Jan Berenstain passed away this week. So sad. I just loved, loved, loved The Berenstain Bears as a kid. I remember being a little munchkin, laying in bed next to my mother right before bedtime every night and reading bedtime stories. I loved that time. It was special and cherished. And after reading, we’d always recap how my day was, I’d get to ask questions, we’d say prayers, whatever. It was very fluid. I think I loved that the most, that it was however I wanted it to be. It was our time.
So when I was pregnant, I remember vividly wanting to recreate that. Right before Nugget was born, The Man and I bought and were gifted many children’s books. Some I’d never heard of before, others were classics and some newly published. And so during the early months, bedtime consisted of me nursing Nugget while The Man and I read to her. Even though I knew she couldn’t understand us and always fell asleep during our ritual, it was still our special time. We went through several of the Paddington Bear tales, Goodnight Moon and Where The Wild Things Are, just to name a few. Then one night I pulled out Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I’d never read it before (I know, I know…for shame!). I’ve heard people just rave about it, talk about it like it was a family member, discuss its impact on their entire childhood and how it practically shaped them into who they are as adults. So, yes, I was a little ashamed that I’d never read it before (or at least I don’t remember it, but I’d think if it was that profound I’d actually have a glimmer of a memory about it) and finally drew up the courage to 1) tell The Man I’d never read it, 2) actually read it, and 3) read it to Nugget before she was 31. So, pulling it off the shelf, I looked forward to my grand transformation. I wondered how it would inspire me as an adult. Well, our handy dandy copy came with a CD of Shel Silverstein reading the book. Awesome! What better way to read a classic than with the author himself reading it the way he envisioned?
Well, have you read this book? Have you?! If you haven’t, let me clue you in to the horrifying realization that you are going to read one of the most depressing and frustrating tales of all time. Christ, no wonder you people were so “inspired” by it. So I’m sitting there nursing this 3 month old as The Man turns the pages to the book, listening to Shel Silverstein’s raspy voice spin a tale about the most selfish, self absorbed bastard who just takes and takes and takes from this poor tree who gives its life to this little boy turned man over and over and over again until he essentially becomes a piece of furniture. What horror! God, I cried…uncontrollably. I tried to hold it in, but just couldn’t and actually uttered, “Why did he do that?!” to The Man, hoping he’d have an answer. Surely he must’ve come to terms with this children’s tale since he’s had a couple of decades to process its message. I was just so angry…at the main character, at my dashed hopes for the book, at the emotions that were drawn up instead. Ugh, I wished I could reach into the pages and strangle that skinny jerk – the man, not the tree. I’m getting angry just writing about this.
So now I can say I’ve read The Giving Tree. I’ve read it to my lovely daughter as she drank herself into a milk coma. And I will probably read it again to her one day when she’s older, but I can safely say it won’t be anytime soon. Yeah, it’s a classic, but I wasn’t prepared to have Shel Silverstein himself tear my heart apart, throw it to the ground and ground it into dust. So, it’ll have to be another day when I subject Nugget to Silverstein’s lilting voice as it dances over the words that shape one’s moral compass. Another day…