In 1970, my aunt gave me a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, she wrote the date and this inscription:
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
I am sorry."
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"