Category Archives: the big stuff

Is It a Bad Thing to Want to Give Our Kids a Magical Childhood?

Last week, a blog post went viral about why parents should stop trying to give their kids a magical childhood. 

One of my friends shared it on her Facebook wall and yesterday a speaker at a sustainability conference even recommended it, saying that parents today spend too much time “on those things like Pinterest” and “working so hard to make their children’s live magical.”

“They’re just making their own lives harder,” she scoffed, “trying to make everything perfect.”

Then she said it’s because we mothers are addicted to stress.

Yes, it turns out we secretly like stress and so the quest to make childhood fun is some deep, psychological quest to make ourselves unhappy.

Or something like that.  I had a really hard time understanding the logic in any of it.

These people seem to completely miss the point about what makes a childhood magical, and why some of us make an effort to try to do it.

A magical childhood isn’t about elaborate homemade cakes or catalog-worthy decorating ideas.  It’s not about spending hours on Pinterest in some feverish quest to find enough fantastic things to do for our children.

It’s also not about doing things for and to our children.

It’s about doing things with our children.  And giving them a life where they can make their own magic, too.

A magical childhood is filled with things like stories, hugs, picnics for breakfast in the back yard, knock-knock jokes in lunch boxes, lazy Saturdays, I love you notes in sock drawers and a dozen kisses “just because.”

A magical childhood is about silliness and songs and spontaneity and at least occasional opportunities to make a glorious mess in the mud.

A magical childhood is filled with memories of little things that are big things to children — fireflies, campfires, snowball fights, shoulder rides, time with people who make them feel special and snuggling in bed with a big pile of wonderful library books.

A magical childhood is about being there with our kids on a regular basis and taking the time to talk to them, listen to them, and do something that makes them smile.

It can involve crafts and activities.  It can involve any number of things you can find on Pinterest (and for the record, why is it the new “in” thing to gang up on moms who craft or like Pinterest?).  It can also involve just getting out in nature together or shooting hoops at the park or sitting in the back yard and talking after supper.

Childhood is hard.  Adulthood is hard.  Life in general is hard.

We all need a little magic. 

Yes, kids can make their own magic.  They are very capable of turning our living rooms into giant forts, creating elaborate fantasy worlds in the bushes in the backyard, and enthusiastically jumping like crazy in giant puddles.

But the thing that those misguided people don’t realize is that when we work to make childhood magical, we benefit too.

We strengthen our connection with our kids.

We show our kids that we love them like crazy.

We strengthen them for the hard times they will face in life.

And….

We get to play and craft and splash and make messes again, too.

We add some joy to our own days.

We make parenthood magical too.

silly

I have parented these children through toddlerhood (five times!), surgeries, cancer, the deaths of friends and family, tween angst, teen depression, bullies and more.  Do you think I could have survived intact without working to make it magical for all of us?

There is a picture book that I read to my kids at bedtime sometimes that sums up a magical childhood to me.  It’s called My Mama Had a Dancing Heart and it’s about a little girl and her mother through the seasons spending time together cutting out paper snowflakes, playing in fall leaves, dancing in the rain and so on.

The last line is, “My mama had a dancing heart, and she shared that heart with me.”

That’s the kind of mom I have always tried to be.  And I frankly think it’s nonsense for anyone to suggest that’s a bad thing.

Those people can go on scoffing at those of us who strive to give our kids a magical childhood.

If that’s the worst thing they can say about me, I think I’m doing okay.  :)

dancing

 

 

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A Little Update

Thank you for all your kind words about Victoria.  It’s meant a lot to our family.

I thought I’d post a little update on how she’s doing but I’m not sure I ever posted much information to begin with so here’s a super short recap:

Victoria had surgery on May 2nd to remove a lump that had been below her ear for over a year.  A doctor and specialist had told us that it was “nothing” but we finally pushed for it to be removed and another doctor agreed it was best since it was growing larger.  The surgery was a parotidectomy, since the lump was sitting on top of her parotid (salivary) gland. 

She had a difficult recovery, with a lot of pain and pretty severe swelling on the side of her face.  At her two week recheck, the doctor informed us that a biopsy had revealed a rare type of cancer of the parotid gland instead of the benign cyst he was expecting.  He said he was optimistic that it had all been removed, though. 

Last week, we went to an oncologist who specializes in cancers of the ear, nose and throat who told us that the surgeon had removed the cyst in a way that was dangerous since he hadn’t known it was cancerous (basically, you want to take extra all around and “ink” it to help determine if there is more anywhere and be sure you got it all).  She also palpitated the site to see how Victoria was healing. 

Within about an hour of the appointment, Victoria was in a lot of pain and by that evening she was in excruciating pain, sobbing and shaking with a high fever.  We rushed her to the emergency room, where they gave her large doses of pain medicines and IV fluids to no relief.  She spent the night in the hospital and in the morning we rushed her back to Sioux Falls to the oncologist’s office.  Victoria’s oncologist was now in Aruba, so another specialist saw her and immediately admitted her to the pediatric ward of the local hospital.  She had a severe infection where she’d had the surgery (it’s likely the infected area burst and spread during the palpitations the day before).  They did emergency surgery that night to deal with the infection, and she was released from the hospital on Sunday.

The good news is that she’s healing very well from this surgery and she’s in much less pain.  She had her stitches removed yesterday and the surgeon told us he looked at the pathology report from the initial surgery and the cancer does seem to have been removed well (there were clear margins all around, meaning that the extra that they want was there).  She will have a special type of CT scan in three months to look for more cancer.

Victoria is still on antibiotics and pain medication, but she’s getting back to her usual self.  She’s pretty weak and things like chewing still cause her pain, but her spirits are much better.

(If you’d like to send her a card or pick-me-up, you can at:  Victoria Bayer, PO Box 304, Westbrook MN 56183)

The cancer is a very rare type and it tends to be very slow growing, which is good news.  Victoria’s surgeon has another young patient who had the same type of parotid cancer and has been doing well for two years.  We’re optimistic right now about the cancer, the surgery, the infection and her medical team.

Meanwhile, every other member of our family has been sick this month too.  We’ve had coughs, colds, flus, an eye infection, a respiratory infection, fevers, stomach pains, allergies, sore throats, headaches, lost voices and general exhaustion.  We all finally seem to be getting better now that the worst of the crises are over.  We have high hopes for June!

I’ll be back soon.  Thanks again for all your sweet comments, thoughts, prayers, letters and words of support.  :)

~Alicia

 

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A Smallish Break

Some of you may know that our daughter Victoria was back in the hospital this week.  She had a couple of very scary days with a lot of pain and another surgery, but she’s back home again now.  We are in limbo with her cancer diagnosis (the latest news is now cautiously optimistic), but her most urgent medical needs have all been met and we’re getting her the best care we can.

This has been a rough month.

Right now I’m focusing all of my energies on taking care of my kiddos and getting our lives back in healthy, happy places all around.

I’ll be checking in off and on, but I’m taking a smallish break from A Magical Childhood while focusing on family.

I’ll be back soon.

Kiss your babies, count your blessings, and don’t forget to add a little magic to the day.

~Alicia

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The C Word

Ten years ago, my little girl was a four year-old happily splashing in puddles.  Victoria was my joyful model for the picture on the What should a 4 year-old know? article that brought a lot of people here over the years.

Two weeks ago, Victoria was having surgery to remove a cyst on her jawline that had been bothering her for over a year.  Numerous doctors dismissed it as nothing and told her to just leave it alone, but it was growing and we finally found a doctor who took it seriously.  My baby had an IV and a breathing tube, and awoke to a drainage tube coming out of her neck for two days.

At her two week follow-up with the surgeon this week, we were informed that it was cancer. 

In today’s world, the easiest way to update a whole lot of concerned loved ones at once is sometimes Facebook, and this was my status that afternoon.

It was cancer (papillary cystic acinic cell carcinoma) but the prognosis is good. He believes he got it all and it is one of the “best” parotid cancers to get. She has a 12% lifetime chance of getting it again. There’s no need for chemo or radiation, and this was probably the cause of her terrible headaches the past few months. Her case was forwarded to a specialist in children’s parotid cancers in Iowa and we have his recommendations too. We’re getting a second opinion just to be cautious, too. The swelling and leaking should stop in the next few weeks and there’s no infection. She’s feeling okay about the whole thing (though she’s sick on top of things, with this bug that Anna, Fiona and I have) and Dad took her for lunch and ice cream.

We are optimistic about her prognosis and we will be very proactive in finding information, keeping her immune system healthy and minimizing its chances of ever returning.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of scary thoughts, google searches and late-night mama worries, but knowledge is power and we’re pretty good at accumulating a lot of knowledge around here.

What has really struck me during this ordeal is how strong, funny, brave, rational and all-around amazing this kid of mine has been throughout it all.  From researching parotid glands on her own to keeping up a hysterical run of gallows humor at times to telling me “Mom, just don’t freak out,” she’s been wise beyond her years and incredibly positive.

Every person in our family is now sick (with all different things!) and we are still recovering from 3 birthdays in one week and a week of hosting a super fabulous extra teenager and all sorts of adventures, both good and bad.  I hope to be back soon, but I thought I’d fill you in on all of this. 

My goals for all of us the next few weeks involve rest, love, laughter, good nutrition and good times together. Oh, and somehow catching up on laundry…

Oh yes, and getting the materials to make this next month, because that just looks awesome.  :) 

Kiss your babies, count your blessings and let the laundry wait if you have to.

~Alicia

 

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The Never-Ending Parent

You may have noticed that Monday came and went without a list of ways to make the day magical this week. 

It’s been one of those weeks.

You’re on your own!  ;)

But in the meantime, I came across this tidbit that I wrote in the Magical Childhood newsletter years ago.  It was written half to a friend who was stressed out as a mom and half as a reminder to myself.

It helps me keep things in perspective.

The Never-Ending Parent

Sometimes it’s hard to be a good parent.
Sometimes you wonder why you’re not like others
Who make themselves the priority, who are stern and unyielding
Or who let everybody else take care of their kids.
Sometimes you envy them their time, their space,
Their full night’s sleep.

Sometimes you start doubting yourself and wondering
If you really are just crazy, being this kind of parent
In this kind of world.

Your house is noisy and full of chaos
And you wonder if it will last forever.

I have a secret.  If you keep this up….
It will.

Think of it.

When you get up at 3 a.m. because your baby cries, think of the time
When he’s a teenager and calls at 3 a.m. to say he needs a ride
Instead of getting in the car with his drunk friends
Because he knows he can be honest with you and that he can count on you.

When you take the time to explain “why” for the hundredth time today
Wondering if you will ever get a moment’s peace and quiet,
Think of the days when your daughter is grown and on her own
And will still call because she loves your conversations.

When you discount all the well-meaning people who tell you to let your baby cry
And you go to him, hold him, comfort him anyway
Think ahead to the times when he’ll be a strong, secure, independent kid
And those people say “I don’t know how you were blessed with such an easy child.”

When you nurse your daughter and hold her close
Spoiling her with all that love and care, think of the time
When you’ll overhear her tell a friend
“My mom and I have always been so close.”

When the house is full of noise, mess and chaos
Think of the days when the kids are grown, and it will start all over
With your grandchildren, because your family is so bonded
That everybody still gathers at your loving home.

No, if you keep this up it will never change.
Your children will be in your life forever.
And honey, you’ll love the noise.

~ Alicia Bayer

Happy Thursday!  I’ll be back with some fun soon!

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More Research Shows Preschoolers Learn Best Through Play and Exploration (and a Few Fun Links)

As if we needed more studies to show that preschoolers don’t need formal education, two new studies have shown that little ones are better at learning and solving problems when they are not instructed about it first.  In Slate’s Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School, researcher Alison Gopnik cites the studies and how they surprised the scientists:

As so often happens in science, two studies from different labs, using different techniques, have simultaneously produced strikingly similar results. They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning.

The author concludes the article with something most of us know already:

Knowing this, it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies. 

Want to play with your kiddos today?  Here’s some sites with some fun inspiration…

  • Meyamo has a wonderful PDF page showing how to make a dozen gorgeous colors of natural paint with powdered sugar, a bit of boiling water and fruits and vegetables like spinach, carrots, raspberries, coffee and lemons.
  • Twenty-five different blogs took part in Tinkerbox’s Cardboard Box Challenge and I love some of the things they came up with, like the way Teach Preschool’s little carpenter not only used parts of boxes to make walls of a little house but he even made planks of floors.  Then there’s the splat paint box, the marble run, the castle, the loom…
  • I love The Artful Parent’s Spray Painted Canvas Patio Walls!  We do something similar with an old sheet all summer (yes, that’s the same sheet over the years in the pictures!).  We hang it on the clothesline and attack it with paint, spray bottles of colored water, you name it, and then just wash it and use it for our table cover when we do messy crafts inside.  I love the way it constantly changes depending on the latest art adventures, with some designs lasting forever through the new.

Happy Wednesday!

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Big Brother, Little Brother

Of all wild beasts, the most difficult to manage.
– Plato , on Boys

My son Jack has a black eye this week, courtesy of his little brother.

I’d like to say that Alex didn’t mean to do it, but he did.

Alex (3) was mad and threw his new remote control truck at Jack (7) and hit him smack under the eye.

Jack wailed, but didn’t retaliate.  No matter how his little brother torments him, it’s not his way to ever purposely hurt Alex back.

(Although perhaps in a bit of karma, Alex tripped while jumping on our bed today and fell right onto a metal bed rail and got his own shiner of sorts.)

Such is the life with boys.

My girls were active, loud, chaotic and crazy-making, but nothing like these boys.

They hurl themselves through life and through our small house.

They shriek.

They chase.

They make enough noise to raise the dead.

At dinner time, they sit side by side and crack each other up all during dinner.

They are loud, silly, messy and totally unacceptable dinner companions to their older sisters (and often to their parents).

When we separate them, though, they sob as if they’re being sent to opposite sides of the earth.  Please, they beg, let us be together!

Last week, we stayed at a hotel to celebrate my birthday and spent a lot of time in the pool.

The older kids took turns carrying Alex around and holding out their arms for him to leap into.  I loved the sight of how they all took care of him.

But it especially made me smile to see my “baby” Jack carrying Alex around, looking after him so carefully.

These boys make me crazy on an hourly basis.

They break things.

They mess up things.

They jump and shout and leap and swordfight and smash and crash and bash.

But if you ask Alex who his best friend is, he’ll tell you, “My brother Jack.”

At the end of the day, one of the best gifts I could possibly give my boys is that kind of love and connection with each other.

Brotherhood in the best sense.

Of course, one of the best gifts they could give me would be a wee bit less bashing.  ;)


A boy is a magical creature–you can lock him out of your workshop, but you can’t lock him out of your heart.
– Allan Beck

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What We Can Learn From Swedish Preschools

I received a rather snarky comment on my “What Should a 4 Year-Old Know?” post today.

While I’ve been contacted by teachers, librarians, principals, doctors and early childhood education experts who have said they wished more parents realized these things, this surly individual called me “blase” and “touchy feely” and said, “C****, we’re all screwed.”

The commenter, Eric, said that “we are so behind other countries that good jobs are bleeding from our borders to other nations…” and “4-year-old children SHOULD be able to write their name, know the planets, list several presidents AND count to 100…”.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to educate Eric on what those countries that are leading the world ARE doing in preschool.

It might not be what he thinks.

Head over to Teacher’s TV and watch this 26 minute video about preschools in Sweden.

As the narrator says,

Imagine a school where play and relaxation is paramount…

…Where there’s little formal learning and most leave at the age of five or six unable to read or write.

…Yet, just a few years after starting formal schooling at the age of seven, these children lead the literacy table in Europe.

The preschool director points out that there is no testing and that “It’s not the child we should evaluate, it’s the processes we do.”

The Swedish preschool’s motto:

Challenge, Discovery, Adventure

The video talks about what’s important in Swedish preschools — lots of time outside, natural foods, cooperation, exercise, security, play, life skills and most importantly, fun.  It also shows how these young children do in school a few years later, and lets them talk about what they think of it all.

What about the rest of the world?  Teacher’s TV has an entire series of programs that follow countries that teach in the best ways, and Hungary was featured for teaching math best.  Again, you’ll notice that they introduce formal learning later and the children do better. In Hungary, they begin formal school at age 6 and are not formally tested until age 14.

There’s plenty more to show the academic reasons for play-based learning for preschoolers.  Take a look at this excerpt from Should preschools teach all work and no play?

Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, agrees. In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.

“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.

According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.

“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”

When deciding what is best for your preschooler, I hope you will always follow the leads of your own heart, your own child and at the very least, follow the research.

Despite grumpy people who may think otherwise, doing things that are good for children is not bad for any of us.

For more on this subject see:


4 Reasons To Ditch Academic Preschools

Academic Preschools: Too Much Too Soon?

Academic Preschool

Pushing preschoolers — at what cost?

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A Little Holiday Art Request

Would your kids be interested in making some art for a little boy who could use some smiles?  Friends of seven year-old Joey are trying to get lots of cards and pictures for his hospital room.

Note:  The following letter is from the family organizing this card drive.  While I do not know Joey’s family, I have known the mother who wrote this letter for many years through an online homeschooling group.  You can follow Joey’s progress online here.

Attached is a picture of Joey pre-diagnosis and then after his surgery.  He is 7 years old.  Three weeks ago he was able to fully participate in an one hour gym class.  He started experiencing some vomiting and a couple of other symptoms.  His mom and dad took him to the doctor, they thought it was a virus going around.  He didn’t get better, then he couldn’t walk.  Fast forward three weeks, and they found out he has a brain tumor on his brain stem and going down his spine.  The cancer he has is so aggressive it can double in size in 24 hours.  He has emergency surgery.  The doctors are able to remove 98% from his brain stem, but the masses going down his spine are inoperable.  He is scheduled for radiation for 5x a week for the next 6 weeks, with chemo.  Joey is fighting for his life.  He has a long road ahead of him.  His family’s only request has been prayers for Joey.
My children are friends of Joey.  They are wanting to do something that will help Joey through this time.  That is where TEAM JOEY has come from.  Together we can let Joey and his parents know that Joey is NOT ALONE, that there are people everyday praying for Joey, that people are thinking about Joey and that Joey has a TEAM of people supporting him and his recovery.
So here is the request.  Will you please consider sending a card or a quick note to Joey with get well wishes?  Do you have children who enjoy drawing?  Will you have them make Joey a card.  Will you ask your family, friends, neighbors, churches, etc and collect the cards to mail for Joey?  If you would like please include a 4 x 6 photo of yourself, family, and/or children.  We will be putting together a scrapbook for Joey so that he can look at the pictures of all the people are thinking and praying for him.  On the back of your cards, please put your city and state.  If your children are drawing pictures please put your children’s names and ages too.
Please consider this request, it would mean alot to my children, but it would mean the world to Joey and his family.  Please mail your cards, notes, postcards, drawings, pictures, etc to:
TEAM JOEY

11715 Fox Road, STE 400-124

Indianapolis, IN. 46236

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An Army of Goodness

I was horrified today to learn about a 7 year-old terminally ill girl who was being bullied by her grown neighbor. The news videos were heartbreaking — a woman and her husband posted photoshopped pictures of the girl’s dead mother in the arms of the Grim Reaper and the child with a skull and crossbones over her.

I was in tears for this beautiful child and her grief-stricken family, and nauseated at the behavior of these psychopaths.

And then I found pages of what has  happened in the days following the news reports.

People around the country have been donating to the family and to a fund set up to give her a fantasy shopping spree at a local toy store.  Today, she was picked up by limo to pick out any toys she likes and she will deliver thousands of dollars worth of other toys to children at a local hospital.


Recently, a couple of friends told me that I should not pay attention to upsetting stories and tragedies around the world. They said I’d just depress myself and there were too many suffering people in the world to be able to do any good.

I beg to differ.

Years ago, I found out about an evil couple who were telling parents to beat their children into submission with tree limbs and plumbing line, starting in infancy.  I was sickened and haunted by what I read, and I spoke up about it loudly.

Soon after, a salon.com writer published an article about the teachings.  The article got thousands of views and raised awareness.

Last year, a child was killed by parents who followed this horrific advice, and I wrote a series of articles about it and once again spoke up often and loudly.  Prosecutors and police had found the salon.com article online and tied the couple to those teachings (though no charges can be filed against the authors).  News reports wrote about the books and Facebook groups formed about better ways to discipline children.

It was only then that a friend of mine told me that she’d forwarded one of my early emails to a friend of hers who worked at salon.com, which led to that first article.  I was one small piece in an ever-growing movement to balance out the bad with good.

We make ripples that go out into the world every day of our lives — with our parenting, with our relationships, with our actions and with our words. Those ripples can go much farther than we ever realize.

I continue to speak out about evil and unfairness, and I am not a depressed person.

Actually, I am one of the happiest people I know.

It’s true I often cry for the grieving mothers, abused children and other victims of suffering that are so plentiful in this world.  There’s some pain that nothing I do can take away.  Most of it, actually.

But there’s a lot of good that I can do just by acknowledging it, talking about it and doing my own small deeds to balance it out.

And it’s a really wonderful feeling to know that when people do let the world know about the bad stuff out there, there is generally an army of goodness that reacts.

I like being in that army of goodness. It’s pretty nice company.

 

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

 

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