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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

31 January 2013

Toy Guns: would you allow your kids to play with them?

I recently read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin and then went on to watch the movie. Gripping. Disturbing. Chilling. Especially in light of the high school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The story is told by a mother whose son went on a high school killing spree; a mother who wonders if her son was inherently a sociopath, or if it was her antagonistic relationship with him that brought on such violence. The age-old, but still unsolved, Nature v/s Nurture debate.

Which led me to my quandary. Is it okay for our children to play with toy guns?

Nerf Guns on display in the toys section at Target

Ask any seven-year-old boy what was on top of his Christmas wish-list and the answer was sure to be a Nerf gun. In fact, the kids and I had access to one on Christmas Day. “Gum! Gum!! Gum!!” said Caleb, pointing the Nerf gun at Caitlyn. I guess I should have been relieved that he didn’t even know it was called a gun; not “gum”. Or that a gun actually makes a “Bang! Bang! Bang!” or “Rat-a-tat-tat” noise. But where did he learn to "point and shoot"? We’ve never spoken about guns at home. We don’t even watch the news when the kids are awake. “Mum, most of the boys in school pretend to shoot the girls,” explained Caitlyn...

Enough said to get those alarm bells in my head ringing wildly. I’m sure the day is going to come when Caleb asks for a toy gun. And I wonder what I’m going to do about it. I know what you're thinking: guns = violence, therefore, guns are bad. That was my initial knee-jerk reaction, too.
But I don’t want to have my kids wrapped up in cotton wool, shielded from the real world. I don't want them to grow up into adults who turn into blubbering messes every time reality is ten shades too dark.

And, I rationalise, didn’t my brother and my cousins race around in my Nana’s house, “shooting” each other with their “machine guns”? One day they were soldiers in the army; the next day, pretend Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Sylvester Stallones (this was the 1980s, remember?). The sound effects were always pretty spectacular. Have their gun-totting childhood games resulted in any psychological trauma today? No, they’re all quite well-adjusted, thankyouverymuch.

But just because it was done in the past, doesn’t make it right, does it? I mean, our parents’ generation smoked, ate and drank their way through the 1970s and it was all considered “hip”. Today, these things just spell lung cancer, diabetes and liver problems. We have so much more information these days. So how do we use this knowledge to guide our parenting decisions?

My stand is this: so long as your son engages in all sorts of role-play – think superhero/fire-fighter/astronaut – and is not fixated on only killing people, it should be okay. It can be a part of his imaginative play so long as he is aware that reality is a different story. After all, you wouldn’t stop your daughter from playing dress-ups as a ballerina/fairy princess/doctor now, would you? For now, I’m holding my breath that my son never asks Santa for a toy “gum”.

Is it okay for children to play with guns? What rules do you have when it comes to kids’ toys? How do you teach them to differentiate between reality and their imagination?

18 January 2013

Picture Perfect

We were at three kiddie parties last weekend (I know, I know, my kids have better social lives than I do!) when a thought struck me: kids nowadays are excellent ‘posers’. They are used to us paparazzi-parents who chase their every move – click, click, clicking away as they do anything from licking a lollipop to sliding down a slippery dip. Picture-perfect grins in place, heads turned at just the right angle, they preen and pose for the camera. No awkwardness, no shying away from the lens. And straight after the photo is clicked, they chorus, “Can we see the photo, please?” Instant gratification.

Remember those days when cameras – point-and-shoot or SLRs – were reserved for special occasions? Birthdays, family picnics, Christmases, prize day at school... There was no digital-anything, so we played the waiting game. Wait patiently (cheeks hurting from all that forced grinning!) while the person clicking the photo positioned everyone just so, wait until the roll of film – 24 or 36 shots – was finished, wait for dad to take it to the Kodak photo lab (remember Studio Perfecta or Hill Studio?) to get developed, wait in anticipation for a week before we could collect the snaps...

And then prepare yourself for whatever you got: a cousin picking her nose; your brother making “horns” above your head; over-exposed photos; under-exposed photos; blurry shots, red-eye... and some truly picture perfect ones. These were put into their plastic sleeves of a photo album and pored over, year after year after year...

14 Feb 1978: Dad & Mum all dressed up for my uncle's wedding

Right now, I’m picturing the beautiful black & white photos of my parents’ wedding album and my own sepia-toned baby photos. And who can forget those family photos taken at make-shift “photo studios” at the Bandra Fair with their cheesy backdrops of tulips and alpine mountains? Memories and magic.

Dad, Jason, me and Mum; circa mid-1980s around Christmas (hence the long sleeves)

The only photos I print out these days are the few I post to my mum and dad of my kids every few months. The remaining six million-trillion-gazillion are idling in various hard-drives, USBs and memory cards, eating up space.

What’s with our need to capture every nanosecond of our lives on camera? Is it just because it’s so easy thanks to our smartphones? Or does our technology make us feel compelled to click? It’s almost as if, if you’ve not recorded it, it never happened.

So this year, I’ve decided to go easy on the photos; enjoy the actual moment as it unfolds in front of me. And to print six million-trillion-gazillion photos I’ve accumulated. It may take me the better part of the year, but I’m just going to grin and bear it.

What do you remember most about photos from the "olden days"? Do you ever print out your digital photos?