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Why You Should See Yourself The Way Your Children Do

The Skin Horse told him and he told me.

I had an exchange the other day with a friend I’d not spoken to in quite some time. Our conversation centered around the 40th birthday she was about to “celebrate.” I put celebrate in quotes because the mother of two will do anything but. She admitted in no uncertain terms just how mightily she was dreading the occasion — struggling with it, even.

When I asked her why, she told me she was afraid of losing her edge. She didn’t ever want there to come a day when she wasn’t considered attractive anymore. It was harder than ever for her to “keep her figure.” She no longer had the same amount of energy as she used to. Each day of never-ending subservience to her young children was blending into the next. She felt rundown. And what’s worse, whenever she spied her own image looking back at her from a full-length mirror, she looked rundown. Especially compared to the way she looked just a few years ago.

My friend is hardly alone. And though I’m not suggesting she’s destined for plastic surgery, I am, indeed, suggesting this: sentiments such as the ones she expressed are at the heart of the reason why plastic surgery is a multi-billion-dollar industry. More and more moms (and dads, too) are turning to the knife in a feeble attempt to cheat time. And while it may work for a little while, Father Time is no fool. Eventually He makes such people look even older than they actually are, thanks, in part, to their surgical attempt to maintain an esthetic brand of youth that was never theirs to keep.

At least that’s what I see whenever I look at someone who’s had a lot of work done. I personally believe that an individual looks his or her best when that person looks exactly as he or she is supposed to look — and age plays a big role in that process. That’s not to say that I don’t lament the effects that Father Time has had upon me. At age 41, the past few years have been drastic ones when it comes to aging. And my kids are one reason why. I often joke that I should have posed for before and after shots. For as much as I love them, the triplets have put a couple of dents in me. I’m shorter, fatter, and balder than ever before. And don’t even get me started on the circles under my eyes that seem to be growing like well-maintained kudzu.

But there’s more beauty in a bald spot than vanity would ever have us believe. If Margery Williams were still alive, she’d tell you as much. But since she’s not, perhaps you should revisit her timeless classic — The Velveteen Rabbit. In it, a brand new velveteen rabbit is given to a boy on Christmas. The boy plays with the stuffed animal for a brief while before putting it aside and ultimately forgetting all about it. The rabbit then resides in the nursery where the other, fancier toys make fun of him. But a wise old Skin Horse tells the rabbit to fear not. For the wind-up soliders who mock the rabbit could never become real. But the velveteen rabbit, indeed, could. And the Skin Horse ought to know. After all, he’s real.

“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.”

One day, the boy rediscovers the velveteen rabbit and falls in love with him. The two are inseparable, and through their bond, the velveteen rabbit finally learns what it’s like to become Real.

Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.

The velveteen rabbit was lucky. And so, too, are the rest of us who have lost some hair, inherited more wrinkles, or gained a few pounds thanks, in part, to the love we share with a child. And though it makes all the sense in the world to try to maintain our youthfulness to whatever extent is possible via a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t make much sense at all to lament the unavoidable effects of time. Nor does it make much sense to turn to a scalpel in an attempt to try to look newer than we really are.

If, instead, we could only embrace the way we look, imperfections and all. If we could only celebrate the many wonderful things that have turned us into exactly what it is that we were always meant to be…

That friend of mine who’s dreading her 40th? If I could give her but one birthday gift, it would be the ability to see herself as her children see her. Because to them, she’s beautiful. To them, the dings and dents she’s all too aware of don’t even register. To them, she looks exactly as she’s supposed to.

Because she’s Real. Because she’s their mom. Because they love her.

And not even Father Time could ever change that.

Image: stock.xchng

Source: The Velveteen Rabbit

John Cave Osborne’s personal blog.
John Cave Osborne’s book website.

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