Supermodel Chrissy Teigen’s voyage into new motherhood has been glorious to witness. When she isn’t sharing beautiful photos of her infant daughter, Luna, on Instagram and Snapchat, she’s giving the world an unvarnished glimpse into the mind of a new mother via her Twitter feed. And no subject is out of bounds: Teigen has tweeted about the joys of postpartum peeing, the wonders of breastfeeding, and (most recently) the existential crises that can come from reading a certain childhood classic. For those not following her online, Chrissy Teigen’s tweets about The Giving Tree are a pretty funny look at the kinds of worries that can keep a new mom occupied into the wee hours.
As a new parent, sharing books from your own childhood is almost a rite of passage. But I’ll go ahead and admit that The Giving Tree isn’t my favorite for bringing on warm fuzzies and nostalgia. I first tackled the story as an early reader back in the '80s and just couldn’t understand how a person could be so self-centered when faced with a beautiful tree that just wanted to give them love and happiness. Apparently when Teigen tried the book again as a new parent, she was just as disturbed.
For those who need a quick recap, the 52-page story is about a boy who meets the sweetest, most obliging apple tree in the world and manages to manipulate her out of her fruit, her branches, and even her trunk. “And the tree was happy,” ends the award-winning book by Shel Silverstein.
And Teigen isn’t alone in being confused about the moral of the story. According to a New York Times book review, in the 50 years since the story was first published, critics have been split over Silverstein’s message: should The Giving Tree be taken as a commentary on how humans ravage the environment, an analogy for the social welfare state, or what happens when unconditional love goes wrong?
Teigen's above point is fair. But then one of her Twitter followers pointed out a common interpretation of the story’s message, that the tree and the boy are meant to parallel the relationship between a mother and a child. And, like it has for many moms, the realization may have actually sent Teigen over the edge.
In her column for the Times’ Motherlode blog, Lisa Belkin explained why so many find that interpretation disturbing:
The book preaches the extremes of parenting love. And the extremes of anything are not a good goal. Parenting should not strip and denude, but rather jointly fulfill. The parasitic part is supposed to end with pregnancy. After that the point is to teach a child to make his own way in the world.
That Silverstein's classic could be about the dangers of raising a selfish kid is troubling enough. But in her tweets, Teigen landed on a point that (one way or another) haunts almost every parent. “I get it. I am the tree. Luna is the old man,” Teigen wrote. “But what if she doesn't get that and thinks all her friends are trees?”
To put it another way, what if Teigen's sweet angel grows up to think that she’s allowed to take what she wants from others without considering their needs or feelings? These are the kinds of existential questions that can keep new mothers wide awake at night, trust me.
Silverstein was a fan of ambiguous endings, so it’s unlikely Teigen would get much consolation from the story itself. I mean, what parent isn’t secretly afraid that by giving in too much or being too permissive, they’re giving their kid the wrong impression of how the world works? Teaching kids to be compassionate and empathetic is essential to helping them become fully functional adults — and if that goes wrong, oh man.
Still, one of Teigen’s followers, Adam Stovall, was on hand to offer some good advice: “Existential dread that your child may turn out to be a sociopath is truly the mark of a good mother,” he replied to Teigen.
And that made her feel a little better...at least until the next secretly-existential children's story.