One thing I have had to accept about my eldest child is her love of “stuff”. I’ve loved my share of “stuff”, too, but the theme of my adulthood, especially the years post-motherhood, has been purge, purge, purge! And now that we live in a trailer, the desire to purge all but the essentials is stronger than ever. I believe I have given our differences a just amount of consideration. 1. It is important for Nora Ruth, especially as she gets older, to have special “belongings” that have meaning based on memories or her sense of self. 2. It is not healthy to attach too much meaning or emotion to material items. 3. She needs personal belongings to learn how to take care of the things that are important to her and, even to experience regret or loss when she realizes the consequences of not being responsible. 4. She needs to learn how to prioritize, i.e. I hear, “But they’re all special to me!”, a lot.
For a girl with a taste for creature comforts and a slight touch of the modern disease “accumulatitis”, Nora Ruth sure does love a good hardscrabble, pioneering story. She’s been a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder since she was three, when I used to read the books aloud to her, and she best expressed her veneration in the hope that one day she would be “in the same room in Heaven with Laura Ingalls Wilder.” At the moment she is in the midst of a LIW Renaissance and yesterday she was reading in the back seat of the car when “Ma” did something so outrageous that Nora Ruth was compelled to read several pages aloud to the rest of us.
“Ma”, that is Caroline Ingalls, forced Laura to give her only doll , her most special possession, to a visiting neighbor’s fussy child within about two seconds-worth of consideration. And more surprisingly,Laura, although grieved by this unexpected loss, acquiesces and makes very little complaint. I had to chuckle at Nora Ruth’s disbelief because I knew she was imagining herself in the middle of that dilemma and it was worse than anything her own witch of a mother had ever managed to do.
We talked about hospitality and sharing and how it could sometimes mean life or death in Laura’s world (this neighbor was, in fact, cutting firewood for Laura’s family while her Pa was away). We talked about what it must have been like to live in a one-room house with few possessions and to live in a world where things were used, not endlessly horded. And we talked about how Laura behaved, for the most part, stoically.
But several days later, Laura visits her neighbors and finds her doll, abandoned by the too-young neighbor child in a frozen mud puddle. With a sharp instinct for judiciousness, Laura quickly sees the abandonment as an opportunity and carries the beloved doll back home. And here’s where we were both surprised by the story: Ma fixes the doll, restores her clothes, her hair, her facial features because, you see, Ma was actually relieved to have Charlotte back, too. All of that talk about hospitality and pioneer hardship was down the drain. The jury was in and the fact of the matter was that Ma just hadn’t been paying enough attention to how much Charlotte meant to Laura. Even though Laura behaved stoically, Ma had noticed her sorrow and felt remorse about giving the doll away.
This reminded me of some words Nora Ruth and I had several weeks ago when I was putting up shelves above her bed in the trailer’s bunkroom. Proud of my effort, I said, “There! Now you have somewhere to put all of that junk.” I wish I had a picture, but I can tell you this pile included everything from a drink umbrella to a pirate eye patch to wrapping paper that she had torn off and then carefully refolded for safe keeping- and everything in between. I hadn’t meant to be derogatory but she heard the word loud and clear, and with a healthy sense of humor about our differing opinions on “stuff”, she called me out. I felt like a heel.
I’m not sure what the conclusion to this is. I guess, as with all things in life, I have to try to find a way to strike a balance. But for the moment I guess my solidarity with Ma is food enough for thought. I mean, as if the covered wagon-slash-trailer connection wasn’t strange enough…