just before bed, every night, with Oscar all cozy under his blanket and his baby doll and stuffed rabbit in his arms, we read Guess How Much I Love You or Goodnight Moon or some other board book with little animals heading to bed. the Boynton one if he’s particularly giggly, the “goodnight little mouse” one if he’s been sad and needs a little extra last bit of sweetness to carry him off to sleep.

tonight, though, i left the animals behind, went for a slightly bigger book, thinking we’d change it up a bit, read something we’d never read before.

this moment of parenting genius didn’t precisely result in a bedtime story, per se, but in Oscar’s mother’s total breakdown into a hulking, gasping, weeping mass of snivelling snot.

i tried to read him The Giving Tree. aloud.

there was snorting and nose-wiping, then whole pages read in hoarse whispers with long pauses between sentences as i attempted to collect myself. then outright sobbing and honking. night night, honey. mummy’s just going to go bawl/collapse/slit her wrists now. a comforting picture, i think. just what the toddler set needs before sleepytime.

i knew better. the very first time i read The Giving Tree was to a class of kindergarten kids. i was a green young childcare worker who’d never seen the book before, but thought the line drawing of the tree on the cover compelling. i picked it off a shelf, perched in the middle of a semicircle of four year olds and proceeded…and then collapsed into a sobbing heap halfway through, gulping “and the tree…blubberheave…loved the BOY!!!” until little hands were reaching out to pat me and mercifully, the damn story was over.

apparently the fifteen years in the interim haven’t toughened me up any.

it’s a confusing book. it troubles me. the tree in its welcoming vulnerability breaks my heart, and the presentation of the boy – who is “the boy” throughout, though he becomes an old man before the story is ended – seems intentionally pitiless, leaving room for one to wonder if perhaps if the tree hadn’t been so goddam selfless if the boy might have treated her better in the first place. i have never figured out if Silverstein meant it as a paean to the love that marks parenthood at its best, or a cautionary tale about sparing the rod…or even if it might not be about parenthood at all, but about love and forgiveness and human-ness in general. the story is flawed, i think, but i cannot figure out exactly where. and yet, in the way it encapsulates what it is to love and the need to love, the satisfaction and sorrow in loving for its own sake, it is also one of the most melancholically beautiful books i have ever read. i bought it for Oscar for his first Christmas and inscribed it so, though i knew we were years from reading it together.

we are, apparently, still years from reading it together, unless i want to spring for therapy for post-traumatic-bedtime-syndrome.

what i want to know is, if you’re familiar with the book, what do you make of it? can you actually read it aloud without melting into a puddle?  if so, are you simply made of stone or are there other books you can’t get through without boohooing like a faucet?

i think tomorrow we’ll return to the Boynton books. or maybe Long Day’s Journey into Night, or something cheery.