Thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder, the kids and I are working on a new habitude: ‘The Smile’. It all began when a DVD box set was given to my daughter and, since then, the whole family has benefited from watching La Petite Maison dans La Prairie. Mesmerised by the Ingalls’ daily dramas, which see the family roll up their sleeves in the face of adversity, we hardly noticed that some of their old-fashioned values were rubbing off on us.
One episode in particular changed our daily routine. In yet another tear-jerking scene, Laura is paying tribute to her Mother, whose smile is the first thing she sees each morning and the last she witnesses before drifting off to sleep at night.
Indeed, Laura’s Mother, the graceful Caroline, always manages a smile before putting out her children’s bedside candle each night – whether, that day, she’d almost been scalped by the natives or was on the verge of being burned alive while, bucket by bucket, she extinguished a fire in the cabin.
“Elle est trop parfaite!” I lament, as we finish watching yet another happy ending.
“Well, you can try to be more like Laura’s Maman,” my daughter suggests.
Feathers ruffled, I point out how Caroline’s daughters, Laura and Mary, are also good role models for a couple of rug rats whom I know personally. The kids giggle and I look back at the television screen, lost in thought…
Something about the Ingalls’ façon de vivre resonates, and soon my family and I are vowing to be good, or at least mieux. We started with Le Sourire, instilling into our routine “Le Sourire Matinal” and “Le Sourire du Soir”. Now, no matter what mood we’re in when we wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night, we remember to mettre le sourire. And once that smile is ‘put on’, we can’t help but feel better.
When I slide, sourire-wise, the kids are good at reminding me of our goal. “Mom!” they’ll say, as I peck them on the cheek at night, with an inquisitive “Did you brush your teeth?” and “Wet towel? Is that a wet towel on the floor?”
“Mom!” they’ll interrupt, and I snap back to my senses– my “smile senses”. Soon, a toothy grin is flashing across all of our faces. Life’s cares fade into the background as a cloud of consciousness overcomes us. We are ‘Toothy Smile’. We are ‘Grin’. We are, however fleetingly, happy again!
And no matter how ruffled my feathers get each time ‘Sainte Caroline’ impresses my kids, I have to give la femme pionnière credit for keeping her hair on when those Indians came calling. That’s proof, right there, of a smile’s power to disarm.
l’habitude (f) = habit
La Petite Maison dans La Prairie = The Little House on the Prairie
la maman (f) = mom
la façon de vivre (f) = way of life
mieux = better
le sourire matinal (m) = the morning smile
le sourire du soir (m) = the evening smile
la femme pionnière = pioneer woman
Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on a wine and olive farm near Bandol.
From France Today magazine