Like the first little pig, our days in the straw house are numbered
My first semester I took three classes. Nervous about returning to school at 50, my brother suggested I take courses I enjoyed. Success in those classes, he explained, would encourage me to keep going. So, I took History, Intro to Business online (to replace the class I took in the 80’s after my failed attempt at college), and English 121, which is mandatory. My brother was right. Even after working all day, I looked forward to my Tuesday and Thursday evening classes. I was learning and growing. It seemed life now had options – I began to feel empowered despite my current situation. I fell in love with words again. Finding my voice after years of suppressing it, delivered a sense of euphoria every Tuesday I entered Larrison Hall at 6:00 with my gray and pink backpack strewn across my shoulder.
Those Tuesday evenings in English 121 had produced quite a portfolio. I’d written the humorous details of the night I gave birth to my daughter, a narrative dealing with loss based on the death of my father, and my view on the controversial issue of immigration. I was on fire. That is until I strolled into class that Tuesday night.
Our new assignment – pick a fairy tale and analyze it. My normally talkative class fell silent. The befuddled looks said what I thought. He had to be joking. I hadn’t dragged myself to class after working all day to analyze fairy tales. Unshaken by our reaction, our professor continued explaining the assignment, “Step 1, notice – what do you see; Step 2, analyze.” A quick review of my options revealed two choices, either write the paper or fail; so, I sat back, listened and embraced the assignment. Anyway, this would be a piece of cake; a mere speed bump to an easy “A”.
My choice was The Three Little Pigs. This was my daughter’s favorite bedtime story. She loved it when I did voices for each character; especially the wolf. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” I laughed to myself remembering blowing “raspberries” on her belly while pretending to be the wolf. The story evoked memories of a happier time. However, as my analysis progressed, the happy memories faded into the background.
In the story, each pig wants to build a house and decides on various materials, namely, straw, sticks and bricks. When you stop to think about it, the choices they made revealed the amount of effort they planned to put into this project. A house of straw and sticks could be put together quickly with little effort. Sadly, this reflected my past life choices. How many times had I taken the easy way out because I let fear rule my decisions? At 25 I walked away from getting my degree because self-doubt and fear kept me from conquering the required math classes. I continued to rent an apartment instead of buying the cute townhouse I liked – renting is safer, isn’t it? And what about the business I wanted to start –most new businesses fail, don’t they? “What if?” My life choices predicated around those two words.
Suddenly, light shone through the heaviness of my tearful reflections. For years I convinced myself I did my best as a single mother. We’d survived job losses and prolonged unemployment, brain surgeries and spotty child support payments. I’m not saying I haven’t tried to be the best mother I know how to be, or that my situation has been easy, or that I didn’t try. It’s that I just didn’t fight hard enough. Too many times I cried “uncle” and embraced being the victim while waiting for salvation from some unknown source. Ultimately, we were currently homeless because of my earlier decisions to build with sticks and straw.
I dried my eyes. Tears have their place, but now was not a time for tears; it was a time for action. Although he is the villain, the wolf is focused and persistent. He concentrates all his energies into reaching his goal. Even when his first attempts fail, he continues undeterred. Like the wolf, tenacity must replace my “what if” attitude. Another thought came to mind. If I fail to change, I run the risk of passing a legacy of fear down to my teenage daughter. There is no way I’m going to allow my fear and self-doubt stifle her dreams. By my example she will be taught that yes, life can be tough and unpredictable. Yet, the only way to conquer fear is living; because a life of fear is no way to live.
The third little pig built with bricks. It took time. However, brick by brick he built a stable and secure residence capable of equipping him with the defenses necessary for repelling the wolf’s onslaughts. Yes, life can be unpredictable, but planning increases the chances of stability. Just two weeks before this assignment, we’d left my mother’s house and moved into our third apartment. More than anything, we craved stability. A “bogus” assignment produced the mantra that would shape my outlook. First, I added a daily calendar reminder on my phone to “build with bricks.” Next, I committed to doing one thing, no matter how small, every day to reach my goals. The past two years, I’ve read countless books and articles, filled notebooks, and most importantly, kept learning.
Unquestionably, coming to terms with the past pushes me to move forward. Analyzing The Three Little Pigs inculcated the equation to achieve my goals; namely, focused and persistent effort coupled with tenacity, purpose, patience and determination. Even with a number of stops and starts, our brick house is taking shape.