Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boys and Guns

I got the call in the late afternoon. It was the health insurance broker, and he was apologetic. I don't want to be a snitch, he said, but I feel like as a good neighbor, you need to know. The insurance broker lives one street away, so he actually is a neighbor. My heart started pounding. The broker continued, I was coaching T and K baseball this morning with my son R, and the twins claimed they'd been shot in the back with a BB gun. They said it had made a mark, and Oliver had done it. I thought you should know. My heart stopped pounding, and now I felt annoyed. A BB gun? I said, We don't own a BB gun. We would never own a BB gun. Those boys are all nuts, I added. Well, that's what they're saying, the broker said, and I thought you should know.

Here's the background. We live in a fantastic neighborhood, right in the middle of Los Angeles, where the kids run free and wild, into and out of each other's houses and yards. The kids all happen to be boys, too, in ages ranging from about three or four (he's not free to run around, but he tries to!) to Henry, who is the oldest at thirteen. I've long since given up the protective watching of their every move in what I call benign neglect -- I can't stand boy games, anyway, or sports -- watching them careen around, wrestling, having nerf gun wars, climbing trees and jumping off of shed roofs is enough to tax the heart in negative ways, so I go inside, one ear cocked for screams that sound bloody. I assured the neighbor that I'd find out what the hell was going on with the BB gun allegations and get back to him.


The first person I called was the twins' mother. One of the twins' mothers, I should say, and emphasize that these mothers are about the coolest ones you could imagine. That they have not one, but two boys that are bruisers in the best sense of the word is highly amusing, and I knew that whatever had happened, they would be cool about it. 

So, I understand that one of the twins was hit with a BB gun by Oliver? I asked.

That's what the boys said, she confirmed, but we didn't want to make a big deal out of it. We know how wild they all get.

Well, I just don't know what to say, I said, we absolutely do not have a BB gun, nor would I allow such a thing in my house or in my kids' hands. Are you sure it wasn't a Nerf gun?

It made a mark, the mom replied. Jesus Christ, I thought. And what the hell? I hung up the phone and called Oliver who was at the neighborhood fair with a friend and his father. When the father answered the phone, I asked him if his son (who lives across the street) had a BB gun that could have perhaps been used that morning. NO! he exclaimed and then put Oliver on the phone.

Oliver, did you shoot T with a BB gun this morning? I asked.

It's not a BB gun, Mom, Oliver replied, and he sounded nervous.

Well, what kind of gun was it? I asked. My heart was pounding now, again.

Just a gun. Mom. I bought the gun. Now Oliver's voice is starting to break.

What do you mean you bought it? I asked, my voice rising. Where did you buy it?

I bought it at the park! Oliver is crying a little now.

You bought it at the park? From who? My voice is now completely "risen."

From a MAN, Oliver cried.

A MAN? I shouted, What MAN? The night before I had finished my Breaking Bad marathon, and one of the episodes featured an eleven year old kid who had been hired by drug thugs to assasinate people. It was chilling, to say the least, and I felt for a moment as if my life had truly morphed into Breaking Bad instead of my having the fantasy of breaking bad, it was happening.

The man! The man who sells ice-cream! Oliver is sobbing now. I'm sorry, Mom! I bought it with my own money, I promise. I'm sorry.

Oliver, how much was it? I said, still confused and upset.

A dollar, Mom, it was a dollar!  My heart stopped pounding, and I lowered my voice, reassuring Oliver that it was all right. It just scared me. I then told him that he was never to buy anything from anyone without my permission. I told him that he was absolutely not to use the gun, again, and that I was disappointed he'd hidden it from me and then actually hurt someone with it. I asked him where he'd hidden it and told him that I would keep it until he was more responsible. I did all the right parenting things, I guess, and then just shook my head, acknowledging that my influence as a liberal-leaning, pacifist Democrat was probably about as great as the conservative-leaning, patriotic Republican influence of my parents on me.


  1. HOLY SHIT! I would say only in LA, but that could happen anywhere. I'm sure Oliver was scared to death when he hit his friend and it hurt him, so maybe it was a great teachable moment that he gave himself.

  2. scary stuff. what was the ice cream man doing selling a kid a gun for a dollar that could shoot something that would leave a mark? the insurance guy did a good thing telling you so you could nip things in the bud. poor oliver. poor elizabeth. raising boys is a constant heart attack. boy, did i empathize with that graph about boy games. nor does it truly end. my son and husband wrestle like they're both 8 years old while i yell for them to stop. not pretty.

  3. Whew. Parenting is tough. Good job navigating a very scary situation!

  4. I'm pretty sure Phil's studio has some nerf guns and other similar weaponry, with which they pretend-shoot each other periodically between projects. I'm also pretty sure they are all liberal-leaning pacifist Democrats, so don't worry, it probably has to do more with their Y chromosome and less with their political views :) I bet Gandhi was playing with pretend-guns when he was a little boy :)

  5. Holy #*@%!!!

    I grew up with two little brothers. Crazy shit happened. You did great to follow up with the moms, and with Oliver. Really good mothering there.

    The whole deal with the ice cream man is appalling though. There could be other kids who have bought guns from him. Plus, that gun looks real. Toy guns should always look like toys. I'm kinda hoping you're off to buy some ice cream right now.

  6. So it's like a toy, right? Obviously. Look- boys love guns. Period. And even if you don't "allow" them to have toy guns, they'll either get one somehow or make one. This is a fact of life.
    I think you did ALL the right things. I think you are one of the best mothers in the world and that Oliver is a great kid and he's not going to become a hired assassin.

  7. Aside from the gun selling ice-cream man, your neighborhood sounds wonderful.


  8. Weirdly, this "kid gets shot with pellet gun" thing happened last month in my neighborhood. It was my son who got shot in the neck (way way to close to his eyes!), and I'm the ONLY liberal-leaning, pacifist Democrat in the neighborhood. :>) Thankfully the kids are all way cooler than their parents, and the owner of the gun agreed that he shouldn't bring the gun out to play anymore. He hadn't shot my son, another kid had, and this convinced him that he didn't have enough control over it when the pack of kids are playing. phew. I would have done a lot, while nervously walking down the street to talk to his boy, to have a parent like you in my neighborhood.

  9. I remember my nephew made a gun from ... a piece of toast and walked around one morning,pretending to shoot his entire family.

    I had the 3 girls and then the boys and to say it was an entirely different ball game, is an understatement. I gave into the nerf guns and sabers and swords. I had too. Knowing that they were going to make one, out of something, anyway.

    I think that what you hit on, and what is always most disturbing when our children do something that we are "absolutely" sure they would never do, is that we feel we have failed. That they didn't listen and that we didn't convey it properly. We learn quickly, that that isn't the case.

    Like when Joe walked in the house at 5 with a piece of hard candy in this mouth. I asked where he got it and he said " from the package delivery guy" I said, Joe you can't take candy from strangers. We can't take anything from anyone, without me knowing.To which he replied, " I didn't take it, he gave it to me."


    That gun, scares the crap out of me by the way.

  10. As lessons go, an easy one (nobody's eye got put out!) and your insurance guy good neighbor and you dealt with it perfectly. The ice cream vendor, though...

  11. Our children are just that, children. As much as we believe we have taught them and continue to teach, every once in awhile ole' "trouble" rears it's head. I would look at this as a continuing lesson for Oliver. Plus, look at the break though in communication you had! He understands much more by your actions and love than had that gun been kept hidden for who knows how long.

    I would toss the gun however. Let him know why you will not return it. This would be a whole new lesson that you hand your hubby could have with both of your son's as well.


  12. Ack! First,agreed it sounds like you did everything right but WTH is up w/that gun? It DOES look real. Different neighborhood, add a nervous cop... I'm terrified. Are those real BBs (they actually look like gumballs). And others said this too but - I'm w/you on the guns & my son STILL makes *pow*pow* noises with his tinker toys.

  13. Holy crap. How scary.

    I get goosebumps whenever I see "BB gun" because, when I worked at a residential facility for people with disabilities, we had a 16 yr old kid who had been shot in the head with a BB gun and it apparently, somehow, freakishly caused him to go into a vegetative state. From which he never emerged and eventually died.

    Those things have scared the bejeezus out of me ever since.

    As the others have said, it sounds like you handled the situation perfectly.

  14. As disturbing as it is, it shows you what a great network of parents you have!

  15. What the hell? The ICE CREAM MAN sells toy guns?? That is NOT the ice cream man of my youth. I'm so confused. The ice cream man?!

  16. Holy crap, I agree, the ICE CREAM MAN sells toy guns! I think I'm more shocked by that than by Oliver giving in to temptations. BTW don't forget you can still like guns and be a left-leaning social democrat...sigh...witness my husband.

  17. That is pretty strange about an ice cream man selling something other than ice cream--especially a toy gun of which parents may not approve. Our boys have had all sorts of guns and in fact the 5th grader just got 3 new ones by Nerf for his b-day and I have been known to tell him prior to a friend coming over, "Don't stay inside and play--I want you outside so get out your Nerf guns or something."
    That is an Airsoft gun, made to look like a real handgun except for the orange part on the front and we've told the boys we are not into them having those even though some of their friends at one point had them--there are indoor and outdoor places around here to play with those with friends (older boys) and they hide, run around, etc.

  18. Yes, they get their hands on guns even if they are taught, taught and taught about how dangerous they are. If they can't buy them, they make them. I've seen the most ingenious contraptions made by little boys--yet to see a girl make one.

    And if they find a real gun, they usually can't resist checking it out.

  19. So scary about the ice cream man! What a tool!!!

    My husband and his brothers practically killed each other with bb guns...they also played on the roof (probably with the bb guns). They all turned out more than okay (and I don't think any of them have ever shot a real gun, just Nerf guns now).

    My son will learn how to shoot a bb gun at a target in Cub Scouts, but it is super frowned upon to just play with them. I hope it helps teach him respect. He's not around real guns, thank goodness. I've lived in a house with guns before (not our guns, we've never owned any, and they all tucked away in a safe, of course but still...). The home had some very small children in it and it still made me worried, even though the guns were locked up. Yikes.

    You handled this very well. That gun looks freaky. I hate when they make them look like real guns. The Nerf ones, and Busbee guns, and Star Wars ones, look so ridiculous that no one would be fooled.

    And poor Oliver, I bet he felt just awful.

  20. The thing that freaks me out a little is the ice cream man selling pellet guns to kids from his truck. But you're a good mom and you have a good relationship with your kids and that's why Oliver will never be an 11-yr-old assassin and I feel sure he would have told you at some point, anyway, when you were driving together in the car or something, the way kids with parents who love them talk about important things. (And at the risk of sounding insensitive, you made me laugh. It's your fault, though - you just write these stories in an amusing way.) Parenthood is not for the faint of heart.

  21. We could have a good, long chat about this someday, as I have an older-boy story or two that parallel this one.

    I think I'd like to require a background check on all ice cream guys/gals, now that I think about it. What a thing for him to offer your boy! Was it in the course of selling ice cream, or was he just recognized as "the Ice Cream Guy" in the park?

  22. OMG I am so so sorry but I laughed so loud and hard at this post....been there done that a few times.....I'm sorry I laughed. I shouldn't have.

    But I'm still laughing...



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