Friday, November 24, 2006

How Toys Become Real

I was never one to play with dolls, but there's always been a special place in my heart for stuffed animals. I remember distinctly sitting on the stairs of my parents house in Hamilton, begging and pleading with my dad. He was going 'Downtown' (ooh! ahh!), and I wanted desperately for him to buy me a stuffed version of Dino, from the Flintstones. My dad, being the softy that he is, of course complied. I loved that dinosaur and carried him around with me everywhere until his head flopped over permanently, never to be straightened again. Next came a monkey who I called Cocoa, whose arms were bent in a permahug so that you could walk around with him hanging on to your neck, just a like a real baby monkey. I did. One day he went missing, and was found months later frozen solid in the icy snow beneath my porch. I lovingly defrosted him, but he was never the same again. Next came Scroungy, a puppy who I "saved from the dog pound". He came with dog tags, and if he wasn't already scruffy to begin with, you would have been able to tell how much I loved him by the state of his bedraggled fur.

These were my friends, and in my childish imagination, they were no less real to me than the friends that I made in the Real World. I truly believed that they had thoughts and feelings, and that I should treat them with love and respect, because it was my job to take care of them. I also believed that when I went to sleep, they came alive and talked to each other. I grew up with stories like The Nutcracker and The Velveteen Rabbit, you see, and my young brain didn't know how to sort the 'Real' from the 'Fantastical'. There's always been the debate as to whether it's good for children to live their early lives in a make-believe world. Many people believe that children deserve the truth, and while I don't dispute that, I stand firm in the belief that some of the best lessons in life come from the magical world of children. The Velveteen Rabbit, for instance, my all time favourite children's book, about a stuffed bunny who desperately wants to become a real live rabbit, taught me how to love:

"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 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."

This book affected me so deeply that I never forgot it, even when I stopped playing with stuffed animals. In fact , that exact passage was read out loud at our wedding. It still brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.

Shoot, now I'm getting all sappy, and I can't remember what my original point was. Ah yes. I think that it's all too easy at this time of year to get caught up in buying the latest toy, the shiniest doodad, the thingie with all the lights and buttons that teaches your child gross motor skills along with a smattering of Spanish for good measure. But fancy toys come and go, and in all likelihood, the present that they are going to love the most is no doubt the simplest. A fuzzy little stuffed bunny that they will love till the fur falls off, and that doesn't need batteries. A book with a heartfelt story. A full imagination and an wide open playground, and friends to share it with. And time with family. These are the presents that are Real, that will make them Real.

"...once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."


Beck said...

Lovely post! I think that fantasy is a VERY important part of kids' lives, that it points the way to some truths in a much more permanent way than simply telling them could ever do. My kids have fairies who leave them sea glass under the trees, Saint Nicholas covering their boots in stars, fairy tales to rock them to sleep -and these things will eventually all point their way to the real truth of who we are and how much we love them.

Anonymous said...

I desperately hope that MF, and his little-bro-to-be, have active imaginations. I know I did as a child. I distinctly remember sneaking out of bed one Christmas Eve when I was about 4 years old in the middle of the night and seeing fairies play in our Christmas tree. I was in awe!

So far, MF 'loves' his stuffed bunnies and sleeps with them every night. He also cuddles and talks to his other soft babies, so I have hope... ;-)

I love that you had the passage read at your wedding. So nice!

Mrs. Chicky said...


I love the Velveteen Rabbit. Thank you for reminding me that I need to read it again.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely. My daughter clings to her blankie Ellas (two elephants--we got the 2nd as the just-in-case back up but then she found it and now must have "One Ella, Two Ellas!!" all the time.) It breaks my heart to see just how real her love is for these wee bit of fabric and fibre-fill.

Oh and a stuffed Dino? I wish I could have a stuffed Dino today.

mamatulip said...

Oh, man...I've gotta go get a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit now. Such a great book.

Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, dude, sappy? The minute I saw the Velveteen Rabbit PICTURE on this post I choked up.

I had a powerful attachment to my stuffies. I still cry when I read that book.

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David said...

I totally had "Scroungy" when i was a kid...i got him when i was one year old and played with that dog for years. it was like a real dog to me, and you're right i don't even remember what it ever looked like "new"...i still have him in a box stored away with my favorite blanket. was searching online for him and found hardly anything. nice that i found this :)