I haven’t studied life as a pioneer— early American or any other sort— but I grew up reading Laura Ingles Wilder and early American Girl book collections with the best of ‘em. That was back when there were only three American Girls and they involved passably well-written books with cute pictures- no American Girl salons where you went to get all salon-ified with your doll that cost your parents a small fortune to buy, let alone to clothe. I just found out there’s even a doll hospital with an admission form for when your doll is “sick.” Okay, I have to admit the form is a pretty stinkin’ cute idea for how to get your doll repaired. And if I had a girl I’d probably be first in line to get one of the dolls, or more likely, to buy the Up and Up brand knock-off doll from Target. (I don’t think that’s a thing.) I’ve also completed some American History and American English courses in my day. I’ve toured preserved pioneer towns in states like Minnesota and North Dakota. My point is, I have a vague idea of what pioneer life was like in early America.
I have now been a stay at home mom for nearly four years in a fairly updated condo with not only modern plumbing but electricity and stainless steel appliances. I live in a town that is in most places a squeaky-clean suburb, boasting things like wine and fine arts festivals and an organic cupcakery, in a comparatively wealthy county that has some of the best schools in the country, in a state that flat-out rocks, (slogan: Virginia is for Lovers)(peanuts and ham, are you kidding me? Awesome.) in a country that, though a little politically rocky now and then, still is the best democratic experiment ever experimented and in which we have freedoms that many don’t. Long sentence’s interpretation: I do not live the rustic life of a pioneer woman, even though at the end of the day I feel like I have been rubbing my face on a metal washboard in the sun all day.
What I want to know is how in God’s good name did they do it? They had to do things, at least in my mind, like hunt and eat jackrabbits and walk through blizzards in skirts with no gloves. They gave birth with no meds to twelve children and still could fit into their petticoats and bloomers afterwards (probably within hours). They rode on animals, milked animals, slaughtered animals, and preserved and prepared them for their families for dinner. They must have had to do things like scrub outhouses and sew underwear for the menfolk that had to withstand various forms of farming. They probably also helped pull the beams up for new houses. They rocked the once-a-week warm water bath heated by fire. They did all this without power, running water, appliances of any kind, wine festivals, or an edgy state slogan. I suppose some of their extreme industriousness was due to the fact that they also did without Pinterest, HULU Plus, Facebook, Costco, extracurricular after-school robotics clubs, and kids’ weekend basketball tournaments in Ontario.
As I am slaving away in the kitchen, deftly wrestling some frozen chicken breasts into the crockpot whilst still in my pajamas because they’re easier to nurse in, I wonder how they did it. I feel a little embarrassed that I have an ice maker in my freezer and a rice cooker. But then I realize that we have these conveniences due in part to the kick-assery of these women and men. Maybe they are looking down at us smiling because of the advances of modernity. I hope they aren’t cursing at us.
We live in a time when our challenges are different, I tell myself. I have to do things like walk all three children around on sidewalks without letting them get hit by traffic. I have to remember to pack snacks for when the bus or train is late or swim class makes them hungry. I need to monitor what the kids watch on TV and arrange playdates with upstanding toddlers. I remember who is gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, and has food allergies. I plan seasonal kids’ crafts and study the YMCA and community center children’s classes. I have to attempt to take back library books before they accrue fines. I navigate Craig’s List for stroller frames and gliders with the greatest of ease. I have to memorize the local bus schedule and figure out how to remember my medicine so I don’t have seizures. I have to package and freeze my pumped-out extra breast milk. I plan and cook most meals. (Thank goodness I don’t have to also do the grocery shopping.) I have to remember where all the public restrooms are located at parks, museums, and at any given moment on a walk. I have to remember my keys, which for me is a constant challenge that makes Brian want to sign divorce papers and be done with it all. Moms and dads all over do these same things and many more. These aren’t as physically demanding and the actual lives of our children don’t depend on them. But the quality of life does depend on them. We could depend on the television and Papa John’s to raise the kids. Of course both of those things have their places, but I mean solely TV and pizza.
I still don’t understand how those pioneer moms did so much. Maybe they had secrets we can’t imagine today. Maybe venison, jackrabbit stew, and giant fresh carrots provided extra boosts of energy for them. I sit here eating my granola and listening to the hammering of the construction site next door. I hear the hiss of the bus stopping across the street, and see the red taillights of morning traffic. I watch my little life wake up and I like it.
*It should be noted that the three children have not yet risen, allowing me delicious silence to watch and listen to the world around me. And also that I began this blog entry over a month ago, added to it three weeks ago, and then forgot about it. And I’m actually not sure I haven’t already published it on the blog, though I couldn’t find it, so hopefully not.
|How my boys work in the field|
|It's a rough life: had to hike to an outdoor summer concert|