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Stories Written for Children (That Might Have Been Intended for Adults)

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, Nov. 23, 2015
tags: books that haunt me

The Giving Tree, Story and Illustration by Shel Silverstein

I remember reading along with certain children's books that became very near and dear to me as a young kid. Over the years, I revisit the story and it begins to take on a whole new meaning as my perspective shifts to a different character's point of view. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a beloved children's story with a hidden message that continues to haunt me to this day.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the tale of the apple tree that had an inordinate, unconditional love for a little boy that it offered to sacrifice each part of itself from the apples, to the branches, to the trunk, to the stump, then it would behoove you to stop reading this article right now and waltz into any bookstore to read it in one go.

When I was three-years-old, I could relate closely with the child as I was relatively carefree and would spend many days resting under the shade of trees and imagining the experience of being able to swing from branches. As the years passed, I eventually left home when I needed to study for school and I could continue to empathize with the main character as he began asking the tree for assistance through apples and shelter (this translates to the need for room and board). I remember calling my mom one afternoon in tears saying, “I finally understand the message of ‘The Giving Tree’. The boy was in college and the tree is his MOTHER!” And suddenly, something clicked inside me. By the time I was twenty four years old, I began reading the story from the perspective of the tree and that was when I started to detest the little boy. I wanted to change the title of The Giving Tree to The Taking Boy. I envisioned adding a final chapter to the end of the book where the remains of the old man get buried close to the tree allowing the tree to receive nutrients, and it would be the moment when the boy finally paid the tree back for everything with his own body.

In my opinion, the true meaning behind The Giving Tree was no longer a story about unconditional love. It was a story about unhealthy giving and a boy who continued to take and take until he killed a tree. It was at this point in my life that I tried to distance myself from the boy's character and labeled over-generous people, similar to the tree, as enablers who did not know when to stop giving.

I love revisiting children's books as an adult because many of them contain messages that go over a young mind's head, but can still make sense to a grown-up.


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Z74 at 7:22PM, Nov. 23, 2015

I guess I got a different message from that book , to me it is about giving without expecting anything in return . The tree gave everything it could and in the end it was content with the fact that it was able to help the boy . That is how I feel about my relationship with my children , I don't give to them with hopes of anything in return , and I am just happy that I have something to give . Now I agree that children should help their parents when they are older and hopefully if I live long enough to become feeble they will , if I raised them right . But a gift given expecting something in return is not a gift , and a gift that is easy to give has little weight or meaning , the gift that is hard to give , the gift of ones self , expecting nothing in return , is the one that counts .

usedbooks at 6:04PM, Nov. 23, 2015

True enough. We are in an age where parents are making more money retired than their offspring can make full-time (or elders who can't retire and youngers having no jobs available), with or without student loan debt. Kids are expensive.

KimLuster at 11:58AM, Nov. 23, 2015

Hey Usedbooks, yes, you're right that, historically, adults often lived with parents, sometimes even after they were married... What I meant by 'the times we live in' is that in the past, having children was an investment in your own future. Your children, from a very early age, would help with chores and jobs. They were 'free labor' to help with farm-work and family business, and when you got older, it was their duty to care for you. They were your life insurance. The more children you had, often the better off you were going to be. Nowadays this just isn't true. Children are much less likely to follow the 'family business', and cannot be counted on to care for you when you get older (now it's off to the nursing homes). These days, you do NOT have children as an investment in your own future. In fact, the financial drain makes your future a little harder. Rather, personal fulfillment and/or a sense of obligation are the reasons. If that's not enough - don't have 'em! Ha!

usedbooks at 10:26AM, Nov. 23, 2015

That said, I don't think it's "the times we live in." I used to, but after working in historical places and doing genealogy research for people, I have learned that a hundred years ago, adults (adult women especially) lived with their parents and/or siblings unless they got married, and only about half of them got married. Of course, women didn't work then, so independence was nigh impossible. However, generations still lived together and supported each other, under one roof until the house was full, then on other houses built on the same land.

usedbooks at 10:21AM, Nov. 23, 2015

As a thirty-something living with my parents, I feel this. I am so grateful for their help and also feel guilty all the time. I thank them nearly every day, and my mom just gets weepy and says she wants me there as long as possible. I told them when I can finally stand on my own, I want to build them a home on my property and take care of them. I am finally making some advancements only with their help. Without it, I'd still be on minimum wage and probably need food stamps like some of my friends (fellow college grads drowning in debt). My parents assistance allowed me to do volunteer work and get needed experience to find a position in my field.

kawaiidaigakusei at 8:31AM, Nov. 23, 2015

Thank you for your words, Kim. Truly wise advice. I have spent the last few years giving back to the trees in my life and I am sure they appreciate it. Gratitude is a characteristic that comes naturally to some, but cannot be forced.

KimLuster at 7:26AM, Nov. 23, 2015

That said, I have absolutely no regrets having and raising children. Seeing them grow, learn, fail and then succeed - these are joys that are impossible to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it. And hopefully, when they reach a certain age and a bit of wisdom kicks in, they will realize what you did, and they will thank you! Mine have, and that makes it worth it. So, don't feel too bad for the Tree. Those gnarls and knots, dried roots and leaves, some Trees choose that! Like old battle scars - it's a deep satisfaction!

KimLuster at 7:19AM, Nov. 23, 2015

Having had a couple kids of my own (and three step-children through marriage), I feel I'm qualified to speak from the Tree's perspective. They absolutely do drain you! Unless you are rich and can dump them off of Nanny's and boarding schools, children will consume your time, your resources, your life (this is under the assumption that you're actually trying to be a good parent)! Your hobbies, your dreams and goals, will take a backseat, and maybe disappear altogether for a decade or two. And unlike older times, in the modern world, children never really give it back. They are no longer your life insurance, your free farm-hands... They will go to lead their own lives largely separated from yours. The resource flow is one way - away from you. But it's not their fault - it's the times we live in... (cont...)

bt01 at 4:02AM, Nov. 23, 2015

Speaking of alternate endings for "The Giving Tree", here's the actual UNEDITED final page which actually rings truer for me personally.

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