This year Esther and I are reading The Little House series for her main school curriculum. I’ve read through the series twice with the older children and I’m excited to share these rich books with Esther. What I don’t remember from my readings a few years ago is being so affected by Ma Inglalls – maybe it was because I was teaching more children and multiple grade levels, who knows? But this time around I’ve been keeping notes on the lessons I’m learning from Ma.
Now, I realize that these books are written many years after the actual events and are biographical fiction, not non-fiction. I also realize that Laura Ingalls Wilder is writing from a child’s perspective without full knowledge of the events. However, I still think that Ma Ingalls was a pretty amazing woman who I can learn from.
Lessons from Ma Ingalls
Ma was a planner. She wasn’t a list maker and she didn’t walk around with a full datebook but she planned for the future. For instance, she knew which girl needed new dresses and when, and had a plan for making sure the girls had what they needed. She stored the food they grew or hunted and then rationed it out to make sure it lasted the time it needed to last. As we are reading through the books, I’m struck with how often her thoughts are of the future and how what they do that day affect their future. There are so many times I let the convenience of the times we live in as an excuse to not plan ahead. Unfortunately, I pay for that convenience with both time and money.
Ma knew how to make do or do without – without her family feeling deprived. Ma was content and that contentment spilled over into her family’s attitude about being “poor.” They all knew they didn’t have much, but they had enough, and they didn’t have a poverty mentality. Ma made do with with what she had. If Pa brought home rabbit, they had rabbit. If the sugar was getting low, she stopped using it and saved it for special occasions, like Christmas. When they didn’t have a cow, they didn’t have milk or butter. But then it made it all the more exciting when they had these things. There’s something about delayed gratification that is really good for the soul. In our society of abundance sometimes we have to make a conscience decision to practice delayed gratification. It’s okay if my child doesn’t get new boots in September and has to wait until they go on sale on Black Friday. It makes her so much more appreciative of them once she gets the. It’s okay if we don’t eat summer squash during the winter or cabbage during the summer, it makes it taste all the better when we finally do have that first summer squash or cabbage.
Ma had a lot of skills. Of course, I expected that she would garden, cook, sew and knit. But I was surprised when she took straw and weaved them all hats! She wasn’t a hat maker, she was just a mom who probably learned to weave hats from her Ma or Grandma. I’ve learned quite a few skills over the years that benefit my family. Some, like crocheting, I’m a beginner and I’m happy to stay at that level. I can make basic scarves, hats and afghans which is all I really need to know at this point in my life. Then there are other skills that I have that I really want to delve deeper into, herbal medicine would be one of those skills.
Ma passed those skills onto her daughters. Even at a young age the girls worked side by side with Ma, doing dishes, sewing nine patch quilt blocks, working in the garden and hauling water. Ma seems to have the gift of patience when it came to teaching the girls as they worked. I need to remember to include my children in my work and see it as an opportunity to teach them life skills. It’s okay if towels aren’t folded perfectly or if dinner takes 15 minutes longer to prepare. I was more diligent at including my older children and am now reaping the benefits, but I need to be more aware of the opportunities with Esther because she needs to learn these skills too.
Ma was grateful. I cannot imagine living a life without complaining, an yet Laura never really records her mother complaining. I’m sure there was much more in those hard days to complain about than there is in our modern day with all it’s conveniences. When Pa had to leave to go find work after the grasshoppers destroyed their crops, he left Ma with three small girls plus all his chores. When he returned months later, instead of fussing because they mainly had to eat just fish and potatoes, Ma was grateful they had been able to conserve their store bought staples because the fish and potatoes had been plentiful. Her grateful spirit is sprinkled all through these books. I need to learn to be more grateful and model that for my children. I want my children to remember me as someone who didn’t complain.
Ma made her family her number one priority, so did Pa for that matter. Some people think that making your family your number one priority means giving up yourself, and it does to some extent, but you don’t have to give up everything. Life is about choices and when you have a family it’s about making choices that are good for the family as a whole and not each individual. Ma gave up her teaching career when she had Mary but that didn’t stop her from teaching her own children how to read and write. Pa gave up his desire to keep moving west because the girls going to a school was important to Ma. But he didn’t sulk on it, he willingly gave that up for the good of his family. In order to make my family my number one priority, there will be some things I need to give up. This was especially true when I had five small children. There are seasons in life and it’s okay to give up personal dreams or desires for the good of the family. Who knows, one day I might get to fulfill those dreams or I might have new dreams.
Ma took pride in her home. It didn’t matter if the home was a wooden home built with store bought boards or a dirt dugout, Ma added small touches to make it lovely for her family. She made beautiful quilts for the beds and cloths for the table. She would also pick wildflowers and add them to the table just to brighten the house. I don’t know about you, but my house is always MUCH prettier when we’re expecting company. Why is that and what does that say to my family?
Ma did the first things first. I’ve been intrigued that Ma and the girls ALWAYS made their beds, swept the floor and did the dishes each morning. Of course, those are things that should be done first. Those are the things that will make a home look tidy or left undone, look messy. Even when they were rushing in the morning because they needed to go somewhere, the beds must be made and the dishes wiped and put away. I’m notorious for rushing in the morning to get to the “real” work and leaving the things that should be done first undone. I see the same tendency in my children. Amazing how that works. I’m working on a few small things that I do each morning no matter how hurried we are to get into the habit of doing first things first. For me, those things are making the bed (which I enjoy and do almost every morning anyway), wiping down the bathroom vanity and making sure the morning dishes are done. We don’t have a dishwasher so I don’t do all the dishes, I just make sure everyone does their own dishes – just to clarify.
Ma did her work peacefully. I’m sure there were many times when Ma was overwhelmed with the amount of work she had. But unless there was a fire or some kind of emergency, Laura doesn’t recall Ma hollering and getting uptight. Ma just did her work and amazingly, whatever needed to get done got done. Now, I know part of it is because she lived in a time where she was home most of the time and didn’t need to rush every day or several times a day to drive a child here or there. But even though our lifestyles are very different, I can choose to do my work peacefully. I can choose to not rush through everything just to get to the next thing I need to do. I can enjoy the work and not try to fill my day with so much stuff that I’m frustrated and short with my family.
Ma “worked” from the time she got up to the time she went to bed. It’s interesting to see how Ma ordered her days. She did the first things first, then she did her other chores for that day. The other chores included things like laundry (once a week), baking or working in the garden. Then she would sit and knit or do mending. This was work that was relaxing. We all need downtime and I think this was Ma’s downtime. One thing Ma didn’t do was spend several hours a day in front of a screen for her downtime. I realize that we live in a different time with different ways of relaxing but I wonder how much more peaceful our families would be if we turned off the screens and chose a different form of downtime? I don’t know about you, but I can get online in the evening to “just check one thing” and then spend an hour or more getting lost. Or I can watch “just a bit of Late Night” after the news and before I know it, the show is completely over. I’ve been trying to “save” some of my more relaxing work for the evenings after Esther goes to bed. Since I have an online business, I can’t completely go offline, but I certainly can put boundaries around my work time so I’m not always online.
Ma was gracious towards others. Even when others were rude or unkind to her or her family, she was always gracious back. She seemed to live with the thought of “killing them with kindness.” When Laura spoke poorly of Nellie Olsen, Ma corrected her. When Laura “got Nellie back”, Ma corrected her. When Nellie bragged about her doll or her home, Ma was gracious. I need to not only have this attitude but teach my children to have this attitude. In our culture it’s very common to speak poorly (gossip) about others and dismiss it as “truth”. But just because something is true doesn’t mean we should say it. I tell my kids all the time, there are things that are true about me (or you) that I hope people don’t go around saying.
I could probably go on and on but I’ll stop here as this post is getting pretty long. I hope this inspires you as we go into the crazy busy holiday season and the New Year to see what in your life could use a little help from Ma. If you don’t have a Ma in your life to help you learn some of these new things, consider learning some of these things through online “mentors”.
What life lessons have you been reminded of lately? (If you receive this post via email, you’ll need to click over to leave your comment.)