Rabbit woke up this morning with gum in her hair.
I used vaseline to ease the gum out, but in the process, pulled out quite a bit of hair. The side of her head was greasy. By the time I got her into the shower, it was already after 7:00 and it took almost half an hour to get her washed, dried, dressed and start the blow dryer.
Even after the rest of her hair was dry and fluffed, the hair on the right side by her temple and ear was lank and dark with the residue.
Right now, she is in the shower, shampooing and singing “The Star Spangled Banner” with a gusto I haven’t heard from her in a long time. Only a few of the words are right, but let’s not get technical. It’s still a good rendition.
Rabbit enjoys her nightly showers, all the more so since we’ve been reading the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has been enthralled by the idea that people bathed only weekly and had to haul their water from the river, or pull it up from the well in a bucket. She especially admires the pretty Ma Ingalls, who is so capable and gentle and kind and innovative.
We’ve made it to the part in Little House on the Prairie where Pa has finished the cabin and puts in the puncheon floor, made from split logs. The vivid descriptions of manual labor are comforting to Rabbit, who climbs into bed beside me under the down comforter and snuggles down on her daddy’s pillow while I read about wolves and prairie chickens and epic laundry and splitting logs to make a floor on top of the dirt. Ma quietly thanks Pa for his hard work, and says what a relief it will be to have their belongings off the ground.
“Why didn’t they just move into a house that had a floor?” Rabbit asked.
“Honey, they were on the frontier. There were no houses. It was a long time ago and everyone had to build their own houses because they didn’t have any money.”
It’s inconceivable to my daughter that a child could live such a demanding and hard life. But she loves the way just about every chapter ends with the children being reassured by the presence of their parents, that they are safe and loved and ready for whatever adventure comes the next day.
One night we read the chapter where Jack the brindle bulldog is lost in the water after the family crosses the river in their covered wagon. Rabbit is appalled that the family continues westward instead of dropping everything to search for their dog. She is heartbroken. I had to read her an extra chapter so she could learn that Jack eventually finds them, that he didn’t die in the river, that they were overjoyed to have him back. Rabbit was still somewhat disturbed that not even MA INGALLS insisted that they go back for the dog. Ma Ingalls, that paragon of gentility and fairness.
As this book progresses, we’re going to get to the part where the Ingalls family encounters Indians. The book takes place during the time the family tried to settle in Indian Territory, which later became Oklahoma. The Osage were still living on the plains and hunting, and many of them crossed paths with this family of homesteaders. Pa Ingalls befriends the Indians, while Ma refers to them as savages. The Indians come to the house asking for food; Ma is terrified, and angry.
Throughout this and the remaining books, she maintains her verbose hatred of Indians. I’m not sure how to explain this to Rabbit, other than to tell her people back then didn’t know a lot about other cultures, and that Ma was a product of her time–something I don’t think my daughter will easily understand.
I’m not going to make the books political, but I’m also not going to let them be the final word on the subject. I’ll find more information over time to share with Rabbit about the plight of Native Americans. It’ll may be an appropriate vehicle for teaching her that even people you admire can hold views you disagree with, and that people live different lives but that doesn’t make them worthless. PC will weigh in on this heavily, considering that some of his ancestors are Native Amerian. I’m curious as to what questions she’ll have…and how we’ll answer them.
The beauty of the books is that they combine eternal themes with historical topics that are far removed from my child’s experience. While grappling with the issue of cultural wars on the frontier, we’re also talking about love, the economy, behavior, spirituality and hard work. This is the one book in the series that points out for me how different people are now than they were then; none of the other books has such blatant ignorance and bigotry on display like this one, but then again, this book is the only one where the family encounters anyone who doesn’t look just like them.
It’s fascinating to me how I could read and re-read these books as a child and then as an adult, but how this aspect of the stories has stood out so much more vividly now that I’m reading it aloud to my own little girl. Like the gum tangled in Rabbit’s hair and the greasy residue of vaseline used to remove it, I hope we’re able to remove the stain of this bigotry after introducing the concept of it to her.
Little by little, we’re showing her the big wide world out there and how it’s not always beautiful.