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.

the good kind of infertility

There is a part of me that’s more than a decade old now, a part of me I hardly even think about anymore, though at the time it seemed impossible that I could ever have another identity or idle thought, ever feel truly happy or whole again.

I was one of the ten percent of American women who struggle with infertility. (How about that statistic.)

It took us two very long years from saying “let’s do this” to actually holding our child. Two years of trying, crying, testing, finding nothing, hoping for two weeks, despairing for two weeks, hoping again.

I don’t talk about it much because, as people have actually reminded me, that’s not so very long. It’s true. I have friends who have had to wait years, endure a half-dozen IVFs and miscarriages and stillbirths. I feel fortunate every day to be the mother of three with all that in my distant past.

But when I was in it I didn’t know how it would end. When I was in it I thought I might never be a parent at all. Infertility sucks; whether it lasts six months or six years, its pain is real. I had the good kind of infertility, kind of like how Larry David (the character) claimed Hodgkins lymphoma is “the good cancer.”  (I have enough experience with “the good cancer” to say that statement is obviously also BS.) I know that now, but I didn’t always have faith in the outcome back then.

And so I am very proud to be part of this story on sheknows.com this week, in which fourteen moms who “beat infertility” share their paths to motherhood. There are all kinds of ways to become a parent, of course; I’m so grateful to live in an age where all of this is possible.

I hope you get a chance to click over and read all the amazing stories. 


review: My Artist’s Way Toolkit

I first heard about The Artist’s Way from a friend back in the mid-90s, when I was a struggling actor still very new to New York. Julia Cameron’s 12-week program changed my life, my outlook, and my career path, and hardly a day goes by (a day during which I create, that is) that I don’t see her words in my head as I work. “Working with these tools may create deep change, some of it turbulent,” Cameron warns, and I can attest that that is true.

Cameron’s overarching message is that it is far more painful and difficult to be creatively blocked than it is to just create. With gentle and loving encouragement to oneself– first and foremost through three longhand pages of journal-writing first thing each day, called “morning pages”– you can recenter yourself and become the creative soul you were meant to be.

It works, I swear it works, and I had just resolved to redo the whole program after a conversation with the lovely Kyran Pittman at this spring’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop when I got an email from the BlogHer Book Club asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing My Artist’s Way Toolkit, a new interactive website based on Cameron’s books.

Using a website or app to do Cameron’s work at all seems a little antithetical to her message, and indeed Cameron still insists that the “morning pages” should be done offline and longhand. (I agree with her.) But since these days we’re less likely to have a Moleskine journal and luxurious pen with us at all times than we are an iPhone, the Toolkit does offer a way to capture your creative impulses (or to get a little creative inspiration) wherever you may be. It’s also nice that you can access your toolkit from your laptop, tablet, or phone, and the most recent version will always be synced across your devices.

 Here’s what I liked about the online toolkit: the “Artist’s Dates” and “Artist’s Way Exercises,” where I was tasked with actual specific activities tailored to wherever I was in my 12 week journey – “visit a part of your city that you are unfamiliar with” was one assigned activity. I thought this improved upon the book’s version of these assignments, where I knew what sort of thing I was supposed to do but would often weasel out of it thinking “next week I’ll have more time.” Here, it’s harder to hide: c’mon, you can do this one thing…
I also liked the “Creativity Notes” tab, to capture creativity in whatever form it strikes you (jpeg, mp3, word doc) and corral it all into one creative inspiration list. I’m already using Evernote and Scrivener to collect inspiration for the novel and screenplay I’m writing right now, and didn’t feel the need to move it over to this Toolkit, but if I hadn’t already had a system this would be a nice one.
Still, I felt that Cameron’s message gets lost in the translation to the web. The “Soundbites” of Cameron’s words, over spa-massage music, make her material sound much more hokey than it does on the page. The actors (or Cameron herself?) doing the voiceovers sound like they’re trying very hard to sound soothing and new-agey and Important. But Cameron’s words, I think, are more powerful without that “help.”
I also found the overall look of the site a little old-fashioned– the graphics could have used an update from the book’s almost-20-year-old cover. And does anyone really want to be journaling in Comic Sans in 2012? If so, I think that person should be led gently away from the keyboard. Again, while Cameron’s work can be powerful, I found this setting diminishing.

My takeaway? Use the Artist’s Way, FOR SURE, if you want to break through in your life or in your creative work. And if you’re an online, app-using person in other areas of your life, you may find the toolkit a great way to stay on the path, even with (or maybe because of) the monthly subscription charge. I prefer the old-fashioned paper version myself, especially since the center of the work (the morning pages) still need to be done offline. But if this brings Cameron’s ideas to the online generation, then maybe it’s a step worth their having taken.


I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

the other “S” word

Another scene from the What Was I Thinking? files:


Mom drives the rattly family minivan up Broadway after soccer class. Two sweaty and tired sons in the third row. 

CONNOR: Mom, is “crappy” a bad word?

MOM: Uh, yes. It’s kind of bad. I mean, you wouldn’t want to say it at church or something.

CONNOR: What’s it mean?

MOM: It… means poop.


MOM: If you say something’s “crappy,” it’s like saying it’s made of poop.

Giggles abound.

CONNOR: So then it is a bad word!

MOM: Well. Better to say that than the other word!

The giggles cease.

SEAMUS: What other word?

MOM: The other word that means poop.


CONNOR: What other word that means poop?

MOM: …the S word.


SEAMUS: You mean the S-T-U-P-I-D word?

MOM: No! I mean… the word that stars with S that’s not nice.


CONNOR: You mean… S-T-U-F-F? Naw, I’m just making that up.

SEAMUS: Mom, seriously. What word?

MOM: … It has four letters?


MOM: Okay, forget it.

As if.


Seriously, what was I thinking, rejecting “crappy” for my grade-school sons as not bad enough, not compared to a real curse word? “Nah, kids, I mean the S-H-asterisk-T word, where’ve you been?”

I guess I figured I’m raising my kids in New York City. They hear all seven of the iconic dirty words every time we get on a subway– or at least read them scratch-iti’d onto a bus shelter. And their younger sister showed us all her extreme familiarity with the king of the curse words when she was barely three.

But today my children actually shocked me with their innocence. To them, “stupid” is the naughtiest S-word there is, and tonight I thank my lucky stars that they’re still a little bit little after all.

Because once they start cursing, that’ll be really crappy.




a day out for dinosaur lovers

Yesterday David and I took the kids to Field Station: Dinosaurs, a truly hands-on afternoon of science in a surprisingly beautiful twenty-acre park in the New Jersey Meadowlands.  Field Station: Dinosaurs lets kids imagine themselves as paleontologists stumbling upon velociraptors and pterodactyls around each bend.

The animatronic dinosaurs are life-sized and incredibly realistic. Maggie (my four-year-old) had to be carried past the first few while I repeatedly reassured her that the dinosaurs’ teeth were 1) rubber and 2) not suitable for biting children. Eventually, she got a bit braver, telling me, “I’m not holding your hand cause I’m scared. I’m holding your hand because their roars are a little bit loud.” (The dinosaurs’ noises are also very realistic.) Still, she loved it, and was quite proud of her bravery by the end.

My seven and nine-year-old boys loved it from beginning to end. I wondered if they’d be a bit old to be truly excited by it, since our dino-obsessed years are long behind us. But they ran from one to the next, shouting to each other the facts posted about each. For them, the best part was that touching was encouraged! When’s the last time you heard that at a museum?

making friends


underneath the tail of the 90-feet-long Argentinosaurus

There are many shows and demonstrations offered throughout the day, so you can make a real day of it here with your dino-lover. Our visit was a bit briefer, since we picked a very hot afternoon to visit. But every single staff member I encountered was friendly and cheerful despite the temperature. It was a noticeable change from other zoos and amusement parks that I’ve visited; this staff was so proud of their new park and thrilled to share it with its visitors.

We really had a great time and I’m so grateful to MamaDrama  for giving us the tickets and the opportunity to review. If you’re in the New York City area– or plan to be anytime soon– definitely put Field Station: Dinosaurs on your summer to-do-with-the-kids list!