Rewrite: The Tough-Love Giving Tree

Rewrite: The Tough-Love Giving Tree

I was six years-old the first time I realized that life would not always stay the same. My mother and father had talked during dinner about their college experience, and how difficult it was when their parents left them so far from home. Even though the story had a Disney ending, I was traumatized.

I went to my bedroom and began to cry. When my mom checked on me, I told her that I never wanted to leave home. My  mother, being the eternal realist, didn’t go with the “Hey, you’re six years-old so I’ll tell you that you don’t ever have to leave home if you don’t want to.” Nope, she went with the factual but more emotionally bruising response of, “Well, honey, you will age and you will have to leave home. But it’s not all that bad. I wouldn’t have you all if I hadn’t gone out on my own.”

Since I did not see my sister, brother and I as wonderful assets, this made me cry even harder. I didn’t want to age. I didn’t want responsibilities.

And now, in retrospect, I’m not so sure that crying was the correct response. I should have sobbed my guts out

Nobody told me that aging was much more “The Giving Tree” than expected.

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 And was I the only person who had to take an antidepressant after reading Shel Silverstein’s little ditty about a beautiful tree that gets slowly hacked away by a selfish little bastard?

So, I reread the book this morning and decided to rewrite a few things. The first stanza is directly from the book. The rest is mine:

The Tough Love Giving Tree

Once there was a tree….
and she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree….
very much.
And the tree was happy.

But soon college came,
And the boy left with friends,
So the tree got a cell phone,
and the boy called her regularly.
Then fall break came and the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, “Come, Boy, bring your friends
and play football under my branches.”
“Okay, ” said the boy.
“But we will need some funds for snacks.
Can I get some money?”
“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but hellz no.
I have only leaves and apples.
And you have already shriveled my apples
And the veins in my leaves have gone bad.
You have school and friends,
While I have root rot.
So make your own money, and you will be happy.”
And so the boy got a job at school
and made his own money.
And the tree was happy.

The boy left college and went to work . . .
And the tree redecorated his bedroom
And partied a lot.
But she missed her boy,
So she used her cell phone
And bugged the crap out of him.
And the boy came back,
and the tree shimmered with joy and said,
“I’m so glad you’re back.”
And the boy said, “I need money for gas,”
And the tree smiled and said,
“Fine, my boy. Just rake my leaves.”
“I am too busy to rake your leaves,” said the boy.
“You talkin’ to me?” said the tree.
And the boy raked her leaves,
and the tree was happy.

More time passed, and the boy returned.
“I have a wife and children,
and I need a house,” said the boy.
“Well, said the tree, “I do have my branches.
You could build a house from me.
Then you would be happy.”
So the boy came back with a saw
and a series of blueprints, and said,
“Tree, are you ready to be my house?”
And the tree stood up to its full height,
smiled with love and said,
“Are you freakin’ kidding me?”
That’s called symbolism. Go buy your own house.
It will give you pride,
and then you will be happy.”

The boy built the home,
and raised his family in it,
while the tree counted the years
that he’d been gone.
After many years he returned to the tree and said,
“My teeth can no longer eat apples,
And I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.
And the tree reached down
Surrounding him with her branches and said,
“Age is a bitch, honey.
Just rest right here.”
And the boy did.
And as he leaned against the tree he said,
“Tree, your trunk feels extra firm.”
“Thanks, honey,” said the tree
I’ve been working out.”
And they both fell asleep
And they were happy.








  • Jackie DeMuro

    Shel Silverstein would be proud, I think. Or, he’s rolling in his grave. Either way, I enjoyed it immensely 🙂

    • Donna Highfill

      Thank you so much, Jackie. And I’m pretty sure rolling in his grave is the correct choice.

  • Lisa Weinstein

    Om my goodness Donna I loved this! It was both funny and poignant! As I cry every other day at the thought of my baby going off to college in 2 years, I could so relate to everything!!!

    • Donna Highfill

      Thanks, Lisa! This one was fun!!

  • Anna

    Ha ha ha ha! Loved your poem.

    I remember when my grandfather died and how devastating it was to my father, aunts and uncles. It was devastating to me but in my young adult mind, he was old. He had lung cancer and it ate his very being. I left home at 19, ready to take on the world. I didn’t worry. Then my grandmother died and I watched my father sob that he was “no longer anyone’s son”. That hit me. Hit me harder than anything had at that point. What happens when your parents go? What are you? Still, I had my parents and life went on.

    Other family and friends passed and although I mourned, my own mortality refused to come out of the closet. It stayed tucked away behind last years dresses like the prom dress you wore decades ago.

    Then my mother died. That changed things a little. Then my father began to talk about how old he was, how tired he was becoming and how now, at 72, he often has nightmares about dying. Again, that hit me. Hit me square in the chest. He can’t die. He’s my dad. He’s my hero and the Indiana Jones of my life (before I knew who Indiana Jones was).

    I was that little bastard in the original poem and while I’d like to think that I never thoughtlessly hacked away at a tree, perhaps I’ve yet to really sit beneath the branches and appreciate the tree.

    In grade school we had to memorize the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer. I’ve known it by heart since then and I admit I still giggle inside at the “breast” part (yeah, yeah I know, immature).
    So in honor of parents and growing up and growing older and hopefully wiser, here’s to trees…and parents:


    I think that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.

    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

    A tree that looks at God all day,
    And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

    A tree that may in summer wear
    A nest of robins in her hair;

    Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    Who intimately lives with rain.

    Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.