Dec
31
2009

  Babies as Memento Mori?

Yesterday while I was waiting in the medical supply shop, I noticed something I hadn't before. The skin on my hands was dry, flaking, and deathly pale (save for the bright red cuts and scratches still unhealed from the Fenway rescue). I don't know that my hands are any worse off than most women my age, but the reason they looked particularly bad to me was because I noticed this when I was holding William's little baby hands in mine.

In contrast, his skin was smooth, soft, and orange, even in winter. Now the orange part is a bit of an exaggeration, he only looks orange upon close inspection, but lately strangers have been remarking about how tan he looks. Except for doctors, who immediately ask how many carrots and sweet potatoes we feed him (not that much, really). Regardless, he's not deathly pale.

Seeing this contrast immediately reminded me how relatively close to death I am compared to him. I know that skulls and extinguished candles are common symbols of memento mori, but how about babies?

I found being pregnant to be extremely life-affirming. I had some feeling that if I could make a new life, I could live forever. At least for the first two trimesters, I felt like I had new vitality.

Once the baby was here, however, he has been a constant reminder of how old I am. Which I think is ironic now that I have a suspicion that I behave like a much younger mother.

After watching older women (my neighbor with 4 kids, my mother, also with 4 kids) handling William, I'm beginning to think that perhaps I handle him like a 15-year-old teenager would handle her baby. I sling him around, accidentally bump his head into things when I carry him, bounce him vigorously when we play, scrub his face with abandon to clean him up. These more experienced mothers are waaaay more gentle with him. I guess William just let me get away with all that since I'm his mother, and he'll like me best regardless of how rough I am. But I could tell he did seem to enjoy the gentler handling. So I'm trying to keep that in mind as I go about my day-- I'm especially trying to remember to try to pick him up by his torso under his arms instead of by his arms at the shoulders since Terry filled me in that his muscles aren't necessarily developed enough to handle that and I could dislocate his shoulder that way. Whoops.

I wonder if younger women get the same memento mori effect from their babies. I doubt it, since the skin on a woman in her early 20s isn't as noticeably deteriorated and while it may not be fresh as a baby, at least it's in the same ballpark.

My solution to all this has been to pull out my special winter hand cream set (reviewed here last winter) and get scrubbing. My hands are looking better already, and as long as I keep moisturizer within arms' reach all day, my skin both looks and feels better and I don't feel old anymore. I'm glad it was such an easily-solved problem.