Simplicity Parenting and Henry Huggins

My children are in love with all the Beverly Cleary novels about Beezus and Ramona, and their friend Henry Huggins. There are about 10 books in all to enjoy about all these characters who live on Klickitat Street, and we are listening to all of them, sometimes several times over, on our drives various places throughout the week. I am continually amazed that my children have the patience for these ponderous, hum-drum stories about very ordinary childhood adventures, but the performances by the readers really are pretty engaging. Anyway, I am finding some surprising things about these books as I listen helplessly to all of them:

1. The first was written in 1950 and the last was written in 2000. That is 50 years of writing about these people and, while the world that the children are living in changes drastically, they themselves age only a few years over the span of the books. The bulk of them take place before the dawn of the computer age, so the setting of nearly all of them is either unfamiliar or only dimly familiar from my own childhood. Henry Huggins’ first book takes place in a time when raccoon caps were THE thing, and all of the other things boys care about in 1950 are similarly foreign. In the second book, written in 1952, bubble gum chewing features prominently as an activity.

2. The value system in all the books is rooted in frugality, simplicity, and taking responsibility for oneself. It floors me how unfamiliar the concepts are, like Henry not getting to have a bike because his parents can’t afford it. Henry has to earn his own money to care for his dog. The Quimbys, Beezus and Ramona, learn to sew with their mother, who makes most of their clothes. Their father gives them ERASERS as a back-to-school present because that’s all they can afford. There is nothing for kids to do but play chess, read, or run around outside, because rowdy play inside, video gaming, or TV watching (except in one of the later books) would never be an option. I didn’t realize just how far afield we had gone from those simple times. My husband and I thought we were pretty radical not having any gaming systems in our house, but we have a long way to go to reach the goal of true simplicity.

Truly, I cannot quite imagine getting to a point where we could live like this, only because it turns out my own default value system is so much more “modern” than I thought. I mentioned recently waking up out of my fog of self-delusion and attempting to accept that I am as materialistic as everyone else in my own way, and I am trying to figure out exactly how to change my whole mindset about possessions. It turns out that my materialism has about 100 roots firmly planted in my brain structure, so digging it out is challenging. I’m working on it, of course, and have changed my reading regimen to fit the new goals, but I can see how many steps away from simplicity I am as a parent as well as a person. I wish I’d gone on this journey a lot sooner, so I could have started with my children as I mean to go on.

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