Immersed as I am in the world of books for young children, I’m interested to see which books hold Winnie’s attention just as much as I remember them holding my own. Even more, I’m interested to see which books I enjoyed as a child that I can now enjoy on deeper levels as an adult.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one such book. This book has been a favorite of Winnie’s for some time now. Before she could say the full title she used to call it “Money,” because she loves the scene in which the boy asks the tree for money and goes away with arms full of apples to sell. Now, she asks for it by name and sets it on her lap, reading it to herself, to me, to her animals, to the ever-patient Mystery dog. Admittedly, Win’s version is much abridged but it retains some of the essence of the original. It goes something like this: “Once, tree. Boy come! Eat apples. Tree happy. Time, bye-bye. Boy older. Come boy! Tree sad. Come boy! Boy sad. The end.”
Is this a book about two friends growing apart? About unrequited love? How tragic a character is this tree, who seems to exist in a world without any others of her kind (although she does say, “the forest is my house,” which suggests that, somewhere, there are other trees – why can’t she keep company with them?), and who is in love with a boy, or with the idea of the boy used to be. She gives away every part of herself, gaining nothing except the possibility that her giving nature might bring the boy back to her someday. How sad must she be when she thinks that she has nothing left, that the boy would have no reason to come to her again.
Can’t she understand that people must grow and change? Does she expect the boy to remain a child forever? She does. She calls him “boy,” even when he’s so old that his teeth are gone. She doesn’t see him, only her memories of him, only who she wants him to be. Ah, love.
And how sad this boy, whose expanding horizons at first seem exciting. Going to the city, wanting things…. money, a house, then, finally, a boat to escape all the things he has wanted and obtained. His life becomes more complex and less bearable, until, finally, he is so weary from it all that he finds himself content again to just sit with his old friend.
Come to think of it, perhaps this is a story about parenting.
I think of this now, as I rock Win to sleep for her nap. Sometimes, Winnie changes so much, so fast, that my mind can not keep up. I feel foolish calling her “baby” when I see my little girl running through the park, pointing out that the trees are naked.
Accepting these changes in her would be more difficult if I didn’t feel hopeful that I could grow right along with her, that our relationship could change as it needs to. I am not rooted in one place, always pining for what used to be. I am glad, now, that she can run and talk. We can communicate, make jokes, even argue. This morning, she took her book and sat in the grass amongst the leaves. After reading for a few minutes, she looked up and saw me watching. “Mommy, sit right here,” she said, patting the ground next to her. Inviting me to do something with her, I thought. This is new. Next thing, she’ll be calling me up and suggesting that we meet for a drink.
This relationship we have is always shifting, and changing. It feels both as solid as the earth itself, and as changing as seasons. I’ll long, surely, for what has been. I’ll want to hold her in my lap far after she has any interest. One day, I will be lonely for her, as the tree is for the boy. One day, I will hope that what I have to offer her is enough to keep her returning to me.
I wonder if I’ll be able to enjoy our relationship, always, in all its present and future forms. I think I will, assuming enjoyment can live with lots of other emotions, such as wonder, longing, sadness, and pride. I want her to grow into the person she will be, and I know she can’t do that without leaving behind some of who she is, some of who we are together.
As Win said, paraphrasing Shel, “Time, bye-bye.”