Our sole remaining parenting principle has gone by the wayside: Our son has a gun.
Well, it’s a nerf gun (pictured), but it certainly looks like a gun: You point it at people, pull a trigger, and shoot them—in this case with foam pellets that have little suction cups on the tips.
By allowing our son to play with the gun, we have waved goodbye to the last of the lofty principals that my wife and I had set for ourselves when our first son was born five years ago. When Brenda and I found out that she was pregnant, we would sit up at night excitedly talking about what great parents we were going to be and, by extension, mock all the "terrible" parents out there who gave their babies Slurpies in a milk bottle while taking them to see R-rated movies on the subway after midnight (we lived in New York then).
For some reason, our version of great parenting was some strange puritanical version of hell, possibly with no electricity, where children play chess by the fireside and listen to nothing but classical music. And while we haven't yet introduced them to the Saw movies, we've certainly indulged in some of the other "terrible" parenting we used to judge others for.
Below is a partial list of the rules we dreamed of keeping in those heady days of pre-parenthood and approximately how long it took us to abandon them.
-Only wooden toys (less than 24 hours). Okay, this one was a little over-the-top and, to be fair to me, Brenda's idea. (This is my blog. If you want her take on things, check out her blog.) In those early days, plastic seemed like the enemy. It still is, I guess, only we've seen the enemy and it's all over our playroom, backyard, bedrooms, etc.
-No TV (6 months). We both advocated this, though I'll admit, I didn't think it would last. I was absolutely a child of TV. I remember days when I would literally wake up and turn on the TV, watch until I left for school, come home and turn on the TV until dinner, then watch from after dinner until bed. I had little doubt that my kid would appreciate a good sitcom. The breakdown came even earlier than we thought, though. We discovered that those Baby Einstein videos could hold little Jack's attention for a solid 20 minutes while a solo parent cooked dinner or did some other chore. We comforted ourselves in the thought that they were secretly turning our baby into a genius, though I doubt any parent who has ever seen those videos—which largely consist of grown-ups playing with baby toys—really believed that.
-No Formula (10 months). Brenda managed to keep Jack in breast milk, even after she started going back to work part-time at 7 months. By 10 months, she was taking heroic measures to keep Jack in pumped breast milk, even as she started working full time. I distinctly remember a conversation with the pediatrician about our efforts to keep him exclusively on breast milk, with no formula and, even though he strongly promoted breast feeding, said, "It's not poison, ya know." I remember thinking, "I guess not," because up until then, I think we had sort of convinced ourselves it was.
-Only organic food (18 months). As Jack moved on to solids, we initially bought only the organic baby food. Well, we initially thought we'd make all own baby food, but that idea didn't even make it to his first feeding. The organic-only plan lasted until we started sharing the food we were eating. Some of it was organic, some not.
-Only real music (2 years). This one was mostly my doing. As a lifelong music-lover, I was determined to avoid "children's music" and wean my boys on the classics: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, etc. And for the first couple years, we managed to keep to that. Nothing made me happier than when we would get in the car and Jack would request "Trenchtown Rock." But, inevitably, as Jack got into Sesame Street and The Wiggles (see "No TV"), listening to "C is for Cookie" and "Big Red Car" took precedence even over Abbey Road. Of course, I've since been won over by our favorite kid band, Milkshake, and I'm practically a groupie.
-They will eat the same food we eat for dinner every night (2.5 years). Before we had kids, I distinctly remember going to my sister's house for dinner and watching her serve chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and asparagus to the adults, while bringing chicken nuggets and mac n cheese to her toddlers at the kids' table. I viciously scolded her in my head and thought "We'll never do that—our kids will eat the same good as everyone else!" And emphatically, "No nuggets!" Flash forward to last weekend, when we were at my sister's house for dinner, where she served delicious veggie lasagna, and I asked her, in a shamed whisper, if she had chicken nuggets—my boys's favorite food—in the freezer.
-No TV at night (3 years). Well, ok, a few cartoons in the morning is one thing, but we'll never sit and watch TV at night instead of playing with wooden toys and playing chess! Then, at some point, a really bad day happens. Brenda and I are both stressed out, exhausted, and/or sick. The boys are restless and needy. It's an evening like that when you quietly thank the Lord for on-demand episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba.
-No violent TV/movies (4 years). At some point, the wheels kinda came off the TV situation, and the boys were watching the Star Wars movies, Harry Potter, Spiderman, etc. The only line we drew was banning America's Funniest Home Videos and Wipeout because they would inevitably try to re-enact various scenes. A low point came during our flight to California over the holidays. I was setting up the portable DVD player so that Benny, now 3, could watch Spiderman 3 and I happened to notice that it was rated PG-13. That caused a real moment of reflection.
-No toy guns (5 years). And perhaps that last one led to the fall of our last rule. It's true that these rules are like dominos or a house of cards. Once one falls, it's hard to stop the cascade. A few months ago, we had a brunch playdate at a friend's house. Inevitably, my boys were fascinated by all the toys that they hadn't seen before. The highlight was probably the Nerf gun pictured above. The kids took turns shooting those foam pellets at the walls and laughing hysterically. Cut to a few weeks later and Jack and I are at Target. I had promised him he could pick out a small toy for being good all week, and he spotted the Nerf gun. It was $7.99, which was less than anything else he wanted (though it only came with 2 foam pellets; extra ones sold separately, I later discovered). "Ah, screw it," I thought, and as I dropped the toy gun into the cart, I had the distinct feeling of defeat in my heart. This weekend we're gonna pick up some Slurpies and go see Devil Inside...