What *Is* it About Ma Ingalls?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"I just baked my first loaf of bread from scratch - I feel a little like Ma Ingalls!"

"Ma Ingalls would be so proud of me, I canned 12 jars of jam today!"

"How did Ma Ingalls get it all done with children underfoot?"



Ma Ingalls. Always Ma Ingalls. Is there any other legendary homemaker so revered and idealized as Caroline Quiner Ingalls? Among women of my generation, probably not. We were raised on the Little House books, grew up believing that Laura's embellished stories were absolute fact. There was never a day that Ma allowed to pass in idleness, never a dish unwashed, never a tear unmended.

Did any of us reading these books as children see Ma Ingalls as an ideal mother? I doubt it. Ma was firm, unyielding, with high standards for behavior and cleanliness. She wasn't one to snuggle up in bed with Laura, Mary, and Carrie, reading one of their two books aloud. She might occasionally allow the girls to make paper dolls and button strings, but you bet she wasn't putting together themed crafts for every made up holiday. Ma Ingalls would not have had time for Pinterest.


Reading the Little House books as adults, though... I can't tell you how many mothers I've talked with about how amazed we are by everything that Caroline Ingalls can accomplish! And she wasn't anything out of the ordinary - it was expected that a wife on the prairie would be able to sew, knit, quilt, cook, bake, milk, garden, churn butter, make cheese, preserve food, and do it all with children underfoot. I doubt that Ma was any more accomplished in these areas than the typical prairie wife of that era. But compared to coddled modern homemakers who can waltz into a store on any given day of the week and swipe a plastic card in exchange for all our necessities, Ma's load is heavy. And she's not sitting there on Facebook complaining about how isolated she is, either.

Molasses candy is disgusting, but Ma still made it with Laura and Mary!
Now, does that mean that we all wish we could go off-grid, build a cabin by hand with our husbands (preferably not dropping a log on our feet in the process), and live three miles from our closest neighbor? 

Not so much.

But holding her up as an example of how things once were helps us all realize how much easier we've got it these days. Oh hey Ma, you let your sourdough starter die and you've gotta bake some bread today? No problem, I've got yeast in the fridge! Oh yes, that's right, we keep our perishable food in this magical cold box so that fruit doesn't mold within days. 


And looking back at her as an example of what can be accomplished, even with a bunch of little kids around, helps many of us realize that we might find a little more contentment in mixing up a new batch of bread dough instead of scrolling Instagram. Of course, we Instagram the finished product. Ma Ingalls would've loved keeping up with her relatives on Instagram!

So let's be realistic - Ma Ingalls isn't who we look to as an example of an ideal wife or perfect mother. But Ma Ingalls knew how to get things done. And that's something I think we could all use as a little inspiration.

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