Sunday, September 28, 2003

Fearful symmetry

In the Natural History museum, Zenella crawled across the floor, pretending to be a tiger. We took her to see the dinosaurs, but I was disappointed to see that they've moved the model T Rex into its own gallery and are charging money to see it.
Wow, said Mrs Zen, look at these bones.
I noticed that some - most - of the bones are casts. I suppose they have to be, to be out on display. What I know about curating bones you could write on a stapes, but I suppose they'd quickly crumble if they were out in the open.
It's not that Mrs Zen was wrong to be wowed, even so. A representation of a dinosaur humbles you with its great size. That such things lived! (We are talking now exclusively of the monstrous top-end dinos, not the squirty things that eventually evolved into us.)
But even the model T Rex would be no match for the model of the blue whale that dominates the mammal section. The model is something like a hundred years old, so it's out of proportion (it's the right length, but way too fat - blue whales are svelte, lithe, almost eel-like beauties). But it's quite awe-inspiring.
I know, they're just like big, dumb cows, grazing on plankton, and we romanticise them solely because of their size. Still, what's more human than to be impressed by bigness (or smallness - nothing excites the mind more than to contemplate how tiny a quark is!)?

Zenella did not like the whales, blue or otherwise. She didn't even like the faded tiger. She barely noted the kangaroo, which she insisted was a wallaby (it is a thing with her, since she learned the word "wallaby" to so identify kangaroos, and who knows why?), but the bears caught her eye. Her favourite, she said, was the dugong. I think probably that was because we had sat and watched the film about the seacows, or maybe she liked the name. Knowing too much about how a child works - how your own child works - would take away some of the magic. I am scared of knowing too much about her. If I know too much, I will want to put right what is wrong, and save her from some of the things that are too right; I fear descending into the pit that waits for parents, of wanting to make the world too perfect, too just so.

*sigh* The other night, watching her sleep, I couldn't help thinking of the times I have feared she would not wake, when I ran from my bed to her room (when she had a room of her own), to check that she was still breathing, before I managed to engage reason, reminding myself that if she had stopped, nothing in this world would start her again. And you have that melancholy feeling - I know it can't be original to me, I don't claim that - that one way or another this child will one day die, and all the energy you have invested in it will be dissipated. It doesn't mean anything, except that things come and go. Then I stop myself, because I am not feeling sorry that I have created her and endowed her with an inevitable death, I am feeling sorry for myself, and what I will lose, in a time and at a place yet to be revealed.


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