A couple of years ago, on a mad shopping spree post chemo and mid radiation, I decided I was ready to take my girls out to London for a serious dose of retail therapy. It was the first type of therapy I felt actively keen to enjoy and I was determined not to be deterred by the white haired Annie-Lennox-Eurythmics look I was sporting at the time. You know what I’m talkin’ about, a seriously tight coif making my head look like it had been shaved with a maximum number 1 blade. At any rate, I wasn’t feeling my most feminine and I gathered a swirl around French Connection could go some way in rectifying my ability to get in touch with my girlie side. And I was right, within moments, a dress jumped out at me as they sometimes do which I knew must make its way back to my personal wardrobe.
The dress came in a sort of mottled pattern of burgundy, blue and cream which somehow worked all together quite well, however, it was the style of the dress that won me over. The dress was cut in a cottony/jersey fabric with short sleeves, a v-neck neckline and a skirt which hung down just above my knees. The best part was the attached belt which tied in a bow in the back along a sort of Empire line pulling the fabric taut just under my chest. It seemed to be a totally retro throw back to a fashion found somewhere between the World Wars. The design was for a dress which a woman could wear every day, get all she needed to get done and feel pretty along the way. It was a “fait accompli” when I put it on because it instantly made me think of Liv Walton and I knew it had to be mine.
Why would such a style and connection bring out my debit card and compel me to purchase it you ask? Well, basically I’ve always had a long standing respect for Olivia Walton. As many of you will remember, she is the mother from The Waltons television show played by Michael Lerner and she epitomizes, for me, such strength of character in family and community. She emits a seemingly effortless grace and shines with a stoic beauty from within while all along exuding love in a strong and steady manner. In short, I find, she has always been an inspiration to me. I’d even go so far as to say, besides my own mother, she definitely has influenced my way of parenting and raising a family.
It might sound old fashioned, but I like how she’s always cooking or mending or shelling peas and as she’s doing her chores she’s listening and softly considering the world of her family and how that family fits into the wider scheme of things. Whilst her husband, John, is in the barn churning out planks of wood on the sawmill, Liv has a knack for keeping a positive attitude even as she works alongside an often ornery mother-in-law in her kitchen. She feeds their family of seven children (plus Grandma and Grandpa) gathering them around a big table, and she makes sure each dinnertime meal starts with a clasp of hands held tight and heads bowed in a thankful prayer. Everyone dips in and out or passes through the kitchen and Olivia is always there some how managing to inspire them to get along, get on and make their way in the world. She not only makes sure they are fed with food but with care and knowledge, sharing stories and ideas so they can be interested and interesting in the world and each other. Furthermore, I respect her intelligence, her resilience and her supportive nature mixed with a firm stance on fairness and accountability. Her capacity to make her voice heard clearly and soundly definitely does it for me as well. Above all else, I admire her knack for treating all the people in her life like individuals, like they are something unique and special in their own right.
So, back to the dress. I was wearing it recently and thinking my hair is finally pretty much long enough to put back in a bun just like Liv’s and it made me reflect as I looked in the mirror, “am I keeping up my Walton standards”? I want to be patient with my girls when they have Mary Ellen moodiness or embrace any of my kids when they seek originality of spirit like Jim Bob’s aviation aspirations. I obviously love cultivating an appreciation for reading and writing so that any inner John Boy can flourish in my three. I try my hardest to encourage appreciation for spirituality along the lines of Jason’s and support the ability to blend and harmonize a diversity of personalities and talents like the best middle children, including Erin, do. I endorse supporting the little Ben’s in our life and making sure they get an equal say on family matters. Finally I admit I love to indulge, but hopefully not spoil, each of my kids who are still my babies as Elizabeth is to Olivia.
However, I still wonder, am I doing my kids right? Especially with all that has changed in the world since the real Waltons or the tv ones walked barefoot down a dirt road to Ike’s to post a letter or even shouted “Good Night, John Boy!” to each other before flicking out the light. Liv never had to allocate iPad, xBox or Wii time nor did she have to filter the internet so her kids wouldn’t get exposed to something totally and utterly inappropriate with the click of a keyboard. Nor did she have to school her kids in social medium etiquette or protect them from cyberbullies or creepy adults trying to “groom” them online. She definitely never had to organise or drive her kids to a playdate having a neigbourhood of children to play with in her own front yard. Oh, and as far as I can tell, she only fed them organic, non GM food and limited their sugar intake by merits of Depression budget limitations or rationing stamps. And finally, lucky Liv, she never suffered the worry or guilt about her carbon footprint and instead enjoyed fresh food from her garden or traded with other Walton’s Mountain residents.
Nonetheless, I am not ready to chuck all this technology away. I so appreciate the levels of communication it gives me so that I can “Facetime” my dad in South Carolina from England or be mesmerised by photos from outer space or Maya Angelou reading her poetry for me on Youtube. I most definitely like being able to have the weather forecast at my fingertips so I know how to pack for Skyler’s class weekend away to the Isle of Wight.
However, with Skyler in mind, I am reminded of what an impact the way I conduct our household can have on a person, specifically him. Recently he was on a sleepover only to find out how differently families can operate. When I picked him up, we were barely pulling out the drive and he started to note how “they can watch whatever the want for as long as they want” (shows at our house get vetted and the oven timer set to make sure we don’t forget how long they’ve been staring at the screen). We also use the timer for “iPadding”, Minecraft, Wii and Xbox. He then went on to mention that when they sat down for dinner they did not even talk about the day they had had. “They just ate.” He carried on telling me, pulling a face, “they had lasagne” (a serious crime in his eyes as is just isn’t one of his favourites), and he was surprised they hadn’t asked if he liked it (like I do) before serving him a plateful. He finished his account of the experience very sweetly and said, “You know, you always make me and my friends feel like you like that we are there, like we are special. Mom, you are one in a million.”
As you can imagine, I’ve been living off that comment for almost a week now, not because I concur, I am definitely not that exceptional and far from the one and only Liv Walton. Instead I have to confess, there is many a time when I resemble more the likes of Drill Sergeant Foley (From An Officer and A Gentleman) or Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest when I deal with my kids. That said, I guess I must I have my moments. The comment has made me feel honoured and happy to be perceived by a ten year old this way – especially my son and to grow in confidence that I might be getting some of this raising children thing right. Now that I think about it, that ‘ole dress has done more than fill my Wannabe Walton yearning, it has clothed me well and, with or without it on, set me up for contending with the perils of parenting in the modern world. To emulate Olivia Walton is a good thing and to make the children and people of my world feel valued – that’s worth more than any dress I could hope to buy.