October 18, 2007

Why we are glad we are not parenting in the 19th century

I'm back, everybody! I've been doing some research at the UNC archives, reading the diaries and letters of this writer, Caroline Lee Hentz. If you haven't heard of her, you are not alone.

Anyway, she kept this diary in the mid 1830s while running a girls' school in rural Alabama. This was back when Alabama was the Southwest; when it was the frontier; when it was a bit, shall we say, "rough." Around the edges. And by "edges" I mean "mud soaked peremeters of her house that stood in for the nonexistent roads leading to EVERYWHERE." As in, between her and everywhere else she wanted to go there was A LOT OF MUD. EVERYWHERE. She was originally from kind of a fancy family in Boston, so it was a bit of an adjustment.

In her diary, she talks a lot about mud, and about being hot; also about spiders, which her crazy husband was obsessed with.

Reading these diaries and letters; it was very interesting. I'm made a little envious by some of her frontier-life stories. I think that, by and large, her life was pretty good. But overall, the reading makes me appreciate again that while modern American parenting is surely difficult, it is made much easier by things like roads. And heaters. And doctors.

Purely for the sake of excitement, let me paste in here part of an entry from August, 1835. Hentz's two daughters have been really sick; puking a lot, with high fevers, and she's really worried because two children in the neighboring village have died recently of measles (now let's all pause to be glad that our children shall not die of measles). Anyway, so this is the climactic conclusion to one of her daughter's illnesses:

“While I sat watching her looking so pallid & sick, all at once her breast heaved, and a great worm a foot long & as large as my finger crawled out of her dear little mouth. I was horror struck, with my unconquerable & unutterable antipathy to all reptiles, to see one of that magnitude thrown from the loathing stomach of my child. It was horrible—-I trust she will find relief after rejecting the hideous monster.”


Now, don't think this means I'm going to stop complaining about how much of a nuisance it is when, like, Elliot pukes on my mattress pad and then I have to really struggle because the mattress pad is almost too fluffy to fit into my in-unit washing machine and I might have to (gasp) go to a laundromat. Because that really is a nuisance, and it does suck to have a mattress pad that smells like sour milk.

But I do think it means that it's good to put your parenting crises in perspective, and while I might generally be inclined to be a little worried about Elliot eating stray food off the floor, probably he will survive because at least he is not puking up a foot-long worm.


Beck said...

Sweet mother of pearl, that's hideous. And yes, I ADORE modern medicine and the general lack of parasitical infections in Western children.

Amy E said...

Was she happier than the average person nowadays? I'm convinced that despite their nomadic ways and muddy strife and toil, that since pioneers were actually getting somewhere, building things with their owns, making real lives, that their payoffs were greater than our current urban toil.

Darla said...

The thing is that situation isn't gone. Just this week I saw a TV segment about a charitable medical organization that is now distributing a drug cocktail to cure worm infections other common diseases in Africa. Unfortunately I can't remember where I saw this but the story was... someone was i Africa and saw a worm crawl out of an African woman's body. He was appalled, started working toward fixing it. Someone came up with the idea of putting all these common disease medications into a single drug cocktail. And now they are in the first phase of distribution, which I believe is happening in Mali. The problem they've had is that it's a one-time treatment @ only $10 so drug companies aren't very interested because it's not profitable.

Nico said...

I don't think my hideous imagination of that event even comes close to the reality.

I find myself thanking my lucky stars on a frequent basis that I get to lead the life I do.

And then sometimes I feel extremely guilty about it. But still very thankful.