Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Giving Up on Calvin


My daughter, who is in Kindergarten, just put on her first musical called "the Three Piggy Opera." Cute, right? 200 parents crammed into the multi-purpose room with camcorders, and smart phones, and DSLR cameras, and made digital memories of the great event. I chose to sit and listen.

Now I had always understood the story of the three little pigs as something of a cautionary tale, so I was surprised to hear in the overture,

"Each of the piggies did work very hard,
work very hard,
work very hard. 
Each of the piggies did work very hard 
to build a house
with a pretty green yard."

Ummm, what? Isn't the three pigs supposed to be a thoroughly Calvinist tale? Two little piggies decide that they would rather sing and play than learn masonry and sweat it out in the sun, and they very nearly pay with their lives for their foolishness? Young children, be ye not so foolish, etc. Hard work is consonant with salvation.

Of course, the story continued to deviate. The piggies didn't make bad choices in the building materials department of the Home Depot. Instead, each little piggy ran randomly into peddlers who happened to have something they could use as building materials, and they took what was made available to them. Huh.

If you are wondering whether or not I was the only parent in the room to notice these discrepancies, the answer is yes. Or anyway, Eleanor's friends' parents seemed puzzled when I brought it up. This probably didn't do wonders for our capacity to hang out together in the future. Really, I'm generally more fun to talk with than this makes it sound.

(Then after the show, I had a crisis, because although school wasn't technically out for another half hour, the teachers were clearly done, and the aftercare wasn't open yet, and I am apparently the only asshole who is expected to be at work Friday afternoons? And none of this was communicated in the weekly newsletter, so I hadn't planned for it. It sucked.)

But as I was driving back to work, late, I thought more deeply about the artistic liberties taken with the Three Piggy Opera, and it occurred to me that the author was (probably inadvertently) portraying a much more accurate view of the world than the original story. All the piggies did their best work with the materials available to them. It wasn't laziness or foolishness that made them easy prey for the wolf. It was bad luck. They took what was available at the time that they needed it, and despite their best efforts to turn their materials into workable homes, two of the three failed. 

I'm not going to blame the Three Little Pigs for my youthful idealism, but I believed (far longer than was warranted, given my experience) that if I was smart enough and worked hard enough that I could achieve anything. How that notion eventually got thoroughly beaten out of me is a very long story for another time. It strikes me that perhaps now is the right time in Eleanor's development to ditch the Calvinist morality tales. Truth is that you do the best with what you have, and sometimes you fail and sometimes you get lucky. End of story.

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