Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Nutmeg and I have reached a milestone in our relationship, something I have looked forward to since before her conception. We are reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books together.

This is something my own mother did with me, and it's a treasured memory for both of us.

A year ago, I showed the books to Nutmeg and we looked at the pictures, but at 2 she didn't have the patience to listen to a chapter book. Last winter and spring we read Charlotte's Web, which she comprehended pretty well. We also found some picture book versions of stories from the books, which she loved. Immediately playing Laura and Mary became a thing for her.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked her if she wanted to read "the big book" instead of the picture book, and she said yes. I started reading "Little House in the Big Woods," and she just ate it up. We're now halfway through "Little House on the Prairie," the second book.

She listens so quietly that sometimes I wonder if she's just zoning out. But then she will interrupt me with a concise question and I realize that she's been listening intently. Today, she asked me for the meaning of the words "cattle" and "herd."

The emotional content and drama of the books, tame as it may be, is overwhelming to her at times. She actually made me skip two pages, based on the pictures she saw, where Laura's cousin Charlie is stung by a lot of yellow jackets. She also took a piece of white chalk and tried to blot out the pictures.

Rereading the books, for the first time as a parent, a few things strike me. One, I'm always impressed by the amazing abilities of these people. Taking care of two little girls can be overwhelming at times for me; I see some stay-at-home parents who seem overwhelmed by it all the time (no one reading this, I'm sure, but they're out there). But for Caroline Ingalls, caring for the three children (so far) is an afterthought, a light diversion after the churning, the mending and the protecting the cow against errant bears or dealing with unwelcome Native American guests in the house.

Another thing is how many dangers children were exposed to. Wilder recalls nostalgically how she used to help her father load his gun, how she watched raptly as he melted lead on the open fire to make bullets.

The other thing that strikes me is how extremely well behaved the children are. Obviously, in a world full of danger, where the parents have to work instead of supervising most of the time, obedience was of utmost importance. Yes, the parents were allowed to whip the kids, and I'm kind of jealous of that. I tried a line from the book, "I'm going to tan your hide if you do (x)," and Nutmeg just laughed and said, "You're joking."

But still, you can tell that little Laura mostly behaved because she had already internalized her parents high standards for behavior and keen sense of shame. In some ways, this is bad -- like when even little children were made to feel shamed if they shed a tear. Other restraints are a mere curiosity to the modern reader, for example pride was discouraged and at one point the family holds back in admiring a child to prevent her from getting a big head -- foreign indeed to even low-key parents like us, much less the "honor roll parents" of the world.

But in many ways, I so envy and admire Caroline and Charles Ingalls' parenting. They have a 6-year-old who knows that interrupting is rude and actually restrains herself from doing it, at least to adults. She helps with the housework every day. Throw a tantrum when she doesn't want to go to bed? Laura wouldn't even imagine it. And compared to Mary, she was the bad one.

Still, I did find one clue in the first book that parenting was not all a walk in the park for Caroline Ingalls. When the girls visit a neighbor, Laura notes that the woman's house is always very neat, because she had no little children to mess it up.

Seriously? Seriously. Apparently Ma's house could sometimes be considered "messy."

I'm trying to restrain my doubts, because, oh, I want to believe!

P.S. Inspired by the Blogher conference, I finally bought the domain name, Easier to remember! Enjoy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have great memories of reading the "Little House on the Prairie" books to you. I can just see Nutmeg enjoying them as much as you did. I am so proud of you for keeping reading such a big part of your childrens lives. It has been lost in so many and that is very sad to me.
Love, Your mom