Tonight, C’s bedtime story was The Velveteen Rabbit. Fresh from a bath and rosy-cheeked, she curled up under the covers and held her own stuffed bunny close under her chin, her eyes gleaming in the low light. Serene and soft and warm in that way that only tired toddlers get.
I have always loved The Velveteen Rabbit. And the obvious parallelism of the moment wasn’t lost on me – my baby in bed with her soft rabbit held close, and the boy in the story with his deep love for his.
But I wasn’t thinking about her rabbit in that moment. I was thinking about Minou.
“Everyone talks about being real, but what is REAL?” asked the rabbit one day. “Does it mean you move? And have a key to wind you up?”
Minou wasn’t in her bed for storytime. He hadn’t been for several nights. Minou, at that moment, was a floor below, unceremoniously dumped in a pile of picture books.
Minou is a tiny and well-worn Pink Panther plushie, her first love, the first stuffed animal she developed a connection to. He is, by any objective measure, nothing special. Practically disposable, a promotional item. For the pink fiberglass insulation. Her grandfather is in building supply; I guess a sales rep left some at the office, and as a result the kids all got one while visiting their grandparents. Two are with C right now – Minou is one. Another, that middle child B relinquished, is appropriately named Pink Panther. A third is held in reserve by our eldest, A, who will hand it over if needed. Only if needed, she made clear.
“No, that’s not Real,” said the Skin Horse gently. “Real is a thing that happens when a toy has spent a long time becoming a child’s true friend. When a child really cares for you, not just to play with, but loves you from the heart, then you become Real.”
Minou is utterly indistinct from Pink Panther and the unnamed reserve stuffy. Mass-manufactured, meant to be given away and disposed of. The only difference between Minou and Pink Panther is the result of C’s affections. Minou is faded, less pink and more dusty rose, really. A little stained, a little less fuzzy.
“Even if you’re old and tattered by then, it doesn’t matter. You, too, can become Real, young fellow. In the nursery, magic happens from time to time.”
Minou was the first toy to become Real for her. After mostly ignoring stuffed animals entirely, suddenly one day Minou was her best friend. He was with her every night, he joined her on outings.
He went with her to get her first COVID vaccine and they wore masks together and both got bandages and Je me suis fait vacciner! stickers.
They went to the library together and he climbed through the shelves looking for books, and he slipped between the shelves and she rescued him.
He rode quietly in the ambulance with her before Christmas, following a middle-of-the-night seizure, and stayed by her side every moment for days as we went in and out for follow-up tests and monitoring.
(Pink Panther actually pinch-hit the last night as Minou was hard to find, but we were all too exhausted to tell the difference by that point. For all she knew, Minou was with her that night, and we are going to maintain that little fiction.)
She decided that a small cardboard box was her space helmet, and insisted that Minou have one to match.
She slept with him on her chest with one hand gently holding him in place, the way that she’d sleep on my chest when she was just a baby.
The Velveteen Rabbit grew old and became even dirtier and shabbier. He was so shabby that in many people’s eyes he hardly looked like a rabbit anymore.
But to the boy he was as beautiful as ever.
And that was enough to make the rabbit happy.
In The Velveteen Rabbit, the rabbit’s time with the boy comes to an untimely end, and I read that part of the story with a lump in my throat. Throughout a long illness, the Velveteen Rabbit stays with the boy, whispering to him about all their adventures, filling long scary moments with beautiful memories.
I wonder what Minou whispered to C when she had COVID, or when she was in the hospital, in those moments where she held him close. I wonder if he leaned against her feverish brow and reminisced her about their endless games of peekaboo, or the camping trip where he played in the dirt with her and went exploring. I wonder if he giggled as he reminded her that the reason that she wanted a space helmet for him was because they rode her rocking horse so fast one night that they made it to outer space together.
The boy’s doctor instructs the family to burn all of the soft furnishings, including the Velveteen Rabbit, to ensure that the sickness doesn’t return. As the rabbit sits next to the burn pile to wait for the conclusion of his story, the Fairy of the Nursery appears to the rabbit with some of that magic that the Skin Horse promised him.
“But I’m already Real,” said the rabbit.
“You were Real to the boy because he loved you very much,” said the fairy. “Tonight I will make you Real to everyone.”
I hope Minou’s time with C isn’t over. The timing will be what it is, kids move on, and we adapt. The boy in the story focused on other things, grew, moved past his rabbit.
I’d rather we don’t move past Minou just yet. If his fate is to be forgotten in this pile of Batman and Sesame Street picture books, though, it’s at least a far less ignoble end than the Velveteen Rabbit’s. But if we are looking at his end, then I hope I’ve conjured a little nursery magic of my own and made him a little bit Real to you all, too.
As always, folks, paddle your own canoe.
Excerpts are from Komoko Sakai’s Velveteen Rabbit, based on the story by Margery Williams.