What is it about Little House that speaks to our souls? I’ve been thinking about the Little House paper dolls I had growing up, and I knew they were still tucked away in the cabinet where our games were kept as kids. So, the other night, when I went back to the farm, I found them. I took them to work with me the following day, so my little charge could play with them. She’s old enough now for things of a more delicate nature.
There’s something about the beauty of the art, the recreation of this famous family. The paper dolls are like the illlustrations in the Little House picture books, which are also treasured possessions of mine. So, it’s good artwork; that is true. But I think I’d go further and say that there’s also something in the stories themselves which draws us.
Laura’s childhood was, in a sense, more simplistic than the lives we live today. She wasn’t constantly surrounded by a bombardment of news and the exhausting knowledge of what was wrong in the world. In many ways, her family’s life centered around basic human needs: food, shelter, and love. They lived close to nature, with Pa hunting for meat or finding a honey tree in the woods. Ma made hats, churned butter, and kept up the house. There weren’t competitive sports for the girls to be involved in or various functions many nights of the week. Neither of the parents were trying to climb the corporate ladder. As a couple, and as a family, the Ingalls worked hard, but they worked hard together.
This simplicity appeals to me, although often I have a too materialistic mindset. What would it be like to only have a few treasured possessions? To have the children be excited for candy and mittens in their Christmas stockings? We really have no idea in this stuff-crazed culture. Yet there is an appeal in it all- to decrease the amount of visual clutter in our homes and lives. It’s exhausting to have a lot of stuff, because the more stuff you own, the more stuff you are responsible to take care of. Or you can choose not to take care of it, and eventually you have a heap of senseless clutter.
While we decrease the visual clutter, how about decreasing the social clutter as well? We force ourselves to attend this event or that one, run to work and make flying trips to the grocery store, and have so many friends that it is literally impossible to keep up with them all. Therefore, do we really have friends, or are they mere acquaintances? Are we really living life well, or are we simply rushing senselessly from one thing to the next? And if it’s hard for us as adults to juggle this rat race, what about the children? I have a friend who recognizes that her daughter gets overstimulated, and I admire her for seeing what so few people seem to in America. I insert here also that this friend actually does live a very simplistic life, and her daughter STILL gets overstimulated. So what about the children whose lives are so full and so busy, and yet they are expected to be able to keep up with it all? It’s not fair to them.
Maybe then, it is the simplicity in Little House that appeals to us, both in a material and a social sense. But that’s not all. Laura felt safe as a child, and that too is appealing to many of us. Her parents were predictable. We do not see Pa and Ma arguing over finances or hurt feelings. I know they were human parents, and I’m sure they would’ve had disagreements, but that is not what Laura remembers. So, I think it is safe to say that when Ma and Pa disagreed, they did so in private, not in front of their children. In this kind of environment, there is stability and a feeling of safety. She trusted her father in a physical sense as well, knowing that he would protect her. When they were beginning their long journey west with the crossing of Lake Pepin, Laura writes:
“All around the wagon there was nothing but empty and silent space. Laura didn’t like it. But Pa was on the wagon seat and Jack was under the wagon; she knew that nothing could hurt her while Pa and Jack were there.”-Little House on the Prairie
So Laura had simplicity and a sense of safety. I want to add one more rare and essential commodity. Love. In the progressive world we live in, love is often seen as a feeling, something that we cannot really control. Maybe we have a wrong understanding of love. Love certainly can and does involve feelings, but it should go so much deeper than that. Love equals commitment. Complete and total commitment. What does this have to do with Little House? I read somewhere that it is more important for a child to know that his/her parents love each other than it is to know that their parents love them. This could certainly be a question to debate, but there is something essential here. When children see that their parents love each other, it creates an environment of stability and safety. When parents are in a committed, loving relationship, a child does not need to pick sides. They don’t have to worry about the possible breaking of the family. They are free to be children, loving and being loved. The grown-up problems need to stay with the grown-ups.
There’s something about the old-fashioned way of life that I have loved since I was a little girl. My childhood dream involved living without electricity and teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I’ll admit that I am an old soul. I don’t really fit into this world of technology and hurry and the shameless butchering of the English language. The idea of homesteading, with chickens in my backyard and sourdough fermenting on my kitchen counter holds a beautiful appeal for me. It’s not my reality. Yes, I do sourdough on occasion, but I have to fit it into a busy schedule (if you know anything about sourdough, you’ll know the process mustn’t be rushed). And no, I do not have chickens. My nanny job gives me a taste of that at the present; the little girl’s family has a farm, but I do not have chickens of my own. And since I live in an apartment in town, with a parking lot making up most of the “backyard,” I know without asking that my landlord would not consent to a chicken coop. Bless his heart, he’s already had to put up with two raised beds. One of which should be producing strawberries in a couple months, which I’m pretty happy about.
My advice: read the Little House books to your kids. Provided you have kids, of course. And if you don’t have kids, read them to yourself. Or to any children whom you happen to have some kind of influence on. And remember the importance of stability, safety, and love in the lives of children. Well, in the lives of all of us, really, but especially for the children. May they grow up knowing they were loved.