Thursday, May 11, 2006

Real. The Skin Horse. Parenting.

I was struck by the skin horse. Rubbed bare by love. His eyes dropped out. He was vulnerable and open. He didn't care how he looked. He had been loved. Real doesn't happen often to people who have "sharp edges, break easily or must be carefully kept." A catch 22. Is that fair? You must be loveable to be loved.

It might be more helpful to look at it from the perspective of parenting, your child will not become Real unless they have been loved. Parents who have sharp edges and break easily cannot cultivate Real. You must be patient, flexible, honest, open, vulnerable and resilient. Being aware of your own emotions, having the vocabulary and the empathy to understand where other people are coming from. The long process of becoming real. It's protective sharp edges that keep people apart. An interesting prescription for parenting.

I remember the cover of the velveteen rabbit from my childhood, but nothing else really. I read it at age 7 (I think) and must have struggled through the antiquated language. After reading it to elliot in one sitting and watching how it really engaged his brain, it hit the spot for him. We've read it twice now. It's good to take it in through an adult perspective.

"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 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."

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