Welcome to our liberal, East Coast, toy gun-free, non-violent home. Where, for some reason, my almost five year-old daughter’s new favorite word seems to be kill. Closely followed by dead.
As in, Ha, I killed you Captain Hook! Now you’re dead!
Or: Let’s play the game where you are the bad guy and I kill you and you are dead.
Or my favorite: If you don’t let me have that glitter pen right now Sage I will KILL YOU.
Now of course this all leads to wonderful discussions about why we don’t tell people that we will kill them, and what dead means, and that hey, shouldn’t we watch a Care Bears video right about now? That Grumpy Bear is so cute when he’s trying not to smile!
It’s actually funny to me that the interest in killing/bad guy/dead is all Thalia’s, my sweet girl whose superhero alter ego is “Flower Girl,” the princess with magical powers from flowers she shoots.
(Sage, who is a bit more in touch with her masculine side, always chooses “Mighty Man.”)
I’ve tried to give my girls a little leeway in acting out the more aggressive fantasy games, keeping in mind that pretty much every boy in the neighborhood does the same. But you know, it doesn’t come easy for me. I admit that sometimes I am quick to squirm when I hear imaginary light saber fighting (Sage’s Luke to Thalia’s Leia) and yell “be careful! Be careful!” wayyyyy too often, even though I know the boys in Thalia’s class do the same with far less parental discomfort.
I guess it’s the old letting boys be boys and letting girls be…I don’t know. Something you can be while wearing a pink skirt and sparkly shoes.
Mea culpa. Sorry, inner feminist.
I watch as every boy on the front lawn of our school at pick-up will snatch a stick off the ground and turn it into a weapon. Not a single parent looks up from their Blackberries. And I’ve tried to learn from that, to desensitize myself a bit from the admittedly jarring vision of chubby-thighed little girls karate chopping each other. So I’m attempting to work against instinct best I can, and let the play fighting and play stabbing and play ninja kicks go on–at least until it gets to the killing part–thinking that I’m doing an okay job as a progressive parent by letting my daughters express that side of themselves too.
Clearly not everyone is on board with this, however.
Last month during a family visit, my brother and his wife (who I like–so no in-law jokes, you rabble-rousers) became visibly uncomfortable watching my girls play Super Hero with their girls, what with all the dead-killing-bad guy stuff. I figured at first it was that instinct thing: girls + “YOU’RE DEAD!” = no-no.
But instead they informed me that their own preschool had in fact banned Super Hero dramatic play altogether.
Banned Super Heroes.
I was floored.
I’m no childhood development expert (oh, trust me on that one) but it seems to me that acting out these hero/villain archetypes is developmentally appropriate at four and five, and that to disallow it is stifling something very natural–and maybe even important. Isn’t that an effective way for kids learn about morality? And good versus bad? To say nothing of the essential skill of keeping your cape from getting closed in the car door.
I asked my brother whether the super hero games at their school couldn’t just have more rules, so that kids weren’t allowed to touch or hit. But the school’s stance seems to be that no, all super hero dramatic play always leads to someone getting hurt, so it’s forbidden as a matter of policy.
And I thought wow. Just wow. Decades of tradition of kids playing Superman, Lone Ranger, Davey Crocket, Wonderwoman… gone.
Is the culture so violent now that we can’t stomach even fake bad-guy-nabbing? Are we smart to nip pretend lasso-ing and laser gun-ing in the bud? Are we all just absurdly sensitive and overprotective and over PC and smothering our children with fear? Or maybe I’m just lucky, coming at it from the perspective of someone with children who don’t actually ever hurt anyone.
I’m kind of wondering what the heck is going on here.