Today my children and I began listening to the audio book version of Little House in the Big Woods. It has been YEARS since I read this book, and I found myself being pulled into the story as if I were listening to it for the very first time. I think it was because I was listening to it with new ears – the ears of a wife, mom and homemaker rather than the ears of a child.
I was intrigued by all that the Ingalls needed to do simply to survive and yet they managed to keep their priorities centered on family togetherness and providing their children with a rich childhood. Every day had its assigned work and every season its required preparations for the season following. The girls were expected to work right alongside their parents, but they were also given ample time to play: play that was rich in imagination and natural playthings such as corn husk dolls, pumpkin chairs and a pig bladder ball. The dangers were real! Bears, wolves, panthers and winter, to name a few. But the girls felt snug and secure in their little log cabin protected by their Pa, his rifle, and their dog, Jack. I couldn’t help but juxtapose their home and life to mine.
I am afraid that I have bought into modern day parenting’s mantra that kids should be entertained all the time, either by me or their toys. I feel guilty when I have tasks at hand that must be done and I am not able to give them my undivided attention. I feel pressured to routinely provide them with new stuff and am aware of the mountain of knowledge that I somehow need to teach them. I am concerned about being too strict in my expectations for their behavior and manners. I am haunted by the incessant evil drooling outside our front door. I passionately want to keep them safe and innocent and happy.
And then I look at them. They are not so unlike Mary and Laura Ingalls. They are delighted with the simple toys and books they have (blissfully unaware of my inner turmoil). Never once have they asked me to buy anything at Walmart when we browse the toy aisle just for fun. Playing outdoors is the highlight of their day and they are each other’s best friends. They are inquisitive about my home-making and housekeeping tasks and are willing to do their part. Their greatest fears right now are alligators that they imagine living in the storm drains outside of our house. Children are still children whether they were born in the 1800s or in the 21st century; they are born with an innocent hunger for life that can either be nurtured or starved. The choice is up to the parents: how authentic do we want our children to be?
I am certain that Charles and Caroline Ingalls spent sleepless nights wondering if the winter would end before they ran out of food. Caroline probably worried every time her husband went out hunting: would his rifle jam? would a predator attack him from behind? would he find his way home in the blizzard? They probably had times of exhaustion when the last thing they felt like doing was butchering the hog or churning the butter or cutting firewood or mending clothing. But in the midst of their moments of weakness they remained the parents, aware that it was up to them to let their kids be kids while preparing them for adulthood.
I am reminded of Jesus’s admonition to come to Him like a child: authentic, trusting, never doubting, taking each day as it comes with hands open for our daily bread, filled with contentment for the life He has given. He didn’t promise a Disney life of fulfilled dreams and endless pleasure; He did assure us that we can endure all things through His strength; He didn’t teach us to be naive to the ways of the world but to be innocent and discerning. He didn’t say that He would shield us from all earthly harm; He did promise that He would never leave nor forsake us.
And so it is for me: protecting the authenticity of my children and their untainted imaginations; letting them play and playing with them while also modeling responsible adulthood before them and taking the time to equip them for life ahead; and most of all, coming to Jesus as a child myself and at the same time being the parent and pointing them to Him.