Buckyballs: The Amazing Magnetic Desktoy You Can Stick In Your Ear!

When someone calls someone else’s mother and the very first thing they say is “Everything’s fine,” they are of course lying. If everything was truly “fine” they would not be calling.

No, when someone says, “I have your son with me, everything’s fine,” what they usually mean is something like “his fractured bone stuck out straight through his lower leg, but shortly thereafter he went into shock and is now sleeping peacefully.”

My phone rang the other day. “I have Seamus with me, everything’s fine,” my fellow first-grade-mother friend said.

I gripped the desk.

“I think I heard him saying he has something stuck in his ear, but he doesn’t want to get into trouble,” she said.

“Put him on,” I said.

Heavy breathing on the other end of the line.

“Seamus. Do you have something stuck in your ear?” I asked.

Long silence.

“I… think so,” he said.

On the cab ride to the pediatrician’s, he explained that during free time at school he and some friends had been playing with Buckyballs, the tiny magnetic balls that you can combine into all sorts of cool shapes. Super fun, if you’ve ever tried them. Ever inventive, Seamus thought that it would be a good idea to stick one of these ball bearings into his ear. He did this “a few times,” he told me with a shrug, then “it was suddenly gone.” Either lost on the floor or lost in his ear, he wasn’t sure which.

“Which ear?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he admitted freely. (Details, details.)

I’m sure you all have lots of questions at this point in the story. Heaven knows I did,  so here are some…

Buckyball In Your Ear FAQs

1) Wait, aren’t Buckyballs totally unsafe for kids to have in the first place?

Why, yes! And to their credit, the Buckyball people have all over their website that it is a “desktoy” that should be “kept away from all children.” The tiny forceful magnets have wreaked havoc on a few toddlers’ large intestines. The problem is that Buckyballs are sold in pretty much every toy store I have ever been in, right up by the cash register where your kids are sure not to miss them. I’m still trying to figure out who to be mad at about that.

2) Why in tarnation would he put a Buckyball in his ear?

Because his friend put his on his desk and it rolled off. Seamus needed a more secure storage spot. You’d pick your ear canal too, right?

3) What is the recommended course of action for a child who has a tiny magnetic ball stuck deeply in his ear?

This is the most crucial information I can offer you, since there has been all too little field research up until now. I googled “Buckyball stuck in ear” as we continued our cab ride to the pediatrician and got NOTHING. Buckyballs’ website had this to say:

Swallowed=bad, inhaled=bad. But what if one of these magnets were lodged in one’s eardrum? It seemed that no one had thought of that yet. No one, that is, except Seamus, who is in all things a true original.

We spent the rest of the cab ride trying to figure out which ear it was in, since he couldn’t remember and I couldn’t see anything. After some re-enactments of the scene of the crime in the waiting room, we ascertained that it must have been the ear nearest the coat cubbies, i.e. the left.

“Yep, I see it,” the pediatrician said as soon as she stuck her light in his left ear.

Phew! I thought.

“But I’m not going to be able to get that out,” she continued.

Mild panic ensued, at least for Mom.  After conferring with an ENT that it was probably safe to have a magnet in one’s ear overnight– no one could say for sure because no one had ever heard of such a thing before– we (literally) slept on it. The next morning we went to the specialist, who took one look and then pulled me aside to say, “You’re gonna have to hold him down for me. This is gonna hurt.”

But as soon as the metal probe was carefully introduced, the ENT said “Whoa! It’s moving!” and a few seconds later the super-magnetic Buckyball was held aloft, covered in ear wax but otherwise whole. It had literally jumped out of Seamus’s ear–almost too easily, since he gloated the whole way home about how it wasn’t that bad, at least he didn’t stick two of them up his nose like that other kid the ENT was telling us about, now that kid was a dum-dum.

In other words, I fear Seamus did not fully learn the lesson of this latest bit of excitement in our home. But I had a very large takeaway: If you’re going to stick something in your ear, at least make sure it’s magnetic first.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer June 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Jared just got these as a birthday gift. I’ll be sure to thank the responsible parent who bought them for him! (Of course my daughter already has them – but why  not pass judgement on her judgement! 🙂 )


Carol Hengst June 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Thanks for the warning. I as a grandmother, may have pressured by one of mine to buy these. Now I know better. Carol


Jeff Scanlon June 25, 2012 at 6:05 am

Great story!


Kathy at kissing the frog June 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Oh holy cow, as the mother of many little boys, I feel lucky that we have not discovered that our orifices are great storage places…yet.


Betsy June 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

When I was a little girl I stuck a mini air freshener up my nose to see how far I could “snot” it out.  It did not “snot” out and my mother couldn’t get it out so we just left it there.  It fell out later that day or the next.   Now that I am a mother, I find it kind of odd that we just left it there, but we were on a ski vacation so we probably figured we would deal with it when we got home. 


amywlsn July 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I think that was the style of the times: leave it up there, see if she’ll snot it out. Love that phrase by the way.


Rsbgriffin July 4, 2012 at 6:12 am

This is the most hilarious thing I have ever read in my entire life!  I’m crying.  Crying hard, it was that good.


amywlsn July 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

thanks. It was one of those times I was glad to to have a blog.


Kate Mayer July 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Love love love this story. You can tell it forever … and it to the teenage list of Don’ts: No narcotics, no cigs, no unprotected sex, no texting/drinking while driving, no Tea Party, no sticking buckyballs in your ears. 


amywlsn July 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Yes it should be inscribed on a tablet.


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