Thursday, October 19, 2006

The cradle

The blogging world is a funny place. I’ve been mulling something over this week and then I read Lara's blog and see that she’s thinking about the same thing. Small world. Or as my father would say “El mundo es un pañuelo” which literally means “The world is a handkerchief.” (Let’s hope we’re on one of the dry spots, eh?)

Anyway, Lara’s post gives me one more reason to write about a beautiful painting that has been on my mind this week: The Cradle by Berthe Morisot. In 1872, Morisot painted this portrait of her sister Edma and niece Blanche. When I was expecting my first baby I bought a copy of this print and had it framed. It has hung somewhere in my home ever since – through 3 moves and 4 kids.

My favorite part of the painting is the look on Edma’s face as she studies her sleeping baby. I wonder what is going through her mind. I get the impression from the way she rests her chin in her palm that she’s been sitting there for a long time – just staring and thinking. With her right hand, she slowly straightens the canopy of sheer fabric that surrounds Blanche in her cradle. The way Morisot paints it, the cradle is more than just a bed for the sleeping baby. Tucked within its giant white basket and beneath its tall white tent, the baby is sheltered and protected. She sleeps in a state of innocence, safe from the outer world that her mother – painted in darker colors and framed by the window to the outside – inhabits. It reminds me of a phrase in a Wordsworth poem: “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.”

Over the past 11 years I have spent plenty of time staring at my children while they slept. Every night I act out my ritual of checking in on each one, pulling up the covers, kissing damp foreheads, picking socks up off the floor on my way out. Only while they sleep do my kids stop moving long enough for me to really look at them. Only while they sleep, can I pause their turbo-growth for just a moment and reflect on the past and wonder what the future holds. I can whisper apologies and promise to do better tomorrow. I can study each child’s face and try to unlock their mysteries. I can suppress the irrational fears that I think haunt all mothers and embrace my good fortune. I can thank God for small miracles. Small, sweaty-headed, sleeping miracles.


Radioactive Jam said...

Late 1800s, infant mortality - is that the right term? - was still a fearsome thing. Maybe not vastly different now, especially in some parts of the world, but at least our children's first enemies have lost some of their mystery.

And this is a great image; don't think I've seen this before, at least not that I remember. Cool!

Julie said...

Good point. I hadn't thought about the fact that in Morisot's day, babies were even more vulnerable than now. It adds to the painting to think of it that way. Thanks.

The Lazy Organizer said...

It's a beautiful painting. Funny we both posted about the same thing!