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The Bad Guys Game – On Raising Boys

Until I had boys, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t get some of the stereotypical little boy stuff.   I mean, I can get out the door 10 minutes after I wake up.  Yes, I’ll be wearing mascara, but I don’t even own a can of hairspray.  I can do push ups (and not the offensively named “girl” kind), and ski, and kickbox.  OK, so it’s the aerobic kind of kickboxing, but I can throw a mean punch at the air.

So my response to the Bad Guys game surprised me a bit.

What’s the Bad Guys game?  Well, I wish I could tell you, but I’m not at all sure.

Axel came home from school one day and started yelling, “Hey, let’s play Bad Guys!”  And then he’d run out of the room hollering, “C’mon!”

I  asked, “What are we doing?”

Axel’s reasonable response: “We’re being Bad Guys!”

“Who’re the good guys?”

Axel looked at me like I was nuts.  “We’re Bad Guys!” he repeated again.

I craved a narrative.  Were we escaping after a bank heist?  Chasing after a pack of rabid dogs?  Preparing for a shoot out at the OK Corral?

He was content to just be.  Be a Bad Guy.  Do Bad Guy things – which, from what I gathered, means running around wildly and sometimes waving your arms.  It’s really just a simple game of chase, called Bad Guys.

Just that name bothered me a bit.  Why not call it chase?  Why Bad Guys?  Why not Good Guys?  I mean, the Good Guys are the ones that do the chasing, right?  Does this mean we have to pretend to have guns and shoot?  Why can’t we just invite our imaginary friends over for a tea party?  With cakes!  Hurray!

Sean, on the other hand, thinks, “OK, we’re Bad Guys.”  He doesn’t worry about the implications of being a Bad Guy, about if this is violent or a negative precedent or means that Axel will start pulling the legs off of a fly with a pair of tweezers.  This, I suppose, is because he went through his own Bad Guys phase, with lots of running and shooting and building forts in the woods and other real and pretend dangerous boy shenanigans.  I, on the other hand, tried to tag along with my brother and did my best belly crawl as a ninja, often got left behind, and then (happily) settled for making clothes for my dolls.

My sons, apparently, are Real Live Boys.  Yes, they do watch the Sound of Music with me, and seem happy about it, and they like to cook (real and pretend food), and they’re very sweet, when they’re not wrestling each other or jumping off of the couch or hitting me in the head with their shoes.  I don’t want to put them in restrictive gender stereotype boxes.  But there’s something very Boy, with a capital B, going on here that I just don’t understand, and the active wrestling stuff is now going in a direction that’s even more mystifying to me – fighting, battles, Bad Guys.

I’m pretty sure that none of the girls at Axel’s school are the instigators of the Bad Guy game.  From what I’ve gathered, it seems to be mostly a game started by the boys, though some of the girls play along from time to time.   They’re Bad Guys.  Running around.  Yelling.  OK by me. Mostly.  I think.

When the shooting started, though, I had to  wonder: where do we draw the line?  Axel turned his fishing rod into a gun.  I told him that it wasn’t OK to shoot at people (except when they’re water guns, which apparently are OK…), so he shot up all of our appliances with imaginary bullets.  This made me think that, in 15 years, he’ll be the one filling up rural deer crossing signs with bullet holes.

When does the Bad Guy game edge into being actual Bad Guys?   Boys will be boys, and all of that’s fine and good, except when they are being, well, mean and hurtful.

A few nights ago, Axel and Jonas were tackling me, which usually starts out sweetly and ends up with someone’s hair getting ripped out of their head.  Sean came in and said, “Hey, be gentle to your mama.”

Axel’s response, “But I love mama!”  Before taking another flying leap in my direction.

Because, in their world, love = tackling, wrestling, hugging.  Fun and bonding = the Bad Guys game.

It’s a strange land, Bad Guy Boy World.  I think I’m going to be figuring out how to navigate this land of wrestling, tractors, and crayons-as-pirate-swords for a long time.

So, mothers of Bad Guys (or girls who turn their toys into imaginary weapons), how do you handle the gun fights and swords and play fighting?

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