So I’m sitting in my favorite chair, reading through my Facebook Newsfeed, and my child sneaks up behind me with one of her stuffed animals, Cocoa the Bunny. The following exchange ensues:
Cocoa: “Hi, Mommy. Will you play with me?”
Me: “I’d love to Cocoa, but I’m busy reading right now. Daddy is just in the next room and I know he’d love to play with you.”
Cocoa: “I don’t have a Daddy. I’m Cocoa the Bunny.”
Me: “Oh, well…maybe you could find Pookie and she’ll play with you.” (Pookie is my daughter’s nickname)
Cocoa: “She’s not here.”
Me: “She’s not? I could have sworn I heard her…where do you think she is?”
Cocoa: “Um…she’s not here anymore. She’s not coming back. She’s dead.”
Me: (a little disturbed) “Dead? Pookie? Why would you say that, Cocoa?”
Cocoa: “Because she’s dead. A bad guy shot her. She’s dead.”
Me: (more than a little disturbed) “She’s not dead, Cocoa. Why would you say that? She’s right over there.” (pointing to Pookie)
Cocoa: “No, she’s not here. A bad guy had a gun and shot her and she’s dead. She’s been dead for a long, long time.”
At this point, I’m looking directly at my four year old, who is very matter-of-factly saying these horrible things of herself. She’s standing behind my chair, holding Cocoa out in front of me around the back of the chair. I can’t hide that this little dialogue is upsetting me.
Me: “Pookie, it makes me sad to hear Cocoa say these things. Do you know why it makes me sad?”
Pookie: “Because Cocoa said I’m dead. That a bad guy shot me.”
I can no longer play along. I can barely breathe. My little girl doesn’t watch the news. We don’t ever watch violent shows with her in the room. I try to limit her exposure to violence, period (except for what she sees in cartoons – and even then I try to steer her away from violent cartoons.) She has obviously picked up little things here and there. It’s almost impossible to shield children from the American gun culture – even harder these days than ever before.
I’m not trying to make a political post. I’m not even sure what I’m trying to do. This just happened a short while ago and for the most part, I’m still kind of in shock. My husband overheard the entire exchange and called Pookie into the room with him. He asked her if she knows what ‘dead’ means (she sort of does, but not really – she said “when you go like this” and acted out a dog “playing dead.”) I’ve seen her do this recently while playing with some older kids – she kept saying “pretend I’m dead” and would then lie down on the ground with her eyes closed and her tongue sticking out. They got her up to play tag and I sort of forgot all about it.
But this one was different. This wasn’t playing dead – this was my four year old talking in third person about a bad guy having shot her. I’m sure it was going to turn into some kind of superhero “let’s catch the bad guy” game, and I’m equally sure I ruined it by getting all sad rather than just playing along with Cocoa – and possibly finding and “saving” Pookie in the process. Part of me thinks the “big deal” here isn’t what she was saying, but rather my own response to what she said.
I’m still sad. I’m still upset that this sort of “story” is part of her play narrative. I’ve tried so hard to prevent her from seeing gun violence – or even knowing that guns exist at all – much less from knowing that there’s even such a thing as a bad guy who might shoot her with one. We don’t have play guns – not even water guns. This isn’t about politics, this is about my family and our choices for what is acceptable for our child. Guns aren’t acceptable. Shooting isn’t acceptable. The thought of my child being shot isn’t f*cking acceptable.
Yeah, still upset. I’ll part with this: