Thursday, October 17, 2013

31 for 21: Bad Guys

Toby comes home from school every day with stories of his team of super heroes and their fights against evil on the playground.  It sounds mostly harmless, but I wonder about how the team chooses their "bad guys"  From Toby's descriptions, I'm not entirely sure that the "bad guys" are aware that they are a part of the game at all.  Then again, I'm not sure whether the superheroes are targeting real preschoolers, or fully imaginary foes.

For as little concrete information as I've gathered about this game, he certainly spends a lot of time talking about it.  Sorting out who's bad and who's good is serious work for a preschooler.

He's curious about real-life bad guys, too.  His preschool held a lockdown drill at the beginning of the year, which led to lots of awkward conversations about why a "bad person" would be in the school in the first place.  Earlier this week, his school had a real lockdown (while we were out of town) when two 18 year old boys shot at each other just blocks from the school.  One of the teens is in the hospital now, the other is dead.

This summer Toby noticed a "bad man" at the swimming pool.  He was a teenager, with a broad forehead and deep eyes.  One side of his face moved a bit behind the other, putting his eyes a bit off of focus and his mouth in a scowl.  Any adult would look at this teen and label him "disabled," but Toby--drawing on Disney villains and storybook illustrations--was convinced that he meant us harm.  Even after a talk about how all people look different, Toby still eyed the teen with suspicion, ready to use his superpowers to defend himself if necessary.

It's hard work deciphering the real threats from the imagined.   We're trying to raise a little boy who isn't afraid of difference, who sees beauty in all people, who learns not to stick labels of "good" and "bad" on complex human beings.  But then, of course, he'll also learn that the "bad guys" can't always be spotted, classified and neutralized in time.  He'll have to learn that our fears are much closer, much too close.  Someday he'll see that two boys--not good or bad, just boys--can cause more damage than a supervillain.

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