Once we knew Thumkin was the one, we followed a friend’s sage advice and bought a back up. Then we bought a back up for the back up. That means at any given moment, multiple Thumkin spawn in various states of cleanliness are floating around our house. All because Thumkin is the one.
We found this beloved Under the Nile Waldorf-style doll when Little Friend was all of seven months old, the age when you take a variety of stuffed animals, blankets with heads, and any scrap of fabric with a tag and toss it at the tot, much like flinging a spaghetti noodle at a kitchen cabinet, to see what sticks. Thumkin stuck. The original Thumkin (1 of 3 for those still doing the math) has since been wholly loved. Make that holey loved. He’s developed a swiss-cheese appearance around the seams recently. And his hat has been tugged off and hand-stitched back on. And his tag disintegrated. And was of course replaced. With an old t-shirt tag. And that is the brief history of the life of Thumkin.
Still with me?
I’m reminded of a book I had a hard time reading when I was growing up. I have an even harder time reading it today:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse in Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. “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…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. 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.”
You know what’s coming next. It’s a hard book, right?
Thumkin is very Real in our family. He is very Real to Little Friend. Just yesterday, she planned a tea party for Mama, Daddy, Remnick (the family cat), and Thumkin. It’s critical to understand that in our household, Thumkin is Really important. He’s the Real deal. He’s Realer than Santa Claus. My dash-out-the-door check list goes like this: car keys, wallet, cell phone, Little Friend, Thumkin.
But I’m also acutely aware that there will come a day when the dash-out-the-door check list will go like this: car keys, wallet, cell phone, Little Friend.
Thumkin, no matter how Real he is today, will be tucked away in a memory chest some future tomorrow.
So when I opened a package the other week and pulled out the canvas tucked securely inside, I hope you can understand my reaction when I saw this painting:
I was silent. Literally shocked into silence. I felt somber. Solemn. Something twisted in the back of my throat.
Because there was Thumkin. The Real Thumkin. A Thumkin that can never lose a tag to too many nose-rubbings or sprout holes in the eleventy-billionth wash cycle. A Thumkin that can’t be discarded in favor of a newer toy or adulthood.
I’ve written before about how much I love artist Jennifer Maher’s Custom Toy Portraits. They’re whimsical, vibrant, captivating, and magical. But I didn’t know how truly magical Jennifer and her brush could be until the Thumkin portrait emerged from cardboard wrapping.
Nothing could have prepared me for the reaction I would have to seeing my dearly beloved’s most dearly beloved toy preserved for time immemorial. And it’s not just me. As we’ve shown the Thumkin portrait to those people who know Little Friend (and by extension her appendage, I mean companion, Thumkin) best, without fail the reaction is not an immediate gush of praise. It’s a prolonged indrawn-breath, emotion-laden hush. (Then the gushing praise arrives.)
What’s Jennifer Maher’s magic? I think the answer to that question can be found in the final pages of The Velveteen Rabbit.
Presently the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a Fairy…”Little Rabbit,” she said, “don’t you know who I am? I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real.” “Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit. “You were Real to the Boy, ” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one.”
Thank you, Jennifer, for making Little Friend’s Thumkin Real to every one.
To have your childhood toy or your favorite child’s favorite toy made Real, contact Jennifer Maher of Your Toy Portrait. (She’s known around our house as the Nursery Magic Fairy.) The Your Toy Portrait website includes an impressive catalog of images, and her custom paintings can be commissioned in a variety of sizes. (And if you’re keeping tabs on my summer bucket list progress, consider this one item happily checked off!)