“You never leave a man behind R., You never leave a man behind!”
That’s the order I heard coming from the playroom the other night. Little did I know it at the time, but Gideon and I were embarking on a new form of therapy with our other son R.
Let me back up a little. It is Christmas day. The kids have torn into their presents and there sits two Nerf Gun blasters! One for Gideon and one for R. Thinking that boys had an instinctual understanding about how to play cops and robbers, war-games, and good- guy bad guy; I open the guns for them, got out the Nerf dart ammo, and let them go at it.
It took only a couple of minutes, and some point blank shots to the face, to realize that these boys had much to learn about the various pretend play battles. A couple of ground rules had to be established.
1. No point blank shots to the face.
2. Your sisters and mom are not playing. No shooting anyone who doesn’t have a gun. We protect women, not fire at them.
3. Even if your 2 year old sister picks up the gun and runs at you; that doesn’t not give you the right to shoot her.
I could quickly see that the 10 Nerf darts they provided would not last through the Christmas season if the boys didn’t understand that they had to pick them up. It seemed like the guns were going to be a bust. We didn’t have time for them to run around the house and shoot at everything. It might be just better to put them up and forget about them.
Later that day R. left for a visit to see his grandmother. He would be gone for a week. During that time, I happened to pick up R’s gun in his room. I started chasing Gideon with it and fired off a couple of rounds.
“Oh, this is fun. This is really fun!” I said.
Sarah was on her way to Target when I stopped her to say, ” Hey I am going to need one of those guns and we are going to need some more ammo.”
She came back from Target a little while later with some baby formula, some stuff for the house and a Nerf Blaster Shotgun thing with tactical light, scope, extra ammo, and clips. My first two thoughts were, “I love my wife” and “It is so ON!”
games therapy begin
I had to figure out someway to play with the guns and yet at the same time not litter the house with darts we would only find years later when moving furniture out of the way. So I set up 2 chairs in a hallway and Gideon and I commenced firing at one another.
We quickly moved from chairs in a hallway and opened up dining room and kitchen to our battles. So it was only natural when R. got back from his visit that we introduced him to our new game.
He came back and Gideon and I showed him how to play. He and Gideon would be on one team and I would be a rogue, mercenary solider on my own. I felt like it was fair. We turned off all the lights and got to it.
R. is very smart and decided this would be a perfect time to use his “Night Vision Goggles” he got for Christmas. He didn’t think about the fact that these “Night Vision Goggles” are equipped with two bright LED lights on the side that make him an easy target and announce his approach. We played for a good half an hour before sending them to bed.
Of course, the next night came and requests to play came as soon as showers were had. “You bet”, I replied. I’m not going to lie, it was a blast. I was having as much fun as they were.
R. learned his lesson from the first night and had no longer used his night vision goggles. I had noticed a trend. R. would run out of the play room, after loading up his gun, fire a shot at the first thing he thought was me, and then run back into the playroom to reload. Gideon on the other hand was more reluctant to come out of the safety of the playroom. He was happy to get reports from R.
“Gideon, what are you doing? Why haven’t you fired a shot?”, I asked.
“I’m scared!” Gideon replied.
So I gave him a flashlight and a pep talk about fear and off I went to await their attack.
“R. hold up. You never leave a man behind, you never leave a man behind.” Gideon stated as they were about to step out from the playroom (their designated United Nations approved, no-fire zone.)
We played and they went to bed.
The next day I was picking them up from school when R’s. teacher stopped me.
“I wanted to tell you something. Ryan played with the other boys today during recess.”, she said with a smile on her face.
“Oh, have the been picking on him, why is that a big deal?” I said a little confused. I didn’t understand what was so important about the fact that he played with other boys.
“Oh, no they haven’t been picking on him. They ask him everyday to play with him and he never wants to. Today they asked him and he wanted to. I just thought you would want to know.” she said excitedly.
And as I walked back to the van I couldn’t help but think about the Nerf Guns.
You see R. probably didn’t play with them before because he didn’t have the self-confidence to. He has a hard time playing with others if he can’t control the action. He has such a low self-esteem he makes up for it by trying to control his peers. If he can’t, he avoids it. R. also struggles with being a kid and wanting to take care of his ailing grandmother. He doesn’t allow himself to think of himself as a kid sometimes.
The Nerf Guns made him forget about all that internal struggle, about his self-image, what other people think and just have fun. He was a kid. A kid that didn’t have to worry about his self-image. A kid that could have fun like kids were supposed to do.
So I think Nerf Gun therapy is going to be a regular thing around here. I mean, its not about me, it all for the kids.
I mean its my job as a father to never leave a man behind.