A Boy and His Army

I thought it would be a passing thing. The love of all things army, the color camouflage, little green plastic army guys. But in the last seven of his nine years, my son’s interest in epic battles and the quest for a good game of army has not waned one single bit.

I remember the little camouflaged fleece jackets, cute camo pants and tee-shirts he would wear as a toddler and preschooler. Fashion statements for sure. But for my little guy, even back then, camouflage meant nothing less than an outfit for a true army man.

The first time he put a “helmet” on, it was actually an old plastic ice cream bucket that fit perfectly on his head. Next a little camouflaged winter hat. Finally, the actually plastic army helmet complete with the three sergeant stripes as decoration. He was in seventh heaven over that one.

When my daughter was an infant, and I would retreat to another room to try to nurse her quietly, my son would sneak up on us, dressed all in camouflage, proudly donning this army helmet and a weapon of choice, and subsequently take us prisoner.

He snuck up on us, stealthily for a then four-year-old, and he would make the machine gun noise with his mouth — which by the way is a talent unmatched by anyone — and promptly scare the crap out of me. I am lucky my daughter was too busy enjoying her meal to notice. She might have bitten me.

Let me just say that I was a hold out for the whole toy gun thing. My list of reasons why — he was too young, innocent, impressionable, precious to have a gun. My husband just nodded to placate me. I was not to win that battle.

Uncles felt otherwise too and one even presented my son with his first toy gun when he was two, much to my chagrin. Luckily sneaky mommy hid it before he could finish opening the rest of his birthday presents.

But that didn’t stop him from pretending. Using his fingers, sticks, a cookie even, anything he could find, he pretended to shoot the bad guys. It was absolutely innate in my boy. By the time his older cousin came over with his own arsenal of toy army guns, wanting to take to the woods for a good old-fashioned game of war, I knew that it was time to just give in. (This was more ceremonial for me as I had already lost that battle months before.)

Every year, in addition to more camouflage army guns, tanks and helmets, his collection of  toy soldiers has grown. Some are green, others tan and he even procured some blue and gray ones at Gettysburg. They are  everywhere. Sometimes I step on them, the dog might find one and chew it. Open any drawer and one is sure to be sitting there waiting to be rescued.

Sometimes I can hear the plastic churning in my vacuum cleaner. After a long battle, it spits out the army man, all mangled and broken. A true sacrifice for his fellow soldiers.

These little plastic soldiers engage my son in hours and hours of fun. Strategy. Designing and redesigning battle scenes. Placing them just so and then knocking them down in one fell swoop only to start over again. Recently he swiped his sister’s Bendaroos and used them to create a pretty cool army scene complete with brown and green hanging “vines” he thought might be present in a jungle bunker.

Sure, for a while he might be into other things — the Wii, Legos, skateboarding.

But he has always come back to army.

Halloween costumes are pretty easy this way. He has been an Army Guy almost every year, with someone from the Clone Wars and a Construction Worker thrown in here and there. Last two years though, he put on blue pants, a blue blazer, blue tee-shirt and his blue Union Kepi. Then we bloodied him up with an old t-shirt saturated with red food coloring, powdered his face white and voila — dead Civil War guy. This year, camouflaged jacket and pants, army face paint, a couple of bloody wounds and we were done.

After two Spring Break history-cations to Gettysburg, realizing that the terrain in our woods was very similar to that in Gettysburg, my son wanted to create his own Little Round Top on a hill in our woods. He and his dad cleared out a spot, gathered fallen branches and constructed a fence as close as they could get to the ones that adorned the real battlefields. They pitched an American flag and perched themselves a top their own Little Round Top, and talked about what the Union soldiers went through back in 1863.

He especially loves the Civil War. He was beside himself in first grade when he “discovered” Civil War on Sunday, one of the many Magic Tree House books he would later read. That and Revolutionary War on Wednesday were the two books that sent him searching for more to read on the history of battles.

Just this past summer, we stumbled upon an organization that hosted a week-long Civil War camp. It was the best week of his life. Seriously.

He is a sponge for anything military and knows more about the Civil War than I do, and can come up with facts about other battles that can surprise even a history buff like my husband. He fessed up to secretly watching the Military Channel with his dad every time I have a night out with the girls. (My husband sheepishly left the room after this admission.) I am not sure I want my little guy watching the storming of the beach at Normandy, but considering the crap on the tube these days, well…

Now, coming up on his 9th birthday, my son has created plans for the most awesome birthday party ever: Best guy friends, camouflage, woods, Army laser tag, complete with lean-tos, bunkers and forts (that he has enlisted his dad to help him make) and a sleepover in our woods at the homemade campsite we designed last summer.

He CAN NOT wait. He has been planning and designing since Christmas. Chomping at the bit for the snow to melt so he and his dad can get out there and start.

Last weekend, with Spring warming the air and no snow left, he called a friend to come over and they spent three hours outside playing in the woods. I watched them carrying tree limbs and smaller branches to a spot on the hill where they created the first party bunker. They came in for a snack, but had no desire to turn on the Wii or do anything else but play in the woods. It was so nice to see boys using tools available to them in nature, along with some plastic army guns, to just have some good old-fashioned fun. (Ticks aside. They are already out and it’s not even April yet.)

So as I ponder his 9th birthday and his never-ending love of Army, I wonder what it all means for his future. Will he continue with his love of battles and history? Will he become the Civil War re-enactor he talked about once? A history teacher? Is West Point in his future? Will he ever ditch those toy soldiers and his home-made bunkers for a pretty girl who sits next to him in class?

So many questions. So many possibilities. But one thing I do hope for is that whatever my beautiful boy ends up doing that he does with the same passion and zeal that he has right now.

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