I read the article “Charlotte Mason on Kindness” over at Simply Charlotte Mason over the weekend and was struck by the succinct and simple principles Mason set forth. I confess here before all the WWW that I am not always (and even, not often) kind to my children. Well, maybe I am, but I could be kinder. It’s something I work on. I appreciate Mason’s action points: forget yourself and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Then I was reading The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz aloud to my girls on Monday, and there I saw a living literary example of motherly kindness to a child. In this book, Ann Hamilton is the only girl in a family of boys living on the Pennsylvania frontier in the late 1700s, and she misses civilization: her school, her church, and her best friend. She works hard and is quite responsible, as pioneer children apparently were, but even she gives in to a childhood fancy once in a while. While her mother is away, Ann takes out the best china and sets a tea party outdoors for herself and her doll, Semanthie. Instead of scolding her, her mother understands and joins in her childish frivolity:
Ann didn’t move. There was no use; her mother had seen her. She could try to hide the flowered plates but that wouldn’t be any use either. Her mother had already been in the cabin and seen the open chest.
Ann waited, her heart pounding and her eyes on the ground. When she finally looked up, her mother was standing quietly beside her and looking at the tea party table. Ann held her breath, but for some reason her mother didn’t look cross at all. Instead, there was the same kind of lovingness in her face as she had when she rocked the baby after he had been crying for a long time. Then Mrs. Hamilton turned to Ann and smiled.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Jones,” she said. “I hope I am not too late for tea. And is this your daughter?” Mrs. Hamilton nodded toward Semanthie. “My, how she’s grown!”
All at once Ann’s throat felt tight with love and gratitude. Quickly she moved Semanthie’s flowered plate in front of her mother and gave Semanthie an oak leaf.
“Oh, do sit down, Mrs. Smith,” Ann said. “And will you have cream or lemon in your tea?”
She poured cups of make-believe tea from a make-believe silver teapot. A brown rabbit stopped near the table and looked with interest before moving on. Somewhere a squirrel chattered noisily. A redbird made himself at home on a branch of an elm nearby. And the two ladies daintily sipped the afternoon away and talked the loveliest party talk–all about husands and disobedient children and babies and stylish hats.
“And have you heard,” Anne’s voice asked her most fashionable voice, “that my brother-in-law, Mr. John Hamilton, is going East soon for salt and supplies? I do belive I shall ask him to bring back a pair of new shoes for my daughter. Her feet grow so.”
Ann covered up a smile behind the oak leaf she was using for a fan. “Blue shoes would be lovely,” she said. “I am sure your daughter would like blue shoes.”
The sun had dropped low and the trees were throwing long shadows across the velvet moss and vegetable garden when Ann and Mrs. Hamilton gathered up Semanthie and the flowered plates to go back to the cabin. Ann took a last look back into the woods before she left. As she looked, the redbird dropped down onto the moss and began to eat from the leaf with dogwood berries. Ann caught her breath at the beauty of it. Strange–she had never noticed before how lovely the woods were on Hamilton Hill.
When Ann and her mother reached the cabin, they found Mr. Hamilton, David, and Daniel already there. Daniel was glowering.
“Are you aware of how late it is?” he asked.
Mrs. Hamilton handed Ann the plates to put away. Then she turned and faced her three impatient men on the doorstep. “Once in a while,” she said decisively, “there comes a time in the Western Country when there is something more important than an hour of work or a meal time.”
Mrs. Hamilton went inside to prepare supper. (79-83)
Isn’t that beautiful? It inspires me to be the kind of mother who has the wisdom to know when to correct and when to have tea.