Duty-Bound Chick

I’ve been reading and enjoying Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. Her words have struck many responsive chords over the past week or so, and I’ve often found myself thinking, “That’s me!” or in some cases, “That was me.” This afternoon I’m thinking of the author’s take on the Little Red Hen, a.k.a. Jayne.

When I was a younger mother, we often had family meetings about various daily living issues. A recurring topic was the unequal division of labor within the household. I did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chauffeuring while the others (especially the children) contributed very little to the smooth running of the household. To make matters worse, they often whined when asked to clean their rooms or heaven forbid, clean off the table or fold clothes.

Evidently, despite a background in psychology, I had not yet learned the truth of “What you allow will continue,” a phrase I often see on Facebook these days. To make matters worse, I had undoubtedly been overheard saying, “You teach people how to treat you,” in my classes, and yet I had failed to see how paradoxical that was in my own home. I had taught everyone to treat me like one of my favorite and cutest children’s book characters, the industrious little hen.

In meeting after meeting, we talked about this sweet, giving little birdie. She repeatedly asked other barnyard animals for help, but they were always busy or disinclined. No one even wanted to go to the mill to turn the wheat into flour. I can still see her picture in one of my daughter’s books, scarf flying in the wind as she drove her little red convertible around the curves on her way to the mill. Elizabeth still occasionally says, “There’s a Little Red Hen car,” when she sees a red convertible.

But I digress. Do you remember the story? When the Little Red Hen returned from the mill, no one wanted to help her bake the bread. Accustomed to sacrificing for everyone else, she slaved away in her little kitchen making loaves of delicious, aromatic bread. When the bread was ready to eat, the sleepy cat, noisy duck, and lazy dog were eager to help her devour the tasty treat.

But the Little Red Hen said NO. She had had it! Enough was enough. Why should she continue to work so hard and do so much for individuals who never helped or appreciated her?

After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s discussion on this busy little creature, I had to laugh. I have been that hen! She represents Every Woman who has ever felt taken advantage of. (I know that she also represents other types of people too, but this is my story). Despite resentment, fatigue, stress, and latent anger, some hens (er, women) continue to ALWAYS put others’ needs first. According to Kidd, they’re letting themselves be martyrs. They need to come back from the mill and say NO once in a while.

Truthfully, I already knew all of the above. But I enjoyed Kidd’s  reminder that women need to think about themselves too. They need to treat themselves well and practice the commandment to love themselves as well as their neighbors.

I have more to say about this duty-bound chick, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Right now the little red hen part of my psyche is nudging me towards some laundry and grocery shopping. But how about it, Ladies? Do you need to back off a little from others’ demands and focus on some of your own needs?

Love Letter on the Beach

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I took a quick beach walk before heading home Monday and an elderly man approached me with a smile, a folded piece of paper, and the words, “Here’s a love letter from your Heavenly Father.” A little surprised, I simply replied, “Thanks. I always like hearing from Him.” The exchange didn’t even take ten seconds. He went his way, and I went mine, and yet….

That’s what I put on Facebook early this morning as I was comparing my surroundings of today to those on Monday. Working on end-of-semester journals and portfolios in my little hideaway above the garage is just not quite as awe inspiring as “da beach.” Ah well, the sea and sand beckon, and I shall return soon.

In the meantime, let’s get back to the opening paragraph. A Facebook friend and writer whose work I admire said she wondered whether women passed out such letters to men who were walking alone on the beach. Truly, I got a good chuckle out of that one. The thought of it is preposterous (to me anyway). In no particular order, here are some reasons why I can’t see a woman, regardless of age, distributing religious literature to single men on the beach.

1. She wouldn’t be presumptuous enough. I might be overstating this, but generally speaking, women aren’t as anxious to solve all the problems of the world. Scholars who’ve written about gender differences in communication say that we womenfolk use language to forge relationships, to nurture, and to make things “all better.” Men, on the other hand, communicate to solve problems, offer solutions, and take care of business.
2. She’d be so happy to get a few moments of quiet solitude and reflection, a respite from cooking and cleaning that she wouldn’t want to spend it approaching strangers. Many (not all of course) men get up, get dressed, and head out the door. Women usually tidy up a bit, especially after preparing breakfast for the family or starting a load of laundry.
3. She’s probably at home ironing, washing the frying pan, or homeschooling the children. While this reason sounds a lot like the second one, it’s different. The second reason implies that the woman wants solitude so much that when she finally gets it, she doesn’t want to puncture it by approaching strangers. The third reason implies that a woman is too busy to stroll along distributing literature.
4. Women aren’t as well known for proselytizing. Yes, there are women ministers, missionaries, and spiritual leaders, but their roles are more restricted than those of their male counterparts.
5. She knows it wouldn’t be a good idea. Even on a public beach, there are sleazy folks.

Yes, my writer friend’s question gave me much pause for thought. I still don’t have the definitive answer of WHY. How about you? If you’re a woman reading this, would you approach a single man on the beach and give him a letter from his Heavenly Father? Why or why not? And to any and all, would you find it stranger to be given such a missive by a woman than by a man?