Today is the first day of winter break. I am glad I did not have to send my children to school today. There is so much bad news.
Instead we are home under gray Los Angeles skies – winter to look at, but spring against the bare feet of my daughter and her friend as they skip shoeless across the grass. They have been building a garden, moving rainwater from the leaves of the agaves to fill a tiny Saran wrap-lined pond. They have pulled weeds from one part of the yard to plant in muddy soil around their newly constructed pond. I hear their voices as I type, high and sweet as birdsong.
The boys (both ten) are inside, drawing at the table and I am relieved.
My son and his friend spent the morning shooting each other with a Nerf Machine Gun that they dug out of the closet. This toy (one I had to be talked into in the first place) has not been in rotation for nearly a year. I’m not sure what prompted its return. The toy has a magazine of orange, rubber bullets. It can hold twenty or more in a neon green cartridge. The gun itself is green with bright tangerine accents. It looks like a toy, but the sound it makes when my son slides another cartridge of ammo into place is hard-edged and angry. They were in the middle of a game of “sniper” where one stood in the yard, while the other shot from the upstairs window when I stopped them.
“We’re just playing,” my son said. “It’s not real.”
“I know,” I said. “But it doesn’t feel good to me.”
“Mom,” he said. “It’s not real. It’s a toy. We are playing.”
He spoke slowly as if I didn’t speak the same language.
I wanted to explain why I was so anxious, why this gun and this sniper game seemed so completely wrong, but to do that I had to bring my own worries into the life of my boy. His worries are still small scale. He worries about whether the library will have the next “Amulet” comic, whether he will watch the Jets game when it airs or later on the DVR. He worries about middle school or that as goalie, he will let a soccer ball make it into the goal. But he doesn’t yet worry about being shot at school.
I read somewhere that a strategy for managing anxiety is to have one anxious thought and two brave thoughts. Trying to conjure a brave thought right after an anxious one reminds you that both are possible emotions. Even if you can’t let go of the anxiety, you know you have at least the capability of thinking bravely. The brave thought is always there.
I let my son go back to his game without making a big deal and pretty soon, they moved on to something else. The girls picked up a few stray Nerf bullets and added them to their garden.
“They are torches,” my daughter said.
I imagine them as bright lights, leading us into the peaceful garden. It’s a brave thought.