A lesson from 'The Giving Tree'

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I have always disliked "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 to later and rests upon.

What bothers me most is that the guy never once utters a single word of gratitude. And yet, at every turn the Giving Tree is "happy."

In my opinion, that tree is clearly in need of some therapy. And that boy should receive some hard-core sensitivity training.

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Yet, as a mother, there are many days when I feel as though I'm the Giving Tree. I spend my time running around and serving as waitress, cook, nurse, and cruise director. I referee disputes, manage egos, andbite my tongue 50 times, letting only a few inappropriate things slip through.

In the morning, I carry down the stairs a child who runs up them each night. I rescue toys from under a bed that either daughter could crawl under without getting stuck.

I attend to the needs of my family members, who spend the day roaring their demands all over the land until about 9 p.m. when, at last, they are all asleep, and I ... I am a stump. And sometimes 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 cared for: a place where my fruit will be prized, my long branches admired, and my thick trunk appreciated.

I'm just not good at this Giving Tree thing. I thought it would come naturally to me as a mother. But I had no idea 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 choosing the commencement of parenting. For those of us who delayed, we now contend with habits and natures built on a foundation that doesn't involve a great deal of giving.

With the exception of the thousands of Peace Corps 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 things with all of our energy and resources, and these things seemed very important B.C. (before children): cars, hobbies, designer clothes, careers, eventhe 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 those seemingly vital activities fade from our lives until we find ourselves behind the wheels of minivans 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 old collections to set them out at the next yard sale.

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.... OK, so I feel as though 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 impending 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 really good.

On those days, I don't care if I'm a stump by 10 p.m. 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.

Mother's Day will be one of those days. I'll get a little extra attention, my apples will be prized, my branches will be adored, andmy trunk will get some rest. 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 parents know how to do the moment our children arrive. Like gratitude, giving is something we have to learn.

So I guess I'll dig out "The Giving Tree" from our bookcase. Maybe, if I 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.

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