Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An exquisite form

The following is an essay about the (unmentionable) love we feel for our children, prompted by HBM and The Joy Which Can't Be Words*

There's something no one talks about out of fear, even in an age where us verbose types can't seem to stop talking: the physical attraction we have to our children.

We have reason to be fearful.

WalMart, with its strange blend of corporate conscience, has made a name for itself not only by shortchanging employees, meddling in their lives, limiting their access to healthcare and decimating the communities they inhabit by edging out the little-guy, but also by becoming the eyes and ears for police, scouring the prints at their photo departments for exposed skin and potential pederasts.

Under such hysteria, (which admittedly has been around long before WalMart) the bodies of children have become sexualized. But when truth matters naught and appearance is all consuming, how can we ever differentiate between what means us harm and what doesn't?

That has never been more apparent to me than when I first brought my daughter home from the hospital, took off all her clothes and marveled at her lovely and amazing form. How could I not adore each inch of this marvelous body.

Each fold of skin was a masterpiece. I tickled her tummy as I changed her diaper. I bent down to kiss her newly exposed belly button. Her smell was intoxicating, clean and new.

The attraction between mother and child is most definitely physical. It grows in time, too. Not only did I have an urge to touch her, feel her skin against mine, I needed to hold her and squeeze. There was a surprising amount of latent violence in this expression. I held off the full force of my hugs, afraid to break her. My jaws clenched, teeth biting lip. The phrase "I could eat you up" was nearly literal. Everything about her being -- and not merely the idea of her being -- was yummy.

I took photographs of every part. I couldn't believe how defined and perfect her muscles were. I was transfixed by the roundness of her head and the dimples in her soft, full skin. And yet, I remained keenly aware of the danger waiting to tear me limb from limb in this world jaundiced by a sad mixture of superiority and anxiety.

I knew that such images, no matter how innocent, are taboo. I know that should someone with a lascivious mind find pleasure from them, there are those who would call me a pornographer. I hesitated showing my images to anyone, lest they judge. I just thanked the gods of technology for the digital camera I had long eschewed.

But even the mention of such thoughts has the potential to devastate.

When we say "physical love," most people conjure a mental picture of sexual love. Sensual love gets lumped in there, too. We make no distinction superficially, and yet we are all drawn to sensual things, innocently, in ways that no one would ever accuse us of crimes against humanity. Every time I walk past suede in a department store I have an intense urge to caress it. It pleases my senses. But I have no desire to have my way with a coat, I assure you.

In fact, much of my own thoughts concerning physical love have changed since becoming a mother. Since having a child so much of my own body has been transformed from the sexual to something else -- something life giving and life sustaining -- that I've had difficulty reassigning my parts. It's been nearly a year since this baby of mine stopped nursing. And still my breasts are unaware of sexual gratification. Touched in that way, I recoil.

My baby's body, in my thoughts, is the same. Its beauty is more than emotional; it's esoteric. The attraction is so surely physical it's palpable. It offers proof that we have the potential for perfection in all the ways that matter.


Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, lady, YES.

This exactly what has been churning through my brain. I LOVE HER LITTLE BODY. And I photograph every inch of it. It's miraculous to me, amazing, beautiful. But... as you say, the tragedy is that we have fear sanction for this brilliant, natural love, because people are so bunged-up. Really, tragedy.

Bravo to you for writing past it.

Paige said...

This is so eloquent! I especially like what you said about the difficulty in "reassigning [your] parts." This has been a challenge for me, as well. Thanks for this post!

Andrea said...

I identified so well with this post, and the fear of expressing physical love for my son outloud.

And the Wal-Mart angle is interesting as well. My sister-in-law took a picture of her 3 year old son (who is now 6) in the tub because he fell asleep (she was in there the entire time, but her soaping him up was like a massage and when she laid him back in the inch deep water to rinse his hair, the massage made him fall asleep) and it was just so funny to her, and so cute. It was only after the picture was developed (at Wal-Mart) that she considered the consequences had someone reported her. It just wasn't something that occurred to her, because she was being a mother and taking a picture of her adorable child. He just happened to be in the tub and his parts weren't obscured. Now, she knows better, using digital now and if she wants prints, she prints them out on her printer instead of getting regular film developed.

ECR said...

I am so glad you made this connection. It's a real testament to HBM and the way she plants seeds that bloom and reach out, pulling in all these varied and passionate perspectives. This post covered so many issues, so succinctly. I love it.

Jessica said...

Yup, I know exactly how you feel. In our case, my baby is delicious and I want to eat his toes, his ears and the chub and the back of his neck. For starters.

It's such weird balance, I do worry about putting his pictures up on Flickr. Are they being downloaded by perverts, pedarests, etc... So far I haven't really reconciled what to do about it, although there are certain pictures I don't post for that reason.

wordgirl said...

I recall the same feelings for my young children as you express here. Even as they grow older, I marvel at their construction, though I only see them clothed or in swimsuits. Their physical strength amazes me and I still find them beautiful. After all...I made them from scratch. Why shouldn't I be proud and awed?

crazymumma said... offers proof...

Thank you for putting down your love so beautifully.