Poor Caddie Woodlawn. Not only is her true story pushed aside for the more popular Laura Ingalls Wilder, but she also desperately wants to be like her brothers. Being a tomboy is what she wants to be, and she is caught in the middle of her father's desire to let her "just be" and her mother's longing to refine her into the young woman she was meant "to be". Carol Ryrie Brink's delightful accounting of one woman's Civil War-era recollections gives children an historical picture of what it would have been like to live during that time. It gave me, a parent, a beautiful picture of what it means to raise daughters.
Caddie consistently gets into trouble with her brothers. Her biggest gripe, however, is that she is held to a different standard than they. In one scene, Caddie and her brothers scheme to put an egg down cousin Annabelle's dress. Caddie's brothers run free while Caddie receives punishment from her mother. The injustice is just about more than Caddie can bear. A few hours after the incident, Mr. Woodlawn goes into Caddie's room and gives this monologue, which about takes my breath away every time I read it:
"Perhaps Mother was a little hasty today, Caddie," he said. "She really loves you very much, and, you see, she expects more of you than she would of someone she didn't care about. It's a strange thing, but somehow we expect more of girls than of boys. It is the sisters and wives and mothers, you know, Caddie, who keep the world sweet and beautiful. What a rough world it would be if there were only men and boys in it, doing things in their rough way! A woman's task is to teach them gentleness and courtesy and love and kindness. It's a big task, too, Caddie -- harder than cutting trees or building mills or damming rivers. It takes nerve and courage and patience, but good women have those things. They have them just as much as the men who build bridges and carve roads through the wilderness. A woman's work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man's. But no man could ever do it so well. I don't want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners, whom folks sometimes call a lady. No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl. I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind."
Having carved a road (or ten) through the wilderness, I know it took nerve and courage and patience to do that. I'm finding out that raising daughters to have wise and understanding hearts and honest minds is a much harder task that damming a river and that it is taking much more nerve and courage and patience that I ever imagined.