Happily ever after

Thursday, April 3, 2008

April 3, 2008

Dear Patty,

Monday I worked out, got some vaccinations for a trip I'm planning, organized the spices in our kitchen and the shoes in my closet, wrote some stories and made myself dinner while DC was off working in Illinois.

Tuesday I worked out, deep cleaned the kitchen and helped our neighbor Frank saw the limbs that rained on our yard during the ice storms that preceded the record-breaking flooding that makes people wonder, what next?

Until my new job starts in a few months, I feel like Joni Mitchell's proverbial "Free Man in Paris," unfettered and alive. It is liberating to be the one who decides exactly how you will spend your day, like being on vacation but better because on vacation you're usually in a hurry to get somewhere or in a hurry to decompress from months of grinding it out. I have been hurrying nowhere except to Mrs. Nelson's second-grade class at Blanchard School.

As usual, some of the students read to me on the bench in the hallway while she continued to work with the other students in her room. Nothing else in my week is as much fun as this hour.

Charles read me "The Three Little Pigs." He liked to say "I'll huff and I'll puff" and his voice jumped an octave when the Big Bad Wolf tried to sweet talk the third little pig.

At the end Charles noted with some glee that eating the Big Bad Wolf in his soup meant the third little pig also was eating his brothers consumed by the wolf. As a more modern fairy tale says, that's the circle of life.

Sometimes I help the students with stories they're writing. Second-grade boys seem to like "The Three Little Pigs." In Jesse's story, three little cars are chased by a Monster Truck. The cars finally build a garage the Monster Truck can't knock down because it's made out of bricks, the Monster Truck blows a tire and the little cars drive happily ever after home to their mother.

In Tyzhon's story, three little dinosaurs are being pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex. They build a house out of rocks, but the T-rex picks up a log with his tail and starts knocking the house down. The little dinosaurs escape out the back door and run for the nearby lake. The dinosaurs jump in and get away, Tyzhon tells me, because they are Brachiysauruses, dinosaurs that could swim. In Tyzhon's story, the T-rex falls into the lake and drowns. And the dinosaurs live happily ever after.

Second-grade girls seem to have a different taste in stories. Kyra has concocted a tale about her family's Fourth of July celebration, complete with drawings of them watching the fireworks explode overhead. Actually, she confided to me, they sat in lawn chairs and didn't lie on the ground. She drew them on the ground because she didn't think she could draw them sitting in chairs as well. "That part's nonfiction," she said, flipping a term I was amazed a second-grader would even have heard of.

After Charles finished reading "The Three Little Pigs," I asked what he thought its lesson was. He smiled and said he forgot. We talked about how the first two little pigs had built houses of straw and sticks, flimsy stuff against a Big Bad Wolf. But the third little pig, who seems a bit older than the others, built a house with sturdy bricks. He also was too smart for the tricks meant to lure him from the safety of his house to wolfie's jaws. Sometimes kids can be self-conscious about being smart. It's good to be smart, I reminded Charles.

My mother read me "The Three Little Pigs" when I was a boy. It must connect deeply with the child psyche, beginning with the shock that someday your mother will tell you it is time to go out on your own and the realization that dangers may await. That ultimately nobody can save your bacon but you.

We must recognize a part of ourselves in the Big Bad Wolf as well. We all have teeth, we all have appetites. We all, pigs and wolves alike, want to live happily ever after.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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