Thursday, April 30, 2020

"The Giving Tree" Has New Meaning Now

Once there was a tree ... and she loved a little boy.

And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. 

And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.

And the boy loved the tree ... very much.

And the tree was happy.


In 1970, my aunt gave me a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, she wrote the date and this inscription: "May your enjoyment and understanding of this book grow with your years."

I had just turned four years old.

Once I had children, I read it to them occasionally, explaining to them that this tree loved this boy so much she wanted to do anything she could for him, even if it left the tree as a mere stump in the end.
I had no idea at that point in my life how long it would take to finally understand that book.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone.

Then one day the boy came to the tree 
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money."

"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.

And the tree was happy.


I am the tree. My son is the boy. I have given him almost everything I have - sometimes I feel it's not enough; sometimes I know it's too much. I've never been neglectful, but I've certainly enabled. 
Like the boy, rarely has he come to me and directly asked for my branches, or my leaves, or my apples. He has mused about what he wants to do, and it's usually been my idea of what I can give him to make it happen. Here's a place to crash when you come home late at night. Here's food for your belly. Here's gas for the car. Here's a list of jobs I found for you. Here's a cell phone so we can stay in touch. Here's a check for your rent. Here's the cash to pay off who you owe. Here's money for this so you can spend money on that. 

The tree and me – we just don’t know when to stop.


But the boy stayed away for a long time ... 
and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."

"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "
The forest is my house, 
but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.


I'd like to think I'm more cognizant of my enabling, and therefore can control it. But can a mother ever really stop giving?

Like the tree, won't she always find SOME way to give just a little more - even if in her mind she knows she's only doing it to alleviate the debilitating pain and despair for her child that's in her own heart? Am I becoming so desperate to see my child - to have him talk to me, visit with me, hug me, love me - that I will give anything? Does the fact that I don’t want to see him suffer completely override the fact that he will never learn for himself unless I stop? Because the tree keeps giving, and that boy is still not happy.


But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."

"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away ... and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.


Right now, I feel like the tree on one of the last pages. I'm down to my stump - and my kid is still young. I've learned what enabling does to both of us, but it doesn't make it any easier to sit here and wait - hoping that one day he will come back to me - my little boy who used to just swing from my branches and eat apples.******************************

And after a long time, the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - my apples are gone."

"My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy.

"My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them ... "

"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.

"My trunk is gone, " said the tree."You cannot climb ... "

"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something ... but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump. I am sorry."

"I don't need very much now," said the boy. "Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."

"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting.
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.


Would the boy have come back to the tree if she didn’t keep on giving him something? Was sacrificing everything that made the tree a tree worth it in the end? To the tree, it was. I could like on my deathbed and feel good about the fact that I did everything I possibly could for my kid. But what did that do for him? 

The tree spent her whole life waiting for the boy so she could give him more, and the boy went on about his life not thinking about the tree unless he needed something. And it seems like whatever the tree gave the boy, it was never enough for him – and in the end he was sad and alone. I don’t think I can lie on my deathbed knowing that my enabling made my son’s life worse. The hard part is going to be telling him “no” and still hoping he’s going to come back – and that I can grow and flourish in the process.


"The Giving Tree: 2020"


Friday, April 3, 2020

The Dichotomy Between My Brain and Me During COVID-19

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am well aware that the stuff that follows is NOWHERE NEAR comparable to what our health care providers and all of those on the front lines of this crazy thing are going through. This global pandemic is some serious shit – I’m just here to do what I can – and in this case it’s just to bring some trivial, self-deprecating levity that hopefully some of you can relate to. 

That said, there’s a lot we’re having to do differently these days, am I right? And I don’t have a problem complying with the recommended best practices to help flatten the curve. However, it’s one thing to read them – it’s another to sort out the thoughts that go through my head as a result.

For over-thinkers like myself, this pandemic is full of thought-provoking land mines capable of endless rumination. For every seemingly rational thought, there is always an additional, less rational counter-thought immediately following. 

For example:

What I do: On a walk, I spot someone approaching, so practice social distancing and move off the sidewalk and into the grass.
What I’m thinking: Wait, do they think I moved onto the grass because I think they have coronavirus? Or do they think I have it because I moved onto the grass? Do they think I’m paranoid? Should I have waited for them to social distance first? Maybe I should just keep walking on the grass like that’s what I wanted to do the whole time. Maybe I’ll just skip the walk all together.

What I do: Go to the grocery store.
What I'm thinking: Can I just wipe off the handle of the cart or should I take it out and spray it down with a hose? Can I drive this thing with my elbows? How long do I have to wait for the person in front of the frozen food case to move before I blow my social distancing to snag the last carton of chocolate ice cream? Should I apologize to the cashier for even being here? And is it rude to squirt someone with hand sanitizer?

What I do: Smile and wave at my co-workers on a video conference call.
What I'm thinking: HOLY HELL is that what I really look like? I’m pretty sure I have never looked as unattractive as I do at this angle, with this lighting, on this screen, on this day. Wow – that is not a good camera angle for you, Karen. And your video button is NOT broken, Steven, you just aren't being a team player.

What I do: Get out a bunch of books I haven’t read and vow to set aside an hour a day to get caught up.
What happens next: OMG the third season of Ozark is out! Wait – what happened again at the end of Season 2? Better recap, right after I watch the latest Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and a Chopped marathon.

What I say to myself: Wow, look at all the people outside enjoying the fresh air. 
My next thought: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE OUTSIDE??? There have never been this many outside people. How am I supposed to walk my neurotic dog with this many people – even if I stay on the grass? These people need to go back inside. 

What happens: Randomly cough lightly 
What I do: Google coronavirus symptoms, take a shower and go to bed

What I’m wishing: If this had to happen at all I wish it could have been when my kids were younger so they would be home with me.
How that would have played out: After initially crushing the first few hours of isolation with homemade edible play-dough, a chore chart and plenty of flash cards, I’d subsequently be pounding a bottle of wine in the bathroom while my kids watch Finding Nemo on repeat and eat marshmallows for breakfast.

What I’m thinking: I wish I could go out to a happy hour or see a band with a bunch of friends. 
What I’m thinking, follow-up: Because now I have nothing to flake out of when I’d rather stay home. 

What I'm thinking: This would be a great opportunity to eat healthier and try to cook more. 
What actually happens: Breakfast: four cups of coffee and a freezer-burned cinnamon waffle. Lunch: Lean Cuisine and a Jell-o cup. Dinner: Seven rolls of Smarties and a six-pack.

What I say to myself: I should really make some face masks. Or maybe make a Tik-Tok video. Or fill out one of those Facebook lists. Or deep clean my house. 
What I actually do: None of these things. 

Like I said, we over-thinkers are now in overdrive – because it’s so easy to do. Just look on social media – for every fact, opinion or suggestion there is a counter-fact, counter-opinion and counter-suggestion. I guess all we can do is do the best that we can to stop the spread, and that’s stay home, wash our hands and try to keep our sanity until we can get back to life as we know it once again.

Hang in there, my friends.