“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."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

On Friday evening, Joel had Little Guy for the evening so we decided to go to Disney Pixar’s “Up.”  The premiere of the movie was so crowded that by the time we arrived and went to find our seats, the only seats for three available were up at the front.  Considering we were watching Up in 3D, we didn’t want to sit that close to the screen.  I motioned to two seats on a row further back, and one empty seat next to the aisle one row back from the two.  Joel escorted five year old LG to the seats, and I took my place on the edge by the aisle.  The movie began, and I don’t want to leak any spoilers here, but there are several heart-wrenching moments in the movie.  Every adult in the theatre was wiping their eyes, and Joel and I kept turning to look and smile at each other in our goofy 3D glasses.  One of the subplot lines in the movie involves a little boy who wishes he could earn one more badge to complete his adventurer training.  He hopes that by earning his last badge, he will entice his distant father to be at the award ceremony.

I haven’t given this topic much attention on this site, mainly because it hasn’t needed mention.  LG is not my son; he is Joel’s son from a previous marriage.  Currently, Joel shares equal custody of LG with his ex-wife, and the past year that has meant he has shared equal time between parents.  LG’s primary residence will remain at his mother’s, in accord with the divorce agreement.  For the most part, LG has dealt with the separation very well, only experiencing minimal frustration as he adjusts from one lifestyle to the other and has had no problems at school.

This summer is the first summer LG will experience a two week gap in between seeing the other parent; normally his schedule is set up for T/TH and every other weekend with his dad.  Now, he will be spending two weeks on and off with us through the summer.

Joel has arranged for LG to visit once a week for an overnight visit, and it has become increasingly difficult as LG struggles with the interruption in routine.  It is clear he misses his Dad.  Joel is struggling with the knowledge that even this minimal schedule will be broken by this time next year, as he will be graduating out of this doctoral program (at the same time I will) and we plan to move out of the area, though it’s unclear how far away.  It’s heartbreaking to watch, as I feel as if I can’t do anything to ease anyone’s pain.  I can only stand back and watch as the remnants of what was left of their previous life experience further change.  It isn’t always as dramatic as I’m making it sound, as we do become caught up in the everyday hustle, and mostly time flies right on by as if we are only passengers on this train called life.

But sometimes, sometimes that train comes to a halt, and the bare emotions that lay before us take our breath away with the sharpness that accompanies them.  I’ve been slow in wanting to gain LG’s true trust and genuine love.  He loves me, just like he loves everyone, as he is an equal opportunity lover.  He’s the kind of kid that has no qualms about hugging strangers and making sure everyone gets a chance to play.  He listens to me and responds to me and we both enjoy the time we have with each other.  Occasionally, though, and it seems to be right when we are both first together, we tend annoy the other.  I’m pretty sure it’s mainly my issue, as I’ve come to discover that I like daily activities to play out a certain way, and as to roughly quote something I read recently, “There is nothing that prepares you for the whirlwind that is a child.”  This interruption in how I’ve planned for things to go (call it a control issue, if you will) is often jarring and sets me on edge.  Once I get over that initial adjustment and add in the little whirlwind, I’m much better and I become the loving patient person that I know I am capable of being most of the time.  I do have the feeling sometimes of the velveteen rabbit, learning how to become real, how to deal with the real, raw emotions a child is so capable of eliciting.  It hurts, sometimes, but I’m coming to learn that I don’t mind being hurt.  

After the movie, we continued on to a local pizza joint that we affectionately call “LG’s Garden,” stemming from LG’s explanation to our waitress one evening about what the purpose of the back patio garden was for.  “Everyone should come here and write their names on the bricks when they eat here,” he excitedly continued, eyebrows raised, “and that way it can be everyone’s garden!”  Ever since, we’ve called it his garden, and it’s a nice place to take a five-year old.  They rarely have more than 5 customers at any one time, and so our favorite thing to do is to sit out on the back patio/garden all alone, listening to the music and eating good pizza and pasta.  This particular night, it was much more crowded that normal, but we still managed to score a table in the garden patio.  We placed our order, and LG became uncharacteristically quiet.  He wouldn’t answer any questions and had this very faraway look in his eyes.  He then climbed into his Daddy’s lap and snuggled against his neck.  Although I couldn’t hear what he was whispering, I knew exactly what he was talking about from the look on Joel’s face.  Joel comforted him, and explained that he missed him too, and he was very sorry that he also couldn’t be there all the time, and that he couldn’t move back in, but that LG had two sets of families that loved him very much.  LG didn’t move, only stayed pressed against Joel’s chest, his knees digging into Joel’s thighs.  His little fingers pulled down on the collar of Joel’s t-shirt and he snuggled in closer.  From where I was sitting, the fading light and the soft glow of the little lights in the tree behind them framed them both.  The image they were creating was crushing and heartbreaking, and my heart was aching as Joel’s eyes filled with tears.  I felt so apart from them at that moment, and decided to let them spend it alone, father and child.  

Our waitress arrived with our pizza and pasta, and we all quietly recovered for a few minutes as we started to eat.  LG broke the silence by enthusiastically noting, “This is the goodest pizza I have ever had!” and as he looked straight at me and grinned, my little velveteen rabbit heart swelled in my chest and I smiled back at him.

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