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The TV Show That's Getting My Family Through Quarantine

The reruns have been an absolute lifesaver.

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LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE NBC Western TV series with from left: Michael Landon, Karen Grassie, Melissa Sue Anderson, Melissa Gilbert, Lindsey Greenbush
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
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I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I decided to unleash a tsunami of Little House on the Prairie reruns on my home during these weeks of COVID-19 self-quarantine. But it was somewhere between ordering bulk toilet paper online and my 10-year-old complaining about how “hard” it was to stay inside all day (with his iPad). “You know what?” I snapped one evening about our new normal. “This is not hard! Hard is going to the bathroom in an outhouse in the dark of night! Hard is building a log cabin with your own hands! Hard is walking a mile each way to your one-room schoolhouse! Hard is hunting your own food for dinner!”

My son and husband both looked up at the crazy woman in their midst — knowing full well I have done none of those things, but I already was asking Google “How to watch Little House on the Prairie.” As everyone has been leaning toward the simpler life during quarantine, why not learn from actual simpler times?

Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I came of age with the beloved TV series about the pioneering Ingalls family, who braved adversity on the Midwestern plains in the late 1800s with grace and grit. I couldn’t remember all the specifics, but I did recall lots of wood chopping, sewing, home-cooked meals, childhood chores, fireside family time, and a nasty town bully named Nellie. I sensed lots of teachable moments — for all of us.

I purchased Season 1’s 24 episodes on Amazon Prime Video (there are 204 episodes in total, based on the autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder). As I had matched Laura’s character in age throughout the show’s nine-season run, I was curious to revisit Walnut Grove as both an adult and parent. Aside from the vertigo of now looking down in age on Ma and Pa Ingalls, I’m happy to report that Little House has been like a warm, hand-knit blanket for my family during these uncertain times.

We’ve watched how Pa gains respect as the hard-working yet sensitive family patriarch, while self-reliant Ma seamlessly switches between skillet, sewing needle and smarts as needed. My son gives me a humbled side-eye whenever the children answer “Yes Sir” or “Yes Ma’am,” and we discuss each episode’s moral lesson as the credits roll. The show has encouraged him to be more mindful of his chores and 21st century screen time — the latter appreciated all the more after seeing the Ingalls get snowed inside a log cabin for three weeks with nothing but each other for companionship. Plus, watching Pa entertain the family on the fiddle has finally given me that “in” to teach my son piano.

Since I’m also helping with fifth-grade homeschooling during this homebound period, my family has nicknamed me Miss Beadle after the Walnut Grove schoolteacher. I might not have a chalkboard, but I have considered making my son type “I will show my work on math problems” on his laptop 50 times (without copy and pasting). Just don’t expect me to change out of sweatpants into a floor-length skirt and high-necked blouse any time soon.

I know I’m not alone in my obsession with cooking during this COVID-19 homestay, but I’m learning that be it homemade Irish soda bread or shepherd’s pie, back-to-basics comfort food beats a steady diet of cable news any day. And let’s take a moment to pay homage to my 10-inch cast iron skillet! Purchased at a local antique store, this well-worn treasure surely has served up thousands of hearty meals over generations. There’s even a Little House Cookbook with recipes right out of the book series, but we’ve been making do with those sourced online, from maple syrup candies to fried dough “vanity cakes.” I even started wearing an apron.

And don’t forget, as we also are social distancing from professional fix-it men at this time, we jokingly invoke WWPD (What Would Pa Do) when faced with the latest household repair, like the nasty drain clog that had us taking apart kitchen sink pipes for the first time. And last week, when my husband was about to toss a Duraflame in the fireplace, I balked: “Charles Ingalls would be horrified!” The next day there was a new pile of fresh kindling from our backyard.

The most eerily familiar Little House episode of Season 1, however, was “Plague,” where typhus ravaged Walnut Creek after contaminated cornmeal got baked into bread. The town was devastated. The overworked town doctor isolated the sick inside the church, where some died; school and businesses were shuttered; and Pa, who got exposed helping some sick neighbors, had to socially distance himself from his family. But not before watching his girls do some remote learning on their chalk tablets. “Learning doesn’t stop just because you’re not in school,” he says warmly when the girls whine about doing schoolwork from home.

The Ingalls family emerged from the plague unscathed, giving us hope that we will, too — not to mention a little more self-reliant, appreciative of our families, and masters of homemade bread!