise and so my son and I can have an enjoyable time together in my neighborhood. El viejo was interfering with all that, and it was because I was letting him.

I asked a couple of friends for advice and thought over the best way to handle the situation. Clearly, I couldn't go from chatting politely to yelling, "No me molestas!" if he tried to talk to me again. But I had to make it clear that he wasn't in control of my walk -- I was. And I don't have to stop for anyone if I don't want to. I felt good about my decision, though I was dreading having to be rude to someone who thought I was a friend. But I knew it was something that had to be done, so the next day I went out walking again. Sure enough, el viejo walked down his driveway to intercept me. But instead of stopping, I started running, passing him by with a wave and a "good morning," just like I do with all my neighbors. His eyebrow went up and I could tell he wasn't pleased, but I didn't care. I felt great. I had taken back my walk and with it, my power to say no.

The next day he was out there again, glaring as we drew near. Once again I smiled and waved, and he reflexively raised a hand in greeting. I hoped he understood that this was how things were going to be from now on, and wouldn't push it any further. But the next day, not only did he glare at me, he also glared at my child. Han was waving happily, saying, "Hi, man!" as we went by. But el viejo stared daggers at him, projecting malevolence at us both until we were past.

Now, that pissed me off. Be a dick to me all you want if it makes you feel better, but for crying out loud, why do you have to be a dick to a two-year-old? I shook my head and said, "What an asshole," loud enough for him to hear. Then I said to my son, "That man is rude. He should have waved back." I resolved to ignore the old man from then on -- if he couldn't be content with casual friendliness, then that was too fucking bad for him. He was a stranger and I owed him nothing.

I thought about changing my route to avoid him, but that really stuck in my craw. Was I really going to let one grumpy old man stop me from walking down my own street? Was I going to change up our comfortable routine, stop saying hi to the people and dogs I was already familiar with, just because an old man had taken it upon himself to make me uncomfortable? No. Fuck that. I've lived in this neighborhood for almost seven years and by god, I will walk down my own street. I talked to a sensible friend about it (she has done wonders making her own neighborhood safe while staying within the confines of the law) and she told me that as long as he stayed in his yard, he was probably best ignored, but if he pushed things any further I should file a report with the police. I felt good having a plan, and was resolute that no old man was going to frighten me off my block. The next day I headed out with a palpable sense of dread, armed with a contingency plan I hoped I wouldn't have to use. Maybe he wouldn't be out there. Maybe we could have a pleasant walk, undisturbed.

But no. As we drew closer to la casa del viejo, I saw him coming down the driveway to intercept us. I sighed and kept going, but then the old man continued out into the road, where he stood blocking my path, hands on his hips. I was still a good block away and I stopped, unwilling to get any closer. Clearly he was going to talk to me whether I liked it or not, and considering his posture and previous behavior, it was likely to be a confrontation. I shook my head in an exaggerated fashion. No, I would not be stopping to talk. He started gesticulating wildly. He may have been saying something, but I couldn't hear him from where I was.

I got out my phone and called the sensible friend, hoping that the sight of me calling someone would be enough to send him back into his house. No such luck. She was of the opinion that it was time to call the police, and I agreed. I dialed 911 and told the dispatcher that I was being harassed by a neighbor while attempting to walk down my block. They said a unit was on the way and I hung up to wait for the cavalry.

That was when el viejo started walking down the road in our direction. Oh, hell no. I turned and walked the length of a few houses, keeping the distance between us constant. I turned to look at him. He was waving one arm in a shooing gesture and I realized he was telling me to go back the way I had come. He was trying to chase me off my own block, preventing me from returning to my home along my chosen path. I couldn't resist: I raised my arm and flipped him the bird. No, old man. Fuck you. He flapped his own arm harder in reply, then leaned on a neighbor's van and crossed his arms, prepared to wait me out if I persisted on walking up the street.

I've never been so happy to see a cop car in my life. They pulled up alongside me and I gave them a quick, concise, and calm (which always wins you points with the cops) version of what had been going on. One of the cops suggested that he may be emotionally disturbed (ya think?) and that his house might be one of the city's designated mental health houses. They assured me they would take care of it and drove up the block to talk to him. I continued my walk (while on the phone with the sensible friend, who was on her way to my street with her husband to help me out -- what friends!) and went by while the cops were still talking to him. He sounded agitated but I tried to ignore him the best I could. A few minutes later the cop car pulled up alongside me and said that he had agreed not to bother me any more. I thanked them and they took off.

I admit it felt like a victory, for a little while. After all, the old man didn't get what he wanted (to force me to talk to him) and I did get what I wanted (to pass through my own neighborhood without being forced to talk to someone I didn't like). But still ... I haven't taken my son past his house since then. In fact, I devised a whole new walking route, one which bypasses my own street almost entirely. I was sick of the dread, the creepiness, the potential for confrontation. So in a way, el viejo won -- I will not be passing by his house any more, at least not without my husband or a friend. But in another sense I won, because I haven't let it deter me from doing something that makes me healthier and enables me to spend pleasant time with my son.

So, what do you think, fellow lucid parents? Should I have done something differently to avoid escalation? Was I right to change my walking route or should I have stubbornly insisted on using my right to walk down my own street? What would you have done?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Take Me To Your Secular World!

As you may have guessed from the tone (not to mention the content) of my blog, I am not a religious person. But unlike more militant non-believers, I try to refrain from converting others to my world view. What goes on in other people's minds is none of my business or concern. They can believe whatever mumbo-jumbo they like, or believe in nothing at all. Most of the time, this live and let live attitude works well for me.

Unfortunately, the more devoutly religious folks out there do not share this attitude and they live to judge, condemn, and convert. These are the people who want to tear down the wall between church and state, change school curriculum to reflect their religion's worldview, and act as though those with "immoral" lifestyles have forfeited their civil rights and are deserving of ridicule and harassment. Even more unfortunately, there are lots of people like this, scattered throughout every level of society, and they have a disproportionately loud voice when these issues are raised. And our kids will be influenced by these people and their ideologies regardless of our personal beliefs or lack thereof.

This state of things can leave the secular-minded parent feeling hopeless, confused, or worse, all alone, adrift in a sea of irrationality. Luckily, this loneliness is an illusion, and there are like-minded people out there, working toward the common goal of keeping civil life secular. One of those people is Dale McGowan, whose Parenting Beyond Belief workshop I attended this weekend. For those looking for practical solutions for how to raise free thinkers in a religious world, this workshop is (please excuse the pun) a godsend. I feel more secure in how I will handle questions and situations when they arise (my boy is only two, but I'd like to be prepared) and have established some connections with free-thinking parents in the area. Best of all, I found the workshop surprisingly engaging and entertaining. I tend to space out as soon as I start to get bored, but I never got bored once, and the time just flew by. If your goal is to raise free thinkers, and you have the opportunity to attend one of these workshops, I highly recommend that you do so.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dr. Oz Scares Parents for No Good Reason

Dr. Oz has given worried parents yet another thing to freak out about. According to a recent episode of his daytime talk show, the apple juice our children have been innocently chugging from sippy cups is contaminated with a really scary poison: arsenic. The show's audience was horrified, angry, and above all, guilty that they had been unknowingly poisoning their children for years. And now everyone's talking about it, causing even reasonable parents to cast a suspicious eye at the jug of apple juice in their own fridge.

But if you take a big step back and evaluate what Dr. Oz actually said, you'll find that this is a completely manufactured panic. I won't go through step-by-step debunking, as many other bloggers have already beaten me to it, explaining it more clearly than I would have been able to. But I will sum up why this arsenic scare is bullshit in the following three points: 1) Dr. Oz made no distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic, the latter of which is far more deadly and less common than the former. 2) The lab Dr. Oz used reported an arsenic level that was much higher than that found by the labs of both the manufacturer and the FDA. Despite the discrepancy, he did not have the same batches of juice re-tested by an independent lab. 3) The FDA practically begged him not to go ahead with his planned show, going so far as to call it "irresponsible and misleading." But Dr. Oz, Brave Maverick Doctor that he is, did it anyway.

Evidence and professional consensus isn't enough to convince Dr. Oz, and it isn't enough to un-scare his audience. The comment threads of articles about his claim are filled with conspiracy theories and paranoia. What is arsenic doing in anything we eat or drink? How can any amount of poison be safe? They conjure up images of the jackbooted FDA thugs, spewing propaganda to the sheeple so they can keep raking in that Big Orchard money while reducing the world's population through a contaminated food supply. They imagine sinister, faceless men in lab coats tipping a bottle marked Arsenic (with a skull and crossbones on the label, for dramatic effect) over an industrial sized vat of processed apple juice, the better to intentionally poison the children of America.

In reality, arsenic is one of the most ubiquitous elements on the planet, meaning it is everywhere. A lot of it comes from the earth's crust and is released through volcanoes and deep water wells. It's also in rocks, dirt, water, wind, and is the byproduct of microbes in soil and sediment. Humans also contribute quite a bit of arsenic to the atmosphere, mainly through mining, metal smelting, burning of fossil fuels, and preservation of timber. It finds its way into the food chain through the soil and water used to grow crops (and orchards). Make no mistake, too much arsenic can definitely kill you, and efforts should be made to keep its presence in our food chain and atmosphere to a minimum. But getting rid of it altogether is impossible. That's why there are limits in place to ensure arsenic stays below acceptable levels. Believe it or not, the FDA (which is composed of real people, all of whom are members of families that contain children, who probably also drink juice) has our back on this one. If any other lab besides the one Dr. Oz used had measured alarmingly high levels of arsenic, they would have been all over it.

The world is full of poisons, both man-made and natural, but freaking out over trace amounts in apple juice is a waste of time and energy. Despite our frantic attempts to keep them safe, our kids are not going to live forever. They are lucky to have been born into a time and place when surviving childhood is taken for granted, and growing old in good health is the norm rather than the exception. They are also profoundly lucky to have fresh, sweet, cold apple juice readily available to nourish them and quench their thirst. Please don't deny them that pleasure based on one TV doctor's attempt to increase ratings. On this subject, as on so many others, Dr. Oz  full of crap.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Terrible Twos, Terrible Moms

I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts, but my summer was surprisingly busy. For the first time ever, I got a short story published in a literary magazine, and just a couple of months after that, the same story won first place in a writing contest sponsored by my hometown's arts/culture newspaper. This means my parents, friends, and former teachers all get to read it. Finally getting published after years of feeling like a phony has felt good, to say the least, and it has given me the kick in the pants I needed to make some serious progress on the novel I've been a slave to since 2006. The downside of all this acknowledgement of my "real" writing is that it's left me with little time and energy for working on this blog.

There's also been another problem keeping me from getting anything done outside of nap time:  Han has entered the terrible twos, with a vengeance. Voices are raised, objects are thrown, and unreasonable demands are made. And not just by Han; I can be pretty terrible, too. I find myself on the verge of full-blown rage way more often than I would like and the stress is eating away at my insides (thank FSM for Pepcid). Now, I was a preschool teacher for quite a bit of my twenties, and I have plenty of skills and techniques for acknowledging his feelings and correcting his behavior. I've dealt with kids who were far, far worse (including one who I'm pretty sure was a sociopath) and have rarely been goaded into losing my cool. But it's different when it's your own flesh and blood. It feels more personal somehow. The one you love most in all the universe, the sun around which your planet orbits, is being a complete and total asshole to you. That hurts.

I did a cursory internet search for "terrible twos" to see if I could find any reasonable advice for how to help me get through this developmental period. After all, I'm a person too, and being abused constantly is aggravating and demoralizing. How do parents cope with the shitty behavior without feeling shitty themselves? Unfortunately, my search only yielded information that focused on the child's feelings and behavior. Don't get me wrong; this is important information that a lot of parents may not know, particularly if they were raised in a "traditional" household. Any strategy that minimizes physical punishment and enhances a child's understanding of right and wrong can only be a good thing. But it would be nice if we parents could acknowledge how crazy our kids can make us without feeling like we've failed at something.

Most of the Supermom types, the ones who make the rest of us feel like failures whenever possible, seem to use a strategy of phoniness and repression, at least if this blog post, Terrible Two's? Not!, is any indication. This mother emphasizes being "polite" when your two-year-old starts acting up. For example, if her little snowflake doesn't want to share, this mother-of-the-year would say: "It's hard to share, isn't it? You want to keep the toy all to yourself. Do you see how sad Anna is that she can't play with it too though? Do you think you could both use it so you could both be happy?" Do you know what her child hears? I do: "Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah? Blah?" Or maybe just that muted trumpet noise from Charlie Brown TV specials, the one that stands in for all grownup speech. The point is, this lady's talking to herself. This sort of lecture is far more likely to have an effect on any adults watching than on an irrational, possessive two-year-old.

Another example this bastion of motherhood uses is her kid throwing a fit in the checkout aisle because she wants candy. Once again, this saint among mere mortals knows exactly what to say to diffuse her little angel's wrath: "I know that looked like neat candy, but now we're going to be having supper and do you know what we're having for dessert? Ice cream!" or "I know you wanted that but we're not going to buy candy today. I think pretty soon we're going to be passing the fishies though! Do you want to see the fishies? Yeah?! Which colors are your favorites?!" Sorry, but no way, lady. I'm calling bullshit. I've been dealing with a similar issue every time I go to Target and we pass the toy aisle. When Han sees the awesome shit that he could be playing with, he loses his mind. He starts trying to lunge from the cart, and when that doesn't work, he flings his pacifier and Bevo (his stinky little lovey companion) onto the floor and shrieks his lungs out. Not cool. I could waste a lot of breath explaining how, "We don't always have to buy a toy here and I know we did last time but this time we just made a mortgage payment and we have to stick to the budget and hey, you want me to get you some ice cream later, huh? Do ya?"  Or I could just pick up his Bevo and paci and keep walking. When he stops for breath I say firmly, "It is not okay to scream in Target." Then I hand him his shit back and he shuts the hell up. His little freakout gained him nothing.

People always watch these little interactions, I've noticed, ready to judge mommy's actions and respond with either a brisk nod of approval or a condemning shake of the head (often with some pursed lip action). You know whose opinions I don't give a shit about? That's right, those people's. Because ultimately, Han and I are the ones who are going to have to live with the parenting choices I make, and the pressure is huge enough without everyone judging my performance against how they think I ought to be acting. I think if we could acknowledge how the terrible twos make us parents feel, and how close our children can push us to the edge of sanity, it might be little easier to keep our cool, to make the right decisions and vent the anger appropriately (like maybe talking to each other about it) instead of pushing it down into a hard little ball somewhere deep inside.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

She Got Away With It?

Like most of you, I was shocked by yesterday's verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. First I thought it was impossible, then I was angry at the jury for letting us all down, then I just felt sad for poor little Caylee, whose death will likely go unavenged as her mother becomes the focus of our collective attention. It was quite the range of emotions, made more acute by my own two-year-old running around the house, making noise and being adorably irritating.

When the emotions receded, I started thinking. What, exactly, did Ms.Anthony get away with? Murder? Maybe. But maybe not. There is plenty of evidence to suggest she was at least complicit in her daughter's death, and she for sure lied her ass off when people came looking for the little girl. But the evidence against her was just too thin, and I don't blame the jurors for not wanting to go ahead with a conviction that would probably send Casey to an early death. Unlike the jurors, however, a lot of people are absolutely certain that Casey Anthony is guilty, guilty, guilty.

I'm sure I'm not the only parent who has nightmares that their child is missing. I wake up from these dreams frantic, out-of-breath, and relieved to be back in mundane reality. Not knowing where Han is, whether he's hungry, or scared, or crying out for me--this would be unbearable. I have profound sympathy for parents who find themselves in this position in real life, who don't get to wake up from their own nightmare and may have to live with the agonizing uncertainty for the rest of their lives.

Casey Anthony, apparently, had a very different reaction: she just didn't give a shit. She went out partying while her baby was missing (maybe even driving around with her daughter's body in the trunk), got a tattoo to celebrate her awesome life, and actively lied to those attempting to locate Caylee. Maybe that's because she did it herself, or knew that someone else had done it. Or maybe she just shrugged it off because it didn't seem important. This is the behavior that has so many people convinced of her guilt. How could anyone be so callous and unfeeling, especially toward their own child?  In the minds of many, any woman who doesn't love her own child is a monster who deserves everything bad that's coming to her. She's a psychopath, fundamentally flawed and capable of great evil without a shred of remorse.

But is being a psychopath against the law? Should those among us who are incapable of empathy or love (and, according to Jon Ronson's new book, there are a lot of those types out there) be stripped of their rights and labeled as murderers, even if the evidence leaves room for doubt? I think this would set a dangerous precedent where someone's personality alone is enough to get them convicted and sentenced to death.

I'm not saying Casey Anthony is innocent of this horrific crime. In fact, I rather suspect she had something to do with it. But she is the only one who knows for sure what happened, and she is a complete fucking liar (on this count, the jury had no doubt, reasonable or otherwise). Ultimately, the jury's verdict is irrelevant, because Casey has been tried in the court of public opinion and found guilty of being a shitty mom, which to some people is even worse then being a murderer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pow Pow, You're Dead: Kids and Gun Play

Several parents in England are upset over their children having been disciplined by school staff for doing nothing more than pretending to shoot each other with their fingers. School officials call this sort of play "unacceptable" and break it up whenever they notice it occurring. But a lot of people may not realize how common this attitude is among those who work with children, even here in the gun-lovin' US of A. Every preschool I ever worked at had a "no gun play" policy. Teachers were expected to quickly pull aside the pretending child, remind him or her of the rule, and apply a time out to repeat offenders. As with most policies I think are stupid, I only enforced it when someone was watching.

One mom at the laid-back hippie school where I taught a class of  3-year-olds, seemed to catch on to my rather lax attitude about gun play. She cornered me in my classroom one morning and said that she noticed that children had been pretending to shoot each other on the playground. Since I wasn't even out there and thus had absolutely no control over what the kids were doing at that moment, I just said, "Oh really?" and shook my head in a those crazy kids kind of way.

But it wasn't over. She put her hands on her hips and said, "Aren't you going to stop them?"

Biting back what I really wanted to say (I think the rule is stupid, you're a huge pain in the ass, your precious Eli is usually the one pretend-shooting people), I simply stated, "I stop it when I notice it." and went back to what I was doing.

Later in the day, when she came to pick Eli, she managed to trap both me and her son on the back porch during play time. The kid and I exchanged a glance like, Holy shit, we're in trouble. But she had apparently decided on a passive-aggressive approach.

"Eli," she said in a falsely chipper tone, "Don't you just love pretending to blow bubbles at your friends?"

"Uh..." Eli said. "Yeaah. Blowing bubbles is fun." He pulled out a pretend bubble wand, puffed his cheeks, and blew into it. "Pop pop," he said.

There was a long moment where the kid and I just looked at each other. "That's great, Eli," I said, utterly without conviction.

"Redirection," his mom said, as if I had never heard the word before. Then she flounced away, apparently having made her point.

Over the next few weeks, every time Eli saw me seeing him playing guns, he would quickly switch to bubble mode, transforming his "pow pow" into a "pop pop." Whatever buddy he was playing with would look around for the buzz-killing adult before switching to his own "pop pop" until they were safely out of sight again. Eli's mom's "redirection" had ultimately accomplished nothing except to help him better bullshit the lame-ass adults in his life, which, thanks to our little meeting on the porch, now included me.

Although Eli's mom was uptight and misguided, I can sympathize with her ultimate goal. After all, she didn't want her precious baby to grow up and hurt someone. She didn't want to be responsible for the kind of kid who would shoot up the school or go on a crime spree. After all, just a few years before this happened, two teenagers in Colorado had forever changed the connotation of the word "columbine" from that of a lovely mountain flower to that of grainy surveillance footage of boys committing acts of unspeakable brutality.  People wondered what kind of parents could be responsible for such monsters; surely someone had dropped the ball when it came to monitoring the music they listened to, the video games and movies they enjoyed. How far back did this savagery go? What were the earliest warning signs? Parents resolved that their kids wouldn't become the next Harris or Klebold and took a much more active interest in what they were doing for fun with their friends, searching for violent tendencies that they could lovingly nip in the bud.

What they seem to overlook seem is that criminals and murderers aren't the only ones using guns. We live in a world full of soldiers, policemen, hunters and marksmen. Whether or not you agree with these people's motivations, it would be hard to argue that every single person who uses a gun for any reason is evil. How can we simultaneously support the troops and believe in complete disarmament? How can we get our children to trust policemen if they're terrified of being shot by one? Like it or not, human beings and guns have evolved side by side. And as long as guns have existed, children have pretended to kill each other with them. We cannot control children's imaginations. And in my opinion, we shouldn't even try.

Lest you think I'm a card-carrying member of the NRA, in real life I've always been scared of guns. They're loud and they're specifically designed to maim and kill. I prefer to avoid contact with them and have never actually fired one (though I've been nearby while others have fired them). But as distasteful as I find actual guns to be, I'm drawn to works of fiction in which they are prevalent. My favorite TV series is Breaking Bad and one of my favorite writers is Elmore Leonard. It's fun to empathize with both the cops and the robbers, to imagine a life of drama and danger that is way outside of your comfort zone. That's what playing pretend is all about.

A lot of my favorite childhood memories involve gun play. My friends and I would roam the trails and dry washes of our little corner of southern New Mexico, fighting off imaginary enemies and occasionally turning our weapons on each other. Little did we understand that the very ground we played upon had been host to extreme acts of violence, settlers versus Apaches in brutal fights that left scores of people, many of whom were women and children, stone cold dead. The story of westward expansion is intimately intertwined with that of guns, to the point where children are still acting out that drama several generations later. We can't undo brutal acts of the past by attempting to inhibit our children's understanding of history.

So how can we allow our children to have truly free play while ensuring that they don't grow up to be remorseless killers? Well, we can start by adopting a more nuanced view towards firearms instead of clinging to the absolute notion that they are always bad. We may prefer not to keep guns in our homes, but plenty of responsible, non-murderous people do, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. We can also be sure to emphasize the difference between reality and make-believe. In real life, unlike in play, shooting at people has serious consequences and often leads to death, injury, or loss of freedom. Most importantly, we can let kids give us the opportunity to correct their behavior. Children tend to have a strong sense of morals from an early age and they know when "play" has veered into "attack" (for example, if two boys bust into the playhouse and open fire on some girls who are having an innocent tea party). Under circumstances like these, an adult is usually called upon to intervene (often after a crying girl yells, "I'm telling!"). This opens up a teachable moment for the grownup, who can make sure the boys understand why the girls are so upset and to emphasize the concept of fair play. Hopefully the shooter will take this lesson to heart and, if he finds himself in Iraq or Afghanistan someday (as he very well might), he will choose to spare those who are not "playing" the real-life game of warfare.

Guns aren't going anywhere, no matter how much we wish our children could live in a world free from violence. Boys and girls (but mostly boys) will play out the world's dramas on their own small stages, in the playgrounds and backyards of our relatively peaceful homes and schools. With a few tragic exceptions, children will confine their killings to those in the virtual worlds of gaming, fiction, and imagination. And to me, that really doesn't seem so bad.