My sincerest gratitude to all the mothers in history who cared for their families without electricity and modern conveniences. That are still doing so in parts of the world today. Although our experience during Hurricane Irene lasted only 2 ½ days (felt like two years), it made me appreciate what I take for granted. Perhaps even how spoiled I am. My great, great grandmother and the lovely ladies before her had to do without vacuums, hot running water, crisp lighting, refrigerators, cooking appliances, mixers, telephones, computer and internet. Without television, Wii or I-anything.
It also helped me understand why children behaved less entitled in the “old days”.
What sane child would complain about bath time when he had to carry five buckets of water up a hill and watch his mother boil it over a fire? Bedtimes must have been a bit easier as well when nighttime meant no natural (or artificial) light to keep you active and interested in television or a computer. We read through four of the Little House on the Prairie books last winter and our recent experiences caused us to reflect on Ms. Wilder’s memories of laying in the prairie grass, helping Pa build a fireplace chimney or washing the dishes for Ma.
During one of these discussions, Monkey asked aloud one night why anyone would want to “live like that” (he was a bit grumpy at being forced to brush his teeth from a paper cup). It made me sad that he would automatically see a lack of running water and electric lights as a tragedy.
I now have more insight into why children were thrust outdoors more. Not only to help with chores during precious daylight hours, but to give their mothers some peace and quiet to do their own labors. My mother used to literally lock us out of the hours in the summer months, placing a pitcher of iced Kool-Aid or lemonade on the front porch with cups while she cleaned without us underfoot. It was a learned tactic handed down from mother to mother when children could not be enticed to sit like zombies watching Scooby Doo or the Backyardigans.
My own grandmother was a world class genius at keeping us entertained. Her mother, my granny, was as well. We would pick wild berries and make a paste from them to paint rocks with sticks. We tied thread to the leg of a June Bug and flew it as a kite, taking care to set it free without removing its limb. We made mud pies and washed our feet beneath an old fashioned water pump that splashed us in the summer heat. We learned to sew stitches, pick strawberries for jam and snap green beans. We cranked the handle on an ancient ice cream maker and picked warm eggs from beneath cranky hens. It was magic and her patience was infinite. It is funny how I do not recall the thousands of hours I have spent in my lifetime watching television yet I can recall these memories with magnified clarity.
Flash forward to this past weekend. For two days we played every board game in our house, even resorting to using scrabble tiles as dominos (to see them knock one another over in fantastic structures) one evening by candlelight. As the house grew dark we were always together. Never separated by rooms and different activities. Boiling water on the grill for tea was a special ritual.
As glad as I am to see the return of electricity, I see it differently now. More as a want than a necessity (with the exception of indoor plumbing, which I still see as non-negotiable). Even in the days following our adventure, we are finding ourselves gravitating to the same room in the evening, content in reading Harry Potter aloud, playing a round of Skipbo or preparing for bedtime all together. I can see all sides of the affect that modern conveniences has had on modern families. It makes me admire the women before me even more than I did before. It took so much effort to keep your home and family clean, fed, entertained and on track without electric outlets and washing machines. It inspires me to continue to share my beloved Grandmother’s lessons with my own child and future grandchildren. As much as we talk about “supermoms” today, they were nothing compared to the super moms back then. I am humbled and I thank them all.