(Sorry this is going to be in several small parts because time management isn’t a thing anymore.)
Like the six-month-old whose head had been glued back together, the sub-adult I have been assigned for the semester’s skeletal report has a habit of messing with my mothering instincts.
The remains are from a Medieval English cemetery and are largely intact, save for the cranium, which, quite frankly, looks like it was shattered in some sort of Acme-style explosion. Disarticulated and sorted neatly into their labeled plastic bags, the remains look like any other skeleton. But when I lay out all the tiny unfused bones, the skeleton became a child, estimated to be about five-years-old at time of death. It still had all of its baby teeth. As I completed the skeletal inventory, my lonely uterus and its instincts started talking over the logic of my aspiring-scientist brain. The lab is dark at night; were medieval children afraid of the dark? Where are its mother and father? Were they excavated too? Shouldn’t the child at least be in a box with its mother?
Suddenly I was gripped by an overwhelming desire to scoop the child up in my arms and take it away from its plastic bags and cardboard box and bubble wrap. I wanted to hold the child and let it know I cared for it, but I could only hold it one bone at a time.
How brave you must have been, to face death at only five-years-old. People more than ten times your age are terrified to die, but here you are.
When I finished the skeletal inventory, I gently placed the bones back into the plastic bags, the bags into the cardboard box, and the box back onto the shelf.
The benefit of working alone in the lab is that you can apologize to the skeletons when you leave, and nobody will judge you for it, unless of course you confess to this bizarre habit on a blog, which fortunately is only read by about twenty people. When I placed the box back on its shelf, I whispered an apology to the child because, after all, I had just spent the last hour poking and prodding at its remains, and now I was going to leave it in an unlit lab in a box without its mother without even knowing if medieval children were afraid of the dark.