I think Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is the most terrifying of all the “beloved” children’s books ever written.
If you have never read The Giving Tree, I’ll have Wikipedia break it down for you:
The Giving Tree is a tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree. The tree always provides the boy with what he wants: branches on which to swing, shade in which to sit, apples to eat, branches with which to build a home. As the boy grows older he requires more and more of the tree. The tree loves the boy very much and gives him anything he asks for.
In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the tree lets the boy cut it down so the boy can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump. Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns and the tree says, “I have nothing left to give you.” The boy replies, “I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest.” The tree then says, “Well, an old tree stump is a good place for sitting and resting. Come boy, sit down and rest.”
The boy obliged and the tree was happy.
My mother used to read me this book about once a week. She read it to me so often that she’d tell other people that it was my favorite book. But, really, it wasn’t at all.
I think…I think it was her favorite book to read to her children. She would read it to me night after night because she wanted me to understand that she was my Giving Tree–that she would give me anything I wanted of herself so I could be happy. That she was prepared to do it. Maybe, sadly, that she was doing it all the time.
But no child wants to be responsible for making their mother into a stump to sit on–no matter how much that tree loves us. No child wants a martyr mother–no matter how much that mother thinks we do.
The Giving Tree teaches a false moral. It makes you think that the only way to love someone fully is to give yourself up completely and subsequently diminish and die.
But that’s not the story I read in the Bible. I read about a love that lets you give yourself up completely and subsequently become a fuller, greener, grander, taller, beautiful redwood tree.
So this is my late, anonymous Mother’s Day message to my own mom:
“I’ll never cut you down. You can offer me your love, but I will never abuse it. I will never expect you to stop growing so I can use you. I love you as a different kind of Giving Tree–one that I’ll come back and visit again and again. A big, strong, beautiful Giving Tree that gives me the greatest gift of all: an example of what it means to be spiritually whole, physically complete, and always intellectually growing.”
Happy Mother’s Day and down with that gol darned children’s horror story!