By Barbara Hagen • April 16, 2020
About six years ago, when my twin girls were eight and my son was five, before they owned any kind of cell phone, we would get together for Friday night TV where we watched the entire series of Little House on the Prairie. Yes, we began with the very first episode and watched all the way through to the last!
My intent was not just to share with them a little bit of my childhood but to show them a different way of living, a time in society where you spent most of your time at home, playing, eating meals together, and spending time with siblings and parents. Going into town was an exciting event, a chance to connect with the community, whether selling eggs or picking up a letter from the post office. School was a one-stop-shop with all ages and grades learning together in the one room schoolhouse.
Re-watching the series as an adult brought back my own childhood memories of when I watched it for the first time at around that same age. The lens from which I saw things this second time around was eye-opening, seeing the parallels to society today that I missed when I was younger. Each episode afforded me an opportunity to connect the theme of that episode to a larger life concept or snippets of history for the kids.
Those months of watching nine seasons of Little House on the Prairie with my kids were priceless to me. But, occasionally, the rewatches left me sad. Not from a tragedy or traumatic life event that may have been in the episode, I was sad because there were elements of that life that I wished I existed more with my own family, and in our society today. Dinners at home every night around the dinner table? My husband and I are often driving kids to and from activities at dinner time. I remember watching many episodes with Charles Ingalls playing the fiddle and Laura and Mary clapping and dancing along. Where is that simple entertainment in my life today? Sure, we have our fun, but it seemed much less complicated back then.
The series inspired me to make changes in my life, and so I did. Saturday morning dance parties in the kitchen were a hit with the kids (and a great way to expose them to songs of the 80’s!). We began a "5 minutes" daily share where each child highlights their day at school, and we established our beloved family movie nights, cuddling on the sofa with popcorn, enjoying new movies and old favorites.
Fast forward six years and things have changed. Those third grade girls are now ninth graders and my five-year-old son is now double digits. All are involved in activities which take up a substantial amount of time: competitive dance, competitive all-star cheer, and the non-stop cadence of auditions and shows for my son, a child actor. My bonding time is relegated to time spent in the car together and our "5 minutes" went from being shared around the dinner table to quick updates in between activities. The memories and the impact of those Little House nights are a distant past.
Until four weeks ago. When word came out that businesses, school, and all our favorite activities were being paused for the COVID-19 effort to Stay Home and Stay Safe, my kids had unanswered questions on why and for how long. There was disappointment with missing their activities and friends and there was a significant adjustment into the remote learning process. And after only a couple of weeks into it all, we experienced real grief and a harsh reality when my kids lost their grandfather, and I lost my father-in-law, due to complications from the virus.
While so much is gone and given up, somehow, we have been able to find something, a new way to engage as a family. With the miles (and countless hours) of driving to and from activities paused, we instantly have time every night for family dinners again. I witness my kids choose card games and board games and neighborhood walks over Instagram and Minecraft. Our "5 minutes" stretch into 15, 30, 60 minutes of great conversation. And remote learning has lent itself to a deeper engagement across the family of the material, whether it is watching Everest after reading Into Thin Air, family lab partners for Physics, or scoring a win in Trivial Pursuit because of recent knowledge gained in Social Studies!
These weeks have certainly been challenging with COVID-19 affecting us professionally, socially, and personally. But this gift of time, and of togetherness, has given us a taste of what life may have been like back in Walnut Grove. It even reminds me of my own childhood when we all seemed to have had more time to just be in the moment. I only wish we didn’t have to go through the pain we are experiencing as a family and as a society in order to have these moments.
Despite it all, I am trying to keep in mind that the moments we have today will be the memories of tomorrow. After my father-in-law's passing last month, I remembered one of our early times together, he and I polka dancing on the night of my husband and mine’s engagement party over 20 years ago. It was a simple moment of dancing all night to the music from an energetic Polka band playing in the basement of a German restaurant in Minneapolis. A moment which has become an incredibly joyous memory for me that I am now holding onto in these difficult days of sorrow.
So too are my newly found treasures of time with my family. These moments fill me with hope. Hope for a better tomorrow full of memories born from the moments we are in today. A favorite quote from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a good thing, probably the best of things. And no good thing ever dies." My hope for all of us is to embrace the notable moments today as they will become our enduring memories tomorrow.
A few of my favorite childhood books and movies, moments and memories from a time when life was a bit slower: