(my daughter, looking very old fashioned)
When my daughter was sick last year, my mom came into town to stay with her so I could go to work. The old-fashioned, no-cable, non-Disney people that we are, we thought it might be a good idea to start a lifetime of Little House on the Prairie episodes. After all, there’s lots of “we’ll totally make it through the winter on one sack of wheat” and “golly pops – a peppermint stick in my stocking is what I’ve always wanted” and finally, “let’s pray.” I thought it might be a good lesson in family values. Perhaps force the message that home is really where the heart is.
Between a budget meeting and a conference call, my phone rings. It’s my mother.
“I have something to tell you,” she said. My heart sank. My daughter probably spiked another fever. Maybe the dog unearthed a dead bird or my china was shattered into a million pieces. She continued, but in a low whisper.
“It’s about Little House on the Prairie,” she said, her voice barely audible. I sighed with relief. What about it? Maybe Pa and Ma had to stay up late tending to the fields. Quite possibly, poor little Laura got her chalkboard thrown on the ground and a valuable lesson was learned. I had a call in a few minutes. What was so urgent already?
“Some man died,” my mother continued. “On the show, I mean. He was working in the mines. There was an explosion. His body was blown to bits. Pa had to go find the dead man’s child to let him know that his father died in a horrific accident. He took his wife the man’s belongings.”
Anyone that knows my daughter knows how incredibly sensitive she is. That she cries for humanity and for lost dogs and for fictional characters in cartoons. “How bad is she?” I asked my mother.
“She’s sobbing. We are trying to focus on puzzles. Maybe she can have some ice cream?”
I’m pissed off. What’s next? Is Laura’s mother going to abandon her and leave her at home eating nothing but roasted field mice and corn? Will she have her arm severed? Get smallpox? Will Ma and Pa get a divorce due to some illicit affair with the blacksmith? When I got home later that night, I was prepared. I was expecting to have to answer questions about dying or abandonment or other topics four-year-olds shouldn’t know anything about.
Instead, life was surprisingly normal. My daughter was wearing stickers on her ears like earrings. And playing with her new doll house. She made a book tied together with ribbons. She danced during her bath and pranced her way into the bedroom for stories.
I suppose there’s a reason why we don’t remember all the negative stuff buried in TV shows. We only take the good – straining through all the junk to find what’s worth keeping. In time, she’ll forget about the time this father died in the mine. She’ll remember Laura’s braids. And long winters. And gumballs in large glass jars at the general store.
Children see the world in its finest light – hopeful and happy, sparking and new. They believe and trust. The Gospels speak of it in this way: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17).
We can’t shelter our children from this world forever, no matter how hard we try. We can only encourage them to look backward with joy, remembering the braids. The little window in the top room. Cast-iron kettles and cornbread.
Someday, my daughter will have to battle the same issues with her own offspring. “Back then,” she’ll tell me, “we didn’t have all this stuff to worry about. Everything was good and honest and pure.”
That’s when I’ll remind her that fathers were blown to shreds in Little House on the Prairie. That she got to eat cereal for dinner not because I was a cool mother but because I worked and sometimes didn’t have the energy to fry an egg. And that one time we spent the night at a Motel Six? Where she got to stay up late and mommy and daddy were having a bit of a loud discussion with strange four-letter words about lost reservations?
You’re right, my love. Those were the days indeed.