Thursday, December 04, 2008


If you ask her about the 'theatre show,' this is what she'll tell you, lowering her eyes and shaking her head slowly: "The velveteen rabbit was all alone and sad."

The theatre was full of children, hundreds of them, all rustling snowsuits and giggles and nervous energy. The touring company, four young women with hopelessly chipper voices, wide smiles, crips gestures, and broad choreography, played well to the crowd. We clapped to the songs.

Munchkin's class and I and three teachers and a couple of parents and grandparents made the twenty minute walk in the softly falling snow, through puddles, on a detour through the Math building, across a field deep in drifts from daycare to the auditorium. Boots stuck in snowbanks and detached from feet; boots were hastily retrieved. Hats fell over eyes and toddlers walked into each other, into benches, into random university students. Curbs presented insurmountable obstacles and landed wee kids on their well-cushioned bums. There was singing, and laughing. We used our marching feet; we used our listening ears. Munchkin and I led the way, her pink-mittened hand held tightly in mine, a stream of excited chatter issuing non-stop from her lips: "We are going to the theatre show! Hey, Jacob, hold hands with your partner! We are going to the theatre show! There is going to be elephants! And rabbits! I'm wearing my pink mitts! Do you have boogers in your nose?"

She'd never been to a 'theatre show' before, nor did she know the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, that well-loved, shabby toy, consigned to the fire in a scarlet fever scare but saved at the eleventh hour, made into a real rabbit by the toy fairy, a rabbit who frolics and plays and makes new, rabbit friends. She was expecting elephants, my funny Munchkin, but what she got, it seems was the loneliness and fear of a toy rabbit separated from her beloved boy, cast out into the wilderness in the dark.

"The velveteen rabbit was all alone."

When I walked into daycare with her that morning, the room was abuzz with the excitement of the trip, a noisy, chaotic giddiness. She turned to me and held my hand. "I want you to stay wif me, Mom," she said, and, miraculously, I could. I did. Time to put on snowpants and coat and hat and mittens and boots? Yes, I can stay wif you. Time to find a partner and line up? Yes, I can stay wif you. Time to find a seat, and settle down for the show? Time to watch the lights dim and the curtain raise? Yes, and yes, Munchkin, today I can stay wif you, hold your hand, wipe your nose, watch your profile as you stare so intently at the stage, take you up onto my lap and wrap my arms around you when you get scared.

The troupe mostly played it light, but I read somewhere recently that toddlers have no stomach from dramatic conflict, that in a story where a knee gets scraped to advance a happy plot, all that is remembered is the pain. The five act arc of tension, crisis, and resolution is too intense for two year olds, who are quite happy to ponder the much flatter narratives of, say, Max and Ruby. And so it is with Munchkin, zeroing in on that elemental fear of abandonment, of loss, of being alone.

As it happens, the theatre is in the building that houses my office--we were actually sitting in the balcony, about 30 feet away from my door. After the show, I carefully bundled Munchkin back up for the return trip to daycare, and reminded her that Mommy's office was right around the corner, and that I would stay behind when she left with her friends and teachers.

She was inconsolable, wailing and kicking, with big tears rolling down her face. My own heart broke, too. "Stay wif me," she pleaded, as S, shooting me a sympathetic look, tried to take Munchkin in her own arms. Munchkin kicked and arched her back, terrified, like the velveteen rabbit, of being pulled apart from the one she loved, mad as hell and willing to fight for it.

All the children slept like rocks that naptime, exhausted from their adventures of the morning. Munchkin awoke cheerful and silly, as usual, to have new adventures in the afternoon. My own heart was bruised a little longer. If I could wrap her forever in my arms to keep her safe, I would. But to become a real rabbit, you have to head out into the woods on your own. Only, I'm not sure which one of us that is.


Jenifer said...

My Mom said to me the other day that classic line about how children are really on loan to us or something similar and you know it rings true.

Try as we might to extract ourselves sometimes, the day will come when we realize the grip was never really all that tight. And that realization will no doubt be much harder to accept.

On a more cheery note...both my girls love live shows of any kind and we stared them young too. I cannot imagine not going to shows, they really love them.

Bon said...

oh sniff. that story has been breaking my heart exquisitely for years....but i do think i'm not quite ready for O to wrap his mind and heart around the loss at the centre of the beauty of how toys become real. or like you say, maybe i'm not ready to let go and have him become scuffed up and "real".

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The Velveteen Rabbit?! Oh my god, I still remember the first time I saw that (in elementary school, in the cafeteria; the movie was on a REEL!) -- I was traumatized for weeks. It's such a sad, sad, sad story. And a kid gets really sick! I didn't even know that kids could get really sick.

Mimi said...

Jennifer P -- yeah, they downplayed the child's illness, making the doctor very comical and all, so Munchkin missed the bit about HER OWN MORTALITY, but boy, is she concerned about that rabbit.

Jen -- your comment gave me the sniffles.

Bon -- me too: I'm the one who's not ready.

Beck said...

Some wisenheimer relative gave me that book while I was IN THE HOSPITAL as a child.

So all you have to do now to make me snivel is to mention that damn rabbit and his sick kid. I'd have probably been clinging to you and wailing alongside munchkin.

motherbumper said...

The Velveteen Rabbit? Oh gawd, I'm crying just thinking about it.

Kyla said...

I love the Velveteen Rabbit. I always secretly hoped my stuffed animals and babies were REAL and pretending not to be, so that book gave me such hope. LOL. I think I wholly missed the child-near-death portion as a kid. Now reading it would probably kill me, though. The joys of growing up.

Mad said...

Oh, wee Munchkin and wee you. I have seen that response in Miss M and it has taken me three times as long to get over it.

Catherine said...

I love the juxtaposition of a child that calls her mom "mom" not mommy and asks you to stay "wif" her.