What Would Ma Ingalls Do?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Inner life...

Well, I know I got an assignment with my invitation, but in typical lifelong fashion I am unable to follow directions. I have been thinking about Ma's inner life, or lack of, in the books and my own mom and just kind of ran with that...

When I read Little House as a child I saw Ma Ingalls much as I saw my own mother; a behind the scenes worker absolutely necessary, knowledgeable, but flat when compared to Laura. It is not that I found my mother (or Ma) without her charms. I loved baking cookies with her, the fact that she went sledding with us in the winter and sang songs with us on long car trips, but she did not have an inner life that I was privy to. I doubt I ever even thought of her having an active inner life, as that would have meant there was a place I could not reach her, a place where I did not belong. Ma Ingalls lacked this inner life as well. This makes perfect sense as the books are written from the perspective of a child. Ma is, for the most part, what she does not what she thinks. Even if she is the font from which life's lessons, social graces and rules stem these are statements of her place as the one who keeps the whole machine oiled; ever-present, ever necessary and ever taken for granted.

Rereading the books with my own children, I have been struck by my change of perspective, both as a reader (paying much more attention to Ma), and as the peer of Caroline Ingalls and my own mother (thinking back to her as the mother she was to me as a child). I am now the mother of children who depend upon me, watch me as I do things and listen to my life lessons and rules. I am no longer blind to the fact that my mother, and Caroline, had rich inner lives. That while they baked, sewed or weeded they also dreamed, worried and plotted things that had nothing to do with their children. I also know that while I share more of my feelings with my children than my mother did with me, and pretty certainly more than Caroline Ingalls did with her children I am still, in many ways, a mystery to my kids. That is as it should be, but I am struck by the way the wheel turns and I find myself here feeling so much closer to my mother, and to Ma, than I did as a child. They were both Mothers with a big, fat, capital M, and now I can see them as people also. I didn't realize until I had children of my own that I never loved my mother as much as she loved me. There is no love that supersedes the love I have for my children. It is a fierce, visceral love and I was ashamed of my ignorance of this fact once my first daughter was born. I called my mother on the phone to apologize, to tell her I didn't know... She laughed and told me that wasn't the half of it, just wait. She was right. As I read about Ma again and remember all of the things my own mother taught me, I know there is something much deeper there than can be put on the page.


At 5:02 AM, Blogger Steph said...

Very true. Children are (and we as children were) very egocentric little people.

I too enjoy seeing Ma from this new perspective as a mother myself.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Lisa B-K/Jim K said...

As usual, our thoughts are colliding; I started writing my essay today at the orthodontist's office and came home to see this!

Wonderful stuff,really. I, too, have taken to wondering about Ma's inner life. I wonder about her disappointments; I wonder what she thought when women got the vote. I wonder what she thought of cars and flappers. You know?


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