As I tucked my 5-year-old son into bed, he told me that the only thing he liked about kindergarten was playing with his new friends at recess. "But they always play Power Rangers tag," he said, turning wistful, "and I don't like action-figure games."
"Why not?" I asked as I snuggled next to him on his narrow bed. I wanted to take advantage of my son's opening up like this. Usually when I ask Morgan about his day, I get grunts or monosyllabic responses.
"I don't know how to play Power Ranger tag," he said, adjusting his pillow to make room for me. "I just like regular tag."
Despite his distress, I felt a rush of pride. I've prohibited gunplay and network television in our house and banned violent computer games. By limiting my sons' exposure to violence, I believe I'm doing what's best for them.
But now my younger son was being excluded from kindergarten playground games. No one told him he couldn't play, but thanks to me he was on the outskirts because he didn't know how to imitate action figures.
I pictured my boy standing off to the side, or playing by himself on the playground rings on his first days of school. So what had I really done?
It wasn't that Morgan had never played violent games. He and his older brother held up finger guns and cardboard guns, and crashed their plastic animals into each other, making them die loud, gruesome deaths. But he wasn't joining his friends at recess because he didn't know how to play this game.
Should I cave in and buy the fighting figures? I knew Power Rangers, Pokémon, and Spider-Man weren't going away. I'd have to find some compromise.
The next Saturday, Morgan and I stopped at a neighbor's yard sale. His allowance jingled in his pocket as he rummaged through a cardboard box full of action figures hulking muscle men with brightly painted costumes striking fighting poses.
Morgan looked up at me with a resigned look. "Mommy, could I buy these?" he asked.
I could tell by his voice that he expected me to launch into my spiel about violent toys. Instead, I did something else.
I told him that as long as he didn't use them on any person, or on the dog, yes, he could buy them. He bought three, and with a huge grin he stuffed them into his pockets.
He played with them for a couple of weeks, and then tossed them into his toy bin, where they gradually sank to the bottom.
A few days later I asked Morgan about recess again. I pictured him playing alone and looking lost, but he quickly assured me he was playing with his friends.
"Did you learn the Power Rangers game?"
"What did you do?"
"I asked them to play regular tag," he said.
Then he looked at me and grinned. "And guess what, Mommy? They did."