The last couple of weeks have been hard. We moved into our new place last weekend, and I LOVE IT, but y’all… I had forgotten how stressful moving can be, probably because it’s never been this stressful before.
While I’m deeply grateful for our home and adore so many things about it, I’m also sore all over – my calves, shoulders and feet are screaming at me, exhausted, have been dealing with major inconveniences like a lack of gas (so no stove or hot water- which also meant no warm baths and showers, no dishwasher, no cooking on the stove), and we had to obtain a new washer and dryer. I wish I had taken a picture of Mt. St. Laundry… it was literally up to my waist.
As much as I try to be a minimalist, 9 people just have a whole lot of stuff. Not to mention, since my husband runs a business from our home, he has enough tools and supplies to choke any Tool Guy.
Add to that, 3 of the children have been acting badly – probably due in part to the stress and newness of the situation.
I found myself slipping into a bad place.
I needed a little perspective.
After I unpacked my books and got the bookshelves together (NOW it feels like home!), I decided to re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s later books. I’ve read the entire series a few times, both aloud and to myself. This time I read them for different reasons.
The First Four Years was her chronicle of Laura and Almanzo’s honeymoon years as a young homesteading couple. The struggles they faced were beyond the comprehension of most of us.
Instead of being written from the perspective of a starry-eyed child, for whom prairie life was probably a lot of fun, it was from the perspective of a young, newly married woman who had to deal with making head cheese from hog’s brains while suffering from prolonged morning sickness.
Another thing that struck me when I initially read this book years ago was the contrast between Laura’s experience of motherhood and homemaking and her mother Caroline’s.
Caroline Ingalls for me has been a type of literary mentor, similar to Marmee March (except Caroline was not fictitious), but she also seemed a bit unreal in her … perfectness. Caroline never raised her voice to her children. While an educated women accustomed to a more comfortable life “back East, she never said a sharp word to her husband. She never complained while he, who likely had adult ADD, dragged her around from place to place for no other reason than he got bored. She had several children and didn’t seem to suffer during pregnancy like Laura did.
Laura was a different animal entirely.
Her personality was fiery. She slapped a native American once when he tried to embrace her, with unintended effects: he proposed! Laura’s daughter Rose was honest about her mother’s sharp tongue and quick temper. She was far from perfect in the homemaking department, and her pregnancies sound all too familiar to me: she had prolonged, severe morning sickness, felt “emaciated” and weak, and couldn’t hold her meals down for “more than a few minutes”. It is also clear to me that she suffered from depression during pregnancy.
So while I’m feeling stressed about not having a warm bath for I-won’t-mention-how-long, I don’t have to haul water in buckets and heat it over a fire in a dress that goes from my throat to my ankles. I can let the laundry pile up knowing that I won’t have to scrub it against a washboard with soap that will chap my hands. While cooking is difficult for me during pregnancy, I’m not required to slaughter a hog and make use of its entrails. The grocery store is 2 miles away and sausage is cheap. And while I feel like a hot flash that never ends, I live in an air conditioned home and am not traveling across the country, again in too much clothing, in a covered wagon with temperatures soaring over 100F, as documented in On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894. And while some of my children are acting like wolves, I don’t have to worry about them dying from illnesses that medication could prevent (Laura’s infant son died of “spasms”, likely seizures).
While I budget carefully and concern myself with extra expenses during this time, I don’t have to watch while an entire year’s labors and income vanish in a number of hours in some freak storm. Over and over again.
What a privileged and comfortable life I lead.