Thursday, November 29, 2012


My first introduction to poetry occurred in the second grade. Mrs. Stoutenburg captivated all thirty of us as she read aloud from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. I fell in love with the silly lyrics and fantastical drawings, and I imagined what it would be like to have my own pair of dancing pants.

Mrs. Stoutenburg had Silverstein’s entire collection. When I finished my school work, I would ask to look at the books on my own. “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” (would not take the garbage out) became an instant favorite. I remember asking my teacher if the poem was actually written about her since she had “Stout” in her name. She laughed and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I always took out the garbage when my parents told me to.”

I still had my suspicions.

My affection for Silverstein’s poetry never faded. I decided long before I entered adulthood that someday my children would also own his entire collection. When I became pregnant, these books were some of the first items I added to my baby registry. Today, four of his famous works sit atop Quinn’s dresser, squeezed between nursery rhymes and bedtime stories.

Among them is The Giving Tree, a sweet, yet sad, story about a little boy who befriends a tree. Recently, Quinn noticed the book’s bright green cover standing out among the others on his dresser, and he asked me to read it to him.

It’s now one of his favorite stories. “Tree?” he’ll ask and point to the book. “Hide and seek?” he’ll say and I’ll turn to the page where the boy and the tree are playing Quinn’s new favorite game.

At not quite twenty-one months old, Quinn is still too young to really understand this story. Or maybe he understands more about the story than I think he does. (I’m continually amazed by how much Quinn knows and understands.) But he loves it just the same.

If you’ve read The Giving Tree, I’m sure it holds a special place in your heart and memories as it does mine. If you’ve never read it, it’s a rather heavy book, and I don’t mean it weights a lot.

The boy and tree are the best of friends, but as he gets older, he stops coming to play with the tree. As a young man, he comes back and tells the tree he wants some money, so she gives him all her apples to sell. Then she gives him all her branches so he can build a house. Then she gives him her trunk so he can build a boat and sail away. At the end of the story, the tree is just an old stump with nothing left to give. Until the boy, who is now a very old man, finally comes back and she offers him a place to sit and rest.

As the title suggests, it’s a story about giving and what it means to truly love.

Reading this book to Q reminded me of that quote – if you really love someone, you will give them everything you possibly have to give. And if they really love you back, they will never ask you to.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but I like the sentiment. It makes me reflect on my relationships and ask myself if I am the boy who takes too much or the tree who gives everything she has.

As an adult, my rediscovery of The Giving Tree has compelled me to give more. I hope as Q grows up with this book – and sees the examples that his father and I set – that he is also a giver. Yet, I don’t want him to give so much that he becomes a stump.

With the holiday season upon us, we’re already in the spirit of giving. We give gifts all wrapped up with pretty bows. We send cards with merry family photos. We may even increase the charitable donations and volunteer hours we give this time of year.

But that’s the easy part.

This year, I’m paying extra attention to my own give/take ratio, and not in the form of presents. I want to give more of my time and love to the people in my life. I want to give more phone calls, more laughter, more hugs, more kisses, more memories. They need to know how much I love them all year long.

To the friends I have neglected lately, I am truly sorry. I’m done being the boy and ready to start being the tree.

Side note: Why does Shel Silverstein have to look so sinister in all his back cover photos? One would think that the author of children’s poetry would attempt to look less scary. His face kinda gives me the heebie jeebies. 

Pouring my heart out with another fabulous Shell today over at Things I Can't Say