What is Real?

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I still remember the very first time I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a childhood favorite, to my first born daughter. I couldn’t get through it without crying at the powerful story line. What I didn’t know then, but do now is that it has a deep message for us adoptive moms.

Have you heard the funny one-liner: ‘I was a great mom before I had kids?’ And it’s true isn’t it? How about this one? ‘You are not their real mom, you just adopted them.’ That one stings. If you are like most adoptive moms, this triggers second guessing yourself. A statement like that is ground zero for comparisons between ourselves and the real moms, the biological moms. The sting is deepest when coming from our child’s angry mouth. Understand, I am a biological mother to five children. And I am the adoptive mother to two.  Am I only real to five of my seven children?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I should do this or that to be a real mom, whether adoptive or not. And on those days strung together into weeks, months, seasons when I can’t seem to ever get to this or that, or whatever bar I’ve set for myself that says I’ve arrived, I call myself a faker. Unreal, imaginary, nonexistent, illusory, immaterial, intangible fake, false, imitation, counterfeit.

Anything but real.

But what is real anyway? Take a lesson from one who knows: “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.”

You see, none of us start out as real anyway, not the Skin Horse kind of real.

Most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby,” says the ever-wise Skin Horse, who should know these things.

Real happens slowly, so slowly you won’t even realize it. Real happens with kids snuggling up with you and running their fingers through your hair, getting it caught and ripping parts out. OUCH! It hurts sometimes to become real. That’s ok, “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Real happens as you cry your eyes out over your love for your child or children, only wanting the very best for them and thanking God He gave them to you. Real happens as you cry with them each time they experience the struggles common to humanity, but oh, so hard for them to feel every first time. Real happens each time tired arms carry them to bed after they fell asleep in your arms. Real happens as you kiss unseen but oh so painful boo-boos received long before you ever met them, and for which Band-Aids will not satisfy. Real happens over late night talks with pre-teens who alternately need you so much, and are embarrassed you’re so uncool. Real happens as you hold your grandchild in your arms the first time, as your grown child, now herself a mother, looks on in amazement, seeing your deep, generational love. Over and over again, these are the stuff of real.

Real happens even when the love your child has for you isn’t that loud demonstrative love that most of us expect ( and hope for) from our kids. No, their’s is buried deep underneath their past, underneath the anger and hurt they feel for what happened to them before they met you.

And, if I’m being honest, real happens as you neglect yourself a bit too often, caring for children instead of your own needs. But, Skin Horse says, when we’re real, “ these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

It’s true, none of us started out as real, but somewhere along the way we became. And we didn’t even know it. And the best part? “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” That Skin Horse tells it like it is.

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