Dot writes: Hugh loves to play guns. He’ll point a stick at us – he’ll point a toy hammer or the cardboard tube from a pack of kitchen paper at us – and make an explosion noise for the shot. He also delights in swords and other edged weapons. His toy axe has had to be quietly retired (it snapped), but he has two swords and a little cutlass that are still going strong. None of these are even as hard as moulded plastic: they are spongy foam rubber efforts and rather less dangerous than his train set.* Still, he does enjoy whacking people with them.
I have very mixed feelings about this. It’s one of my weaknesses as a parent: always being able to see both sides of a question. On the one hand, I know toy weapons are pretty high up on the list of Things Middle-Class Parents Disapprove Of, and I am sensitive to disapproval. (I have put my foot down and said he can’t have a toy gun. Swords are more…gentlemanly, like bare-knuckle fighting and fox hunts. Also, the guns are not foam-rubber.) Further on the negative side, we are trying to teach him not to hit people but the main way he plays with his swords is by hitting people, and even in the cause of pretending to be a Musketeer there’s something a little contradictory about this. The swords mainly come out when he is playing with the bigger boys next door, and recently it has always tended to end in a quarrel, though usually between the bigger boys themselves.
On the other hand, I remember how much I loved playing with toy swords when I was a girl, and I haven’t turned into a violent sociopath. (Yet.) That’s not one of those “my parents sent me up chimneys and it never did me any harm” arguments: the swords were props in all sorts of thrilling imaginative games. I was inspired by stories about the English civil war, by Tolkien, and by the same Musketeers films Hugh loves so much. My sister and I tried to recreate proper fencing-type duels, though not with much success; swords also belonged to the romantic world of Romeo and Juliet, which I knew chiefly as a ballet, and were part of the equipment of tragic love, noble suffering, and men in intriguingly tight nether garments. Hugh’s make-believe games aren’t very complicated as yet, but there is a genuine difference between simply aggressively hitting people, because he’s frustrated or angry, and swiping at consenting eleven-year-olds in a spirit of good cheer and general rumpus. There are rules involved (under negotiation), and he is learning about sharing, and it works off a lot of energy ready for bedtime. Nor is there any point in throwing up one’s hands in horror at the streak of aggression that little boys (and little girls) do have: better to direct it into a game, give it structure and a friendly purpose, than try to squash it altogether. A measure of well-controlled aggression can be an asset in adult life.
It all sounds terribly rosy, doesn’t it? Actually, I advocate putting the swords away for a bit. They seem to be creating dissension between the neighbour’s boys, which is embarrassing and not fair on her (lots of arguments about whether Elder held back when Younger was weaponless but then Younger is going for Elder with all he’s got, that kind of thing; not helped by Hugh having both a sword and the cutlass, like a seventeenth-century duellist with rapier and dagger). Let’s hope we can keep them happy with football.
P.S. A confession: I’m a card-carrying urban liberal lefty and I believe in gun control and all that, but I would really love to keep a pistol in my handbag. No particular reason. I just would.
*Come to think of it, he likes to wave sections of wooden track around and pretend those are swords or guns.