I am emotional about Louisa May Alcott. When I think of her I become misty. You may know her as the writer of Little Women and Little Men but to me she is the one who gave me permission to call myself a writer. In her preserved home, Orchard House in Concord, Ma, I walked the floors she and her artful, creative family walked. My feet tread the aging floors of a family of intellectual giants. I stared out of the window panes beside the piano which Louisa’s sister, Lizzie, played before her young death, and I heard the voice of the docent.
“The Alcotts were an idealistic family, ahead of their time. they believed in the education of all children regardless of race and gender. They homeschooled and nurtured their girl’s talents in a way that was totally unusual in that time. Louisa grew up in a home that was always open to ideas and books and endless visits from their forward-thinking friends. She became a writer in a time when it was considered taboo for a lady to own even a desk.”
There, in that room, next to that piano and that table set for a dinner which would never again be, I swelled with hope. I, too, homeschool my children with the hope of forging a new kind of thinking. Not to shelter them from the world but to manufacture a new kind of lens with which to see it. I, too, want my table to be full of conversation and ideas and friends. I, too, am a writer. She became, to me, a friend whom I will never know.
If she were still alive, I would ask her to be my life coach. I’d stalk her on social media. I’d fangirl worse than I do with Chesterton and Lewis and Berry. She’s be the first post I see on my Facebook feed and I would hang on her every Tweet. Her tweets would sound like this:
@marmeeswritergirl: I like good strong words that mean something #introvert #ihatesmalltalk
@marmeeswritergirl: I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship. #sinkorswim #holdfast #ahoymatey
@marmeeswritergirl: I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now. #sendcoffee #caffeinefordays #grumpy
@marmeeswritergirl: I’ve got the keys to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen. #dreambigorgohome #queenofthecastle
@marmeeswritergirl: Love is a great beautifier. #feelinpretty
Louisa is dead. But not for me. She informs my mothering, my writing, my irritating idealism.
When I used to visit her historic home, I was tempted to hide under her bed when the tour guide wasn’t looking so that I could spend the night in the Orchard House. I would be such a creeper. I’d sit in her desk and finger all of her books and maybe even wear her hat. I’d probably light candles and try to do a seance so I could commune with her from the afterlife. It’d be so great. We’d have girl time.
This is a long set up for what I had really set out to write. I actually just wanted to tell you about how much the book Little Men affected my sons’ and I, and how I regard it as the best parenting book I have ever read.
Little Men. It’s the story of a woman and her husband who open their large estate home as a school for boys. From a literary standpoint, Alcott’s words create an endearing picture without being flowery. She is hilarious and sarcastic and delightful. And so deliciously quotable. She paints this world that is just brimming with boys. Boys brew chaos and trouble and fun and genius. I have four boys and can attest to all of this. How she, a spinster, could have known so intimately how a house full of little men felt, I cannot know, but she nailed it. Boys are one minute giving you a bouquet of sweat soaked flowers and the next throwing rocks at the windows. They are all bipolar. Well, most of them.
But rather than leaving the book in a state of humor about the insanity that is called raising boys, she weaved her philosophies throughout. The undertones of the story are of grace but not permissiveness, creativity but not the abolition of structure, fun but also work. She clearly adored boys and without hesitation sings their praises and laughs about their shortcomings. She permitted a house-wide pillow fight one night a week, but requires prayers before bedtime. I could write a book about this. Maybe I will, actually. When my own little men are not quite so little. Or maybe I’ll just flood your email with excessive posts on the subject which is among my favorite pet obsessions. I guess we’ll see.
P.S. Days before we left Massachusetts, the Bearded Wonder took me to the Orchard House one last time. I went with my sweet Will. When I entered the room with walls covered in sketches made by Louisa’s sister May (Amy from Little Women), my eyes blurred. They brimmed and stayed misty as I walked into Marmee’s kitchen and the dining room, up the stairs to the bedrooms, past the trunk which held the boots and costumes for the girls’ “wild theatricals”, and finally into the study that housed the greatest minds of that time. I whispered, “Goodbye, Lou”, and walked away forever.
One more tweet:
@marmeeswritergirl: I want to do something splendid…
Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead…
I think I shall write books. #formarmee
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Do hard things.