Longing for simpler times
For the past several months, I’ve been reading the “Little House on the Prairie” series to my 7-year-old son at bedtime. They are the same books I read at his age, with my maiden name and childhood address written in careful cursive inside each cover. The joy of rediscovering these beloved stories from my youth is something I look forward to each evening, but reading them as an adult leaves me with a surprising longing for simpler times.
As we read about the adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her pioneer family at the turn of the last century, my son and I have great discussions about the differences between then and now. He marvels at what it would be like to be overjoyed at receiving nothing but a handmade toy, a stick of candy and a penny in his Christmas stocking. It is difficult for him to fathom a world with no TVs, Xboxes and big box stores. He can’t remember a world in which there were no smart phones, so handwritten letters sent via U.S. Mail as the primary source of communication is beyond his comprehension.
In last night’s chapter of “The Long Winter,” during which the Ingalls family struggled to survive through a winter of endless blizzards with temperatures that reached 40 below, the family awoke to a frigid morning facing the usual household chores that needed to be done. While Pa tended to the animals, Ma encouraged her daughters to get through their household tasks quickly so they could sit by the fire and stay warm. Strange though it may seem, I found myself feeling envious of a life where the chores could be considered complete and the rest of the day could be spent playing games and memorizing Bible verses.
I wondered about the last time I had nothing to do. I simply can’t recall. How long has it been since I sat down with my kids to play a board game? Months, at least. Because with all the conveniences of these modern times, we are busier than ever.
Waking up before dawn to gather eggs, milk the cow, sweep, do laundry, mend socks and cook meals for my family doesn’t seem like it would be so bad if there were an end to it at some point in the day. I’m sure I’m not alone in my feeling that, these days, the work never seems to end. It’s not at all unusual for my “chores” to continue long after my kids are tucked in. I answer emails at 10 p.m., respond to late-night text messages about unreliable sources or missed deadlines and obsessively check Facebook on my phone (because if I don’t I might miss something monumentally important. Yes, even social media has become a chore).
As a working mom, I face hours in front of the computer each day in addition to laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and keeping the house in some semblance of order – the chores that used to be a woman’s only job. I have to find time to run a few times a week (because appearances!), get my kids to their extra-curricular activities (because they must be well-rounded!), volunteer at school (because parent involvement is crucial to your child’s future!) and set aside quality time for my husband (because you must have date nights or you’ll end up divorced!).
I’m thankful for washing machines and dishwashers and computers and televisions, along with the freedom women now have to do and be whomever we choose, but my weary soul sometimes longs for a less harried existence.
I read of evenings in front of the fire singing songs and dancing while Pa plays the fiddle, and imagine the joy in such simplicity. I read of Sundays set aside as a day of rest, and picture what a luxury a guilt-free day of relaxation would be. I read of Christmas gifts hand-made with love, and envision a holiday season not ruled by commercialism and stress.
I love the idea of my son one day reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books with his children. I wonder if, instead of marveling at the difficulties and challenges the pioneers faced and being thankful he didn’t live back then, he’ll have the change of perspective that the responsibilities of adulthood and parenting can bring. Perhaps he’ll feel a bit envious of the predictability of their schedules, the importance of their daily tasks to their survival and the strength of family bonds that form when all you have is each other.