Friday, February 29, 2008

A Light in the Attic

Shel Silverstein. Genius! Who remembers the book "The Giving Tree"? You all MUST remember that one, right?

It begins, "Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy..." and the tree gives all of herself to the boy as he grows and grows into a greedy grown-up and eventually chops her down to a stump. And it continues from there, "And the tree was happy... but not really." Eventually the boy returns as an old man and needs a place to rest, so he sits on the stump. Again, "the tree was happy".

End of story. So was the tree really happy? Were we all destined to be greedy like the boy?

Today "The Giving Tree" makes more sense than it did when I was young - on so many different levels. When you are young, you relate to the boy, but as a parent now I feel completely in touch with the tree! I understand unconditional giving. You give and give and give every moment to your child that you can. At times I've felt like I wanted to burst from the pressures of self-sacrifice - initially it was such a hard adjustment for me and I was so angry at the world. Why did I feel like I was throwing away my former self for my kids? Why did I have to do this, and why did I feel so guilty about NOT liking the process of giving? I was happy... but not really.

Well, last night Ruby and Eloise recited a short poem to me from memory. It was a Shel Silverstein poem about taking a snowball under the covers - "and when I woke it had wet my bed" (insert goofy kid laughter). So I went and got out Myles' tattered copy of "Where the Sidewalk Ends". More Shel. We picked poems and I happily read all of these memories to my girls. At times I didn't even have to look at the words because they were pouring out of an odd memory bank in the back of my brain. It felt so good. Here were these things that I vividly remember from my childhood! These excellent nonsense poems about dogs with two tails, three guys who go for a ride in a flying shoe, and the unicorns who missed their ride on Noah's ark. Ru and El have hit the age where I will be able to share and appreciate these excellent pieces of literature, not just picture books.

The sacrifice we make for our kids has extraordinary payback. I got another glimpse of that last night - those milestones along the way, like the first "I love you, Mom" out of your kid's mouth, or the first time you realize you wish you could take on all of their pain or illness so that they didn't have to live through it, - those are the things that make being a parent completely rewarding. Recently I've been so pre-occupied with the fear of moving to yet another place, juggling Penny's schedule (or lack thereof) and dealing with financial paranoia that I've almost forgotten to recognize how mature Ruby and Eloise have become. Sharing this old favorite book gave me a small wake-up call.

Last week Eloise said, "Mom, we don't like having curly hair. We want straight hair like Sophie." Shit, I thought. This garbage already? I tell them it's not about the outside, it's the inside that counts... corny corny, I know... but to identical twins that has even more resonance.

And for another grown-up comment, Ruby told me I should return my bruised squash to the market, "like you did with the LAME pistachios." (They WERE lame pistachios for the record. Almost all of the shells were sealed shut.) Note to self: don't say things like "lame", "butt-crack", or "bummer" in regular everyday speech. Fortunately they haven't figured out that I'm the F-Bomb Mommy - at least not yet. I'll let you know when someone says fuck. (Watch it be Penelope's first word. Seriously, if she could talk I think she'd say, "GIVE ME THE FUCKING CHEERIOS! NOW!!!)

So there it is. My kids are my life. I can complain about how hard this job is day in and day out, and how I think society pressures mommies to give too much of themselves - but it is refreshing to know that even reading them a book can remind me how I'd be happy to give them the world; to let them virtually chop off my limbs, and use me as a resting place.

Infinitely happy indeed.


Elizabeth said...

Beautifully written. And, you actually returned nuts to a store? Hilarious.

Miss Nelson said...

HA! For the record, I returned the lame pistachios to Whole Foods Market... which they were fine with, and the second bag was as pathetic as the first.