The last thing I expected to hear when my twelve-year-old son sidled up to me Saturday afternoon was him, asking casually: “Where’s the Velveteen Rabbit?”
A confession: as a wordaholic, I used books to parent in ways that felt vaguely like I was cheating in the game of motherhood. I was shameless, reading to distract, entertain, surprise and astonish, to soothe, and to brighten long dull patches—to have words in my mouth far more courageous, wise and curative than any I could have come up with on my own. Certainly we went through picture books the boys chose for themselves, of dinosaurs and earth-moving machines, demolition derbies and space adventures. But I also had a private stash secreted away for the times the coin of my abilities was spent long before the day was done. I couldn’t have loved my boys more intensely, and yet there were times I was poured out, squashed flat, by sleep deprivation and the unceasing needs of those very children. Then, the audience needing distraction, calming, and exemplary modeling was not a child, but me. The Velveteen Rabbit was a story for those times, as Margery Williams’ tale of the Rabbit who learns to be Real only after his shiny surface has been loved off suited my stretched-thin mother-self precisely.
Since it was a book I read for myself, I never would have guessed it would the one my son would recall or request. In fact, he said he needed the book for a language arts assignment to bring in a favorite childhood story to read aloud. I have yet to ask his teacher if she knows what a gift she bestowed with this requirement.
He reads on his own now, of course—this proto-man-child who is taller now than I. His choices are great tomes of adventure and mystery. But for the time it took us to read the Velveteen Rabbit together again, it was as if he were again the tiny child he was so long ago. When we were done, he nodded sagely, and said “that’s a good book,” as he lifted it from my hands.
Of course not all of us will necessarily write a classic on the order of Williams’ Rabbit. But I am renewed in my faith in this power words have. Her words, published in 1922, rescued the harried mother I was years ago and have managed to embed themselves into the heart of a boy in spite of his need to be “manly” around his friends. This is a special kind of magic that is far beyond what Williams called in her book “nursery magic,” bursting past any nursery walls she knew, to continue living in ways she could not have possibly imagined.
In the face of this kind of enchantment and power, all I can offer up is gratitude—and a renewed desire to dip into that well, that power, myself.