Becoming The Giving Tree
I thought I had hidden it well enough. I shoved it in the back of the bookcase and it had been successfully out of sight for nearly two years. But they have no compunction about such things at the library. These disturbing works of literature are just out on the shelves within the reach of the youngest patrons. The bright green cover seized my daughter's attention and before I knew it we were checking it out. The Giving Tree was back.
I have always hated The Giving Tree. This classic book by Shel Silverstein is about a little boy who grows into an old man, taking and taking and taking from an apple tree. First he takes the apples to pick up some cash. Then he cuts down the Giving Tree's branches for a house. Then WHACK! Down goes the trunk for a boat and the Giving Tree is nothing but a stump. Which he comes back later and sits on for a rest.
The misogynistic creep never once uttered a single word of gratitude. And yet at every turn the Giving Tree is "happy." I say that is clearly a tree in need of some serious therapy. And that boy is in need of some hard-core sensitivity training.
As a mother, there are many days where I feel like I'm the Giving Tree. I spend my day running around in demented waitress, cook, nurse and cruise director mode. I referee disputes, manage egos, bite my tongue fifty times, letting only a few inappropriate things slip. I carry a child down the stairs who runs up them nightly. I rescue toys from under a bed that either daughter can crawl under without getting stuck halfway. I attend to the needs of this family of Leos who spend the day roaring their demands all over the land until about 9:00 pm until at last they are all asleep and I...
...I am a stump. And I am so not "happy."
I'm ready to pick up my roots and skedaddle to some other orchard where I'll be watered and fertilized. Where my fruit will be prized, my long branches admired, and my thick truck appreciated.
I'm just not good at this Giving Tree thing. I thought it would come naturally as a mother. But I had no sense how much I'd need to give. My cluelessness is undoubtedly the result of a long life without children.
No other generation has had so much 'me' time before becoming parents. Our generation has had the luxury of truly choosing the commencement of parenting. For those of us who delayed bringing a new life into the world, we now have to contend with habits and natures built on a foundation that doesn't involve a whole lot of giving. With the exception of a few thousand Peace Corp volunteers, the rest of us have been the little boy, taking from the Giving Tree, completely oblivious to its love and generosity.
We focused on important things with all of our energy and resources—and these things were very important B.C. (before children). Cars. Hobbies. Designer Clothes. Careers. Lives of complete strangers (aka celebrities). We spent weeks mulling over choices, days discussing the latest trends and hours sharing the juiciest bits of gossip.
When children arrive all these seemingly vital activities fade from our lives until we find ourselves behind the wheels of mini-vans or their carefully disguised equivalents, wearing anything that came out of the dryer in reasonable condition, talking on the phone about soccer schedules, and boxing up our collections to set them out for the next yard sale. Because now it's our turn to become the Giving Tree. Now is when we begin coughing up the apples. And branches. And soon, a trunk.
Some of us are better at being Giving Trees than others. Some of us… Okay, so I'm a rotten Giving Tree. I struggle more often than I like to admit with the role of relentless giver.
Then it happens. My daughters, perhaps sensing the impeding root rot in their Giving Tree, suddenly begin to transform the orchard. They make me laugh, help fold clothes, put away dishes and cover me with hugs and kisses. They take my spirit in their hands and toss it into the air like leaves, giggling as they catch me in their arms. They say "Thank you Mommy, you're wonderful" and even though I taught them to say that as a joke, it still feels good.
On those days by 10 pm I don't care if I'm a stump. Heck, I don't even realize I'm giving. I'm just mom, a mother of two wonderful daughters and being a Giving Tree seems like the easiest thing in the world.
Until the sun rises and it begins again.
I've come to realize that "happy" for a Giving Tree and a Mother is not about comfort and relaxation. Happy is about having my little ones run beneath my branches, sheltering them in my shade, tossing out a few apples and, in the end, giving all that I have.
Slowly I am learning to be a Giving Tree. As I'm trying to teach my children a sense of gratitude for all the giving that surrounds us, I am learning that this level of giving is not something we know how to do the moment our children arrive. Like gratitude, giving is something we have to learn.
I guess I'll dig out The Giving Tree
from our bookcase. Maybe, if
pencil in an occasional "thank you, you're wonderful" I'll feel just a
little better, at least until I get the hang of all this giving.