Before you read further, I'm just giving the heads up that this is probably going to be a fairly controversial blog post, and if your child happens to play with this type of toy I mean it in no way to be a judgment upon your choices as a parent (god knows, I played with them as a kid too). I do, however, want this post to be food for thought...
In addition to this, I live in the Middle East, but have recently been on an extended holiday in my home country of the UK. I purposefully do not disclose the location of where this event took place because I fundamentally believe all children are born innocent, no matter where in the world they happen to be from. Hate and violence is a learnt thing.
My husband, son and I went to our local supermarket recently - it was a busy Saturday afternoon (aka packed and stressful). To get the shopping done faster we decided to divide and conquer - I would take on the fruit and veg aisles, while my husband (tot in tow) headed to the fish stand.
While selecting my carrots, I locked eyes with a young boy - a boy of perhaps six or seven - out doing the monotonous weekly shop with his parents. I smiled at him, but whether it be frustration with his flustered parents, boredom, or something else, the look of seething he gave back to me was honestly quite disturbing.
Fine, whatever. He's a kid. Kids get pissy.
But what he did next utterly horrified me.
Very slowly, he raised the 'toy' he had in his hand. A toy gun which he aimed directly at my head before pulling the trigger, setting flashing lights and a sequence of gunshot noises off.
"You absolute little sh*t - how bloody dare you aim that thing and pull the trigger at me!" was naturally, the first thing that came to my mind.
I scowled at him and shook my head. But then I remembered he is just a little lad, so I smiled and stuck my tongue out at him in play. That look of hatred, however, only seemed to deepen in his eyes, before he spun on his heels and skulked off to his oblivious parents.
I could have, and probably should have, confronted his parents about the whole thing to explain how unnerving it was. But as the hideously non-confrontational British person that I am, I would much rather silently mull it over before writing about my experience in a blog post.
So am I overreacting? Probably so. These types of toys have been around for decades - who didn't love playing guns in some shape or form when they were little?! (I always wanted to be a Power Ranger).
But it really got me thinking about the message we are sending to our children, particularly now with the horrific and terrifying state of affairs in the world. Because the thing is, to this little lad, it was not play. The look of anger in his eyes gave me the impression that he really intended to hurt or offend me. It was in no way 'fun' for him or for me. Maybe it's just a toy now to him now, but 10 - 20 years down the line, it could be very real. It makes me shudder!
And this is what I mean about violence and hate being a learnt thing. We live in a world that solves violence with more violence - very logical! It is therefore my belief that it is our responsibility as parents of the next generation to infuse a sense of responsibility in them, to help them understand that guns are NOT toys. Guns are NOT fun. Guns are LETHAL weapons designed to harm and kill. They are one of the very reasons there is so much heartache and bloodshed in the world.
But where do we draw the line? From water-gun fights in the back garden (which I always loved), to everyday TV shows for children and adults, to play guns and swords and other 'fun' toys - it is quite literally impossible to shield children from violent culture.
The fact is too that both my husband and my father enjoy recreational clay pigeon shooting - and ironically I don't mind this. It is, however, going to be impossible to hide guns from my son. But I suppose that's the point - by not allowing him to have them as toys, I instill responsibility in others around him to teach him that guns are not toys to be played with. They are mechanical contraptions that, like anything else, need to be handled with respect and responsibility.
I guess maybe before this incident I might have one day bought a toy gun for my son, but the scene of that child aiming a gun at my head still repeats over and over again in my mind. Toy guns will inevitably find ways into my son's hands - be it friends or well-meaning relatives - and I'm sure he will find them fun. I can't stop this. However I will not encourage it either.
So for now and the foreseeable future, we're sticking with trains, tractors and farmyard toys.