Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Real at the Ballet

We have had a lovely day today. We attended a ballet. Even with Jasper along it was nice. We saw The Velveteen Rabbit, which is one of my all-time favorite stories. I had the book when I was little and I very strongly believed in nursery magic. I was certain that my toys came out to play whenever I turned my back.

I don't know why but I have an exceptional memory. Well, not if you're asking me what day it is or what we had for dinner last night. But as far as remembering my childhood goes, I remember way back and I remember details. I mean waaaay back, as in crib memories. Anyway, my dad took my sister and me to a toy store called Toybox. My mom says I was 5 years old. I saw a silver teddy bear - a big one. He was up on the top shelf. We had been told we could pick out a toy and I decided I wanted that bear. My dad didn't think the bear was a good idea. First of all, he was on the top shelf. Second of all (and I can totally relate to this), he thought stuffed animals were useless and I already had 100 or so....

"Why don't you take this truck? Or this football?"

My dad liked to pretend I was a boy.

Eventually, he talked me into the dump truck. He was very enthusiastic about it and I succumbed. And I was actually quite happy with the truck and played with it for a good portion of my childhood. However, as soon as we hopped into the booger green Oldsmobile and hit the road, I began thinking about that bear. I'm pretty sure I began whining about the bear. Okay - crying for the bear. By the time we arrived home I had named him Powder Puff. I couldn't live without him. I cried so hard and so long that my parents gave in (there must be a hereditary gene for that). My dad told me that we would go back to the toy store the next morning to get Powder Puff.

I felt like an expectant parent. I began readying my room for Powder Puff's arrival. He would, of course, be able to call shotgun on sleeping in my bed.

The next morning I was up early and we headed back to the toy store. I ran through the door, looked up at the tip top shelf and Powder Puff was gone! The clerk said someone had bought him just after we had left the day before. Surely, a shiny silver bear would appeal to many children. I was devastated and heartsick (and possibly somewhat spoiled). The clerk pointed to the bear sitting next to the empty space. "We have this one," he said. Well, there was a big bear sitting up there. He had dust on top of his head ( I remember the clerk trying to dust him off) and had been sitting there for quite some time. He was not a sparkling silver. He was (gulp) burnt orange. He and I looked at each other. I was sad, he was hopeful. It was a match. We took him home. I decided I would still call him Powder Puff. I remember that the first night I had him I played with him outside. I had sat him on top of the hose holder that was attached to our fence. I pretended he was sitting in a saddle. Yes! I actually remember this! Soon the neighborhood gang came up and began making fun of him. "Who wants an orange bear?" they asked. And that was the first time of many, that I found myself answering the question with, "Well, I do."

The question was asked during show and tell. The question was asked at summer camp. The question was asked by my college roommate. The question has been asked by my own children. The answer has always been the same. "Well, I do." Powder Puff and I never bother to tell people that he was second choice. He pretends he doesn't know and for that I am grateful.

Powder Puff suffered allergy shots (plastic syringes brought home from my dad's dental office - my friend and I filled them with perfume and stuck stick pins out the ends). I also suffered allergy shots. Powder Puff had several haircuts, and he had his tonsils removed (which is how he lost his little felt tongue). He had his arm set in a cast. He suffered greatly and was loved very much and that is how he came to be Real. Which he is, of course. Real. For sure.

So the Velveteen Rabbit is a wonderfully beautiful story and one that I believe in. Joel has Snow Bunny - but he is not Real. Joel has never believed Snow Bunny is Real, so therefore he simply isn't. You can tell it by looking at him. He is cute, and somewhat worn and ragged, but definitely not Real. Now Little Green Bear is another story. Jules made him Real. He has been with us since the Easter Bunny left him in a basket on Easter morning some eight years ago. I will never forget the time Jules left him sitting on a hay bail at a local creamery where we had enjoyed ice cream with friends. We couldn't find him anywhere. Little 3-year-old Jules ran into the ice cream parlor and asked the lady behind the counter if she had seen Little Green Bear.

"I don't know," she said quite seriously. "What does he look like?"

"Well," said Jules between sniffles. "He is little, he is green, and he is a bear."

"Hmmmm..." she said. "Does he, per chance, have a small carrot embroidered on his tummy?"

"Yes! Yes he does!" exclaimed Jules.

At that, the kind lady pulled him up from behind the counter. "Someone brought him inside," she said. "He just finished some ice cream. He knew you wouldn't leave him, so he wasn't scared at all."
"I was scared," said Jules.
When Jules was eight, he was at the local Christmas parade with his aunt and grandpa. Jeff and I were at a formal Christmas party hosted by one of Jeff's customers. The phone rang. Jules was hysterical. I couldn't understand anything he said. My dad got on the phone and said that they had just returned to his house from the parade and Jules didn't have Little Green Bear. "There's no way we're going to go back to the parade and find him," he said. "He doesn't even know where he lost him and we were all over that place. And it has started to rain."

"You have to go back," I said. There was a long uncomfortable silence.
"Are you sure?" my dad asked.
"I'm sure," I answered.
I swear, I was as worried about Little Green Bear being cold and afraid as I was about Jules being sad. (I told you I'm a believer.)

The parade-goers headed back downtown and as they slowly drove through the rain a man appeared in the headlights. He was holding something small and damp and dirty. "That certainly looks a lot like..." my sister began. And then Jules shouted, "Little Green Bear!"

My dad pulled up to the man and rolled down the window. "Do you know somebody who might be looking for this?" he asked. He said he was going to walk past Little Green Bear, but then he had the feeling that he needed to pick him up. "I just knew somebody was missing this," he said again.

Things in the "Real" department have become a tad bit more complicated in the past two years. Jasper has a little bear, too. And he wears a green sweater. And his name is, guess what? Little Green Bear. Two-year-olds are not known for being incredibly original. Anyway, sometimes he has to have him and other times he forgets about him entirely. So it remains to be seen as to whether or not Little Green Bear II will ever become Real.
To further complicate matters, my dad carries a little green fanny pack with him that has his meds, cigars, cell phone, etc. and he calls it (I'm sure you've figured this out) Little Green Bag. I do not think Little Green Bag is on the way to becoming Real. But you never know.

"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."
Well, I might not ever regain my pre-pregnancy figure. I might not ever wear the latest trends, again. But as I sit here Jasper is eating grapes at my feet. Camille is dancing around the room on her tiptoes - the music from the ballet still playing in her head. The big boys are outside and their laughter comes in through my window. Ellie is playing the piano and the music floats through the house. I have gray hair, my shirt is stained, the laundry overflows the hamper and there is no dinner cooking in the oven. But, I know very much that I am Real. And the Skin Horse is right. It happens bit by bit and sometimes it hurts. But you don't mind. Because being Real is worth it.

Sardine Mama


  1. Aaaah, those were the days! My now 26-y.o. had his bunny (a Fisher Price blanket corner with a flat bunny head) which went through the bathtub, the broken leg (at 17 mo.) and the trauma of plane flights, photo taking sessions, you name it. We "went back" to restaurants and countless other places searching for the missing bunny until I learned to pin the thing to his shirt! We had a spare but ds recently mused about how he really didn't like the way his bunny smelled or felt right out of the laundry . . .it took a couple days for it to be "right." My now 21-year old had a flannel quilted blankie which had teddy bears printed on it and a green satin binding . . . finally cut the thing in half so we could have a blankie and a spare - I think blankie was just as real as "bunny" and this ds also says laundering it was terrible - both blankie and bunny were worn through and the boys could stick their fingers and thumbs right through the holes and wrap them around their fingers (I would check when they were sleeping to be sure they weren't cutting off the circulation). Ahh, the memories . . . thanks for the wonderful post, and thanks to Susan S. for sharing the link!