A Magical Childhood

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A few years ago I heard an actress describe her childhood as “magical” and something clicked in me.  I had been searching for that word, a word, to describe my desire for my children.  And that phrase “magical childhood” is something I’ve become a bit fixated on.  Before I had a hard time knowing and understanding what kind of childhood I wanted my kids to experience.  We lived in the heart of NYC at the time, with tons of sights, sounds, friends, encounters bombarding us everyday.  It is a glorious, and extremely fun place to raise a child.  It kinda blew my mind that riding the subway was completely normal to my kids.  But I was raised on a small farm, with space to roam free, unencumbered by rules and supervision.  As a fairly new parent I struggled: did I want my kids to experience the city with all its diversity and bustling life or did I want them to have that freedom I experienced as a child?  Both had their pros and cons, I realized it really depended, ultimately, on what my husband and I wanted.  So, when I heard that television actress relate her childhood as magical I knew that’s exactly what I wanted for my kids; and that was, potentially, attainable just about anywhere.

But, what exactly is a “magical childhood”?  What does that mean?  Is it possible?  Does it just happen?  Or are there conditions that I needed to create in order for a magical childhood to develop?

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I began to ask around.  I talked and discussed with family members and friends what they thought a magical childhood meant.  Or if they had any memories of magical moments in their childhood.  Here are a summary of their responses:

My husband:  He remembered many magical moments when his dad would spend time with him.  His dad worked a lot, but when he was home his dad focused on the kids.  And he remembers some of those times very vividly and holds those memories dear to his heart.

My dad:  His most magical moments of his childhood were also with his dad.  His dad, my grandfather, was a dairy farmer.  My dad fondly remembers times when his dad would spend one-on-one time with him, often in the form of teaching him something new.

My sister:  She shared an experience she had as a mother, with her two kids.  She said it was a simple time, just the three of them were sitting on her bed and she was reading stories out loud to them.  And she felt there was a feeling of happiness, goodness, and openness.  She felt that moment was very magical and thinks her kids felt that too.

My good friend:  She had a completely different perspective on it (and that’s why I love her so).  She said she didn’t really think children felt like their childhood is magical; but as an adult, when you look back, you can see and feel the magic in selective memories.  When kids are in the thick of it, life it hard: feeling left out of friendships, not understanding homework, pushing against parents, etc.  It’s only maturity, and growing up, that makes childhood magical.

Although I see my friend’s perspective, I don’t completely agree.  I do agree childhood can be stressful–the bulk of mine was, but one of the most lovely things about childhood is there are long stretches of time (such as summer breaks) when a child has nothing to do, except be a child.  I think parents and adults often put too much pressure on children to perform well, not be lazy, or just be a good kid.  And a lot of childhood stress can stem from adult pressures.

I thought it was interesting and enlightening to hear my family members’ perspectives; they all had magical memories involving a parent, a simple loving interaction with that parent.  Which is, surprisingly, quite the opposite, from my most magical childhood memories.

I am smack dab in the middle of a large family of seven kids and, in hindsight, my parents were going through a very rough time while I was young.  Both parents were gone almost always, working, getting multiple graduate degrees.  Doing their best do avoid each other and the struggles at home.  By the time I was 10 my dad no longer lived at home.  I do have a nice memory of my dad putting me to bed a couple of times and telling me bedtime stories.  But the most magical times were when I was playing outside; usually in the spring and summer.  We lived on open land, with a few farm animals and space to roam and get lost.

I love looking back and feeling the warmth of the California sunshine on my back.  Remembering touching the round, smooth leaves of the locust tree between my fingers as I gathered them into my bag, like a robber, before my brother–the cop–captured me and put me in jail.  (Did you know…if you pinch your fingers tight around the top of a locust tree twig and pull down all the way to the end, the leaves break off in the form of a rose between your fingertips.)

The dogs’ incessant barking, the roosters crowing, the tall tree limbs swaying and creaking in the winds; these are what my magical memories are made of.  And so much more.  Much, much more.

I’m excited and curious to look through the lenses of my children’s lives.  Every so often one of them will mention a memory that sounds perfectly magical.  Note to self: write those down!!!

My 8 year old just woke up and is sitting here next to me in my cozy bed, as I finish this post.  I asked her, “Do you have any magical memories?”

“Going to Storyland or Santa’s Village.  Everything seems perfect when we go there; everyone is happy, it’s summer, nothing bad happens.  It feels good.”

Magic!  The magic happens when we feel good.  But most especially when we feel good with the ones we love.

What do you think makes a childhood magical?  What magical memory do you have from your childhood?

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Too soon

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I knew the time would come when my daughter would be bringing home garbage from school.  But at 7 years old it all seems too soon.  We work hard, and are very fortunate, to be able to live in an area with an excellent school.  (The property taxes in this town are roughly $20,000/year and most of that goes to the schools.  Crazy, right?!  We rent!)  I guess the problem is I expect more out of these parents I associate with because they are educated and wealthy.  I wrongly make the assumption that wealth=morality or at the very least good manners.  The problem is I hold these parents (and the caregivers they hire) to a high standard, because I know what they do in their home, with their kids, will in many ways influence my children.  And that kinda scares me.

Yesterday I was working in the kitchen, the mixer kneading the bread dough.  Ivy, from across the living room asked, “What does shit mean?”

The mixer was loud, “What?”

“Shit.  What is it?”

“What?”   “Oh, wait…Did you say…?”   “Wait.  Come in here and talk to me.”

So we had a discussion about ‘shit’.  I, honestly, wasn’t prepared.  Which is how I feel with 95% of the issues that come up with my oldest child.  Poor child, she’s like an experiment in parenting techniques.  With a large dose of trial and error.

The kids at school had introduced her to the word when she said “friendship” and another kid laughed and thought she had said “friendshit”.  According to Ivy, all the kids in her group talked about for several minutes.  When Ivy asked the kids what it meant one kid told her it was a grownup word and only adults can use it.

We had a calm discussion; I thought I did a pretty decent job explaining why we don’t use that word.  And Ivy seemed to get it and respect that.  But inside, I was appalled.  Not because she was exposed to the word while in a safe setting.  (I’m sure she’s heard the word plenty of times–walking down the streets of NYC).  I knew she would be exposed to vulgar words by her peers sooner, rather than later (sadly), but 7 years old still seems too soon.  She’s one of the youngest kids in her class, so she’s getting exposed to things younger than some of her classmates.  And, I admit, and I am proud to say, I keep her sheltered.  Because 7 year olds should be sheltered.  But the thing that bothered me the most was that other kids consider the word a “grownup word”.  Which makes it even more appealing to them.  If it’s a grownup word, why do they know it?  Honestly, why do the little ones have to deal with such foul language?

But this is a strong trend in Ivy’s classroom this year.  Perhaps not all the girls, but the popular girls, the ones Ivy really looks up to.  Ivy wants to be their best friends, she wants to emulate them.  But these girls are already doing a lot of grownup stuff?!  These kids are barely 8 years old and some of them wear makeup to school every.single.day!  It’s just a little eyeshadow and lipgloss, but seriously?!  Seriously!  They are intensely into One Direction, wear their shirts off their shoulders, tall skinny boots, dressing up like skimpy rockstars on Halloween, et cetera.  They have been alive for 8 years, but have about 70 more years to go; why rush these things?

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I’m a huge advocate for letting kids just be kids.  Ivy frequently asks to wear makeup, get her ears pierced, wear high heel shoes, and the like.  She’s been asking since she could talk.  And she gets to do all those things (wear clip on earrings–not pierced yet) during her playtime.  I understand it is fun and exciting.  I want her to be a kid.  She’s only a kid for a few years and then she can be the grownup she wants to be the rest of her life.  But while she’s a kid I feel pretty lucky I get to guide and direct her.  And I feel that one of my most important responsibilities as a parent is to encourage my kids to be kids.  They grow up so fast no matter; let’s not make them deal with the grownup stuff just yet.   Just let them be kids.  Cause pretty soon they won’t be.