I had an extremely magical childhood.
I was homeschooled, so my adolescence consisted largely of hanging out with my mom and sister and other homeschool friends. We would go to museums, create science experiments and art, learn fractions by helping mom in the kitchen and doubling recipes, spend countless hours outdoors in our backyard in the redwood forest, hunting for buried treasure, running around with the livestock and pets we owned, and devising elaborate spy routes to check up on the few neighbors we had. When we studied Ancient Rome, my mom, dad, sister and I went to see the Coliseum in person. My mom would spend rainy days reading Paddington Bear books to my sister and I while we worked on our Christmas ornament craft business. We sold at local craft faires and local stores in Santa Cruz, learning responsibility and how to work for rewards, using the money to go up to Tahoe and to buy a video game console we wanted.
I spent countless hours at the beach, hiking in the redwoods, exploring different coastal terrains, learning artisanal crafts like weaving, spinning wool, baking bread, quilting, making apple cider, and beekeeping. I learned to care for livestock, spent time staring at the clouds finding various animals and shapes, and creating my own creation stories after learning about the Native American myths and legends and visiting the Grand Canyon.
I know I am very lucky, and am very grateful for all those experiences.
I read Bunmi Laditan’s article “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical” on the HuffPost Parents blog recently. Her premise is that parents done have to worry about a kid’s childhood being perfect, filled with Martha Stewart like craft projects and designer cupcakes and extravagantly planned birthday parties with perfectly coordinated napkins and hats, because the sheer experience of being a kid and discovering the world is pretty magical in and of itself.
As she writes:
“Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a 5-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.
It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.”
I do agree with this point. However, I think the key to successful parenting is striking the right balance.
I remember my mother always having art supplies around, so when we felt like painting or coloring, we could take a hike out to the woods and draw and identify the various plants we saw. I remember my parents allowing me to pursue any interest I had, so that they exposed me to a wide variety of experiences, and let me choose which ones resonated. I remember my uncle taking my sister and I hiking in Alum Rock Park in the San Jose foothills, exploring caves and digging up for Joaquin Murietta, the legendary Spanish bandito’s treasure. I remember my grandma, who was blind and in a wheelchair, talk me through how to do the foxtrot. I remember my dad quizzing me on math, my mom quizzing me on state capitals, and having my whole childhood pulsate with the idea that learning was fun.
I also remember my mom spending late nights creating elaborate Halloween costumes for my sister and I each year, driving us for years every week to Irish Step Dancing practice, taking us to feisanna around California after spending hours setting our hair in curlers for the competitions. I remember her creating a perfect Strawberry Shortcake-shaped birthday cake, as well as hosting teddybear tea parties for my sister and I for our birthday, buying us the theme party decorations, or putting out the supplies so we could make our own decorations. I remember her driving us to all the different classes we had: piano, violin, art classes, science camp, horseback riding, 4H club, junior lifeguards. When I wanted to be a Girl Scout but there was no troop for my age group in the area, she started a troop and became the troop leader, just so I could have that experience.
Are these the kind of things that Laditan says are unnecessary to a magical childhood? Quite possibly. Do I think they added immense value to my childhood? Most definitely.
And here is why: Every time I told my mom I was into a new thing, or wanted a certain Halloween costume, she signed me up for a class, or bought a book, or made that costume (within reason). It was this belief that my parents cared that was important. They heard me, and believed in me, and nourished that desire to learn and create and experience.
I agree with Laditan that kids don’t need the “ridiculously expensive themed birthday parties that have do-it-yourself cupcake stations with 18 types of toppings and over-the-top gifts.” She talks about getting caught up in the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” parenting model, being in competition with perfect strangers and posting the photographic evidence to Pinterest or twitter.
And that seems to be the real issue she is driving at. When it suddenly becomes about proving something about your parenting ability through cupcakes to a perfect stranger, there is a problem. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making the cupcake station, but parents should be doing it because they think it will add value to their child’s life, not because they are proving anything to anybody.
I asked my mom what she thought about the article. Her response:
I agree with the author that the lives of children can get over programmed. Grandma knew that the constant planned activities thwarted the imagination. Hence her advice to let the kids have plenty of time to “watch ants”. This meant that children should get bored enough that they had to create their own activities and observe the world around them.One of the more productive homeschooling strategies for me was to introduce you to something and then let it go and see what developed. For instance, Dad and I took you and Chrissy to see the artists in residence program for Santa Cruz County. You and Chrissy appeared to be totally uninterested in the art work and would rather wander in the yards or sit in the car. “Oh well, I guess the kids weren’t into it”. Next thing I know, you and Chrissy had produced dozens of pieces or art and went door to door selling them. Guess you “got it” after all!
Well, I guess my parents “got it” too.