It’s a routine, both before nap and before bedtime, that I read Micah books. I like this part of the day, so if Nico the baby allows, we linger over them, working our way through a generous stack, making funny voices, adding commentary, looking at the pictures. When the lights go off, it’s time to sing, cuddle, and recount our day. Micah tends to revel in this one-on-one time with Mommy and he doesn’t object to putting off sleep.
The other day I added Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to the stack for the very first time. For those who don’t know the classic, there’s a boy and a tree, and the tree loved the boy. They play and are happy, and then the boy grows up and goes long stretches without thinking of the tree, and every time he comes back he needs something, and so he takes and takes, and the giving makes the tree happy. Sort of. But she longs for the little boy who used to play in her branches, and so there’s sorrow.
I’ve read the book plenty of times in my life, but I’m not sure I’d ever picked it up since becoming a parent. The other day I was just in the mood for something out of the routine.
So I was reading happily along when I got to the part where the boy says he is too big to climb and play and out of nowhere I was just completely overtaken. The words pulled a lid off feelings that have only been gently simmering beneath the surface for months, and they all just bubbled over.
But let me digress. It’s been hard these days. There’s at least a few moments – sometimes spans of an hour or more when it’s HARD these days. I mean, like everyone’s crying all at once, myself included. I have flashes of envy for friends with more freedom, friends without kids who wake up naturally on weekends, enjoying languorous mornings of brunch and coffee that gets finished. They do things like surf and read novels on the beach. They can pay attention while friends talk rather than wonder where the next small object, hot surface, or sharp thing will next rear its ugly head or fret about the fact that there are two wipes left in the diaper bag and we’re overdue for a poop explosion. And they can get in and out of the car in well under five minutes without need for negotiation, conversing with Lightning McQueen the toy car, or frantic searches for dropped shoes or cups. And not one tear is shed. Normally I’m the sort of person who honestly doesn’t want a thing for Christmas, but I’ve been thinking about how wonderfully luxurious it would be to just have a day alone. Or, no, one perfect childless weekend, with one day to myself and one day with my husband. That would make the most exquisite Christmas present, it makes me cry just thinking of the sublime perfection of it. I know I sound melodramatic, but I’m not even being sarcastic right now. It seems like such an impossible fantasy.
But then I got to the part where the boy says he is too big to climb and play, and I remembered that this is it, we’re in it now: that tiny sliver of time right at the beginning where there are these glorious bursts – many each day – of the purest, most selfless love I’ve ever known. It’s easy to get swallowed up in the rest of it: the willfulness and tears and spit up and poop. But The Giving Tree reminded me of the transience of it all, the preciousness, the simplicity. We don’t recognize the sweetest of times when we’re in them, and once gone they’re irretrievable. And God, the love of a mother for her child has got to be one of the strongest forces on earth.
So, I had to pause while these quiet tears are streaming down my face, and Micah’s confused little face catches me, and I tell him how much I love him, and he probably thinks, “Yeah, yeah, get on with the story.” So I did. But I felt a little more grateful, a little more sad, a little more tender for the rest of the day.