Today I sat down to read to the baby, and I posed a challenge for myself: the book I selected to read was The Velveteen Rabbit. I got it from a friend as a shower gift, and though I’ve always considered this book off-limits for me for reasons of emotional sanity (along with all books in which an animal, particularly a dog, dies), I decided it was time, now that I’m about to be a mother, to read it again. It had been, in my estimation, over twenty years since I’d read it. Surely, surely, it couldn’t be as bad as I remembered. It has a happy ending, right?
The baby and I sat down on the couch. (Well, I sat down. The baby had no choice.) “We’re going to read The Velveteen Rabbit,” I announced bravely. I admired the first few illustrations—it’s a beautiful edition, with oil-painted renderings. I read the first page, and the second, and the third. The baby began moving. We had a fan! An emotionally strong fan.
And then I got to this line: “When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” And that was that. I began crying too hard to continue reading out loud. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to finish reading it to myself. I did, barely, winding up with a pile of tissues and red eyes.
When, in a few years, our little girl toddles up holding The Velveteen Rabbit and says, “Mommy, let’s read this!” I know what my response will be. “Remember, my lamb?” I’ll say (will I call her My Lamb?). “This is the book only Daddy reads. Let Mommy finish her wine, now, and take it over to him.” I’ll feel bad, but I know my limitations. And a nervous breakdown at bedtime probably isn’t a healthy precedent to set.