“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.”  ― Margery Williams BiancoThe Velveteen Rabbit

My preschooler sleeps with a small stuffed baby doll. It has been her constant companion since she was old enough to introduce any element into her crib. On occasion, in new environments or when she’s navigating an uncomfortable emotion, she brings her baby doll out of her bedroom.

Her dance recital was this weekend. Her dress rehearsal was Thursday. She was anxious about the stage and had been obsessing over the performance for the past month. I’d done all the downplaying, given her all the pep talks, and hugged her until my arms hurt.

The dance incorporated stuffed animals or dolls into the routine. You can decide whether this was coincidence or fate.

Despite its faded pink color, a limp neck, and worn eyes, this stuffed baby doll is real to her. She sometimes whispers her fears into its ears, she often wipes her tears with its hands, and she holds it carefully and closely as she sleeps.

At the dress rehearsal she cried uncontrollably and begged me to stay with her. Feeling helpless, I asked her to show baby how to be brave. This was the exact moment I felt her loosen her grip.

I’ll spare you the suspense. She performed at the rehearsal and at the recital. But my pride was not in the cute costume, the big smile on stage, or the afterglow of accomplishment. All of my motherhood joy and admiration came rushing to the surface when she said to me, “I’m so glad it’s over. I feel different.” And while I wanted to press for more, I let her and baby be. This was a becoming real moment for them. It was for me as well.

There’s something powerful in discovering realness.  And this power is equally as exciting and encompassing when watching realness unfold for or within others.

My tiny dancer and her small stuffed baby doll gifted me some widsom this weekend. To be hurt or scared but brave is to become something more. Being well loved and worn is the mark and magic of life. For this, for little dancing feet, for imagination, stuffed baby dolls, and the realizations of becoming, I am grateful.