WITH THE holidays over, it's time to assess a disturbing trend in child behavior which seems a particularly sad by-product of the bland, take-no-risk '90s.
It involves a toy bow and arrows left for my 8-year-old by Santa Claus, who, it seems to me, was having an off day when he loaded this baby onto his sleigh.
On the surface, the bow and arrows seem harmless enough. (Then again, so does a Claymore mine.)
The bow, which was made in Hong Kong (there's an upset), has a firing range of about, oh, four feet if you're lucky and five feet only if the jet stream is at your back.
The arrows have those stupid suction cup tips which stick to whatever you hit for about three-tenths of a second before dropping like dead pigeons to the floor.
Nevertheless, as soon as Sean unwrapped this thing, my face drained of color.
For one thing, I had visions of the little hooligan and his hooligan friends engaged in massive close-range firefights with this weapon, turning the house into a hellish vision of Sherwood Forest with overtones of Da Nang.
I had visions of lawsuits, too, nasty, protracted ones with the prosecution parading all manner of ophthalmologists and cornea specialists to the witness stand while angry parents spat at me in the courtroom and shrieked: "YOU . . . YOU BLINDED MY SON!"
Hoo, boy. Didn't want any part of that. So even before he could trot off to cut someone down with his new toy, my wife and I said (in our best Concerned Parent voice): "Remember: Never aim an arrow at anyone. Shoot only at the paper target."
"Sure, Mom and Dad," he said. (As I recall, this answer alone was what got us first thinking about a possible cult connection to the toy and brain-washing.)
In any event, what's disturbing is that, at least thus far, Sean has followed our instructions to the letter.
Instead of waiting until the minute we left the room to whip off those suction-cup tips and start drilling cold, hard, plastic arrows at (for example) his little sister's eyes, he seems eeriely content to leave the suction cups on and -- go figure -- shoot only at the target!
Day after day he can be found in a corner of the playroom, using the bow and arrows in the manner suggested in the enclosed safety pamphlet and -- here's the part I really don't understand -- apparently having a wonderful time!
Can you imagine? No, neither can we. That's why we're so concerned. It just doesn't seem normal for your average little kid not to explore the terrorist potential behind a toy bow and arrows.
Not once, for instance, have he and his little hooligan friends set up perimeter positions around the yard and (with suction tips off the arrows) attempted to pick off the friendly squirrels near the bird feeder.
Neither have they stalked innocent passers-by on the sidewalk, the way we did in my day, suddenly emerging with war whoops from a hedgerow to unleash a volley of arrows at, say, a startled mother walking her baby in a stroller.
And get this: The boys have even been taking turns using the bow and arrows, instead of simply snatching them from one another whenever they feel the urge and triggering a screaming, tearful free-for-all.
As I said, the whole thing is very unsettling. We'll probably take the boy for counseling soon, and suggest to the parents of his friends that they do the same.
Say what you will about dragging kids to a shrink, but it's my feeling that you have to nip this sort of thing in the bud.
Next thing you know, these kids will be playing with chemistry sets, dart boards, cork-guns, etc. in (shudder) exactly the manner set down by their parents and teachers.
God knows where this sort of Hitler Youth Corps mentality will end, either.
Me, I see a lost generation of kids who, OK, might be having fun with their toys now. But not nearly as much fun as they could be having if they'd only lighten up a little and (I'm just thinking out loud here) take those silly suction cups off the arrows and plug someone's 88-year-old granny as she sits rocking in front of the TV.
Live a little, is what I'm saying. And let's not hear a lot of holier-than-thou nonsense about how it's wrong to creep up on someone's grandmother and wing her in the back of the head just as "Wheel of Fortune" is coming on.
It might stun her a little, that's all. But I bet once she comes to, she'll get a kick out of a plastic arrow sticking behind her ear.
You didn't shoot at a silly paper target in her day, I'll tell you that.