Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.
-Margery Williams “The Velveteen Rabbit”
My baby shower theme was a “children’s books” inspired party. It encouraged everything exciting about literature that I remember as a child: getting lost in stories, believing in the imaginary … lives and treasures as illusive as the words themselves on the pages. There was magic on the shelves of my bedroom, worlds waiting to be discovered. The world was written in words, on pages, and those connected my childhood dreams with adventures and travels I sought in adulthood. Books and stories left an imprint on my heart.
At my party, in addition to the wonderful and generous well wishes and advice, I received books instead of cards with inscriptions inside from the previous owner who kept the book’s pages well loved. Many of the covers themselves brought back instantaneous memories of the story’s contents. Some of the pages, folded, torn, or colored with crayon. The smell of some of the books immediately reminded me of staying up late with a flashlight with my sister, reading to each other with our faces super close to the middle of the book, whispering so we didn’t wake up our parents.
One of the books in the pile at my baby shower was, The Velveteen Rabbit.
I will admit I had to read it again in adulthood to remember that the tale of the sad bunny was in truth a despondent recount of all things… including scarlet fever? In hindsight, this story known by most to be a classic, was in so many ways a horribly downhearted story. However, it seems more like an allegory of real, true love than anything else. I’ll never forget reading the story; I picked it off the shelf randomly, on a night I knew I would need more than a few pages to calm the screaming baby that wanted nothing to do with calming himself down. It was exactly 3 days after I returned home from the hospital with my son, and exactly the first time I had sat with him in an old creaky rocking chair, which was an heirloom from Sweden. Generations before me had sat and been rocked in this very same chair.
As I opened the pages for the first time in years, (with my inevitably bloodshot tired eyes) I was overcome with emotions of sadness, loss, and grief. Why in the world had I picked such a terribly sad story to read? Major oops. Then, I read it. I read a few lines so profound that I was immediately reminded of how much power words and stories can have:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “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,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often 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 your 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. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I had become real, in that very moment. It was one of the rare moments you have in life where you exist outside yourself, where you look and see something you hadn’t before. I realized that I was real. And as trite as that random sentence sounds, I wonder if as you read this, if you can remember a moment when you yourself were made “real?” I wasn’t defined by motherhood; it was never my identity, and it has never been the intent of my existence. But, in some ways, and on some days, I feel more real than I have ever felt before. Motherhood seems to do that to me; it makes me do all the things and feel all the feelings I never thought possible. These feelings have occurred through my son; I have become as real as he loves me.
There’s a magical thing about stories. Whether they are written in a book you have read before, are part of a conversation you have with a friend, or perhaps even part of a blog post translated through a stranger’s experience … there’s magic in all of it. Stories allow us to evolve outside of the experiences we live within; we get to be transposed into something that might only make sense in a fantasy. Stories connect us to each other, and more importantly, to ourselves.
As I sat in the rocking chair that night, I was real, and I felt compelled to write this story for others to read.
The best thing about stories is that it doesn’t matter whether they sit on the shelf collecting dust, or get read out loud, or shared on social media, or whispered in the middle of the night (with a flashlight illuminating the room) … real stories last forever.