Today I felt like The Giving Tree, and not in a good way.
In case you haven’t read it, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, is a children’s book about a tree who gives a little boy everything. When he is little, he swings on her branches. When he gets older, he wants money so the tree suggests that he sell her apples. Later, he wants a house so she offers her branches. At the end all that’s left is a stump on which the boy, now an old man, sits.
Some people consider this book sweet, but it always made me supremely sad. I saw it as the female archetype of giving until we’ve got nothing left, thinking only of others until there is nothing but a stump of our former selves. Perhaps some consider that noble. I consider it soul-crushing.
So, yes, it wasn’t until at night when I was crabby and didn’t know why that I realized that today I had been the giving tree. I got up early to run to Whole Foods for some vitamins for my kids but got stopped by my daughter who wanted me to watch a movie with her. When we finished (two hours later), I popped my head in to tell my son as I was leaving, only to find that his room looked like a crime scene with blood splattered everywhere. He’d had another one of his epic nosebleeds in his sleep. It was everywhere: all over his pillow, his sheet, his face, his hair, his body, seeped into his mattress. I spent the better part of an hour stopping the bleeding and then washing blood out of sheets and pillow cases. It was all the more shocking because he hasn’t had one of these nosebleeds in years and I thought he’d outgrown them.
When I finally got to Whole Foods, I had failed to beat the rush and I had to wander around the parking lot with all my aggressive parking-lot armor on, muscling other drivers for a spot (I hate this more than anything, which is why I never go to the mall at its busiest hour). Then I shopped for a new pillow for my bleedy-nosed son, plus vitamins to see if I can help him fend off the cold he’s got.
By then it was late afternoon. I was looking forward to a night of writing to bookstores offering signed bookplates and maybe spending some time with the kids. Just as I was settling in, my daughter got a concerned phone call from one of my ex-husband’s employees that he wasn’t picking up his phone and had failed to show up as expected to his business. When he wouldn’t respond to phone calls or texts, I drove over to the apartment, rang the bell and threw rocks at his window. Finally I decided to break into his place with the employee (no one’s got a spare key). I had visions of having to tell my children that I’d found their father dead. It is so improbable that he would not show up to his business that it seemed like the most plausible explanation. (The year I met him, in 1996, we had a three foot snowstorm in NJ. He walked five miles to his business to open up). Breaking into his apartment was easy – he keeps a key to his place in his unlocked car – and he wasn’t dead, just conked out on cold medicine. Just to give you some perspective on how loopy he was, he gave me a big hug when I was leaving… the first one in eight years.
When I got home I spent an hour using saltwater and hydrogen peroxide to scrub the blood out of my son’s brand-new mattress. (The mattress protector I’d bought a month ago to avoid just this very thing sat in its packaging, mocking me from where I’d left it and then forgotten to put it on).
Then the kids insisted on a movie night. Although we’d had one last night and although I was beat after hours of running around I said yes. I try to always say yes to them since I don’t know how much longer they’ll want to spend so much time with me. But as soon as I realized how irritated I was getting by the movie selection process, it hit me: I’d exceeded my limit of giving. I didn’t want to compromise and didn’t want to let them choose. I’d let them choose last night, and it had resulted in me sitting through two hours of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Which was fine yesterday when I had reserves. But tonight, I was nothing but a stump.
I sulked a little and acted decidedly unmotherly when my son put the kibosh on my choice. But, finally, it occurred to just tell them what I was feeling: I love them, love making sure that they have what they want, but I’d spent a whole day doing things for others and it was making me feel less able to compromise on a movie. I wanted a little me time and that involved me picking my own movie for tonight. Could I take a rain check on family movie night? They both understood so easily that it humbled me. I wonder if I am that ready understand when they are at less than their best.
As soon as they went up to their rooms. I turned to you, my little blog, and found a way to put all the feelings in words. Being a mom can’t only be about being the giving tree, with no consideration of one’s own needs. Not for me, anyway. I need a little space to let my own growth and happiness happen. Tonight, at the end of the day, I finally remembered how to do that. With the room dark, lit only by the light of my laptop, I feel my heart filling and my cares fading. I don’t know if I’m sounding good or making sense. But it doesn’t matter. Tonight, I write only for myself.