Forgive me for a second while I draw out far more introspection and reflection from a children’s book than was probably intended by the author…
We recently received a vintage copy of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper from a collection of things that Stephen’s mom has been saving for when he had kids of his own.
I love everything about it from the well worn corners, to the “This Book Belongs to: Stepen W” (yes the ‘h’ is really missing) in my husband’s childish handwriting, to the slightly faded, obviously not digitally retouched prints on the pages.
Yesterday when I was reading it to Bean for, oh, about the 30th time that day it seems, I started to reflect on the story as it relates to my own life.
We start off with a happy little engine pulling toys and good food for good boys and girls in a city over the mountain. Unfortunately, the engine breaks down before it reaches the destination.
So the toys try to get other engines passing by to pull their load over the mountain. The first two engines that come along are much too important to be pulling along silly loads like theirs.
But the Shiny New Engine snorted: “I pull you? I am a Passenger Engine. I have just carried a fine big train over the mountain, with more cars than you ever dreamed of. My train had sleeping cars, with comfortable berths; a dining-car where waiters bring whatever hungry people want to eat; and parlor cars in which people sit in soft arm-chairs and look out of big plate-glass windows. I pull the likes of you? Indeed not!” And off he steamed to the roundhouse, where engines live when they are not busy.
But the Big Strong Engine bellowed: “I am a Freight Engine, I have just pulled a big train loaded with big machines over the mountain. These machines print books and newspapers for grown-ups to read. I am a very important engine indeed. I won’t pull the likes of you!” And the Freight Engine puffed off indignantly to the roundhouse.
I feel I must repent. How often I have felt the same as these two engines in regards to my current circumstances and job. “I have a degree. It is all going to waste. I should be doing more important things with my time, mind and energy,” I have said to myself all too often. Important things like freelance writing or furthering my education. Just doing something with my life.
Yesterday when I was filling out doctor’s office paperwork I noticed I felt a little weird, as I always do, about the line asking for “occupation.” What is my occupation? It doesn’t have a fancy title like my husband’s “technical director”. I sheepishly wrote, “at home” on the line next to the question.
I know I am not alone in thinking this way. In fact, I think in some ways I was indoctrinated to this way of thinking. One can blame feminism, Western culture in general, the “need” for two incomes in every household, and probably a lot of other sources. Being at home with children is just not looked upon as being as valuable or successful as say a woman who became a high powered attorney or physician that is researching a cure for cancer.
It wasn’t always this way and in much of the world it isn’t at all this way, mothers and motherhood are valued, sometimes even worshipped. With our increased incomes and ability to buy care for our children, we have decided that this occupation isn’t as worthy as other worldly pursuits. I think this thought is supported by the fact that those we have charged with the care of our children in our place (teachers, nannies and day care workers) are payed some of the most abismal wages.
I was reading some essays the other day on this website and this excerpt sums up the importance of being at home:
A child can learn right from wrong by watching her mother’s actions. Daily life can be difficult, whether the activity is shopping for groceries, interacting with neighbors, dealing with rude salespeople, or responding to a driver who will not stop for pedestrians. There are innumerable situations in which a mother can use her intelligence and other talents to go about the daily task of living. The primary point is that stay-at-home mothering is not a passive occupation. A mother does not sit down all day and play with the children. Every woman has a unique life, and she is busy with myriad things associated with maintaining one’s home and family. In the meantime, mother-child interactions provide dynamic learning experiences. A mother who attempts to make appropriate responses to the challenges in her environment is teaching her child how to think and solve problems.
I am not wasting my life. What I do is important and you other moms out there, what you do is important too, even if it means you’ve had to put your life goals on hold for a few years or change them completely.
Anyway, back to our story. The third engine to come along is old and tired.
But the Rusty Old Engine sighed: “I am so tired. I must rest my weary wheels. I cannot pull even so little a train as yours over the mountain. I can not. I can not. I can not.”
And then finally, a little engine comes along that is used in the train yard for switching out trains. She is not very big, but she agrees to try to take the load over the mountain anyway.
Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. “I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can.” Up, up, up. Faster and faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed, until at last they reached the top of the mountain.
“Hurray, hurray,” cried the funny little clown and all the dolls and toys. “The good little boys and girls in the city will be happy because you helped us, kind, Little Blue Engine.”