My son, the First-Person Shooter

One of the things we agreed on even before we had children was no “war toys”. I spent my childhood days with the neighborhood boys, all of us armed to the teeth, playing war. My evenings were typically spent in front of the TV watching coverage of the real war. My spouse was ROTC and a crack marksman. One would think that it might have occurred to us that our own childhoods, steeped as they were in violent play, nevertheless produced the kind of adults that, well . . . ban war toys. Parenthood is not typically that clear-eyed, however.

People with all the trappings of expertise were telling us that toy guns were bad and turned innocent children into desensitized little monsters, so we listened. We also made sure that our kids never saw anything on TV more violent than the Muppets. We vetted everything they might watch and then insisted that TV only be watched with all of us together, on the couch, a throw over our laps. This would be our peaceful family ritual to combat the evil influences that strained and slavered for our precious children.

As anyone with more experience could have predicted, by two, or son was nevertheless pointing sticks, broom handles, even Barbies at people and shouting “bang bang”. He became obsessed with guns. And swords. And grenades. Pretty much everything, in fact, on that list of forbidden toys. It must have been Kmart, during the holidays, where my then three-year-old son stopped dead in front of a gun. The celestial choir sang as he said in awe, “that’s the Power Rangers GRK10 Thousand X,” (or some such) “its a laser pistol and a flame ray, and that part comes off and it’s a photon grenade”. (again, or some such; suffice to say, it was the ultimate multi-tool for mayhem.) In my most stentorian parent voice, I said “Now you know we’re not going to get you a gun.” He shifted to stand in front of me, looked me in the eye and, like someone trying to reason with an hysteric, said “Ima, It’s. a. TOY.”

I called one day from the kids’ favorite toy store. “Hon, you know how much he likes playing dress-up and there’s a suit of armor here that he’s just mad for and it is pretty cool but, well, it comes with a sword. I was just thinking that if it was part of a costume . . .” He got the sword.


He obsessed relentlessly over a cap gun he saw while on a camping trip. We gave in and got him the gun. It was the only toy he played with. For 27 hours. That’s how long it took for his gun obsession to vanish.



These days, his room harbors an arsenal: Bokken swords, Nerf guns, air soft guns, water cannons, six shooters, laser guns and more. He’s got a real Vietnam era helmet, a soft cover and a collection of replica service medals. We’ve moved from “no war toys” to an acceptance, even an appreciation of first person shooter games: Call of Duty, Halo Reach, Portal and a host of Lego adventures. The only time or wild child is not wild is when he’s parked in front of one if his video games. His body stills, his mind calms, his attention sharpens. He’s fascinated by World War II, writes his grandpa to learn about his experiences there, and has learned how to make chain mail armor.

He also dances ballet, makes animated movies and wants to be an artist. He’s sweet and patient with small children, tender-hearted toward animals and avoids fighting with anyone but me or his sister. God only knows how he’d have turned out if he was still obsessing over that gun.

The Fashionable Slob

My daughter has known since she was four that she is going to be a fashion designer. Believe it; I know her and I do. She will also be a top model, albeit under a different name — a single, first name kind of thing, ala “Madonna” or “Cher”. And get this: she will model her own designs and no one will suspect that the top model and the world-class designer are one in the same.

At a very young age, she had already mastered dozens of ways to tie a bow, knot a scarf, bling out her Ts, paint her sneakers, put up, put down and put wave in her hair – anything that served to make a thing more beautiful, more stylish, more uniquely her. She spends more time in front if a mirror than anyone I know and does not leave it until everything is precisely as she intends it to be. That casual stray wisp of hair over her left eye? Nothing casual whatsoever about how she got it to do that.

All of which presents me with what is perhaps the central mystery of her life: how can anyone so meticulous about her personal appearance be such a slob? I’m not talking about the usual kid disregard for messes but a piggy-ness that is quite simply, transcendent.

She notices if a casual friend is wearing her ponytail just the tiniest bit higher today, if the cashier is wearing an eye shadow that doesn’t suit her coloring, if I’ve lost just two pounds. But the precise moment a thing leaves her person or her grasp, it becomes invisible to her. It is as though clothing, toys, food, wrappers, dishes, toiletries, yes, even body wastes, once their usefulness is exhausted, cease to exist. Now I’m no neat-nick myself, but I am humbled by her towering greatness in this regard.

When I say that these things cease to exist, I mean she really cannot see them. Stand next to her, bend down to her eye-level, point to the filthy socks left right here on the kitchen table, and she looks confused and angry. WHERE? Oh, those? Those are my clean socks. Watching a movie together, we all laugh as the obsessive compulsive protagonist gets his first look at his beloved’s slovenly apartment. All except my daughter. “What? What’s funny?” Just doesn’t see it. “It’s extremely messy, honey.” “Oh,” (laughing now) “that’s funny.” It’s like translating the world for a color-blind individual.

We have a family rule: Food only in the kitchen, toys anywhere but the kitchen. It’s simple, it’s catchy, and it makes perfect sense. So why is it I am forever trying to track down the source of that stench coming from somewhere in the living room — or the car, or behind the computer, or wherever else she’s left some half-eaten thing to rot? My son has a hard enough time managing his one chore: to empty the wastebaskets — but a season of fruit-fly-exploding wastebaskets just about scarred him for life.

Naturally, we’ve read everything we could find that suggested a solution to our slob problem. “Oh”, she said to me one day when I suggested making a game of cleaning up “you got a new book, huh?” We reasoned that having and being allowed to decorate a room of her own would be a good motivator. A room of one’s own, in which to entertain friends, play dress-up, have sleepovers. The other day she burst, shrieking, into my office. “Ima, there’s something in my room!! There’sapile0fclothesinthebackofmyclosetandthere’ssomethingstucktothemwitbugsonitand something LIVING in it andyouhavetocomeseeanddosomething!! EeewwwEewwEewwgetridofit!! EEEWW!” Okay, first of all, what have I been saying about food in . . . what have I told you about putting away . . . why haven’t you . . . *sigh*. “Show me”, I say to her. I am stopped just over the threshold. Literally. Stopped. I don’t see any evident place to put my foot for another step. “Honey!” I say, “Good god, this mess is ankle deep!” She actually had the chutzpah to look down at my ankles and then up to my eyes. “Not yet.”

As a new parent, I believed that pointing these things out would result, eventually, in her being able to recognize them for herself. As a seasoned parent, I now know this to be magical thinking; the age at which she can be expected to clean up after herself coincides with the age at which she will wish you dead if you don’t stop nagging her to do so. But I’ll win in the end, once she’s old enough to date: I’m compiling a list of cute obsessive-compulsive boys.


Talking to Parents with an ADHD Kid

Parents want to talk about their kids. ( I offer this blog as exhibit A.) It’s probably the single biggest reason we so often drift away from our childless friends who, after all, have interests that encompass world events, social networks, work, travel and relationships. We gravitate to other parents with whom we can feign interest in one another’s boring kid stories until it’s our turn to talk. Stop it; you know it’s true. Our social networks are determined by our child’s grade and extracurricular activities; work is what gets us away from the kids for short spells but too often at all the wrong times; travel. Hmm. Never mind. Relationships morph subtly into regular staff meetings.


That “darnedest thing” our six-year-old came out with the other day is probably the funniest damn thing that’s happened all week, so it’s no wonder this is what we bring to the table.

We don’t waste a lot of time waiting for our openings, either; we get to be very adept at creating our opportunities to share. “NASDAQ traded down another 2% today? Oh my god, that reminds me…” and we’re off, enthusiastically recounting with an attention to detail rivalled only by a few African oral traditions.

Add into the mix a particularly gifted child (or a particularly delusional parent, your choice) and before you know it, everyone at the table is riveted by talk of incompetent coaches, the Suzuki Method and/or the effects of stress on young bones. It’s enough to strike Bill O’Reilly dumb. But even these folks are rank amateurs alongside the parent of an ADHD kid. We don’t require any opening. We’re accustomed to talking to someone who isn’t listening. We spend an extraordinary amount of time around someone who doesn’t know from social cues, and we really, really need to talk to grownups from time to time, so guess what? There is no stopping us. The reason for this is pretty straightforward: aside from driving us slowly bonkers, the stuff our kids do is pretty damn funny and makes for great material as in “you think I could make this stuff up?”

Yes, yes, your child just placed second in the gymnastics sectional, but did she ever put a pull-up on over her head, strip to her underwear and bolt down the block to show off the new Spartan warrior costume? Didn’t think so. Your son just brought home a prize for essay writing? That’s wonderful. Mine can recite all the dialog from the entire first half of “Clone Wars”. With sound effects. At the dinner table. Every night.

My son’s quirks produce similarly off-beat retribution from little sister. “I’m warning you boys to leave her alone before…” “EEEEEEEEEE!! AHHHHH! HELP!” This from two panicked ADHD boys in flight from little sister, who is driving them remorselessly from room to room, a look of grim satisfaction on her face, walking backwards, wagging her bare behind and chanting all the while “stupid boys. Stupid boys…”

Yeah, it’s not like it’s a competition.