What do you expect in return for your love?

Fascinating discussion with my daughter yesterday that finally made me understand what I’ve always disliked about Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. (If you’ve never read this classic children’s tale, buy a copy and do so now. Or at least watch Shel’s somewhat abridged reading of it on Youtube here.) It’s not that the boy in the story gets more and more selfish and mean and defeated as the story progresses, or even that the tree seems to give and give without ever getting anything back other than hugs when the boy is small, and a bony-rear-end companionship when the boy’s an old man. That used to bother me a lot, that one-way relationship. Oh yeah.

But as my kids are almost old enough to leave home and my daughter is asking me just what she is expected to give back for all the things she has received from her parents, I realize with a jerk that what her parents want, more than anything else, is her health and happiness. Yes, her love, expressed in word and gesture, means worlds. Yes, her contribution to the smooth running of the home while she lives here is also valued. And her laughter, her insights, all the wonderful things a loved one can share. And if she couldn’t give any of that, we’d still want (I hope) for her to have a healthy, fulfilled life. We’ll give her apples and branches, we’ll even endure getting carved up a bit in the process and count that a small price to pay. Shel got that so right.

But the trunk? And staying in one spot, cut down to an unmoving, abandoned stump while your kid goes off to have a life? What’s a matter wit’ you? Get yer own life too! You think you stops livin’ just cause you’re a parent now? Come annnn!

Of course we all eventually get old and give up pieces of ourselves bit by bit. And will we still love our kids even as we’re on our last gasp, just withered old stumps? I hope so.

So maybe Shel got that part right too.

Jeez, you think there’s a reason his story has lasted?

 

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