Friday, March 04, 2011

Muscle Memory

It's funny the things that get stored away in your brain. When I was about 10 I took piano lessons. I stopped after 2 1/2 years; I never got very far, and now I can barely pick out a melody. But I did learn a lot that stuck with me. One of the things I learned about is muscle memory.

My piano teacher talked about muscle memory. When you practice playing a piece, or scales, or anything, over and over, after a while your brain stops having to consciously think about where to put your fingers. Your fingers learn to "know" the feel of the song, or scale, and how to move and reach to the right place. I've found the same thing applies to many other things. Walk the same route enough and you stop having to think about where to turn; even if you've got your nose in a book (as I often did when walking to the library after school in high school) your feet seem to turn at the right place, your brain goes into automatic on it, and you don't have to think, you just feel and know.

It may seem silly, but when I was holding Becky, I knew I would have to let her go. I didn't want to forget-- so I made use of my muscle memory. I held her in my arms, cradled as my other babies have been by my side in my bed. I stroked her hair, and most of all, I traced her features, especially her ears, with my hands. (I love baby ears. I have always been a fan of nice ears-- they were one of the most attractive things, physically speaking, about my husband when we met, I know that's silly but I do love nice ears. But there's something special to me about baby ears. How other people feel about baby feet, I feel about baby ears-- just in awe that they can be so tiny and yet so perfect from the minute they are born.)

I stroked those ears over and over, tracing the ins and outs and lines with my fingertips, cradling her head in my whole hand, also touching lips, eyes, forehead, nose, chin, but always back to those ears, those perfect ears. I laid her head against my arm just where her sisters always cuddled to sleep. And though it may seem strange to some to want to do all this with a dead baby-- I'm glad I did.

You see, it seems to me I knew her soul, at least a little bit, before she was born. But every mother also wants to know and marvel over the sight and smell and feel of her baby's physical body. I don't have a great visual memory. I have an excellent auditory memory-- I can "play" whole CDs in my head and remember a movie line for line, note for note of orchestration of the background music, etc.-- but I have a very hard time visualizing things, whether real memories or imagining something. Thankfully, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep sent a photographer to help us remember forever how Becky LOOKED. Even if I can't close my eyes and "see" her, I can look at photos. But the feel-- I was so afraid I would not remember the feel.

But I can. Because I touched her over and over and over, and held her so long, I can remember. Late at night sometimes I lie in my bed, close my eyes, and remember the feel of her weight cuddled against my side, her head pillowed on my arm. I reach out my fingers-- and they feel the downy hair, the tiny chin, those little ears. And I'm so glad. It's a comfort to me, to know that I can remember. To know that just as I can feel, if I concentrate, how Emma, or Bridey, or Maggie felt when they were newborns cuddled in my arms-- I can feel how Becky felt too.

I'm sure that might be bizzare to some. But to me, it's a precious gift. And I'm grateful for it.