The Pain of Real

“The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”

"Anxious Times" Original illustration by William Nicholson.
“Anxious Times” Original illustration by William Nicholson.

The littlest boy (who is not so little anymore) was trying to fold himself so he could fit in the opening my crossed legs made on the bed. I was calling it my lap, but I realized this was a misnomer. It was the absence of my lap. He tried sitting cross-legged. Then on his heels. Then legs out. Finally, we were ready to read.

Our household copy of The Velveteen Rabbit belonged to my husband when he was younger. The cover is torn in places. It’s been on the boys’ book shelf since they were babies, but it never got much play. It’s because there are so many words and so few pictures. Because no one wants me to read it, I haven’t read it much in the last 20 years or so.

Tonight, I had a special request. I asked, “Are you sure?” And then a few pages in, “Are you sure you want me to keep going?” He was.

Sometimes when I’m reading, a line or a paragraph will leap off the page into my consciousness like it’s never done before. That night, these lines hit me hard. I teared up. Choked up. I could barely get out the words while my poor son was sitting there with his head nestled under my chin: in full Read to Me mode.

These uncomfortable things

I started this post almost three months ago. I stopped writing because it was uncomfortable. It hurt. It seemed pointless (and still does). I have 30 minutes to finish it because I need a deadline to set down my ideas from months ago or else they will bob around in my head, surfacing as anxious recurrent thoughts forever and ever.

That night, I pulled myself together and finished reading until the happy ending. Then I sat down here and wondered why those lines had made me lose it. The pain of real. I was experiencing it. I was living it. But at that point, reading to little Ian about to be 5 and not so little, a veil lifted and I saw all that lay ahead. The shabbiness, losing his eyes, his whiskers. Being uncomfortable and scared and lonely. Maybe even hungry or cold. Facing loss. Death. The pain of becoming real. The striving. The wanting it so badly — to grow up! to be big! to do it ourselves!

I wished so, so hard that I could spare him from going through these sad uncomfortable things.

The longing

I know this is the crux of parenting, the rub of motherhood. Feed them, clean them, protect them so that they can grow up and leave and survive and fend for themselves. But never before had I seen so clearly what Real is going to be like, what it could do to them.

After my brother’s death, I’m shabbier and duller. My heart is heavier and I am wading through stuff I never wanted to wade through. This Real is hard; it’s not magical. This is the point, I guess. What doesn’t kill you, etc. But what if it does kill you? I have to ask.

That’s why I cry when I read children’s stories. They are truths written using simple words and pictures. Even an idiot can understand.

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2 thoughts on “The Pain of Real

  1. Thank you for your beautiful reflection on the Velveteen Rabbit–have a copy too that we often read to Sarah and Matt-maybe it is time to dig it out again–growing up – maturing, healing is the road less traveled–challenging to navigate and not meant to be done alone—David moved on too soon-his loss and the grief are honored in your writing Love you!

  2. Yes Sarah the Real is hard and you expressed it in a language which I understand so well. I’m so happy that writing gives you a place to be and you do it so well. It’s an old friend,
    love, Mom

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