Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Revisiting Betsy-Tacy

I reread Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series every few years. Every time, it's like being wrapped in a warm hug. And every time, I get something new out of the books.

This time I started in the middle, with "Betsy was a Junior" and "Betsy and Joe," chronicling Betsy's junior and senior years of high school. For the first time when reading these books, I identified more with the parents than with Betsy and her friends. I admired her parents for being so warm and supportive while giving out discipline and good advice in the gentlest way. For turn-of-the-century parents with three girls, they are surprisingly progressive in encouraging their daughters to follow their dreams, including pursuing careers and travel. Maud Hart Lovelace has said that this series is strongly autobiographical. While I'm sure that she has idealized her parents in these books, you can feel the warmth and security of the home she grew up in.

Since self-compassion has been on my mind, I also detected some wisdom in "Betsy was a Junior" that never struck me so much before. Betsy has a disastrous junior year. She starts out with grand plans to study and write diligently, to be a leader in school and in her community, and to take over the family responsibilities of her college-bound older sister. Instead, she spends the year forming a clique, which alienates friends; going to endless parties and neglecting her schoolwork; and, at her lowest point, leaving her little sister at home alone and unsupervised. Each time, the lesson she learns is short-lived. It's not until the end of the year that she's forced to grow up a little. But, taking stock of her junior year, she reflects:
All those resolutions she had made on Babcock's Bay! How they had been smashed to smithereens! She wondered whether life consisted of making resolutions and breaking them, of climbing up and slipping down.
"I believe that's it," she thought. "And the bright side of it is that you never slip down to quite the point you started climbing from. You always gain a little." . . . .
She thought about those lists she had made in her programs for self-improvement. She hadn't followed them out by any means, but they had revealed her ideals.
At first they had been mostly about brushing hair and teeth. Then she had reached out for charm: green bows, foreign phrases, perfumes, a bath every day. Last summer's resolves to be thoughtful at home and to excel at school, had shown a sort of groping after maturity.

I love that. Your goals reveal your ideals and express who you are and who you want to be. And that in itself is valuable... even if your resolutions, inevitably, get smashed to smithereens.

After reading those two books, I went back to the very beginning of the series when Betsy and Tacy are five and they meet for the first time. I haven't reread the early books in a while, finding the books where Betsy is older to be more interesting. But as the mother of a five-year old, I am enjoying the early books from a new perspective.

It's been long enough since I reread the series that I've forgotten some of the things that happen. As with all books I love, I want to simultaneously tear through all of them and make them last as long as possible. It's a struggle to go to bed at night (and even more of a struggle to pack lunches and catch up on work and do responsible grown-up things) instead of staying up reading!

1 comment:

  1. I have a similar tradition with the Lord of the Rings series and Harry Potter. A few years between reads is the perfect amount of time to forget enough of the series to jump back in again feet first.

    With Harry Potter, I prefer to listen to the books on tape and CD while I'm driving around. When I had the job of an assistant to an appraiser, I had all the time in the world to devote to Harry, Hermoine, and Ron.

    When I sit down and listen to the familiar voice of Jim Dale recounting their adventures, it amazes me that after all this time, I missed a very important detail along the way. Maybe I got it and forgot it? Likely I just skimmed over it in my eagerness to read the next paragraph.