Conversations with children never go as planned, or even as you think they will...
I spent the holiday weekend in Wisconsin and Hunter was having tummy troubles. For several reasons which I shall spare you now, I worried about this; I wondered how much of it was due to anxiety. So I began a conversation about where, when and how his tummy hurts. Most of that was rather usual -- even the talk about poo. Then I got to the matter of anxiety. How does he handle his troubles?
"Do you talk to daddy or grandma when you get upset?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, sounding rather bored.
"Can you tell me a time when you told grandma something?"
"Like how you were feeling... Like when you miss me," I said. "Do you tell her you miss me?"
"And what does grandma say?"
"To not think about it."
I did my best to not react to that -- true or not, what can I say to him about that? So instead I asked him a question.
"Does that work?"
"Not really," he said.
"Well, you can ask grandma to call me, you know," I remind him.
"Can you tell me about a time when you've told dad you're upset?"
"Once I went to ask the kids next door to play and they wouldn't let me," he says, his face in full pout just thinking about it.
"Oh, that must have hurt your feelings," I said, rubbing his back.
"What did daddy say when you told him?"
"He said not to bother asking them anymore."
That made me feel about as happy as grandma's "don't think about it" did, but what can I really say? I don't want to cause additional troubles.
"How old are the kids next door?" I asked, hoping I could help this long after the fact.
"One's 8 and I think the other's 6, maybe?"
"And why didn't they want to play with you?"
"They said I'm no good at playing guns," he said.
"Well, you know momma doesn't have a lot she can say about playing guns or who is good at it," I smiled. He knows his momma's a pacifist -- even if he doesn't know the word for it.
"Why don't you like playing guns?" he asked for like the millionth time. He made his hand into a gun, aimed it at the far wall, and said, "It's just pretend..."
"Yes, I know that it's pretend. I just don't see any fun in pretending to hurt someone," I said.
"When I play guns with my other friends, if you get hit and killed you have to run back to base and count to ten -- then you get another life. You have 10 lives," he says, all happy-like.
"Well, that's not how it works in real life," I said. "In real life, you get hurt and there's no magic base camp."
"No one gets hurt -- it's pretend."
"I know it's pretend, but momma just doesn't like to even pretend to hurt."
"Guns are important and cool and they are good too -- how would you like it if someone came here and wanted to take over Sheboygan or Wisconsin?" he asked, rather convinced this would convince me of the good of guns.
"Well, I just wish people would talk their problems out," I said.
"But if we didn't have any guns, they could take our stuff, our state," he countered.
"If people talked, no guns would be needed," I replied.
"I'd like to be a soldier with a gun," he said -- and so wistfully I nearly cried.
"You know every soldier, every person who is killed or hurt, has a cousin, a sister, a dad, grandparents, maybe a wife or husband, and a mommy... People who love them and are scared for them, and hurt when they hurt," I said.
His eyes grew large and he said nothing.
"People are people, no matter what side they are on," I said softly.
"But still... if they want our stuff..." he said weakly.
"Would you like someone to shoot at your cousin? At your daddy?" I asked him.
"No!" he said.
"That's how everyone feels about their soldier," I said. "That's why I wish people would talk their problems out rather than fighting."
"Maybe they could play a game of football instead," he said, thinking out loud.
"That would be better," I said.
"People get hurt in football too," he gloated.
"Well, not as badly--"
"They get hurt real bad sometimes!" he said.
"That's why mommy thinks they should talk first."
"Maybe play a game of football?"
"People still could get hurt..."
"How about a game of Sorry or Uno?" I offered.
He thought a minute.
"I don't think enough people can play those games to make people feel good about it," he said.
I was too impressed to say anything right away.
"Maybe it would have to be football after all..." he says.
"Maybe," was all I could reply.