Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Make Love Not War. . .
. . . was the mantra that blasted the country during the late sixties, early seventies when our sons were babies. The Viet Nam war and the draft drove nearly everyone wild. Banning guns in the playroom was as close as we got to being protesters. Nearly forty years later, we’re in the same place. This time it’s the Iraqi conflict, a more benign word. Perhaps it’s the lack of a draft that’s lured us into complacency. Or maybe it’s that we’ve grown older, more tired and less inclined to act out, although my generation is still outraged. I wrote this story ten years ago, when prosperity ruled and war seemed out of fashion. But after all this time, I'm no closer to having clarity about. . .

. . . Guns in the Playroom

“Where’s Jermy?” Four year old Matt asks as we enter the spacious living room of our friends' high rise apartment. Joshua and Ben, my younger sons, nap at home with a baby sitter this rainy afternoon.

“Oh, he’ll be here soon.” Jeremy’s mother points to the door of the closet and rolls her eyes. “Want some coffee?” she calls back as she walks towards the kitchen.

“With cream.” I angle my chair so I can watch the boys and converse at the same time.

Matt stares at the closet door. A flesh colored patch covers his right eye. Square framed, chocolate colored glasses perch on the edge of his nose. Matt tilts his head back, pushes his glasses to his forehead to peek under the bandage. “Jermy, are you in there? It’s me, Matt out here.” He peers through the keyhole in the door.

The eye patch dangles useless, except for one gummy spot stuck to his eyebrow. I could smooth the bandage to his skin or take a fresh one from my purse. Or remind Matt he must keep the good eye patched, a phrase I’ve repeated a thousand times. Or scold him for ruining a fresh bandage. Instead, I sip my coffee as the closet door opens.

Jeremy’s Mom and I chat about the blue they’ve chosen for the dining room walls, how they love the lake view from the window, how glad they are to have moved to the Midwest. Jeremy emerges from the closet and faces Matt, hands on hips, feet apart. Two straps of silver bullets form an X across his chest. A double gun holster with pistols rides each hip. Red-brown brillo hair curls around the edges of his black studded cowboy hat. At five, Jeremy is a head taller and a year older than Matt. He glares at his friend and wrinkles his forehead while one striped knee sock slips to his ankle.

Matt stares at the guns. No one moves. As I wonder if this was a good plan, both boys bolt down the hall to Jeremy’s room and slam the door.

“You know, we don’t let Matt play with guns at home.” How, in the midst of the Viet Nam war, can she be so casual about guns in the playroom?

“Really? Jeremy couldn’t get through the day without them. Sometimes a bath is tricky. I literally have to pry them off his body at night,” she laughs.

When Jeremy brings his guns to our house, will I stand up for what I believe in or let the opportunity pass? The boys race into the kitchen for cookies, faces flushed, and race out again. I ask how she likes the new kindergarten teacher.

Two hours later, we’re driving home. I’m irritated with myself for not speaking out, for letting friendship get in the way, for taking the easy way out.

“Did you have fun with Jeremy?” My attempt to straighten out the tangled afternoon has the stamina of a cooked noodle.


“You know Jeremy can’t play with his guns in our house because we don’t allow guns in the playroom.” I pull the wrinkled grimy patch from the earpiece on Matt's glasses. “They are too dangerous.” Finally. I’ve asserted myself with a four year old.

Matt snarls as if I’ve told him it’s time for bed, then glances out the window. That night he nibbles a piece of matzoa into the shape of a gun and twirls it on his finger.

Years later, Matt joined ROTC his first week in college, excited to learn the intricacies of military weaponry. Joshua served as a Major in the Marine Corps. Jeremy became a Rabbi.


Carol Owens Campbell said...


I love this story. The ending makes me just shake my head and laugh. The twist at the end is so ironic to me. (Did Jeremy get his inner Davy Crockett/John Wayne out of his system as a boy? Who knows?) What I do know is that your three sons have become caring fathers. I applaud your efforts as their mom.

Barbara, this story is so timely. I agree with you. Vietnam and Iraq create a two-sided mirror. As the mother of a teenage son, I'm frantic. That's why there couldn't be a better time for me to enjoy your story about Matt and "Jermy." Thank you. I want to read more of your stories.


Josh said...


Thanks! For the ban and for writing. Was fun to read.

Love Josh

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that Jeremy the gun-toting child is now a renowned and enormously admired rabbi on New York's upper west side. His sermons and writings are regularly about the benefits of, and continuing need for, a culture of peace. Rabbi Kalmanofsky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ansche Chesed.

A friend of the Kaplan/Kalmanofsky families

Lizina said...

People should read this.