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    Books & Reading, Educational Philosophy, Other Thoughts

    Little House in the Big Pandemic

    April 1, 2020 by Caitlin Beauchamp

    In Which I Write You a Letter on Day Twelve of Quarantine

    Hello, friend

    It feels simultaneously redundant, obvious, and deeply necessary to begin this note by saying: what strange times we’re living in. I have A Lot of Thoughts. I’ll spare you most of them, but there is one thing on my mind to tell you about.

    A few days ago, I was scanning headlines when I saw an article about pregnancy during coronavirus. I am pregnant, as are a few of my friends, so I clicked on it.

    This article turned out not to be informational, as I’d thought, but rather an op-ed by a single mom lamenting the difficulties of caring for her toddler and preparing for the birth of her second child under current circumstances. She wrote of her financial uncertainty, her fears about her upcoming hospital birth, the stress of trying to keep a toddler healthy in a heavily populated city. She mentioned her life-long anxiety issues, and how she’d just started feeling better from Seasonal Anxiety Disorder when all this began. She wondered how she’d manage to purchase what her baby needs to survive with stores understocked or closed, and she mourned the loss of experiences she’d anticipated while preparing for her baby. Now there will be no showers, and instead of fun outings to go shopping, she’ll just have to order everything online. Summary: times are hard for mothers and babies.

    Later that evening, my daughter asked me to read her another chapter of Little House on the Prairie.

    We’d already enjoyed two chapters that day, but really, what better use could I make of this time? So I read her one more chapter — the one where cowboys come through with a herd of longhorns, and Pa helps them for a couple of days, and in exchange they give him some meat, along with a milk cow and her calf. The family is elated. As I read, it dawned on me that they’d likely had no milk, butter, or beef for months.

    Pa improvises a pen and milks the cow, which yields only one small cupful. Pa, Ma, Laura, and Mary agree to give little Carrie this precious first cup of milk. They watch in delight as she drinks it down and smiles.

    Now, having shared these two anecdotes, there are several directions I could take this letter. But this, my friend, is what I want to say: I have read many old books, and they have given me courage.

    In the era of cancel culture, the Little House books are sometimes maligned, labelled “problematic.” And believe me: I see the problems. Reading them aloud to a young child has required some editing on the fly, some careful conversations. And yet, reading them aloud has also been an unexpectedly profound joy, grounding and heartening. Old books are almost always going to be “problematic” some way or another, but meanwhile they can also teach us what all we humans have lived through, the resilience and creativity we are capable of. Old stories set our own times in context — not because they minimize our hardships by comparison, but because they remind us of the courage and grit that is our birthright, tethering our story to the stories of our ancestors.

    Reading Little House on the Prairie under shelter-in-place orders during a worldwide pandemic is hardly a thing I could have planned — we started the book weeks before we saw this coming. The Ingalls’ circumstances are wildly different from ours, of course, but as we pass day after day isolated in our own Little House, what a gift to have this story to contextualize our anxieties and fortify our imaginations. My thoughts have often returned in this time not only to this and other old books I have read, but also to my family’s oldest stories: about the Dust Bowl farmers, the self-sufficient homesteaders, the trusted community midwives, the Civil War veterans. In these surreal and uncertain days, their stories matter more to me than ever.

    Probably you have read Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins and don’t need to be reminded of Cindy’s words about memory and culture, about building education “on a platform of remembrance.” I will quote her anyway:

    “We have a limited time to help our children fill the backpack they will carry into the future. The chemical elements are useful, but they have little meaning to a child of ten . . . In the early years, we want to feed their minds with stories of all kinds—through history, Bible, poems, songs, imaginative fiction, family traditions. . . Education is tethering our children to the past so that they are not adrift in the universe. That’s it.

    . . .We stand in the gap between our children and all that came before. We are the keepers of the culture. If our culture commits suicide, we cannot wring our hands and point the finger. We are the ones responsible. We might have to avoid puffing up our children with [memorizing] the chemical elements in order to tell them about the time we picked blackberries with our grandfather. There is plenty of time to learn The Periodic Table of Elements, but the time is fleeting to throw out hooks of remembrance, as many as we can, between our generation and the next.”

    Mere Motherhood, pp. 126-130

    Friend, here’s what I’m pondering on Quarantine Day Twelve: what is the story we will tell our grandchildren about this time? What stories will our children tell their grandchildren?

    In other words: what kind of ancestors will we be? What kind of ancestors are we raising?

    In other words: how do we raise and educate people who can be good ancestors?

    The basic assumption often made in our culture is that the purpose of education is to enable our children to be successful. But one problem with this (only one — there are many) is that we don’t know what “success” may look like in the future, or what may be required of our children in their lifetimes. I am not catastrophizing here — I am not implying that our children will need to be machete-wielding postapocalyptic subsistence farmers. All I’m saying is that I don’t know what kind of world I am raising my children for. This has always been true. Right now, however, it’s a little more obvious. Right now, we’re roused from the dream that our lives are predictable, that we can rely on our world continuing as we have known it. Right now, perhaps, we remember that we are dust.

    Right now, I am contemplating even more deeply a conviction I’ve had for a couple of years: my task here is to raise good ancestors.

    Not to raise people who will be Successful. Not to try to build around them a bulwark of accomplishment and accreditation to shield them from hardship. Rather, my task is to raise people of great heart and good courage, of joy and resilience and principle, equal to whatever may be asked of them. My hope is to educate them so that they may be strengthened, humbled, grounded, and dignified by many, many, many old stories. My prayer is that they will be people worthy of remembrance, that their stories will in turn convey courage into the hearts of their descendants. Whatever else I accomplish, I want to raise good ancestors.

    That’s all for now, friend. Usually, I labor over every sentence I write until my eyes cross. This time, I’m simply sending this note along to you raw. After days of rain, I want to get outside and weed my neglected garden and sow the parsley and chard and lettuce seeds I bought back in the fall and never planted. Maybe they’ll grow, or not — I’m a bungling gardener. But the sowing itself is an anchor, a remembrance, an expectation.

    I hope you are well and cozy, and have plenty of coffee and eggs and milk and flour, and plenty of old stories to share with your children. I hope your soul is open and tender to those stories, and to the unfolding story we are living. I hope your heart is full of good courage, at rest in our good and ever-reigning Jesus.

    Please write back, if you wish to. I’d love to hear how life goes on in your Little House.

    Present with you in heart and imagination,

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  • Reply Becca April 5, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing your ponderings Caitlin! I have had very similar thoughts and been asking myself “what will my kids remember about this time, and what stories will they tell their children?” I hope they will see it as a sweet time at home with lots of extra quality family time. That they will not remember fear or frustration but faith in a God who controls all things. So far my kids have handled being “locked in” very well. Other than missing friends, activities, and church they seems to be enjoying slowing down and finding time to do things we don’t normally have time to do. I’m secretly LOVING the slow pace and a hubby working from home. ?

  • Reply Rich April 3, 2020 at 10:39 am

    It’s entirely possible I may be the only representative of my sex to comment here, but I will just say, well done.
    I still maintain, at 51 y/o, that Little House on the Prairie, was and still is my all time favorite TV show/series.
    Why is that? I believe it’s because it reminds me of who came before me, and the struggles and hopes & dreams they had..
    thank you for the post, I can relate.

  • Reply Cat April 2, 2020 at 6:03 am

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you so much for sharing this! We are also currently reading through the LHOTP series. We finished The Long Winter as all of the lockdowns were beginning, and for sure it made me thankful for the food and supplies we have access to. I was glad when we finished it because it was feeling eerily apocalyptic to me to be reading and then living such difficult circumstances at the same time!

  • Reply Jessica Swaine April 2, 2020 at 3:13 am

    Thank you, Caitlin.

  • Reply Tendai Elizabeth Nyamanhindi April 1, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    Dear Caitlyn , be blessed for this letter which has come in season for us, I am an African mother , Zimbabwean to be precise, last night before I read your letter we prayed asking God that He leads us and we may find courage and ways to reboot and start living clean and righteous in preparation for the rapture. As an African mother living in Zimbabwe we need courage and strength from Christ to endure these difficult times. I had never heard of these old stories until now , we as Zimbabweans used to tell them but it all ended as we embraced other cultures and other modern ways of teaching our children. Thank you for reminding us to teach our kids this way , and even if the stories may not have African roots the moral codes are the same, we will start reading some of these books during our quarantine and remember the ones our aunties used to tell us so we tell them to our kids.thank you once again Caitlyn

  • Reply Laura April 1, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    We also are reading both Little House on the Prairie (with my daughter) and The Long Winter (with both kids). We’re soon done with the Long Winter, and I have to admit to wondering if continuing it was a good choice for this time. It tends to feed my natural desire to be ultra-prepared for all contingencies (otherwise known as being a hoarder!) But it also teaches us ingenuity, and hard work, and self-sacrifice, and making do – all of which are lessons that seem especially relevant right now. Best of all, although not as explicitly, it shows us the sovereignty of God and His provision – as Cap and Almanzo just “happened” to find the homesteader who raised wheat and then just “happened” to make it back to town just before the next blizzard struck. I love to be able to introduce my son to the idea that real men, good men, take risks to help those who need it. And God guided their steps and used them to provide what the town needed to make it through till spring. So, perhaps I don’t have to be a hoarder for my sovereign God to be able to provide all I need, as well. 🙂

    Thank you for the reminder that “my task is to raise people of great heart and good courage, of joy and resilience and principle, equal to whatever may be asked of them.” May all of us, kiddos and moms alike, be inspired to greater courage and joy during this time.

  • Reply JoyH April 1, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Beautiful! The long look helps to put things in perspective, doesn’t it?

    We live in Asia, and have had many times of instability, shortages, shutdowns over the past 18 years. It is not unfamiliar to us, but it is unfamiliar to see this happening in our own ‘stable’ America. It is easier to live a troubled time when we knew that our finances were not compromised by our surrounding situation.

    This is different, and is another reminder that our Father is caring for us as He always has and always will.

  • Reply Angelique Tester April 1, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    “I hope you are well and cozy, and have plenty of coffee and eggs and milk and flour, and plenty of old stories to share with your children. I hope your soul is open and tender to those stories, and to the unfolding story we are living. I hope your heart is full of good courage, at rest in our good and ever-reigning Jesus. ”

  • Reply Debara April 1, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you for your beautifully crafted words on mothering. They give me hope for the future! This time is nothing short of an unexpected opportunity to push the reset button and begin a fresh to rejoice in all the precious moments and little faces in our lives.

  • Reply Catherine Thomson April 1, 2020 at 11:12 am

    This is beautiful! I love your thoughts on education, literature and being brave. Just what I needed to read tonight. Thank you

  • Reply Julie April 1, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Well said!

    We are reading Little House in the Big Woods right now. I was struck by the effort Ma put into making butter. She grated the carrot to give it a yellow color and pressed the butter into a mold. Even though she had so much work to do and they were comparatively isolated, she continued to seek beauty!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp April 6, 2020 at 2:47 pm

      This is so moving to me, too. I wonder if in our time, someone would tell Ma to “give herself permission” to skip the carrot and the mold and just “give herself some grace in this season” or something like that.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel April 8, 2020 at 9:00 am

        Ha. You’re probably right. It is sad to me how many times the admonition to give yourself grace is used to talk women out of doing something amazing and noble. 🙁

      • Reply Nicole Cox April 18, 2020 at 2:39 pm

        OH, yes! Yes. I know what the well-meaning women mean when they say things like that, but I often wonder if we sell ourselves short via “self-care” and granting ourselves “grace.” Obviously, *some* seasons really will require us to pull back on our commitments, but I know I tend to let go of actually life-giving and beautifying practices and replace them with….the opposite (way too much phone scrolling, social media, etc!). Ma didn’t even have that option, but she grabbed hold of whatever beautiful and fulfilling practice she could.

  • Reply Kiel April 1, 2020 at 9:51 am

    I just finished reading the first and third Little House books to my daughter, and I agree with your sentiments whole-heartedly! It is so important to keep perspective during these times and to remember that we are not the first to experience hard things–that the hard things we face may not even really be as difficult as we think. And we have hope that the Lord will care for us just as He cared for those who have gone before us!

  • Reply Bekka April 1, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Well said! We are reading Heidi together and I am giving everyone more time to read and listen to audio books. So thankful for a solid home library. Reading great stories from the past reminds us that God is and always will be faithful. He never changes!

    • Reply Elaine April 1, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      We are also reading Heidi. She just learned that she can take her concerns to God, and I teared up thinking how that applies to us as well. I’m also incredibly grateful for my home library because I have a wonderful city library and have often wondered why I have doubles at my house. For such a time as this!

  • Reply Mary April 1, 2020 at 9:45 am

    I love this, thank you! I have also found courage by looking to the past. I’m wondering how to encourage my son (7) to have courage and patience and joy in the midst of the many (small, but big to him) disappointments he’s experiencing. But I also don’t want to give him too many details and burden him with information that the grown-ups should be handling. How have you been talking to your daughter about what’s happening? Do you (or other readers) have any thoughts on this?

    Coincidentally, my son is reading Little House in the Big Woods on his own, after finding it on the shelf a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t read it since I was a kid. Would you recommend against him reading it on his own? It sounds like I should at least re-read it so I can consider conversations we might need to have!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp April 6, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      Little House in the Big Woods is a simpler book, and is almost entirely free of the issues you run into with Little House on the Prairie. I don’t remember feeling any need to edit or have those kinds of conversations while reading that one aloud. The issues arise with the move into Indian Territory and the very one-sided presentation of westward expansion. On the other hand, LHoP is more interesting and rewarding!

      My daughter is younger than your son, and thus probably experiencing less disappointment– we haven’t even brought up the likelihood of her already postponed dance recital getting cancelled. Oh boy, that one will be TOUGH. So far our thought is to give her the bare minimum of information she needs to understand why daily life is different. Like you, I don’t want to burden her. We are basically under partial self-quarantine during flu season every year because of an immune-compromised family member so that concept is familiar to her– we’ve just been telling her that this year there are more sick people than usual and it’s lasting longer than usual and the doctors have asked everyone to be a helper and stay home so germs don’t spread. Very simplistic. I don’t want her to be anxious during this time on top of the loneliness– no point! But, again, she’s a little younger than your son, and depending on how the situation develops from here we might wind up needing to say more.

  • Reply Jean Shepard April 1, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Beautifully stated, as always.

  • Reply Shanna April 1, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Wow! I love this new frame, Caitlin. What kind of ancestor am I and what kind am I raising?

  • Reply Jeannette April 1, 2020 at 7:54 am

    Perfectly written Caitlin. Heartening for moms of adults like me as well as moms of younger children. Worthy stories are worth the time. We do not know the circumstances for which we are preparing our children. But the Lord does and so we are just to be faithful to tell those stories. Thank you so much for this!

  • Reply Brooke Favorat April 1, 2020 at 7:36 am

    Wonderful words and solid perspective, Caitlin! Thank you for your insight.

  • Reply Leah April 1, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Dear Caitlin, thank you for this post. We started The Long Winter in January (almost to the end!). It has brought us courage and is a perspective changer. I’ve been reassured by our daily habits: reading aloud, singing hymns and folksongs, reciting memorized poems, etc., all of which the Wilder Family does too in their forced quarantine of blizzards. Planting seeds reminds us of the deep truth of God’s natural world: his powerful laws of life are still at work and in them we can find rest, as His Kingdom is forever!

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