Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love You Forever

There are two children’s books that make me cry every time. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. It never fails: I get halfway through and I’m sobbing – not just a few silent tears, but a voice-quavering, choking sob that’s embarrassing in public. Which I was when I read Love You Forever to Sec at preschool drop-off yesterday.

In case you’ve never read the book, it starts with a new mom putting her baby to sleep -- she rocks him in her arms and sings:

“I love you forever

I like you for always

As long as you’re living

My baby, you’ll be.”

It’s not Langston Hughes or anything. In fact, it’s pretty corny the first time you read it. But on the next page when the mom sings the same song to her baby, who’s now a rascal of a toddler, it gets a little less corny. And when she sings it to her bubble-gum-chomping school-age kid on the next page, its not at all corny, and reaching the point of being sweet and touching.

When she sings the song to her teenager – that’s when I start to tear up. But it’s only when the son becomes a man, and moves to his own house across town, and she takes a bus in her nightgown in the middle of the night to sneak into his room and sing him the song, that I start sobbing.

This could be me. I could see this happening.

The thought of my baby boy – who, as tall as my shoulders now, isn’t such a baby – moving to his own house, well that just annihilates me. As I read this page, I am assailed by guilt at having felt annoyed when he wakes too early in the morning or bugs me for ten different kinds of snacks, or makes me watch him play video games. I have him now, nearly all the time. When he’s not in school, he is almost always a few steps away, telling me his amazing observations and corny jokes and listening to me talk about shit that I like which most other kids would be bored to tears by. One day, I’ll be just his mother, not his go-to person for just about everything. But though he’ll feel differently about me when he’s grown, I’m willing to bet I’ll feel the same way I do now, the same way I did when he was born and stretched his spindly fingers towards my chin in his first gesture of life of earth – that love and adoration for the little tiny human I ushered into the world. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I do scale his apartment building and creep into his bedroom and sing him the same lullaby I did when he kept me up all night as an infant.

I thought, for sure, the fact that I was reading the picture book in Sec’s classroom would curtail my customary waterworks, but no, they came anyway, and I felt like a maniac, wiping away tears in the book corner, while the other kids played with Flubber and Sec asked me why I was sad.

“I’m not sad, honey,” I replied, “I’m crying for joy.”

Which wasn’t precisely true, but a decent approximation of me anticipating my empty nest syndrome 20 years down the line.