Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stuff Ma Ingalls never had to worry about - Please Comment!

So, I have this love-hate relationship with Ma Ingalls. Many will recognize her as the mom from Little House on the Prairie on TV, some will know her from the series of books written by her daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder. They are great books - both entertaining and educational.

Now, I love Ma because she seems to exemplify a lot of qualities I'd like to cultivate. She was loving, protective, artistic, thrifty, and a good cook. But I hate Ma because she makes me feel monumentally inadequate. I mean, as a modern woman with tons of technology at my fingertips, only one child to mind, and a plethora of convenience items, I should be able to keep things in order, right? I don't have to cook in a woodstove, try to keep a dirt floor swept, or make my own butter and cheese. I have not only a vacuum, but a robot vacuum, for Chrissakes! So why is my floor covered in crumbs? If Ma could do it all, why on Earth can't I?

So I've been re-reading the books, and I'm starting to realize that perhaps my job is not so terribly easier than hers. So I'm starting a list of things Ma didn't have to worry about. First, let's look at a typical day, reconstructed from my reading so far.

Wake up. Take off nightgown, put on dress and shoes, make bed (sans decorative pillows, chenille throws, etc.). Most likely Pa built the fire, so next step is to make breakfast, probably biscuits, molasses, tea, and maybe some salt pork. Wash dishes (no need to sanitize). Daily work probably included gardening, sweeping (a very small house), and possibly taking care of animals, though Pa would probably do that. If there was a baby, I'm guessing diapers needed washing daily. Dinner was the main meal, in the middle of the day - meat, cornbread, molasses or fruit/preserves, vegetables if they were in season. Clean up dishes again. Each day of the week had its own chore as follows:
Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.
Washing was probably the biggest chore, being done by hand, and presumably including all clothing and linens. But again, "all clothing" was a few items per person. Supper was small - basically starch with flavorings: bread with molasses, cornmeal mush with pumpkin puree, that kind of thing. After cleaning supper dishes, Ma would do handicrafts like knitting or quilting. There does not seem to be a separate "child care" category - either the kids were entertaining themselves in the attic or outdoors, or they were working with Ma, from making their bed in the morning to helping churn the butter or washing dishes.

So, OK, Ma was definitely no slouch. There's a lot of hard work in there, much of it hard physical labor.

But let's think of all the crap we deal with that Ma never had to concern herself with:

Bathing daily - baths were on Saturday night only
Armpit sweat, "feminine odor," bad breath, shaving
Going to the gym because exercise is lacking from daily work
Maintaining a wardrobe - everything from dresses to underwear were changed/washed less often
Fashion sure, there were trends, but it's not like now when each season changes radically
Hairstyling - brush and braid, that's pretty much it
Grocery shopping
Driving to and fro generally - some modern mothers practically live in the car
Car maintenance
Home maintenance
Outside employment
Getting the kids to school
Kids' extracurricular activities
Paying bills
Getting the mail
Sorting through the junk mail
Filing and other paperwork
Answering the phone
Checkups at the doctor
Vaccinations (I'm grateful mind you, but it is another thing to deal with)
Entertaining children who have no siblings close in age
Stimulating kids' minds so they can be supergeniuses and get into the good preschool
College loans
Updating her blog ;)

OK, that's a good start. Tell me if you come up with some others. Gotta go entertain the child . . .


Alison said...

You know, I think about this sometimes. Usually when I'm trying to co-ordinate dropping off and picking up of kids with regular errands.

I spend tons of time fixing, cleaning, and waiting for servicepeople to come and repair my labor-saving machinery. Driving takes tons of time, not only for kid stuff, but because it makes it easy to visit family and friends, making those drives as well (and fitting them into the schedule). The pets require special food, licensing (two more trips, one to the vet for the shots, one to the town for the tags) and walking. Hubby's job is almost 70 miles away, and he's not the only one commuting 3 hours a day or more. The more stuff we have to make our lives more pleasant or convenient all exert more pressure on our time and resources. Fridges and freezers need to be cleaned (and sometimes defrosted) and food we shopped for and prepared sometimes gets thrown out. We have more things to dust, vacuum, wash, air out. We have visits to doctors, dentists, optometrists, allergists, orthopedists, gynecologists, gastroenterologists. . .you get the picture.

I read once that one of the best times as far as leisure went was Medieval. People had a lot of work, but everyone had a specific job, which meant that less time overall was spent working. That's all well and good, if you don't mind smelling bad, having rotten teeth, eating dirty and spoiled food, having men pee on the walls of the same room where you just ate, dogs running free and doing the things dogs do everywhere, getting sick and dying young, and having to practice a religion out of fear for your life.

It's all a tradeoff. We can simplify to a certain extent, but we reach a point where we're comfortable with the level of expenditures (time, money, effort, etc.) and the level of comfort. I'll complain about the inconveniences, but not enough to get rid of a lot of the "stuff" that causes them.

Cogito said...

That's all well and good, if you don't mind smelling bad, having rotten teeth, eating dirty and spoiled food, having men pee on the walls of the same room where you just ate, dogs running free and doing the things dogs do everywhere, getting sick and dying young, and having to practice a religion out of fear for your life.Ha! Well put!

I agree, I think the tradeoff is worth it. I just like to let myself off the hook a bit by reminding myself of all the crap I deal with (including attending to things that make life better) that those virtuous and industrious pioneer women didn't confront.

But yeah, I'll take my life in the modern world any day, when it comes down to it!