Little Red Riding Hood and Other Precocious Daughters

I have a very precocious daughter. I love her deeply. She is like a little mirror and sometimes that mirror shows good things. Other times it reminds me of the utter torment I put my mother through as a precocious daughter once upon a time.

She is smart, sharp as a whip and often times impresses her father and I, and all our family and friends, with the way she will matter-of-factly dole out her opinions and reasonings. She is deeply logical, wants to know the “why” to everything, and always, always thinks she’s right.

And she is, very often, wise in her own eyes.

She is in kindergarten and therefore not a fount of wisdom, but there are times when she truly believes herself to be the wisest person in the room. While this diva-esque trait is sometimes applauded by people around her, it makes it very hard to be her mom. She resists correction on everything.

Exactly like me.

I too was the kindergartener who would tell my mother why she was “actually a little bit wrong,” and spread my wisdom amongst my siblings, deeply offended when the world didn’t bow to my will and whims. On the days when I feel like ripping my hair out because she just refuses to comply, I have to remind myself that my mom somehow managed to raise me without going bald.

And God still manages to love me despite the many, MANY times I have gone my own way. He uses many methods to draw us to Him, to mature His disciples, and sanctify our hearts. Last week, I was privileged enough to see Him work in my daughter’s heart and to taste some of the delicious fruits of classical education.

After our not-so-very-good-and-horrible day last Monday, we had an equally tough Tuesday. While one daughter was doing a fair job keeping a good attitude, the other was not. All belligerent. All wise in her own eyes. All “my way or the highway.” I ended up having to stop the entire school day to sit with her, lecture her, and read Proverbs to her (verses I vividly remember my mother reading to me). I did everything in my power to not throw myself out the window in frustration. All my efforts were met with a stiff upper lip and absolute defiance. We talked at length about what it means to go your own way, how we want to go God’s way instead, and what these things looked like in our hearts and actions. I was pretty sure that nothing was going to get through, that the kid just did not care about following God, and I was exhausted. I can’t force my kids to be Christians, I can only show them Jesus. But golly it would be easier if they were just born with a love for Christ!

In our church Bible study, we just started doing an overview of the Bible. Last week, we began looking at Genesis and we talked about the Fall. My little girls, tired from dance class, coloured in the pews as they listened to what our pastor was saying. And I didn’t realise how well they had listened.

By Thursday, school was going very well for the little Waters girls. One of the things I like to do with them is read them a fairytale, have them retell it to me, and then let them draw it. Thursday’s story was Little Red Riding Hood. They both loved this one and both retold the tale with great gusto. While they draw out the beginning, middle, and ending scenes, I generally putter around the kitchen and prepare lunch. This day, however, precocious daughter had much to say.

“Mommy, when Little Red Riding Hood left the path, she went her own way, right? And her life wasn’t good, right?”

“Right. It’s a picture of what happens when we don’t follow God’s way.”

“Just like Adam and Eve.”

That wasn’t the connection I thought she was going to make. “Okay, tell me how?”

“When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they went off God’s path and then they couldn’t live in the garden. Their lives weren’t good anymore.”

“Good! You’re right.”

Every fibre of my being wanted to make other applications for her. “And isn’t this just like how your day went yesterday when you went your own way?” “Did you have a good day when you were wise in your own eyes?” “How did going off the path make you feel?” But I didn’t. She was working it out for herself and making connections.

I thought back to my reason for reading fairytales to my girls. The horrible Hurricane Matthew destroyed all the notebooks where I kept my CiRCE notes a few years back, but Vigen Guroian’s breakout session about a child’s moral imagination and the gospel hidden in fairytales still rings in my mind as vividly as if I was sitting in the Texas hotel in 2010, listening with rapt attention as I saw Cinderella in a whole new light. A Guroian quote from a different lecture has become my theme for teaching. “Education is not just about learning skills; it’s about making virtuous persons. It is about cultivating the child’s soul so that she is a temple fitted for the Holy Spirit.”

That is the goal of this homeschool experiment. That’s the goal of motherhood. On Friday, my daughter bounced out of bed, running to my room before she had even changed out of her pjs. “Mommy!” she all but sang. “I’m read to not go my own way today! I’m going to stay on the path!”

And do you know what? She did. All day. The lessons from the Bible and fairytales sank down deep into her heart and she took the virtuous path. Incidentally, she did better with all of her school work as well, applying the idea of the “right path” as following directions and listening to instruction. I have never been more thrilled in my life.

A longtime lover of classical education, I’ve heard the great thinkers from the CiRCE Institute talk about poetic knowledge for most of my teen and adult life. Andrew Kern describes it thus: “It is an intuitive knowledge of the nature of things, but the reader may not always–or even often–be directly aware of what he is learning or how he is being nourished by it. Poetic knowledge removes the reader from the realm of pragmatism (love of power) and lifts him to the realm of genuine ideals (love of virtue). By presenting models of virtues, training the intellectual virtues, and nourishing poetic knowledge, classical literature cultivates wisdom and virtue in the student.”

I was a precocious daughter who became a great reader. Through fairytales and literature and my mother’s fierce determination to not just teach me, but cultivate holiness in me, I have become a precocious daughter of the King and a reader who finds His image everywhere. As I continue to teach my daughters to read, I will also continue to tell them stories. May God use me as an instrument to grow their poetic knowledge and keep their imaginations sharp enough to understand how Jesus works through all manner of tales.

Now… let’s see if we can stay on the right path this week!

The first two panels of the Little Red Riding Hood drawing. The second panel features a sad flower who is watching Little Red disobey.

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