Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Do you remember the children's story "The Velveteen Rabbit"? It is about a stuffed bunny who lives in the nursery with a little boy. He is a newcomer to the nursery, and he is befriended by a "skin horse" (a type of rocking horse), who has lived in the nursery for generations.
One day, the Velveteen Rabbit asks, "What is Real?" To which, the skin horse replies:
"Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."*
Meet the Velveteen Dog. Her name is Molly. We got her six weeks after we got married, only days after we learned I was pregnant with our first child. She has been with us for nearly eleven years, through four jobs, two law degrees, three moves, two children, and numerous other pets. She patiently and devotedly watched over our babies, letting them put their fingers in her nose, poke her eyes, and pull on her ears without a single protest. She guarded them while they napped on the sofa, and gently steered them away from the fireplace and the swimming pool. They both learned to walk by holding onto her fur while she carefully made her way around the room. Our youngest even shared her rawhide bones (but maybe the less said about that, the better). As the boys got older, she played with them in the front yard and swam with them in the pool. She kept them company at the park and made sure they didn't go too far out in the ocean when we went to the beach. At night, she put them to bed, staying with them until they fell asleep.
But Molly is old now. These days, she's a little slow getting up off the floor. Her face is grey and her fur is not as thick and shiny as it once was. Her eyes have grown cloudy, and she seems to have trouble finding us if we wander too far from her. She'd rather nap on the sofa than swim in the pool.
The babies she raised are big boys now. They go to school and play sports and sleep over at friends' houses. They are noisy and rambunctious, and when they tear around the house with their friends, she gets nervous and huddles in another room, shaking.
But those who know her, know the truth: Molly is Real. Her boys have never known life without her. They have loved and petted and played with her every day of their lives. We all hope that she will be with us for years and years longer, but the adults realize that this is unlikely. One terrible, sad day, we will wake up, and Molly won't. On that day, I hope I will remember to tell my children that it is okay: "Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."*
*from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco