"Gosh, you have a lot of weapons," said the visiting mother of a 5-year-old boy.
She had brought her son around to the home of an acquaintance for a weekend play date, and she didn't like what she saw. The basement was strewn with books and balls and stuffed animals and Legos, but also with Nerf guns, pistols, muskets and the odd spiky medieval object carefully constructed by an older brother.
"Well, they're toys," the hostess said cheerfully. "They're made of plastic, mostly."
She picked up a tomahawk about the size of a hammer and held it out. "It's just for play."
"I hope you don't mind, but I'd rather the boys didn't -- " the visitor was beginning to say when she broke off. Her small son had picked up a plastic sword and had aimed it at his friend.
"Bzzzt! Bzzzt!" he yelled, zapping the other child with his super laser powers.
"Put that down!" his mother called.
"Zzzzrt! Zzzzrt!" returned his opponent lustily, firing with a wooden drumstick.
Moving swiftly, the woman crossed the room and removed the toy sword from her son's hand. She said: "We don't point weapons at other people!"
Her son looked sad (or maybe embarrassed), but the other boy was confused.
"But it's Star Wars," he said. Surely anyone could see that he and his friend had been pointing light sabers at each other.
"I don't like that game. It's not a good game," the woman said.
She turned to the hostess. "If it's OK with you, I'd really rather the boys found some other way of playing than this ... " She didn't finish the sentence. Using the word "violence" probably seemed extreme, even to her, but the word hung in the air.
When mothers with radically different parenting styles come into silent conflict, as happened in this instance, the unwritten parenting script calls for speedy and ostentatious conciliation. Each woman has probably already decided she won't facilitate further play dates, but usually neither wants an open breach.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the cruel and stupid Silver Spring educators who this week suspended a 6-year-old from first grade for pointing his finger at another child and saying, "Pow!"
Although the suspension was soon reversed and the episode expunged from the child's record, the result is nonetheless an open breach -- with a boy humiliated, his family outraged and the dim-wittedness of the administration at the Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School exposed in all its taxpayer-funded asininity.
What makes this local story so infuriating is not merely the young age of the child or the near-universality of children's games involving "pow." It is the arrant idiocy of adults who constantly urge schoolchildren to be "creative" and "imaginative," yet who themselves cannot seem to distinguish between what is real and what is pretend. A finger cannot shoot bullets. A toy wand cannot cast actual spells. A plastic sword cannot shoot laser beams. Children know this; is it really so hard for adults to grasp?
I am happy to say that the scene in the toy-filled basement was resolved in a pleasanter way. Having been promised that the boys would spend the rest of their play date doing finger painting, the weapons-free mother left. The other mother took the children upstairs for lunch.
"Yummy! Sandwiches!" yelled the boys, when she fed them.
Sitting at the kitchen table, they began chanting "num num num num," according to a private game that apparently called for making rows of tiny bites. The mother turned away for a moment. The next thing she heard was:
"Pow! Pow! Pow!"
Both boys had nibbled their sandwiches into the shape of pistols and were firing joyfully at one another, point blank.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.