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.