I’m on a life-long journey to become my most authentic self. To become Real. To become a Velveteen Woman. If you haven’t read the Velveteen Rabbit story, do it. Now. You’ll cry. You’ll thank me.
Anyways… it’s a tough job. Some days I just feel way too torn and tattered to keep going. I just plain feel broken. Like I’ve been steamrolled by the planet. My bones are weary and my mind is pressed flat. But I guess that’s just part of the process.
Because becoming real isn’t pretty. Becoming authentic is a far cry from being perfect.
According to the Skin Horse in the classic tale, “It takes a long time to become real… 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.”
So, surely I’m getting Real close. I’m fifty plus — and have been for a couple of years now — and far from “carefully kept.”
I’m loved on and jumped on and tackled and tortured on a daily basis by rambunctious twin boys with a lotta Big Love. Every. Single. Day. I also feel every knock and nick my two adult daughters receive out in the world on their own authentic journeys to become Real. Even. More-so than my own. When your babies hurt, you hurt, no matter their age.
Then there’s the fact that I’m an English teacher drowning in the 365 days of May, the 184 students on her rosters, and the endless trials and tribulations of teenaged hearts I bear witness to. Plus I’m a football wife in the midst of Spring Ball.
So no, not carefully kept.
My joints are definitely loose. My appearance is just-this-side of shabby. My eyes haven’t dropped out yet, but they’re most definitely drooping… And I’m pretty certain this month knocked off any sharp edges I still managed to have left. Since I’ve only had one broken bone so far (knock on wood), I’m fairly certain I don’t break too easily.
Back in the day, when I was a mother fresh off the shelves, I used to have glossy hair and firm skin and stuffing in most of the right places. I had muscles and stamina for days.
But motherhood four times around has done some work on my lovely lady lumps. I wouldn’t go so far as the Bob Segar song and claim my “points were way up firm and high,” but they definitely weren’t stretched and deflated to the point of flapping in a brisk wind if they aren’t strapped in properly. Four years of breastfeeding takes its toll.
And so do three pregnancies – especially one with twins. My skin is puckered and striped and dimpled. I’ve been pulled and torn and redistributed. And even stitched back together. My belly bears a nice, six-inch seam where the good doctors scooped out two premature babes in my first and only C-section at age forty-seven. At that age, the elastin in the skin isn’t quite what it used to be.
So my stuffing has fallen and nestled into soft, comfy pooches in inconvenient and unattractive places. Add to that, my saggy hindquarters, and I’m just a soft, comfy lap of lady lumps.
Along with my belly seam, I also bear a dog-legged scar across my right paw from when I broke my distal radius while putting away, of all things, laundry.
I had a choice while falling willy-nilly over a twin who found his way underfoot: twist to the side and sacrifice my wrist or stay on course and sacrifice my youngest. Since Tate is a relatively important component of our family unit and my right hand is my dominant and most-used portion of my body, it was quite the quandary. In the split second decision, Tate won and my wrist lost. Badly. Between fracture and surgery, it was a five-month loss. If I’d chosen Tate, I bet he would’ve bounced back in two, tops.
So my body has been sacrificed — and often — upon the altar of motherhood.
But the sacrifice isn’t limited to my body. My mind has paid a tremendous price, too. I’m not nearly as quick-witted as I once was. It’s a spongey mass of mire, sucking and slurping and slowing me down. I think the majority of decay occurred during the sixteen months of sleeplessness Mike and I endured after the boys’ birth. Regardless, my electrodes just don’t fire as fast as they once did.
And then there’s my nerves… what’s left of them. The boys careen off them like the ropes at WrestleMania, brawling over virtually anything — markers, play doh, DVDs, cayenne pepper (wtf?) — and my nerves are left mangled in the hot, red dust.
And then there’s my marriage.
No, I’m not about to rage against the institution, to lament on the lameness of my mate. Far from it. My marriage is what saves me. My husband… he’s my Wonder Wall. He’s my calm. My eye in the hurricane.
I don’t know what I would do without him. He picks up my stuffing. He tucks it back in. He shoulders my shortcomings and he shelters my babes — all four of them.
It’s fitting that he’s a Purple Hurricane coach. He knows the ins and outs of my storms and he weathers them with grace. And he keeps me from falling apart at my already weakened seams.
These days, I shed hair and tears and sleep and health and sanity until I’m as limp and floppy as the Velveteen Rabbit. But it’s all good.
Because I’m becoming Real. And it’s not pretty. My boobs aren’t pert. My ass hangs low and it wobbles to and fro.
But I am truly loved. By five of the most amazing humans in this amazing world.
And I’m loved by the Creator of our Universe. I am snuggled and sheltered, and sometimes weathered and wizened — all in the name wisdom and growth.
And while that may knock me about a bit, by golly, I’m becoming authentic. And that’s a beautiful thing.
So all of you struggling women out there… getting your edges knocked off and your stuffing pulled out. Keep on keeping on. You’re exhausted. I know. I get it.
But I see you. I feel you. You are velveteen. And as Barbara Kingsolver says, “We can do this hard thing.”
We can do this hard and beautiful, and oh-so-very Real thing.