Posted by: Hannah | 04/06/2018

in which Caroline Ingalls got the shaft

Anyone who has talked to me for any length of time knows I’m big fan of the Little House book series (not the TV show, I watched exactly one episode and it was an abomination, sorry). As a kid I deeply envied my friend Leah; her grandmother was big into sewing and smocking and made her what to my eye was a perfect Laura Ingalls dress AND MATCHING SUNBONNET, CAN YOU EVEN. She wore it to school every couple of weeks for the entirety of second grade and we nearly broke up over it, I was so covetous. I read my Scholastic book order copies so many times that the bindings all fell apart and I had to replace them. I did a whole bunch of book reports on them. I’d spend entire days in the woods around my house pretending to be Laura.

Aside: Did anyone EVER want to be Mary? Wasn’t being Mary kind of like being Meg from Little Women? Thank goodness I had brown hair just like Laura so I didn’t have to wear a wig or anything.

Anyway I loved them even when really I’d outgrown them; there was something comforting about returning to them periodically throughout my teenage years, and when I had kids of my own I bought the boxed set so I could share it with them too.

Recently I started seeking out some of the non-fiction works about Laura and her life. I have a copy of the annotated Pioneer Girl which is a treasured part of my library. I’ve read several biographies from different points of view and over Christmas I devoured the excellent Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller.

Here’s what I’ve discovered (and this post was prompted by a discussion with my friends Nicole and Peady on Twitter today): LAURA INGALLS TOTALLY GAVE US ALL THE WRONG IMPRESSION OF CAROLINE.

As kids, we all thought Pa was the fun one, didn’t we? The one who told stories and played the fiddle and bought horses and candy and hair ribbons. The one who just wanted to go west and was always looking for a way to make more money and improve their lives. “We’ll live like kings!” he kept insisting as they squatted in a dirt hole beside Plum Creek, mocking the wise Norwegian immigrant who made a buck off Pa’s deciding that the lack of a useful wheat crop was due to said Norwegian’s poor farming ability and not the drought / historic plague of grasshoppers that decimated the state.

And then he buys an entire house on credit because that’s always a really smart idea.

Pa makes so many terrible decisions, and when you’re an adult and reading the actual historically-accurate versions of the Ingalls family story it gets really hard to forgive him for very much. He uproots them all from Wisconsin to head for the cheap prairie land (because the government is going to make “the Indians” move on, that’s a whole ‘nother series of posts but “Colonizing Land Thief” isn’t a good look for anyone). He buys the useless land on Plum Creek and congratulates himself for getting the better of an immigrant. When that doesn’t pan out he takes a job working for the railroad company, which is smart, but then he moves his family including two attractive teenage daughters into a 10 x 10 shack in the railroad camp, miles from anywhere and surrounded by men who haven’t seen a woman in months. He guilts Caroline into letting settlers stay in the surveyors’ house, making sure that she & Laura do all the work to cook and clean for literally dozens of strange armed men every night for weeks… and tries to tell her it isn’t nice to charge these men a dime a night for room and boardWhen the admittedly very handsome and eligible Almanzo Wilder pursues Laura, Pa not only encourages it, he brushes aside Ma’s very real and legitimate concerns about their daughter “who is only fifteen!” being squired about town by a man ten years her senior.

Don’t even get me started on him selling a cow to buy a freaking pump organ and the materials to build a room to put it in just so Mary can play it when she comes home from college.

Through all of this is Caroline, portrayed by Laura as formidable but not loveable. Beautiful but untouchable. Laura clearly fears her mother as much as she admires her, and craves her approval at the same time as she pushes back against Ma’s many rules for how to be a real lady.

As an adult it is hard not to see what’s really going on here; that Caroline Ingalls was holding the family together body and soul, that without her Charles would have been a homeless wanderer rather than the pillar of the community he eventually became.

RANDOM SUDDEN THOUGHT: Mr. Edwards was exactly who Charles Ingalls would have been, if not for Caroline keeping him on some kind of reasonably-productive forward path.

To sum up, Caroline was the lynchpin (old-timey reference!) around which the entire family revolved. Re-read the books and imagine being her while you do. Once you notice how many times she keeps them from ruin, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

You might even stop rolling your eyes about her pride in having a waist so tiny Charles could span it with his hands.

 

 

 

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Posted by: Hannah | 04/03/2018

where we go from here

When so-called “mommy blogging” was in its heyday I couldn’t imagine ever running out of words.

Being a mom of a baby is hard. It is isolating. You don’t get enough sleep, or proper meals, or exercise. Everything in your life changes, but what no one tells you is that those changes just keep happening, and blogging was for me and so many others a way to connect with other women who were also reeling from the way their lives had been turned upside down.

Then you have a toddler, and maybe you go back to working outside the home or maybe you don’t or maybe you try working from home or working part-time or hey gorgeous babes do you want to earn awesome money while being home with your precious family. You try mom & tot groups and mom & tot movies and mom & tot swimming lessons and you worry about putting your kids in soccer or ballet or music class.

You still crave connections with other parents and you keep blogging, and hell, here’s this thing called Twitter and that’s immediate! You can build circles and have conversations with actual people in real time but you still don’t have to wedge yourself into your pre-pregnancy jeans that still don’t fit and, you’re starting to feel, never will again.

Maybe you Instagram. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you start but within a week have “likes” from people you don’t know and have never heard of on pictures of your kids and that makes you really uncomfortable so you delete your account (that was me). And you tweet more and blog less, because who reads blogs anymore anyway. Blogging is dead. Get a Tumblr.

One day you wake up and realize you will be turning 40 at the end of the month. You have an almost-teenager. You want to go back and patronize yourself as a parent of a newborn for thinking babies are hard. Your baby is now taller than you and is a remarkable story that you kind of want to share, at least with some people, but you can’t and don’t because it isn’t your story anymore. Your other kids are also growing and changing and becoming the people they will be for the next good long while, and you don’t really feel right telling their stories, either.

You suddenly realize you haven’t taken out the camera you used to love for over a year. You haven’t written anything longer than a 5-tweet thread in months. You don’t imagine going on vacations without your family anymore because you love them and want to share everything with them, but also you start to see with a growing sense of unease that you don’t remember anymore what it is that you want, who it is that you are. Approaching 40 has meant that you’ve let go of a lot of insecurities – turns out that “giving zero fucks” is really a thing that happens – but it also means that you’ve spent more than a decade living for other people.

You sit down, open a new post window, and start to type.

Posted by: Hannah | 11/06/2017

the pebble in the gearwheel

My blogging fell off in the summer as it always does – I’m outside most of the daylight hours, I can’t be bothered to sit down in front of a screen – but I fully expected to come back to it in September.

That didn’t happen this year, and I think I have figured out why.

My newest little dayhome dude started in mid-August. He’s off sick today – it’s the first day he hasn’t been here – and oh my heavens. The difference is startling.

Not that he isn’t a good kid. After some initial struggles with playing too rough with my kittens and having spurts of unprovoked attacks on the little girl, he’s settled in and is quite a nice little boy. His verbal and physical skills have come a long way in three months. I’ve got a real sense of his likes and dislikes now, and I didn’t even realize how much mental energy he takes until suddenly today, when I’m basically surplus to requirements.

The other three have had sensory play, outdoor play, storytime, letter practice, and a short walk. There’s been one very brief fight about a toy. The noise level has been manageable. I’ve been able to cross some things off my never-ending to-do list and now I’m taking a few minutes before afternoon yoga to let you know that I’m here, I’m not dead, but apparently my creative impulse and time can be completely hijacked by one tiny little adorable kid.

 

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