8.5.13

The Daddaist: Love You Forever

Maybe you want to have kids. Maybe you have kids already. Maybe you know some kids. Chances are, you'll one day cross paths with children's entertainment. Like anything else, there's good and there's bad. For every Where the Wild Things Are, there's Dora the Explorer. I hope to discuss both the good and the bad in this feature. But the bad is a lot more fun, so let's start there.

Love You Forever
Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Sheila McGraw

This thing starts out reasonably enough. The cover, which features a boy making a mess, may seem familiar. This is likely because Love You Forever is famous. Here's what Maria Shriver allegedly wrote about the book for O Magazine in 2001:
"I have yet to read this book through without crying. It says so much about the circle of life, youth, parenting, and our responsibility for our parents as we grow older. The message is so simple yet so profound. Love You Forever is a great gift for anyone with a child, or even for your own parents."
Keep in mind Maria Shriver was married to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here's the first page, which has a picture of a mother rocking her son:
A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang: "I'll love you forever/I'll like you for always/As long as I'm living/My baby you'll be.
Already you're suspicious, right? "I'll like you for always"? That's crazy cat-lady talk. And then there's the repetition of "back and forth". I guess I can forgive it.

Second page:
The baby grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was two years old, and he ran all around the house. He pulled all the books off the shelves. He pulled all the food out of the refrigerator and he took his mother's watch and flushed it down the toilet. Sometimes his mother would say "This kid is driving me crazy!"
This kid sounds like a monster. Is she disciplining him? Does she reward him for good behavior by singing that song over and over softly in his ear? Because that will lead a man to crime, no doubt. Also, the repetition of "grew" is offputting. Repetition in and of itself isn't a bad thing, and it's common in children's books, but something about this usage makes me wince.

A mother stalks her prey.
I'll skip ahead here. This theme repeats. The kid is an asshole as he grows older, and his mom always rocks hims to sleep and sings that accursed song. At one point, he's impersonating Elvis. He grows into a teenager, and then a man, and he moves across town, probably to get away from his mother. She wouldn't allow him to move any further than the city limits.

(Note to Moms: When your son reaches puberty -- before then, really -- DO NOT sneak into his room to watch him at night. There is no way that will end well for either of you. )

Anyway, the son is living across town now, probably getting ripped on whippets and chasing other-side-of-town tail. But his mommy misses him one night, SO SHE TAKES A LADDER, DRIVES TO HIS HOUSE, CLIMBS INTO HIS ROOM, AND ROCKS HIM WHILE HE SLEEPS. Does she sing the song? Of course she sings the song. The guy's so zonked on nitrous he doesn't even wake up.

At this point in reading this book to my daughter for the first time, I was seriously considering closing the cover and pretending it didn't exist. I didn't. "Maybe the book will turn around," I whispered to myself hopefully. I was so naive then.

So the guy gets old and has a family of his own, and I assume his wife, after years of heavy counseling, has learned to accept that her mother-in-law just climbs into bed with them whenever she feels lonely. But then the mommy calls him one day, and she's on her death bed. So the son goes and rocks her to sleep and sings that godforsaken hellbeast of a song, which finally permits the demons inside of her to find a new host body. She dies in his arms, and I'm guessing the demons flow into him, though that part is not depicted.

Not pictured: Demons
He goes home to his baby daughter and picks her up and rocks her to sleep, thus completing the cycle. It's a "Lightning Crashes" scenario. We can't see the baby's eyes glowing red, because it's asleep.

Despite how gross the book is as a whole, it's that completely unearned emotional turn that feels the most deeply wrong. It's almost as if the author was passive-aggressively trying to tell his child, "I'll be dead someday, and then you'll be sorry!" What is supposed to be a tearjerker of a moment (and works on Maria Shriver, I guess), feels cheap and hollow. This mother was devoid of boundaries or respect for other human beings. I don't want to call her a psychopath, but...oh, whatever, she's a psychopath.

VERDICT: I would never call for book burning, but the option shouldn't be off the table entirely.

7 comments:

  1. I read that book while childless, and thought "That's just wrong." Then I had kids, and realized that. although several of my perspectives changed upon the onset of fatherhood, this one didn't change: that book is just wrong.

    Jordan, you have captured the essence of this twisted piece of literature very well.

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  2. okay...laughing hard. Never liked the book either. Too sugary. Ever read, "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Anderson? Someone recommended that book to me when my girls were little...so being the good dad, i bought it and took it home for "nigh nigh time." As it turns out, this happened:

    "In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year’s sun rose and shone upon a little corpse!"

    What!?!?! My 4 year old (now 14) said, "She's dead?"

    "Yep. It was cold out there honey. G'night!"

    ~mb

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    1. Oh, that's amazing. Old childrens' stories were brutal.

      A friend of mine bought me some children's stories from Uganda. These are the titles, and they are reflective of the stories:

      "Alira and the Cannibals"
      "Mother Eats Her Son"
      "How Chameleon Avenged His Father's Death"

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  3. This book analysis reminds me of the grown Peter Pan (in the Robin Williams movie version of story) in which he completely forgets what it is like to be a kid. If this were a practical book on parenting techniques it would truly be bad, but it is a children's book. Every kid knows that a mom would never actually DO what the mother in "Love You Forever" does! That's how imaginative stories work -- you mix reality with non-reality in order to make a point. The point is that a mother's or father's love for a child can endure despite the passage of time, all sorts of challenges, changes, and even distance. It intentionally exaggerates the measures loving parents are willing to go to express their love. But it holds some excellent lessons, not the least of which are the long-term view a good parent must take on a child's life, the requirement to decide in advance to see the good in a person despite their flaws, and the benefits to the next generation when one parent loves a child for a full lifetime. Of course we don't actually sneak into rooms and rock our grown children, but in our hearts we harbor that same fondness we felt when they were babies. This is a kids book, and kids get it. The real question is: can we? I love this book!

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    1. This post analysis reminds me of a court report I had to write back in the day when I was as mental health case manager. It was about a parent who actually did everything in the book.
      I wised up and started making unannounced visits to the house and didn't find anything other odd other than noticing the parent had quite a collection of horror novels related to demon possession. The mom became aware of my suspicions and backed off.

      I haven't given up my investigation, however. Through a court order I have her I.P. address and am monitoring her activities on the Internet. I'd expect her to write posts defending the book, coincidentally, not unlike this one.

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  4. This post analysis reminds me of a court report I had to write back in the day when I was as mental health case manager. It was about a parent who actually did everything in the book.
    I wised up and started making unannounced visits to the house and didn't find anything other odd other than noticing the parent had quite a collection of horror novels related to demon possession. The mom became aware of my suspicions and backed off.

    I haven't given up my investigation, however. Through a court order I have her I.P. address and am monitoring her activities on the Internet. I'd expect her to write posts defending the book, coincidentally, not unlike this one.

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    1. Well then.

      Actually, the author, Robert Munsch, has apparently dealt with mental illness and drug use. He says he's working through those things on his website (under All About Robert Munsch). He seems like he's doing well, which is great news.

      Still, though, yeah, there's some unhealth in this book.

      http://robertmunsch.com/about

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