Bedtime Stories

“Would you be able to babysit? Even though you have a grown-up job?”

I got a text Sunday from a friend in a bind, so of course I said yes. Monday night rolls around and I find myself kneeling by a Thomas the Tank Engine bed. His nose is red and runny, but his spirits are high and he talks with excitement in mumblings.

After I say, “Here, put this one away,” he looks me in the eye, calculates his risk, and says, “No.” Of course I make him, and I don’t even correct him when he puts the Dr. Seuss in backwards, which is a big deal for me. He picks out a second story and settles into his cozy blankets. I look at the book and immediately know what it is by its green:

giving

The Giving Tree

I want to hide it quickly under his bed where he won’t find it and make me read.

But I know it’s too late.

So I open the hardcover, its paper slipping off, and begin reading. It’s not so bad, I think, enjoying the simple pencil drawings, the smooth repetition of words. Maybe it’s not the way I remember.

He’s engrossed in the story and my face is turned from him as I start to cry.

“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.”

My voice wavered a little and I could feel him looking at me with his big gray eyes. I kept reading and the story kept going and the boy kept taking and the tree kept giving. He wanted a house, so she gave it to him.

“And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.”

By now the tears were pretty thick and I knew I should have been embarrassed in front of this boy in footy pajamas. I glanced at him – did he notice? And he whispered in a little voice, “It’s sad,” and I said, “Yes, it is,” and I wiped my cheeks and kept reading.

I finished the green book, the little old man sitting on the stump of what’s left of the apple tree, and I closed it. He didn’t say anything, but he watched me quietly, and I wondered what it would do to him to see a woman cry over a children’s picture book.

4 thoughts on “Bedtime Stories

  1. Meg

    Brought tears to my eyes — both the scene you describe and the story itself. I remember it so well — and actually have two copies, both given to me by both grandmothers (with their flowery scrawl inside each cover). Not one we ever forget.

    Reply
    1. catherine_hawkins Post author

      My mom’s friend gave me a copy when I was little, and I still have it. Really makes me think about how I treat people I love.

      Reply
    1. catherine_hawkins Post author

      It is so upsetting – but I feel like everyone has it. I know I have a copy from when I was little, and it is so beautifully written. Unsettling, though.

      Reply

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