The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite children’s stories. Just like some of my other favorites, when I reflect further on its meaning, I understand more about the value of the story. One night while reading, I asked my children what they thought about the little red hen eating her bread all by herself. One son said, “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.” My other son said, “Aw, she should share her bread with them anyway. They look so sad watching her eat that bread.” That was the start of many conversations in which I became acutely aware of their stark differences.
To me, this is a story about takers. We all know them; always looking around for what they can get from a situation or what they can take. They have little awareness or concern for the impact they or their actions have on others. They have a real block to having any insight into themselves but every once in a while they will express a desire to change. This can be a seductive glimmer of hope until it becomes clear that it is only because there is something they believe they can take in return. Expressions of this desire to change become short lived; especially after someone finally figures out they are dealing with a taker.
I appreciate and relate to my child’s sensitivity when he said, “Aw, she should share her bread anyway. They look so sad watching her eat that bread.” Unfortunately, I feel less worried about my other child who said “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.” He will be better equipped to handle the takers of this world.
Some argue the takers are people who utilize government assistance. In my experience, takers are way too savvy to resort to such measures of taking. The takers I’m referring to are much more dangerous. They prey on people’s sensitivities and often blame those from whom they take. One could also argue that our economy has been built on the savvy of such animals; paying manual workers minimally yet blaming them for utilizing necessary resources. The culture of poverty is real and does include an entitled attitude, but let’s be clear. The real takers are the ones who have the power to create a new culture and choose not to.
This story is dedicated to all the little red hens.
There once was a little red hen. One day she found a grain of wheat. The little red hen asked some animals she thought to be friends, “Who will help me plant this wheat?”
“Not I,” said the cat…”unless you plant it next to this tree that I like to climb.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless of course you plant it next to the cat’s tree.”
“Not I” said the pig, carefully taking direction from the others.
The little red hen thought the cat must really love her to take such interest in where she planted the wheat. The dog seemed so cheery, she must also know of the cat’s love, so the little red hen planted the wheat next to the cat’s favorite tree.
The little red hen watched the wheat grow. Soon it was tall and golden. She asked her friends, “Who will help me cut this wheat?”
“Not I” said the cat…”.unless you pay me for my time.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you pay the cat.”
“Not I” said the pig as her knees wobbled in fear.
So the little red hen paid the cat for cutting the wheat. She was so busy cutting the wheat herself, she did not notice that the cat just lounged in his tree watching her cut the wheat all by herself.
It was time to make the wheat into four. “Who will help me take this wheat to the mill?” asked the little red hen.
“Not I” said the cat…”unless you clean up your house.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you clean up your house and put my furniture in it.”
“Not I” said the pig…”unless you do exactly as the cat and dog say.”
The little red hen was starting to read and talk to other hens about the situation that saw things differently. They told her to be careful of the cat and dog and even the pig and not to lose herself or her wheat when dealing with such animals.
So the little red hen decided to take the wheat to the miller herself. The miller ground the wheat and put the flour in a sack for the little red hen.
Now it was time to bake the flour into bread. “Who will help me bake this flour into bread?” asked the little red hen.
“I will” said the pig quickly. So the little red hen and the pig baked the bread together. The little red hen was comforted by this since she had started to learn that both the cat and the dog’s behavior were not loving at all but controlling and abusive instead. “At least the pig is a real friend” thought the little red hen.
The entire time the pig and little red hen baked the bread together, the pig tried to convince her to do as the cat and dog said. She sympathized and even agreed with the little red hen about how it felt to live under the thumb of both the cat and dog, but made it clear she would not speak up for her.
When the bread was baked, the little red hen took it out of the oven. It looked delicious. “Who will help me eat this bread?” she asked.
“I will” said the cat, as he lounged in his tree overlooking the wheat.
“I will” said the dog, as she busily prepared a very pristine nest in the cat’s favorite tree.
“I will” squealed the pig; relieved that both the cat and dog had finally agreed to help the little red hen.
The little red hen was at a crossroads. Would she share her bread with those animals or eat the bread herself? The little red hen sat by the fire as the cat, dog and pig pressed their faces to the glass window outside. She knew they were takers yet somehow still grieved the loss of them. She longed to return to the days before she found the grain of wheat and pretended not to know the truth. Slowly, the little red hen began to eat the bread all by herself. She ate as she noticed the anger well up inside of her as she thought about the cat lounging in the tree, taking her wheat while refusing to work. She felt so empty and found temporary comfort with each piece of bread. She ate as she remembered earlier times as a child when she felt so sad, confused, and rejected. She ate as she felt the fear about not being able to protect other little red hens from such animals. And she ate as she looked at the faces of the animals pressed to the glass window. When she finished eating she felt so full she thought she might burst.
The little red hen slowly began to feel all those same painful feelings; all the anger and sadness, confusion, rejection and fear. Overtime she ate less bread and even managed to use the wheat as a source of income for herself. She found herself ministering to other hens, sharing her story and her pain. Other hens began to open their eyes to the truths in their own lives. They felt much comfort from the little red hen who was now filled with so much love and compassion.
The little red hen often wondered if life would get better.
AND IT DID.