I was a bit naughty yesterday. My wife and daughter were going to be away from the house for most of the day…and I had a joint stashed in my car. This would leave me to play all day (stoned) with my son (he’s six and wouldn’t know I had smoked anything stronger than a cigarette – my wife on the other hand had to be actively deceived). Oh the fun we had! We really had a good male bonding session complete with lessons on how to pass and catch a football properly, life lessons on conserving your ammo in video games, the do’s and don’ts of eating at a pizza restaurant (if you spill it’s the waiter’s job to clean you not your daddy’s) – that kind of stuff.
We played with his cars and I came up with the innovative idea that this time there would not be good guys and bad guys (my cars were always supposed to be the bad guys). With this nuance to our game I tried to teach him that the world isn’t that black and white. He got the message because he ended up summarizing our state of play as “my guys think they are the good guys and your guys think mine are the bad guys, but your guys think they are the good guys”. Well done my boy, that’s what the world is really like – none of this naive stereotyping in your cartoons. I got interested enough to even negotiate on the team selection (this I could always see was a big deal to my kid). He still got the tank though! Certain things are just better not to even try to negotiate about with a six year old. But I got the Spy Car with untold mysterious powers which I could see bothered him somewhat. Things also didn’t degenerate so quickly into the tank swooping down from the air and bashing my cars with all the force his little body can muster. I introduced some real world constraints into the mix: if your car’s outnumbered you’re likely to loose if you don’t use at least a little diplomacy; your cars can’t fly or shoot; and it’s a big deal when the tank fires a shot at one of my cars (backup from the toy box can then be called on in response to such an escalation). We played longer and more intimately than usual. There was logic and creativity. What was so endearing to me was to find out what qualities he thought made his superstar cars great (like the one had a kind of dinosaur head and teeth and while smaller than the others my boy reasoned that this car had to be a mean opponent because he could bite). He also played so strategically, like as soon as I’d shown a particular power of one of my cars (a power he hadn’t thought of before) he would twist the story-line so that that car got taken out in the next scuffle. I even tried the “peace man” vibe where we could all just get along and maybe impress each other with our tricks. But he was having none of that hippy bullshit. Was I exposing him to too many shoot em up video games? Was our culture just violent? Or was he just being a boy (probably the latter, right?). An interesting moment came when one of the vampire cars (there always has to be a vampire car – usually in the bad guy team) bit and turned one of mine. I asked him how we should interpret my former car’s change of mindset since he didn’t now become a “bad guy”. He had a lengthy philosophical explanation, looking deeply into my eyes, while surreptitiously moving his tank as far away from my vampire car as it could get!