I loved the Little House books when I was a kid. Read them all a billion times (except maybe Farmer Boy because who really cared about Almanzo?). Watched the show religiously. My sister and I loved to play Little House, at least until Mary grew up and left home. I’m older so I always had to be Mary and it wasn’t as fun to live in a different town from Laura and Nellie and the rest of the crew. But the point is, Little House loomed large over my childhood.
This past winter, I reread the entire series and followed it up with Pioneer Girl, the annotated Laura Ingalls Wilder memoir. The novels were exactly as wonderful as I remembered, and I loved revisiting all the characters and their adventures moving across the western US in pioneer times.
One night, not long before Christmas and as I was shivering my way through The Long Winter, I had to go switch my laundry. My washer and dryer are in the basement, which gets chilly, and I was inwardly grumbling about holding armloads of cold, damp clothes in the cold basement on a cold night. As I was heaving a big sigh, I stopped short and realized, “Ma Ingalls would think I’m an asshole right now.”
Since that moment, I’ve been accompanied by an Inner Ma who cuts me off when my problems become a little too first-world. Here are some recent examples of me being taken down by Inner Ma:
Me: Aw, man. We’re out of salted butter and I’ll have to use unsalted on my English muffin.
Inner Ma: When we moved from Wisconsin to Kansas, we had no butter until Charles traded for a cow, and even then the cow tried to kick him in the head when he tried to milk it so he had to build a cow-holding-pen before we could get milk. Then I had to churn the butter by hand.
Me: Another snow day! Ugh!
Inner Ma: We once had a winter with ceaseless blizzards and the trains couldn’t deliver supplies and the whole town nearly starved to death.
Me: My son’s glasses are so bent and scratched that I need to get him new ones, but I hate the Lenscrafters nearby and don’t want to drive to the better one.
Inner Ma: My daughter went blind and we had to send her away to Iowa to finish her education. We didn’t see her for nearly a year at a time.
Me: My husband has another business trip. I wish he didn’t have to travel so much.
Inner Ma: My husband moved me thousands of miles from my home and family, more than once. And I had to churn my own butter.
Me: My bra is making me sweaty.
Inner Ma: I wear corsets under long-sleeved dresses that cover me from the neck to the ankles.
Me: Why is this app upgrade taking so long?
Inner Ma: We’d sometimes get old magazines sent to us from Back East.
Me: The damn deer keep eating my rosebushes!
Inner Ma: When we lived in Minnesota, we had three years of a grasshopper infestation that destroyed any and all crops we planted. The cows had no grass and didn’t give milk so I couldn’t churn any butter.
Me: Ugh, the porta-potties at the park are so gross.
Inner Ma: The outhouse behind our house is gross, too. Especially when the house is downwind of it.
Me: What is that noise outside? Is that cats having sex?
Inner Ma: What is that noise outside? Is that a bear trying to eat our livestock?
Me: Dammit. The kids have a dentist appointment so I’ll have to skip the gym.
Inner Ma: We didn’t have dentists on the prairie. And for exercise, I churned butter.
I wish I could say my Inner Ma is making less of an asshole. Sadly, I’m still the kind of asshole who complains about app updates and sweaty bras, but now at least I have the sense to feel stupid about it. Because as much as I loved Little House, I wouldn’t want to live the pioneer life for real. The butter churning alone is more than I can fathom. I’m finding, however, that it’s good to check in with Ma and the rest of the Little House family for a little perspective when things are getting crazy up in here. Mom life in 21st Century America isn’t always easy, but at least we have indoor plumbing, and the wildest animals most of us encounter are are squirrels, not bears.
Related post: The Mom I Judge Harshest Of All