Monday, April 19, 2010

Boys Gone Wild

There are two things I never thought I'd discourage in my children: healthy imaginations and initiative. Last Friday, I was forced to curtail both in Nate before the elementary school principal (aka my boss), a swarm of irritated neighbors, and possibly the local police department did it for me.

Yes, really.

Because what happens when 10-year-old boys: a) have a vision, b) recuit, c) arm themselves, and d) get organized?

I'll break it down for you in three little words: Nerf Gun War.

To give this tale the treatment it deserves, I have to start at the beginning, and at the beginning of any shitstorm in which I customarily find myself is usually me not quite paying the attention I should.

Case in point: two weeks ago, I heard Nate starting to talk about said 'Nerf gun war' in the form of an innocent little activity he and a few neighborhood friends were planning out in front of my friend and neighbor Tina's house.

A few days later, I was almost definitely half-listening when he begged to ride his bike over to his buddy's house (Tina's son) for a 'strategic test run'.

And then the big day came, and I 'um-hmmmed' and 'uh-huhhed' and almost retained the information I was pretending to hear when he and Calvin came back home from Tina's raving about how great the Nerf war was and how they're going to do this every single Friday afternoon for the rest of their lives.

And I thought, Great! Fresh air, foam bullets, lots of running? Let the good times roll!

But I was missing some key information. Apparently, when Tina had rounded the corner onto her street after work that day, a gang (no other way to describe it) of at least 20 kids were lying in wait (no other way to describe it), anxious for the 'war' to start. Half of them, she'd never seen before in her life. Some of them, apparently, had been dropped off there by parents she'd never met.

Kids had jumped neighbors' fences in combat and darted back and forth across her suburban neighborhood streets (which are usually quiet, but still!). She was pretty sure some of the younger kids had trampled flowerbeds in their haste to reach safety bases, and she was a little afraid her neighbors would egg her house or key her car if they ever figured out who among them had instigated this fifth grade flash mob.

In short, it probably shouldn't happen again.

I told her I was in complete agreement, then...yeah, I promptly forgot all about it...until this past Friday.

When I saw the detailed maps of the 'war zone' Nate had drawn and photocopied.


(Exhibit A)

And the piles of arsenal being deposited into the boys' backpacks.
(Exhibit B)

And then, starting around 10 am, parents began to inexplicably call me for more information about 'this war' their sons wouldn't stop talking about. Is our house the home base, and can their kid just ride the bus home with Nate this afternoon, or..?

Wait. What?!

But I had to switch to the other line because Tina was calling me back: she'd just gotten off the phone with the school principal. Apparently, talk of the Nerf war had been percolating all week, reaching its crescendo when a homemade flier some child had made (how it's possible that it wasn't mine, I have no idea), had fallen into enemy hands (a fifth grade teacher). The flier read: Nerf War (2nd round)!!!!! All boys every grade to meet at (Tina's address) at 3 pm 'armed and ready'!!!!

This was not good. Not even a little bit. If you spend any time at all in elementary schools, you know that the words 'gun' and 'war' on unoffical invitations to the student body are kind of a big deal and not to be ignored.

Long story short, quite a bit of explanation was necessary, followed by the daunting task of squelching the war movement. Turns out, once the furvor has set in, propaganda at its peak, this isn't easy. But Tina feared that if 20 kids had shown up the past week, she was looking at 50 this time around,and her suspicions were correct: after the principal visited the fifth grade classrooms one by one and made school-wide announcements to all the teachers that the 'Nerf war was officially cancelled', it came to our attention that kids as young as second grade had been planning to attend.

When my own kids got off the bus after school, they were abuzz about the whole fiasco. And throughout that afternoon, cars continued to pull up at our curb (apparently once designated as a 'staging point'), forcing me to explain the whole sordid story to half a dozen parents (and turn away another couple kids who pedaled over on bikes, Nerf machine guns strapped to their handlebars.

It was a long Friday afternoon, but when I think about it, I can't help but laugh, then shake my head, and then laugh appreciatively again. There's something about that level of ability to lead that's to be admired in a handful of ten-year-olds. Really, their only mistake was that leaked communication blunder.

Rookie mistake.
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