Saturday, September 22, 2012

Little House

We're currently reading aloud the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Both girls love—and demand—to be whisked away nightly on a literary journey through Laura's life. They both eat up every detail and are always hungry for more. I enjoy using the parables Laura has sprinkled throughout her stories to try to get my girls to behave.

"What?! Are you complaining? Laura doesn't complain. Carrie doesn't complain. It isn't ladylike."

Now that we're reading By the Shores of Silver Lake and the girls have learned that *spoiler alert* poor Mary goes blind and gets her hair cut short Miriam no longer wants to play the part of Mary (mostly because of the hair, I think (and that's mostly because Rachel said that if she wanted to be Mary she would have to cut her hair as short as Daddy's)) and has instead claimed the role of Carrie. Rachel clings to the role of Laura, which is rather apt for her personality, I think.

I sent them outside with a broom a couple of days ago because they were bickering so terribly inside.

"Here," I said, handing Rachel the broom. "Be Laura and Carrie. Go fix up your homestead."

Rachel was concerned that Carrie was older than Laura because I had figured that Carrie would be about seven years old by this time—maybe older. She didn't think it was fair that Miriam was older than she was in their game. I explained that as Carrie got older Laura did, too. Laura is now around thirteen (as we learned in chapter 6). Rachel decided that was fair, though I can't decide how logical that decision was on her part since they used to pretend to be Mary and Laura, and Mary has always been older than Laura.

Anyway, they did a beautiful job setting up their little house. They swept it all out, potted plants and placed them in the windowsill, found big rocks to use as pretend cornbread, and even set up a pretend fire pit to cook their meals.

Hopefully this will be a game that will continue for a long time, though we're a little under the weather right now so we've been doing more sitting around and less playing.

And, while I'm thinking of it, I thought I'd mention that my visiting teachers came over with their kids today—bringing the total number of children in our house to eight (party time)—and I asked my friends' daughter how old she was because I couldn't remember.

"I'm three," she told me. Then she looked at Miriam and said, "Are you three, too?"

"No," Miriam said matter-of-factly, "I'm not old enough to be three yet."

Anyway, we've had a good time reading Laura's books together so far. I haven't read them in years, though I have fond memories of my mom reading them to me (and I now wonder if when she suggested that we read the books lying down in her bed if it wasn't because she was pregnant with Josie (because we did our fair share of reading in my bed while I was pregnant with Benjamin)). Laura has so many good lessons in her books—not only for children but for parents, too. Or perhaps they're just good lessons for me.

If I had to choose a theme for Laura's books, it would probably be "coping with change." That or "growing up." But growing up is just one form of change, isn't it? I'll stick with "coping with change."

Our little family has had a lot of change this year with having a new baby, moving, and having Rachel start school for the first time. Laura discusses how she dealt with all those changes and more. It's been very helpful to read these books together as we've been going through so much change ourselves.

Andrew and I have moved several times in our short married life, though not as often as some, I know. Still, sometimes it's hard to start all over again. I suppose this time we were lucky enough to take all our stuff but in the past we've taken very little with us and have always felt we were starting life up from scratch. But it's been alright every single time.
Ma sighed gently and said, "A whole year gone...." But Pa answered, cheerfully, "What's a year amount to? We have all the time there is" (Little House on the Prairie).
When we finished with Andrew's first master's degree life felt so pointless. We'd poured in so much of our time, talent and resources toward obtaining that degree (and by 'we' I mean 'he' (but mostly I mean 'we' because trailing spouses work just as hard as the students themselves (trailing spouses: students as mothers: Eagle Scouts))) and if felt kind of useless when it didn't take us where we thought it was going to take us.
"Never mind..." Pa told her. "We'll make a better garden..." (Little House on the Prairie).
Please don't laugh if I tell you that the first two years of his PhD program actually fill the requirements for yet another master's degree. We just found that out—and it will be award to him, too, before he goes onto the PhD work.We're a little bummed that they won't just count one of his other master's degrees (because three master's degrees are just what everybody needs). I will be married to Master Master Master Heiss, PhD. Or I suppose Andrew Heiss, M3 PhD. Something like that.
"But of course...she did not really want him to be anything but what he was" (By the Shores of Silver Lake).
Living far away from family is hard. I have to explain to the girls time and time again that visiting Grandma or playing with Emily or giving our scrap metal to Brother Parker is a lot more complicated than it once was. They still somehow believe that we should be able to do those things whenever we want to. But we can't. So it's a good thing we have Skype because I don't know how I'd handle life if I couldn't see my mom at least once a week. Besides, it's not as far as we used to be...right?
"Shucks! What's a couple of hundred miles? ...A couple hundred miles don't amount to anything!" he said (On the Banks of Plum Creek).
As I'm watching my kids grow up right before my very eyes (while I feel like I am not aging one bit (though there are signs telling me otherwise)) I was struck when Laura said this:
"This is now" (Little House in the Big Woods).
I was completely haunted when I read this just a couple of lines down:
"They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago" (Little House in the Big Woods). 
Laura's words are the only remaining legacy of the Ingalls family, as far as I can tell. Charles and Caroline had four girls: Mary, Laura, Caroline (Carrie), and Grace, as well as a son, Charles.

Charles died in infancy. Mary never married or had children. Grace married but had no children. Carrie got married rather late (when she was 41) and became the mother of two stepchildren (Mary (who married but had no children) and Harold (who was killed in a car accident before marrying or having children)). Laura married Almonzo from Farmer Boy (which we read and I'm sure there was a great quote in there somewhere but mostly I remember Laura talking about food (we read it around the time I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and I was sad I couldn't eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted which might be why I remember all the talk about food)) and they had a daughter, Rose, and a son who died shortly after birth. Rose married and had a stillborn son but was unable to have any other children.

If Laura hadn't written her stories their family would be forgotten because her now was then and it was a long time ago. That's part of the reason I blog—because my now is now and if I don't write it down then it will be forgotten. That said, I've had several people read my blog and tell me, "That's not how it happened!" so I will share yet another passage by Laura:
"...I don't think you ought to say things like that," Mary told her gently. "We should always be careful to say exactly what we mean."
"I was saying what I meant," Laura protested. But she could not explain. There were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them (By the Shores of Silver Lake).
We all see things differently. For example, it was fascinating for me to read Laura's description of the "Indians." So much of her discussion made me cringe—the government's dealings with the Native Americans is really a black mark in our history. This particular quote (Mrs. Scott speaking) was chilling:
"Land knows, they'd never do anything with this country themselves. All they do is roam around over it like wild animals. Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that'll farm it. That's only common sense and justice" (Little House on the Prairie).
because it reminded me so much of arguments I've heard of modern-day political problems regarding land use. We were such a backward-thinking people then, but are we any better now?

Anyway, it's late, and I need to go to bed, but before I do I'd like to say that if I were to ever write a book it would be like the Little House series. I'm not saying that it would be as good as the Little House series, just that I can only see myself writing an autobiographical/historical fiction type of a tale.

Also, I didn't think when I began this endeavor that I'd be so touched by Laura's stories again. I know I loved them in my childhood but I've learned so much from reading them again. I'm glad that I'm reading them aloud to my girls (and Benjamin, though I'm not sure he's picking up much)—it's something we all look forward to—and I hope that they'll read them to their children, too, because Laura has so much to offer.

(And, yes, Laura and I are on a first-name basis because I feel like she's been my friend through everything we've gone through since I started reading her books again).


  1. I will look forward to reading your historical fiction series one day. It will be good!

  2. One of my good friends from high school is related to Laura Ingalls, through I don't remember exactly how. I will ask her and let you know. We started Little House in the Big Woods a few weeks ago and the kids are enjoying it. We're all learning a lot!

    My husband is an M2 PhD who wants to get a J.D. =)

    1. I don't doubt there are people related to Laura Ingalls Wilder—she had many cousins, one named Laura Ingalls, in fact, and no doubt some of her relatives have living progeny today. I'm related to John Hancock, though obviously I don't descend directly from him...

    2. Also, Andrew jokes about going to Med School when we're finished with his PhD. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I don't... :)

  3. So, I knew that there were books about Rose, the daughter, that were written by someone who was somehow I looked it up on Wikipedia. It said that Rose adopted two orphan boys after her divorce, when she moved home to take care of her aging parents. Then, later, it says "Lane was the adoptive "grandmother" and mentor to Roger MacBride, best known as the Libertarian Party's 1976 candidate for President of the United States. MacBride was the son of one of Lane's editors with whom she formed a close bond when he was a young boy" and he is the one who wrote the Rose book or books.