Weekends are hard for us because we have three kids under five (and apparently schools frown on you dropping your kids off there when it’s closed).
One weekend was particularly grueling and involved an ill-fated trip to Six Flags where I carried a 45 pound three-year-old on my back for five hours straight and heard nothing but whining and complaining about our refusal to buy them $10.00 kettle corn the entire time.
Here we are, trying to do something nice for the kids and all they can do is bitch and moan about it and demand more, more, more.
We we’re winding down from this exhausting day at the theme park when my son brought over a book to read: The Giving Tree By Shel Silverstein.
If you are not familiar with this classic, it’s about a boy who “loves” a tree. And by “loves,” I mean that he takes the poor tree for all she’s worth and then keeps coming back for more.
The tree starts out beautiful, hardy and robust, complete with leaves, apples and branches. As the years go by, the tree slowly sacrifices her body and soul for this little brat as he relentlessly demands and depletes all her precious resources.
He’s all too happy to greedily seize everything she has without even the least hint of gratitude. By the end of the book, the tree is left as nothing but a tired, worn-down stump.
I remember reading this book as a child and thinking what a sweet story about giving.
Now reading it through the lens of being a parent, I had a completely different take on it, and it gave me pause.
As I was reading it this time around, something dawned on me. Although this may or may not have been the author’s intent (he never clarified)- THIS BOOK IS A METAPHOR FOR PARENTING!
I AM the fucking Giving Tree! This book is the actual story of my life!
I give and give and give and these kids take and take and take. Just like the tree in the story, I am always happy to give more, and my kids are always quick to take more.
The boy took all the tree’s apples, wood and leaves so she was left as a barren version of her former self; exactly like pregnancy, childbirth and parenting has done to me.
My body and sanity have been decimated and disrespected in permanent ways I never even dreamed possible. But, I’m glad to do it to bring those three darlings into the world and watch them flourish.
All I ask for in return are some measly hugs and kisses, but half of the time they won’t even grant me that small favor.
About the only thanks I’ve gotten was when my son accused me of being mean and pointed out that my stomach is vvvery squishy.
Thanks for that, son. Oh, and by the way, you’re welcome for giving you life, buying those expensive sneakers you’re wearing and that lollipop you’re eating. I could go on. The feeling of being utterly unappreciated is overwhelming.
The tree and the kid are trapped in a co-dependent (some might even muse, borderline abusive) relationship — with the self-centered boy as the compulsive taker and the tree as his constant enabler.
Even if we don’t like to admit it, being a parent does turn you into a little bit of a martyr.
Do I want my kids to grow up spoiled? Absolutely not.
But growing up is hard so I am happy to give my kids my apples, leaves and resources to make their journey a little more bearable. Sometimes, at my own personal expense.
I don’t know that they are even aware of or will acknowledge all I am doing for them. But, that’s just the way it goes.
It’s pretty obvious that the tree loves this boy unconditionally and simply cannot help herself, just as we love our kids in the same way.
As parents we see our kids through rose-colored glasses and just can’t help but adore them so dang much that we are all but happy to oblige their (sometimes bratty) whims.
We never learn the tree’s real name as she’s only ever referred to as “tree.”
I often feel like I have no identity other than “mom.” I vividly remember the day my son found out I had a real name. To him, my sole function is being his mother, so he was shocked that my name isn’t actually Mom.
The Giving Tree should be required reading for all new parents, so you are aware of what you are getting yourself into: be prepared to give all you got and expect no thanks for it.
But here’s the thing: I think even if I had been warned, I still would’ve done it anyway thinking my kid will different.
But here’s the other thing: THEY WON’T BE.
Children (especially teenagers) are inherently selfish.
They view their parents as a means to an end of providing things for them. I’m not saying kids don’t love their parents.
What I know for sure is that they will take advantage of your loving kindness every chance they get; just like we did to our parents.
I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing; it is just the natural cycle of a parent/child relationship. Only once they have their own kids will they realize what selfish bastards they were.
Just this week, my mom was over for dinner and my young son was acting demanding and entitled about a toy I wouldn’t buy him.
I sat there in horror and exclaimed that I could not believe he was acting like this because I had raised him better.
I may have even spouted some BS about how I never acted like this. My mom just sat there saying nothing but wore a smirk on her face that said it all.
Clearly, she was enjoying this.
Despite the tree being rendered a useless stump, the book declares in its final line, “the tree was happy.”
So, if the old tree is any indication, I guess I know what my future looks like: after decades of being ravaged by these children, I will be reduced to the existence of hollowed-out stump, a useless shell of my former self.
There I will sit, (hopefully in an upscale nursing home – I figure they at least owe me that much) reliving the glory days of when I had leaves and apples (and a flat stomach).
Just like the story, I will no doubt just be happy for my adult kids to come visit me and sit on my stump.
Hopefully by then, they will be parents themselves and I will be comforted by the knowledge that their own kids are giving them pay-back for all they gave me.
But mostly, I will be elated that they are experiencing the divine bliss of loving someone so purely and wholly that only being a parent can elicit.
Maybe they will finally give me that long-awaited thank you I’ve been pining for all these years.
Or, more likely, maybe they won’t.
That’s okay too because I didn’t do it for the accolades (although I am still patiently waiting for my #1 mom medal to arrive in the mail).
Just the simple gift of their presence will make my little mom heart jubilant.
Because, if we’ve learned anything from the story, that is what parenting is all about.
This post originally appeared on Sammiches & Psych Meds