Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Love for real

My mother in law gave me my first copy of "The Velveteen Rabbit" a few years ago. It's a lovely story for children about love that is ageless, but it is also a wonderful story for adults. A couple of days ago, when I wasn't really looking for it, I came across this quote again. 

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. 
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
 “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.”  
“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit.  
“Sometimes,” said the skin horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are REAL, you don’t mind being hurt.”  
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up” he asked, “or bit by bit?”  
“It doesn't happen all at once,” said the skin horse. “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 have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out, 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.” 
“I suppose you are REAL?” said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it – for he thought the skin horse might be sensitive. 
But the skin horse only smiled.  “The Boy’s Uncle made me REAL,” he said.  “That was a great many years ago – but once you are REAL you can’t become unreal again.”
                                                                                                                From The Velveteen Rabbit, 
                                                                                                                         by Margery Williams.
          REAL isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. I always thought of being real in terms of being down to earth and not prone to flitting off in flights of fancy. 
As I read these words, I wondered if this grief, just like the sum of all my life's experiences, are somehow making me more real. 
          When a child loves you...REALLY loves you, then you become real. Maybe for me it's the other way around. When I loved my child from the moment I knew she was here, and over time how I came to REALLY love her and how I continue to love her more and more every day, she was real and will always stay real to me. 

          Does it hurt? Oh boy, does it ever. 

          When you are REAL, you don't mind being hurt. To me the real definition of courage and bravery isn't about not feeling afraid at all, but continuing on despite being scared to death (sometimes this can be confused with stupidity). 

          Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit? When Pip died, it happened over a span of a few weeks. The first ultrasound of doom, then the second, then finally the miscarriage itself. After that I truly felt like I was at the crossroads. I had the choice of whether to stop and grieve. Or I could try to go on and grieve in little bits. I chose the later because I knew that if I stopped, I'd fall apart completely and I couldn't do that, I had a family to care for and a job to do where people depended on me everyday. Fall apart bit by bit, keep moving forward. Don't stop, or the whole world will cave in. Sometimes I can't believe myself that I was in agony at midnight from the physical pain of my miscarriage, then the next morning I was at supervision  talking about my cases and feeling emotionally dead. A part of me had literally just died, but yet there I was trying to work and carry on. One foot in front of the other. 

You become. What have I become? I can certainly feel that I was a completely different person before and I am a completely different person now, afterwards. Do I like who I have become? Some days I really don't. My husband once said to me that I'm my own worst enemy because I am extremely harsh on myself. And it's true. I do expect a lot of myself and feel like crap when I don't meet my own high standards. But most days, once I realise what I'm feeling and why, understanding and peace sink in and it's okay. Most days are good now, but every few weeks the sadness and grief builds up and it becomes a mini volcano, only this emotional volcano implodes internally. So the hurt and the pain stay inside, regroup and wait for the next implosion. It's like those children's toys with goo inside that you can squish around. The goo breaks apart and moves around in the container, but then once the pressure is freed, the ball of goo regroups and waits for the next squeeze.

It takes a long time. How long will it take to recover from this grief? How long does this stay with you? Do you ever forget? Because I don't ever want to forget Pip. Like a friend said, no one can ever tell me that she's not my first. Maybe not my firstborn, but my first pregnancy and always the first to have had my heart.

Once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. I think that I've been incredibly lucky that most of the people I've met have understood. If you want to be positive, surround yourself with people who are positive, people who will support you and encourage you, not people who will put you down and belittle you. The same principle I'm applying now to this different equation. I try to surround myself with understanding, peace and love. So far so good. 

Once you are real, you can't become unreal again. Such simple words, but such profound wisdom at the same time. This is the club that no one wants to join, yet once you're here, you can never go back and you will never be the same again. 

If you haven't read the story before, see if you can find a copy in your local library or online. If you have a smart phone or tablet, there are some awesome apps out there for this story. Some even let you pre-record yourself (or whoever is special to your child) reading it, so that children are able to virtually turn the pages and follow the story to your voice.  

Here are a few links to The Velveteen Rabbit in various formats: 

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