My family know what a huge fan I am of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. I love them for lots of reasons - their sweetness, their simpleness, their faith - and truly hope that one day we will take a road trip en famille and do the Laura tour. (It strikes me that my husband and I were last in the US in 2001, exploring California-Arizona-Utah-Nevada - oh, and Hawaii! - for our honeymoon.)
But for the last couple of days I've been thinking of Ma & her coping strategies.
Now, (in what we know is a sanitised version of life on the prairie), Laura always 'bigs up' Ma and commends her patience, routines, love for her children and constant plodding on in the face of adversity. In the books we see famine, exceptionally harsh winter weather, serious illnesses and more challenges than we in the developed world see in contemporary life. But I've been thinking about what is omitted from the books. We don't see the diaper buckets, the outside privy or the sanitary towels. We don't hear about the hormones in a family of many females, the baby boy whose life was cut short, the severe hunger pains. The challenges Ma faced were more than Laura reveals in her writing. And, possibly, the portrait of Ma realised in the books is a little airbrushed.
But it may not be. Ma may just have kept on in those times and held her family to her because although times were hard, she didn't have any of the (post)modern pressures we face. Dance, sports and music groups, playdates, computers. Worrying about what to choose to feed her children (organic? fair trade? free range?) rather than hoping there is something to eat. Avoiding the breast versus bottle debate. Always facing the potential of being judged rather than supported by other mothers who do things differently. Diverted and distracted by Blackberry or I-Phone. Facing worry, stress or guilt about their role as mother, wife or career-woman. Ma just got on with it, with whatever resources she had, even though she was pushed to the limit. There was no other way.
This is one of the reasons I love those books. Although they may not include everything that happened, they are based around the philosophy of a simpler time where things played out slowly, in relation to the seasons, in relation to what was possible. With a ready-made family of siblings, Ma didn't rely on organising playdates or extracurricular activities - the family could just be. Pa filled the house with music, there was reading and religion, and although the girls followed fashion to an extent, the world was still moving at a slow speed. Yes, we are now more medically advanced and have a 'better' quality of life with more choices for women, but we have lost something along the way, something Little House can remind us of. We can take little snippets and incorporate them into our lives. Eating together as a family. Experiencing the outdoors as often as we can. Not pushing ourselves to be everything to everyone, but helping out where we can, as and when we can. Living for and in the moment. Retaining that sense of adventure that accompanied pioneer life. Not being tied down by a dwelling or possessions.
In the UK we are in the process of electing a Prime Minister and a governing party (or parties!) and I feel detached from the whole process, as if none of the potential candidates understand the way I perceive the world. I know her world is old-fashioned and quaint, has no gun control and tramples over the rights of Amerindians, but at the same time I feel that Laura would understand the things I cherish, and understand why motherhood is my primary focus. God bless you Laura Ingalls!