The kids and I do a lot of shooting each other. It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning, their mom forbade guns or even gun-shaped toys. Then she realized that there was simply no good way of preventing a three-year old from pointing his finger at his brother and saying “bang!”
In addition to the gunfights, there’s also Finger of Doom, various super-hero games, and a bunch of other activities that basically boil down to one person “killing” the other (*). The only rules is that you can only play with people who want to play, which, among other things, means “leave momma out if it.”
Last year, these games took a turn for the bizarre. We were in St. Augustine, chasing each other around a big field that overlooked the river. In this particular game, I was a pirate invading the city and they were the defenders. Unfortunately, I died pretty quickly. This effectively ended things just as they were getting going. So, I stood back up, stuck my hands out and moaned “braaaaiiiiinnnnnnsssss!”
After a brief explanation that I had turned into a zombie, and that zombies ate brains, and that once a zombie ate your brains you became a zombie, the game got going again.
Since then, zombies have become just another part of our life.You get shot, you perform a dramatic death, lie there for a few seconds, and then stand up and moan “brains!” In order to catch someone, you have to touch their head (gently!) and make a sucking motion with your hand. It looks vaguely like you’re palming an imaginary basketball.
It is, by the way, okay to turn the dogs into zombies.
The problem of course, is that my head is significantly higher than the kids. This led to my youngest creating “belly zombie”s, which suck bellies instead of brains.
All of that background information brings me to this morning, when my seven-year old staggered into my bedroom moaning “heart zombie!” He slapped his hand on my chest and made a sucking motion.
I stuck my hands out, groaned “hearts, I need hearts!” and we zombie-walked in search of other victims.
My wife, as it happens, was standing in the hallway talking to the heart-zombie’s little brother. I slowed down, not sure what to do. My son, however, didn’t even pause. He staggered up to his momma, reaching for her chest. “Hearts, I need hearts!”
As she blocked him, I backpedalled quickly and quietly out of the kitchen.
“But momma,” I heard him say, “I’m a heart-zombie. I need to suck your chest.”
There was a significant pause, during which I believe my wife was searching for me.I, however, had pulled a complete fade. I was back in the bedroom, feeling guilty about abandoning my child. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I had to disappear. Can you imagine what would have happened if I’d actually been there?
“That’s enough,” my wife said. “Time to get washed up and ready for the day.”
My son didn’t argue at all. I think he had realized his mistake. He knows (of course) that touching girls on their chests is not allowed. He just got caught up in the game.
* Author’s Note: If you’re horrified by the idea of kids shooting each other, let me offer another viewpoint: “Shooting” games are simply variants of “tag”. The excitement the kids get is not derived from an actual desire to kill, but from the physical act of attempting to tag the other player.
Shooting games are popular because they add a consequence to the tag. The “you’re it” mechanic of traditional tag is too contrived. Kids often get frustrated by it and simply reject it. “Die”ing, however, is something no one argues with. It adds tension and emotion, and a chance for some really bad acting.
If you want to eliminate gun-games from your children’s play, come up with your own tag variant, but the trick is that the consequence you ascribe to being tagged has to be neither contrived nor arguable. If you find one that works, publish it. You’ll make millions.