October 7, 2008
Of ninjas and raccoons: lessons learned from the trenches
There are certain challenges in raising a boy. One of them is how to raise a boy to be a non-violent peace-lover when boys, to some degree, seem to gravitate toward weapons and violence and all that. J went to a preschool that had a pretty strong perspective on this. No weapons. No legos made to seem like weapons. No superhero play. Etc.
After all this time, I'm not sure just saying no to a boy's instinct is sucha good idea. And furthermore, I think there are problems with messages girls get about fairies and princesses and all that, but yet these images are much more socially acceptable. Sigh.
On a general basis, we have encouraged J to play with toys that don't have weapons. We let him buy toys that have small weapons, but then he doesn't play with the weapon part. He seems to be fine with this. Over time, the line has gotten a little more blurred as he's gotten into video game play, but we've worked it out.
Then something comes along to run you over like a mack truck. To throw all of this out the window. This something is Halloween and J's school's accompanying "storybook costume parade." Last year, J, who decided to be a bird for Halloween, decided not to participate in the costume parade. He was the only non-participant, and he threw the principal of his small school for a loop. But, I think it was a symptom of this pressure on boys to be on some non-violent track.
So this year, J has been worried about the costume parade since before school started. He has not wanted to participate at all. He has said that he feels like it's "strutting" and he doesn't like to strut. But, I could tell there was something else under there.
For weeks now, I've been asking J about costumes. For awhile, he wanted to be Scooby Doo. I was relieved when he changed his mind on that because the costume was almost $50. Then, he decided he wanted to be an owl trainer. That is, he wanted to wear normal clothes and carry around a stuffed owl. Okay?
We decided to make sure J knew he didn't have to wear the same thing for both the costume parade and Halloween. He seemed to like that, but still very noncommittal on either event.
Then, he got back into playing Over the Hedge, and got pretty enthusiastic about RJ, the raccoon in the movie. He decided for sure that he wanted to be RJ. We found a costume online, and after a week's worth of checking and double checking on his preference, J said, "yes, that's what I want to be!" So, we ordered the costume.
It arrived yesterday, and as soon as he saw it, his face fell. When he tried it on, he looked unhappy, but willing. He took it off immediately, and that was that. He made a comment about feeling like a baby. Hmmm....
We decided it was time for a little chat, and we discovered that he had not been telling us he wanted to be something scary for Halloween. He was thinking maybe a ninja. In fact, he was thinking a specific ninja costume he'd seen recently. He thought he could leave the weapons at home and just wear the costume to school for the costume parade. He knew what book he would share to go with the costume. He was confident. Decided.
Today, we bought a ninja costume, and tossed the RJ costu me aside. J has been wearing it all night--he just asked to sleep in his ninja costume. He can't wait to show it off to his friends. He told his friends all about it, and they all think he's cool. Why am I so certain they had not even heard of the RJ costume?
So, how did we make the shift to a more violent costume and still keep something of our peace-lovin' values? Papa suggested to J that Halloween is about taking a day to be something you aren't, and since J is usually such a peace-loving kid, it would make sense to pick something scary as a costume, since it's not what J is usually. A simple answer, and maybe a bit of a stretch. But, at least my kid is going to wear this costume for more than one hour on October 31. He's happy, having fun, and excited about Halloween, and that's what it's all about.
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