In Which I Am Irritable

Here's the excellent thing: reading aloud to a child has been revived in my house. I am now invited to seat myself on a nice, bouncy bed with a small warm child in it at bedtime, and read from a hardcover book with a few too many archaic words in it for her to manage on her own (betimes, etc) for a whole sleepy chapter.

Here's the not quite as excellent thing: the book is Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

My only previous interactions with this book amount to these: 1) my older sister liked it, so I didn't read it, fearing it would be like Little Women, which I detested. 2) They refer to it disparagingly in one of my favorite books of all time, Half-Magic, in which they say "oh we'd rather read a down-to-earth book," and their mother comes in to check later to see if they have fevers. 3) I found a very beautiful hardcover copy with one of those cardboard sleeves at some book sale or other for $1 a few years ago, and retaining at that time only the vague sense that it was "good," even if I hadn't read it, I bought it, as Diana at that time was plowing quickly through Little Women, Ann of Green Gables, and the like, and I was running out of wholesome historical girls.

So here I am with the younger sibling, and I went in more or less blind. And now to the source of my irritation, lest you think I have high critical ideals or some sort of perfect pitch regarding literary quality or that I have anything to say about how it is written: this book makes me feel bad. Really bad. About how unwholesome and untidy and un-humble (?) I am. Do you know what the 10-year-olds do in this book? They scramble together to make a cake for Mamsie's birthday. When they're not working hard to help an old man. And cleaning the whole house AND washing the dishes AND then wiping them and stacking them neatly. Do you know what 10-year-olds in my house do? They loll companiably about on the couch switching between manga and the Monster Manual. And while I find my type of 10-year-olds much more…simpatico, I also think, gee. Are we doing this right?

Which is to say: I am no Mamsie. I am not instilling values. My house is never tidy. I am not cheerful in the face of adversity. I am tired and irritable and sometimes I walk right by junk on the floor and don't pick it up.

Shouldn't I be used to the lack of rigor, uprightness, and bright-eyed-ness that I have apparently made my watchwords of parenting? I sort of thought I was, but then I read a book like this and—I know this is ridiculously self-centered, because the book isn't about me, it's about them and all that—I just feel accused. And embarrassed.


We're only in chapter two. Maybe Mamsie will ease up?

I kind of don't think so. Are there any books out there to read where the parents are sort of slackers and no one is all that noble or clean but it all works out in the end? Send them my way.

14 thoughts on “In Which I Am Irritable

  1. I’m wracking my brain trying to think of bad-Mamsies but I can’t think of any. But I did write a blog post today titled “Bad Mother.” (I loved The Five Little Peppers, by the way, as a girl)


  2. Here’s what I like to think that parents like us don’t show up in books because we give our kids room to have their own adventures. We’re just the parent in the background, like Charlie and Lola’s parents.


  3. too funny! I can think of plenty of adult books with slacker parents (Glass Castle perhaps?) but not too many childrens’ books! My mother LOVED that book and I’ve never read it. shame on me!


  4. Saffy’s Angel and its sequels, by Hilary McKay, sound like just the thing. They’re all about this artistic, vaguely dysfunctional British family & the kids do things like hang out of windows to conquer their fear of heights, and run off and get their noses pierced on the High Street without asking anyone. And the parents are loving but rather involved in their own projects/dramas and often don’t seem to be paying much attention (though not to the point of actual abuse). But they’re good kids and kind and helpful and smart, and it does all work out in the end.
    And they’re funny! And wonderful to read out loud. Good for about 10 and up.


  5. I don’t think I compared the people I knew to the people I read about when I was a young girl. I always had my nose in a book and felt like I was there. I probably wished I were one of the five little peppers, but I also felt it would have been great to be Jane Eyre or that sour Mary of the Secret Garden. I loved my mother and don’t remember comparing her to anyone. I probably wasn’t even thinking about her — which is sad to imagine as well, now that I am a mother!


  6. You might try Helen Cresswell stories– I cannot remember the names of her books now but as a child I adored them– she’s a marvelously batty British author and her characters are haphazard and peculiar and just enormous fun. I don’t know that the mother is a slacker but I think she is. A representative story that I adored then and still love is called “Particle Goes Green,” about a boy whose mother is part witch and who holes himself up in his room with a spell-book and turns himself green. It drives the neat-freak dad out of his mind but the easy-going, sloppy mom is delighted and saves the day eventually.


  7. Ann of Green Gables? Have you ever read this book? If so, you should know she is most emphatically Anne (with an e) of Green Gables!


  8. I’m really late coming to this party, but I wondered if you like Elizabeth Enright’s novels. In her series about the Melendy family, the children are motherless, and the father is frequently away on work related trips. The four children frequently run off to do their own thing and have adventures.
    Her novel Gone Away Lake is another good one, especially for the summer time, as well as her Newbery winner, Thimble Summer.
    I’ve never read the Five Little Peppers. And believe me, I walk past junk all the time in my house without picking it up 🙂


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