Read It and Weep?
Brought to tears by a children’s classic
By: Clarice Joos
There are some classic favorite bedtime stories that, when you read them to your kids, take you right back to when you were the one snuggled up in footie pajamas. “Goodnight Moon,” “The Velveteen Rabbit,” and some of the Little Golden Books (“Pokey Little Puppy” for me), are all sweet trips down milk and cookie lane. But recently, I read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to my three-year-old son for our first time. Maybe I should have read the book jacket synopsis more carefully beforehand… “Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy… Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk… and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave… ” basically until the tree had nothing left but a stump for her beloved boy, now an old man, to rest on.
This bedtime story led to tears… mine, not my son’s. I haven’t had this kind of reaction to a children’s book since I was a child and Charlotte died and left Wilbur thinking he was alone in the barn. It happened again a second time, and, surreptitiously wiping my eyes, I put the book away deciding it was too disturbing for me, but not quite able to verbalize why it affected me so strongly. Luckily my son didn’t notice my tears… he was too busy un-tiring himself by turning around in circles until he fell down dizzy and laughing.
It wasn’t until a couple of days ago at a friend’s wedding, philosophical from the romance of the day and from my second dirty martini, that I had what I’ll call my revelation. There was the newly-minted groom, my friend’s new husband, dancing the obligatory mother/son dance to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” when it suddenly hit me with blunt force that I am… and all mothers ARE, the Giving Tree. From the very first moment of meeting in the delivery room, we begin a relationship of diminishing returns. This very grownup groom’s mother once changed his diapers, gurgled and giggled with him, and she was his world. The sun rose and set over her, and he lit up at the sight of her, just like my one- and three-year-old sons do now for me. And I realized that just like this groom, one day the sun will rise over someone else who will be the center of my boys’ world. Sure, I’ll always be Mom, and, like I do with my mother, maybe we’ll talk on the phone once a week with occasional visits. But if I do my job right and their worlds expand, I will become a smaller part. Yet, I will love them exactly as much as I do this day, this moment, and have since the very first moment of their lives. And I would give them my last leaf.