“Let’s read this book, Mom,” he said, handing me The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.
Now that the Big One is 7, he reads books to me. This is new and something I cherish. Hearing him sound out words and use the punctuations to properly set the tone, I can see his growth and development unfold in front of me. In second grade, they are working on comprehension, whereas in first grade, they worked on reading the words. His schoolwork focuses on being able to recall and explain what he’s read and when he reads with me, I try to ask him questions to see how much he understands and whether he is digesting the words he takes in.
As a parent, both his dad and I have reluctantly read this book to our children. We can barely get to the part with the boy wanting a house without starting to tear up. Little Guy went through a period, around age 3, when he wanted it read to him every night. “My favorite book,” he’d say, “is ‘The Gibbing Twee’, by Silverware.” How could you not read it to someone who calls it that?
Tonight, after his brother went to bed, Big One crawled into bed with me and started to read. I wondered what type of questions I could ask him. Maybe talk about empathy, being considerate of others, taking and giving…what I hadn’t anticipated was that he understood more deeply than I could have imagined.
“Do you have any money? The boy asked the tree.”
“That isn’t very nice. He shouldn’t just show up and ask for money.”
When he got to the part of the story where the boy said he wanted a house, his voice cracked a little. He kept reading, but I could tell he was starting to cry. I promise you, it was at the EXACT same spot both his dad and I start feeling emotional. He put the book down, looked away and told me he needed to go to the bathroom. Sneaking up to the bathroom door, I heard him crying (and peeing) and sniffling. I rushed away and back into my bed before he could discover that I was listening and he came back. I asked him if he was okay. I asked him if he wanted to talk about how he felt. He said he didn’t, because he didn’t know. “Do you want to keep reading?” I asked. He did.
When the boy wanted a boat and said he was sad, Big One stopped again and just bawled. He cried and hugged me so tight and said, “Why am I crying?” I held him and said, “Oh my love, just cry.”
At the end of the story, we talked. It made him sad that the tree was always there and he didn’t think the boy appreciated it. He said he thought the boy used the tree. He said that he thought the boy was a jerk. I really appreciated his point of view, and offered that while I saw where he was coming from, I looked at it differently. I explained that I saw the tree as the parent who was always there and that the boy needed the tree in different ways as he grew and that was exactly as it should be. This may have been too much for my little Big One, because he cried even more. He told me that he would never leave me for so long and that he’d give me things since I give him things. I don’t think I could have put into words how much he had already given me. I mean, I could have pointed out that when I buy him ice cream and then he doesn’t do what I ask, he’s kinda being a boy wanting the tree’s apples, but that would have really been a jerk move. I mean, this kid GOT IT. He has empathy. He really WANTS to do nice things for the people he loves. But he’s also 7 and doesn’t fully have a grasp on his actions, nor should he. As his mom, I understand and accept that he will take from me and I will give and give and love being there for him, knowing that his appreciation may be difficult to always see. I put him to bed and after a few minutes, he came back into my room a few minutes. He asked, “could we just cuddle a little more?”
And the boy loved the tree, very much, and the tree was happy.