*OG is a slang term for “someone who’s incredibly exceptional, authentic, or old-school, and has come to be a hip way of referring or showing respect to someone who’s an expert in any facet of life” according to Dictionary.com.
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I saw Greta Gerwig’s updated version of the classic Little Women in theaters two days ago and in the 48 hours since I have not stopped considering and contemplating this wonderful movie.
I have talked at length to my two daughters Mae (14) and Kate (12) about marriage and love, vocation and passion, and what it means to be a woman then and now. I’ve recorded a podcast episode with my Advice Not Given pod-partner where we debated each of the March sisters based on their Enneagram types (Meg-1w2, Jo-7w8, Beth-2w1, and Amy 4w3).
I’ve shared about this movie on social media and had conversations with half a dozen friends and family members about it. I’ve read lengthy articles and critiques from The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. I’ve done deep dives on the Instagram accounts of all of the movie’s principal actors and I HAVE RESEARCHED THE ORCHARD HOUSE trying to figure when I might be able to visit the Boston area to see the March homestead. I am head-over-heels for this movie y’all; it’s breath-taking, brilliant, and I’m itching to go see it again. If you haven’t seen it yet– GO!
I have been a life-long Little Women devotee. I read Alcott’s book as a young woman. I saw the 1994 version at the theater during Christmas of my senior year of high school. I own the DVD and I read the book aloud to my daughters during their home-schooled elementary years. This story has such a special, forever place in my heart. It’s no wonder the movie has made a deep impact. Did the heroine Jo March impact my formative years and sway my own vocational choices as a teacher and writer? It’s quite possible.
Clearly, I can’t quit thinking about it and now I’ve come to the altar of my keyboard to try to organize some of what continues to stir me. Many facets of the life and household of the March family are compelling. Yes, it’s a movie/book. Yes, it was set in the 1860s. Like any great work of art, I must ask myself what about this compels me and what or rather, how, may I take my experience with this movie and its characters and view it through my own lens of life.
Do I want more of Jo’s passion in my life? Amy’s resolve? Meg’s kindheartedness? Or Beth’s gentleness? Absolutely. Do I wish I had a cozy attic for all of my creative pursuits like the one the March sisters enjoyed? You bet. Will I continue to ask myself W.W.M.D. (What Would Marmee Do?) as a parenting tool? You can count on it.
Like I have done with a few of my other favorite fictional mothers (here and here), I am endeavoring to put Marmee under a microscope and see what lessons her life can teach me about being a woman, a wife, a mother, and especially a military spouse. After all, we are both married to Army chaplains. =)
Margaret March could teach me a thing or ten. Below is a list in no particular order of importance:
Marmee manages her household LIKE A BOSS whether Father is home or not; SHE is the backbone of the family.
I love and adore how the March sisters look to and rely on their mother for their strength and direction in their lives. Sure they love their dad, but they are WATCHING their mother and taking their cues for their passions, their character, and their life-choices from her. Throughout the story, Marmee is a leader, a confidant, and a peace-keeper. Her girls know it and revere her like a queen.
Marmee recognizes that there is always someone who has it worse off.
It is no secret that the March family is struggling themselves to make financial ends meet during the hard times of the U.S. Civil War. Marmee manages her meager household income deftly but also helps others in need from a place of generosity and abundance. No matter what she gives away, it seems to be returned to her ten-fold. Marmee easily convinces her daughters to pack up their delicious holiday breakfast to send to the even-poorer and illness-stricken Hummels and upon their return home, Mr. Laurence has sent over a feast for the March girls to enjoy.
Marmee has hired help to shoulder the burdens of running her home and family.
Hello Hannah! Throughout the movie we see glimpses of a woman hired to help around the March household. Hannah’s main services include cleaning and cooking. Marmee smartly recognizes the priority and wisdom of not trying to always do it all on her own. Although it’s likely that Hannah has been part of the March family a long time, her assistance during Father’s absence must have been especially beneficial. When we are in a season of solo-parenting, it is vital to seek and accept the help of others.
Marmee has lots of big feelings but she manages them by being super self aware.
One of my biggest dam-breaker/tear-jerker moments of the movie comes when Marmee, in response to Jo’s fretfulness of not handling her own anger and passions well, candidly says to her daughter, “I am angry nearly every day of my life.” This admission comes as a huge surprise to both the audience and Jo because of Marmee’s even temperament and relatively easy-going personality. She tells Jo that her anger and emotions are something that she has to work on controlling every day. Three cheers for honesty with our daughters, high emotional intelligence, and the absolute CHORE of doing the daily work to show up as her best self.
Marmee prioritizes people and relationships above all.
Over and over again throughout the movie, Marmee advocates for building bridges and building relationships. Far beyond fame or fortune, as for Marmee and her house, the focus is on being a person of character and integrity. She maintains a congenial relationship with her sister-in-law, even when Aunt March makes catty and disparaging remarks toward Marmee. She knows how to handle herself between socio-economic classes; she is consistently “Marmee” with the impoverished Hummels as well as the wealthy Mr. Laurence. She shows kindness to each of her daughters even when their behaviors or actions may not deserve it. Marmee has raised a generation of daughters who seemingly are repeating the choice to honor others while being true to themselves.
Marmee finds a role in serving outside of her home and pursues a greater cause beyond herself.
It would seem that Marmee’s proverbial plate is pretty full; she is raising four daughters whose emotional demands alone seem overwhelming at times; she has a daughter who battles devastating sickness; she’s running a household; she’s helping the neighbors; she’s solo-parenting. You’d think by the time night falls, she would collapse into her chair and
binge Netflix read a novel by the light of the fire. Nope. As abounding as her life and schedule may seem, Marmee finds time to serve the Union war efforts. Not only does she give of her time, but she even gives up her scarf to the desperate father of a solider who has nothing. (More tears!)
Marmee sees each of her daughters uniquely and parents them appropriately.
When the girls were younger maybe Marmee was in survival mode, but as the girls have grown up it is clear that she is parenting each in a one-of-a-kind, tailored-to-her-own-personality kind of way. It’s amazing how she is able to parent an older Amy with the wisdom about what it means to marry for love even when that marriage is one without monetary assurance. She is able to parent Jo in the midst of Jo’s heartbreak, life decisions about being lonely, pursuing her writing career, and encoures her to live life on her own terms. She is able to parent Beth–who is characterized as a bit of a wallflower–through her illness and presses her to follow her talents as a pianist. She is able to parent Amy through her novel-burning meltdown, her artistic endeavors in Paris, and newly married life with Laurie. Again, we see Marmee flourish as a mother even without the physical or emotional support of her partner.
Marmee doesn’t shy away from her grief but she also doesn’t get stuck in it.
Life is hard. War is long. Money is tight. Daughters can be difficult. Running a household is heavy. Death and difficulty is inevitable. A central devastation that runs throughout Little Women is when Beth contracts Scarlet Fever and fights for her life. Once she beats it, but later succumbs to death after her body has been weakened. Another scene in the movie that evokes major tears is the moment we see Marmee break down and cry with Jo upon Beth’s passing. She is shaken to her core and yet, we see through movie and narrative magic, that in time, Marmee does not stay stuck in her grief. She mourns at Beth’s funeral but is also able to rejoice at Amy’s wedding.
Marmee is honest with Father about the reintegration process.
If you aren’t a military spouse or you weren’t paying attention, you may have missed it, but there is a line so perfect that I literally LAUGHED OUT LOUD during the movie. Father has come home from the war (and his recovery) and there is much merry-making among the household at his return. Marmee tells Father that she is glad he’s home so that now she can be angry with him “to his face.” LOLOLOL. Except also not funny. There is so much truth to unpack there, but suffice it to say that it is easy to amass some frustration and anger at our spouses during an extended absence. It’s also very important to address the elephant in the room and say it out loud when we are carrying anger and then do something productive to work through it instead of letting it fester!
Marmee may not have a BIG life, but she recognizes that she has a GOOD life.
Whether you are a modern-day military spouse or like Marmee, married to a Civil War era service member, you know that life isn’t always what you planned or expected it to be. One of the major themes and plot lines of the movie centers on the role of women both vocationally and in marriage. Gerwig’s commentary on the economic proposition of marriage throughout the movie is blatant and necessary. There are many quotable comments from Jo and Amy about where a woman’s power and privilege lies in society. There is even an unmistakable vibe that for a woman, marriage is akin to a death of sorts. Of all of the story’s characters, Marmee knows this death-to-self best of all. She has lived it since her own marriage to Mr. March.
As military spouses, we, too, know that this sacrificial, patriotic, married-to-a-service-member-life often brings about certain deaths to us as well. We often have to let some of our professional dreams perish. We may set aside our hopes for planting roots and living in one place. We married in order to make our own history with a partner, yet so much of our life is lived without them by our side. We succumb to the reality that Uncle Sam calls so many of the shots in our lives. It’s easy to see this glass as half-empty and concentrate on what feels like it is missing in our lives. I don’t want to get stuck in that mindset and mentality.
Most of us don’t end up leading lives full of fame, personal notoriety, or great wealth. Those aren’t the things that drive most of us. Those aren’t the things that drive our spouses either. It is probably one quality that attracted us to them in the first place. We see and share in their spirit of service to others, love of our brothers and sisters, duty to make the world a better place, and offer our lives to the greater good.
Like Margaret “Marmee” March, I want to show up to my life faithfully, willingly, authentically, and gratefully for what I have and who I get share it with. I may not have a BIG life but I have a GOOD life.
″…I have a better friend, even than Father, to comfort and sustain me. My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.” (Louisa May Alcott)