Reciprocal Love

I love Shel Silverstein’s poetry for kids. It’s fun and insightful, and I read his poems to my classes all the time. Yet I am confounded by one of his books called “The Giving Tree.” On the simplest level, it’s the story of the relationship between a boy and a tree. The boy plays with and climbs the tree, then starts using the tree for resources. The tree gives and gives, and the boy always returns, but only to take. For some inconceivable reason, this makes the tree happy, at least until the boy builds a boat and sails away, finally making the tree sad. (I think I would feel relief.) Eventually the boy returns, and when he does, so does the tree’s happiness. From what I remember, it continues in this vein right up to the end. People love this book. They tout it as a wonderful example of unconditional love. I hate it. I think it’s a horrible story about selfishness and codependency. It’s a terrible book for kids. Could I accept it as a tongue in cheek book for adults? Maybe. But as a book for kids? Never.

Which brings me to the question posed by The Daily Prompt: How far would you go for someone you love? How far would you want someone else to go for you? 

The answer has changed as the years have passed. I used to be more willing to give of myself, of my time and my money, like the poor tree in the book. My bar was set pretty low, and I gave more than I received. Unlike the tree, however, this didn’t make me happy. It made me feel unloved and taken advantage of. My friends talked, but did not listen. Others in my life required favors, but were not there when I needed them. Eventually my bar inched up until for a while I just stopped giving. They were baffled, but I felt less like a doormat. Does this mean my sense of love is not as refined as the tree’s, that I’m incapable of unconditional love? I’d like to think it means I’m smarted and wiser than the tree, and capable of looking out for myself. I have come around and found a way to be there for friends and family in a way that works for me.

Of course the relationship is different for children, but only to a point. I have watched my four lovely little creations enter this world with a spark of life. Like any good mom, that was a time when I would absolutely go to the moon and back or fight any intruder to the death for them. As they grew, their needs became more wants than necessities, and I had to regroup and see what I was willing to give and what I expected in return. This is where the tree and I part ways. She never expected anything in return. She never taught the tree where the boundaries in a relationship were, and that’s an unkind thing to do to the child. I will absolutely help my kids in times of trouble, but only when I am the last option, and even then I require their appreciation. I will help them brainstorm their way out of trouble before I intercede financially or otherwise. I now have adult children who talk about caring for us in our later years, so I know this tough love was the right approach.

I would go to the moon and back for the people I love, but only because I know that they would do the same for me.

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