The other two books were more beach reads and Hollywoody than I usually prefer. But how could I resist Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on the TV series? Delicious. I wish I’d stopped with that one instead of slogging through Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale, which read like a Twilight book without the vampires. Likeable enough, moderately introspective, but in the end I didn’t much care about all the boyfriends and Lifetime movies that followed her Little House career. Sorry, Half Pint.
Rather than plunge into Melissa Anderson (Mary)’s poorly reviewed The Way I See It, I’m thinking I might go back and read the later books in the Little House series: Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. I read them both during the summer between 5th and 6th grade – an awkward, searching, “crossroads” kind of time in my life for which I’ve recently, inexplicably, become rather nostalgic.
The Little House books exemplified the very “simple country life” dream my family was striving for, with Emmylou Harris on our stereo and a brooder full of chicks in our living room. Reading those books was simultaneously escape and home…or escape to an idealized version of home. We already had the old stone farmhouse, the woods, the fields, the antique rocking chairs. All I had to do was glorify the mundane spaces with Laura’s wide-eyed narration; apply her pure sense of joy and wonder to my ordinary life.
That summer, as middle school drew nearer, I immersed myself even further in the Little House fantasy – imagining my shirts were long dresses, that our station wagon was a horse drawn wagon, describing my surroundings to myself in third person narrative prose. I’d read all the earlier Little House books about Laura’s girlhood. Now it was time to read about Laura as a teenager. It was the safest way to dip my toes in my own impending adolescence, wrapped in layers of braids and calico, buggy rides and sociables.
I remember holding on to the Little House fantasy well into 6th grade, willfully blurring the edges of my reality into a nice, gentle fictionalization. Maybe I was scared or overwhelmed, but I don’t remember feeling that way. I think I just really wanted life to be that joyful, instead of the raw mess of clanging lockers and flailing hormones and insecurities.
Looking at the covers of those later Little House books sends me right back there again, reading in my nightgown, yearning for my almost-teenage life to start but holding dearly to my summer. And – come to think of it – holding dearly to my childhood. Because, really, that was the last true summer of my childhood. The calm before the storm.
It’s nothing I’d ever want to relive. Yet I’m strangely, strongly compelled to revisit it now. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for a time when I had the ability to escape and imagine. To delve into a jarring situation and soften it with idealizations and hope.
This isn’t the last summer of my children’s childhood. Not even close. But it feels like an end of sorts, at least with The Boy. I’m striving to see him, the real him, not my hopes and disappointments, not my advocacy for him at school, not the politics of Aspergers. Him.
And part of what I’m seeing is that even now, even at age seven, he’s miles beyond my grasp. I can’t impose peace and happiness on him any more than I could impose it on those noisy middle school hallways years ago. He is on his journey, not mine. I’ve always known that. But I’m only just now feeling the sharp truth of it.
Is it any wonder I find myself grasping prairie-ward again, seeking the comforts that got me through the first steps on my own path? Fasten your sunbonnets, pioneers. We’ll get through this one, too.