An Open Letter to my Son
“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 your 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 Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
The first thing most women do when we find out we are expecting is to buy something. I am
not sure why. Maybe that first gift is an official act of recognition, a promise. Of course, being
the way that I am, I couldn’t settle for buying something for you; I was determined to make it.
I spent two hours walking through a tiny yarn shop in Alabama trying to find the perfect pattern
and the perfect yarn to make the perfect gift for you. I settled on a darling little teddy bear
pattern and chose a beautiful hand spun, hand-dyed alpaca yarn.
I worked diligently on that little guy. I dyed the contrasting yarn for his hands and his feet. I
used two old buttons I found from my grandmother’s old button jar for his eyes. I hand
embroidered his mouth and his nose. I remember knitting his body while in the waiting room
during doctor visits. His feet were made while waiting in between appointments at work and on
several of the car rides with your Dad to visit your grandparents in North Alabama. I made his arms and
head after you were born. After many of my tearful and failed attempts at breastfeeding, I
would work on him. It made me feel better that even though I couldn’t feed you properly, I
could at least make something for you.
I finished his ears on the Eve of your First Christmas. That night, I stayed up sewing all the
pieces together. He was perfect, just as I had hoped. You received many toys that year, so the
teddy bear wasn’t a huge hit, and that was okay.I knew that someday you would be bigger, and I would tell
you how I made him.
I think you were three or four before you noticed him. We were cleaning out your room and I
said, “Oh, did you know I made this for you?”
“You did? Thanks, Mama!”
I remember you sitting him at the head of your bed along with some other stuffed animals and
toys who had made the cut. Those guys were lucky to have survived the purge another year.
I started to notice you kept him near you more after that. Every time I would see you fall asleep
near the bear, my heart would be happy. A child having one toy, or one blanket, to keep
throughout life is a special thing, and it warmed my heart to know that you chose the bear.
Now you are eight. It’s not as cool to sleep with your favorite toys like you once did. After
cleaning your room at Christmas, making room for your new gadgets, you came to me with the
bear. He had gotten caught in something and was torn. I was so upset. He had a hole in his
tummy and a gash at his elbow. Stuffing was coming out everywhere, and my heart was broken.
The bear would never be the same. I had worked so hard to make him perfect, to make you
love him. Of all my imperfections and failures as a mother, I had made you this one thing, and
you had discarded it.
“Mama, can’t you patch it? You can get some blue material with little white stars and you can
sew it on to cover the holes. I think that would look good. I think I would like him even more
Maybe, just maybe, I haven’t failed as your mother. Now you are eight, and you can see the
value in a tattered bear, but someday you will be a man.
When that day comes, I hope that you can love people the way you love this bear--not in spite
of their flaws, but because of them. We all become uniquely real in our own way. Each person
carrying the scars and flaws that make us real. We try to hide our imperfections, but when we
do, we deprive the world from seeing our authenticity. We deny the world the chance to see
who we are, denying ourselves the opportunity to be truly loved.
This bear’s significance wasn’t apparent to you the first time, remember? He was just another
toy among the many. You had to learn his story. You had to spend time with him and give him
a chance to become real. Once that happened, once he became real to you, there was nothing
that could make him ugly. My darling, that is love.
Son, do the same for people. Take the time to learn their story. Love the bitter alcoholic whose
wounds came from fighting and losing a war that didn’t make sense. Love the crabby lady who’s
words sometimes hurt; she has wounds she’s trying to hide, too. We all have them, and we all
hide them in different ways.
Love is that patch my dear, and that is what you can do.