The Kiddy Pool: C'mon Irene

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

My daughter and I are reading and rereading (and rereading…) the toddler versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. These adaptations, charmingly illustrated by Renee Graff, provide glimpses into the frontier tales that have delighted generations of readers. I am no exception. I loved the stories as a girl, and I love the stories now.

I marvel at the simplicity of a Christmas where each child receives “only” a stick of candy and a pair of red mittens—and the children are enthralled; Laura, by her parents’ extravagant gesture, also gets a rag doll. We read about the whole family gathering their garden’s stores for the winter, about the children’s ecstasy and anticipation of a trip to the nearby town’s general store, and about Pa and Ma heaving logs into place to build their home. Simple things like pancakes and maple syrup, patchwork quilts, and churning butter take on new wonder as Wilder shows the work and joy derived from daily life.

I realize these stories are romanticized, part history and party fantasy. I know the idyllic childhood Wilder presents is at least part illusion; her child narrator eludes to dangers in the woods and on the family’s westward journey, but the protective figures of Pa, Ma, and the bulldog Jack create a consistent backdrop of safe tranquility. It’s almost exactly the opposite of how I feel as Hurricane Irene trounces up the eastern U.S. coast, with my little corner of the world directly in her path. My hurricane-survival plan involved ordering pizza and leaving it on the counter so we’d have some meals; my husband’s plan centered on gallon-jugs of water and more batteries than we’ll need in a lifetime. We’re not exactly Ma and Pa.

The most prominent threats in my area are power outages and flooding; it’s not worst-case scenario, but the potential for damage is certainly real. No electricity (and, gasp! No internet!) for an undetermined time period makes me feel anxious, and, in light of the Little House stories, a bit embarrassed. I’m glad we’ve moved past using pig bladders for children’s balloons (seriously), but there’s still a part of me that longs for more of that pioneer dream: traveling light, self-reliant, and simpler—at least in some ways. So as we’re battening down the hatches of our cozy cape and praying for all the folks in Irene’s way, I’m reminded that I’m a modern woman with many skills, but I’m not Ma. Sometimes, progress just isn’t.

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About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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