My junior high years bordered on miserable. Every day I launched off the school bus, bolted up the driveway, and shed my back brace onto the living room floor. At that age I was allowed to remove my scoliosis contraption for 4 hours each day, and I always spent my first hour of freedom with Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was my daily dose of sanity.
(Okay, maybe it was actually Melissa Gilbert. My memories of the television show are admittedly more vivid than those from the books.)
Regardless, Little House on the Prairie aired at 4 PM each day. I would race up to my parents’ bedroom, turn their television to Channel 7 (yes, I literally had to turn a knob) and flop onto their waterbed, hopefully in time to see all the Ingalls children run down the pasture. Then I would lie back and enjoy the show, free from both my brace and the hallways of teasing classmates.
This was pretty much my daily routine, unless it was Wimbledon week. To this day I can barely forgive the sport of tennis for robbing me of my Little House on the Prairie time.
There was a small part of me that wanted to be blind like Mary, the older sister in the show. As if scoliosis wasn’t enough? I never understood why I had such crazy thoughts until the day I realized that our son Sam was jealous of his sister’s asthma.
Don’t get me wrong, the kid doesn’t want the burden of asthma any more than I wanted to be blind. But special conditions bring special attention, and what child doesn’t crave that?
Sam has spent years watching Maggie take puffers and pills, but last summer it was worse than ever. The poor girl’s eczema was in a terrible flare and she had a regiment of antifungals and antibacterials in addition to her asthma medication. I gave her the final dose and sent her off to the bathtub, and then turned to Sam and sighed. He had been quietly watching me administer her medications, and something in his eyes made me flash back to the little girl who wanted to be blind, like Mary.
I lifted Sam onto the kitchen island, looked him straight in the eyes and asked, “Do you ever wish you were the one going to all these doctor’s appointments and taking all this medicine?”
He was shocked at my question, not because it was so ridiculous but because it was so true. Yes! He did wish it was him! But at the same time – No! – of course he didn’t! I shared my story, how I felt as a little girl about the blind Mary Ingalls. It validated his feelings, and reassured him that his deep, dark jealousy wasn’t so dark after all. He was okay. He was normal.
And this moment was just ours, so he was special too.
So thanks, Little House, not only for being there when I was a child, but for helping me bond with my own children all these years later.
This summer one of my childhood dreams was realized when we planned an iconic American road trip across South Dakota. The Ingalls homestead in DeSmet was at the top of my itinerary, even though it was hours from our other pre-planned destinations. (Every hour counts when you are cramming five people into your mother-in-law’s five-person sedan, and trust me when I say that five-person sedans aren’t really built for five people when booster seats are involved.)
Still, everyone humored me and scrunched up for the extra highway time. My husband is a sucker for nostalgia and for some reason he loves me a lot, so he was adamant that we were making the trip. My mother-in-law was a good sport, and she was equally adamant about scrunching between the kids’ boosters in the back. Sam and Maggie were along for the ride, having read only half of the first book and watching a handful of episodes.
So thanks, family, for the side trip of a lifetime for your dear old mum:
We only planned to stay for an hour or so, but instead spent over four. There was just so much to do. The kids had to wash the laundry, and hang it out to dry:
They had to attend a school lesson, make ropes and corn cob dolls, and drive a horse drawn buggy:
The homestead artifacts and barn were worth looking at as well:
If you ever find yourself in South Dakota, the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet is well worth the stop.
“The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.”
~Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’ve been trying, but I really can’t say it any better than that.