"I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my baby you'll be."
You'll probably recognize those words from Robert Munsch's children's book, Love You Forever. It's among the best-selling kids' books of all time, but it still tends to provoke very different responses among parents. Depending on who you talk to, it's either either a touching account of a mother's unending love or the ultimate example of helicopter parenting gone bad.
I admit I have always subscribed to that latter category. It pains me to say it, because I love Mr. Munsch's books. Mud Puddle, Mortimer, The Paperback Princess, Smelly Socks, Stephanie's Ponytail, Too Much Stuff: There are well-worn copies of each of them on my daughters' bookshelf. But while we own a copy of Love You Forever – who doesn't? – I've always found the story to be a little bit creepy.
To recap, the book begins with a mother rocking her newborn baby, singing that now-familiar song as he drifts off to sleep. From there the baby grows into a trouble-making toddler, a caked-in-dirt little boy, a sulky teenager and, eventually, a husband and father with a baby of his own. Through it all, every night, even after he's moved into his own home, his mother sneaks into his bedroom, pulls him from bed and rocks him while she sings him their song.
I've read Love You Forever dozens of times over the years, but today I learned the story behind the book: It was originally written as a song for the author's two stillborn babies.
As Mr. Munsch writes on his web site:
"I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and I couldn't even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was very strange having a song in my head that I couldn't sing.
For a long time it was just a song but one day, while telling stories at a big theatre at the University of Guelph, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a story around the song.
Out popped Love You Forever, pretty much the way it is in the book."
Thanks to that book, countless parents have sung that song to their own children, in different countries and different languages, in different tunes and styles. Here is how it sounds to Mr. Munsch:
After learning the story behind the story, I'm finding it hard to stay cynical. I read Love You Forever again this morning and saw it in a new light. Not as the tale of a mother who just can't let go, but as a testament to the love that persists beyond time and space, and an ode to those parents who never had the chance to rock their babies.
And for the first time, when I read Love You Forever today, I cried.
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