Actually, it is a toy.

It’s a plastic gun that shoots plastic BBs. This is what I should have said. I told Artie not to bring his new gun. I didn’t think I could stomach any more disapproval. Leaving the house to spend Christmas afternoon with his grandparents and cousins, Artie called me on it. “Why are you telling me what to do? Why can’t I just act like myself?”

He has a point. “Don’t talk about God; don’t talk about Jesus; don’t talk about church; don’t talk about drugs; don’t talk about guns; don’t talk about death. For God’s sake, don’t talk about Trump.” These subjects are tripwires, the topics I want to avoid. They spur awkward silences and sidelong looks, debate and disagreement, admonishments from Artie’s cousin. These are the topics that prove to them they are better than us.

Sonya and I are no longer Christian. This is something they don’t understand. Not going to church on Christmas Eve is viewed as laziness, maybe rebelliousness. “Why don’t you guys come along, it’s just for an hour.” We had a forty-minute conversation about homelessness, another example of laziness. Sonya’s sister: “They don’t want to work. They’d rather panhandle than get a job. Forty percent of them won’t take a day-labor job when offered. Fox News did a piece on it.”

And the cousin: They’re just greedy. Greed is a sin of the soul.” He’s fifteen.

“You could argue with them,” you say. “Explain about depression and PTSD. Talk about privilege.” Contradiction is an argument. I don’t want to ruin Christmas Eve with debate. Besides I won’t change any minds. They haven’t changed mine.

Artie is thirteen. He’s testing things out. Looking for talking points that raise people’s eyebrows, that get him attention. “I saw Crack Cocaine last week, Heroine too.” It was a school education thing with a cop. He leaves that part out. He lets his drug connection linger like he’s street. This is when they catch each other’s eye. They know about my past drug abuse. This is evidence that I passed it on to my kids.

The comments about God and Jesus, he’s being immature. Picking away at something he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand their commitment to religion. Their feelings about Christmas. Their obvious disdain about us celebrating Christmas.

The gun was a gift. I don’t know where his fascination comes from, but he’s been talking about it for months. It’s a “recreational sport gun” called an Airsoft rifle. It’s made to shoot at friends in a mock war. Friends wearing proper eye protection. I wasn’t convinced. I bent over and had him shoot me in the backside.

When he saw the gun, his grandfather shook his head. He started quizzing Artie about gun safety. Cautioning him that the BBs would break skin. I could read his disappointment in me. His exasperation with Artie. Artie’s had a BB gun since he was seven. After he first got the safety drill in scouts.

We didn’t stay for dinner. This is the year we planned on celebrating alone. Relaxing, no judgement, together, just our family.

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