Sunday, October 11, 2009

While sitting on the train with the husband, a family got on and sat next to us, parents, teenaged stepson, and a toddler and a baby together in one of those unwieldy double strollers. I looked at the sleeping toddler's mittens: tiny, brightly colored, with a repeated design of skulls. How odd, I thought, that this memento mori has become such a popular pattern for the clothes of small children.

Was it started with irony - dress your two-year-old in goth death metal biker style with a big old wink - or is it a distant reflection of our warlike times? Or did it just filter down, with little kids demanding to have the same things that the big kids have?

More, I wonder if it gives parents pause to pull a wailing baby into a little green onesie patterned with skulls? I want to know if it feels odd to show off this squirming bundle of your genes and proof that life just goes on and on, with a nasty reminder that death gets us all in the end. I guess a hundred years ago and more, when the chances of making it to your third birthday were far slimmer than today, no one bothered with skull patterns since children were a reminder in and of themselves that death gets us all in the end.

As for today, well, we're so removed from death these days that the image of a skull is really nothing more than a fashion statement. I would be surprised if any parents gave any of this a second thought.

But it never fails to startle me.

The Swedish word for the day is ben. It means bone or bones as well as leg or legs.

12 comments:

Eva said...

Oh I am totally with you. All my Swedish relatives love this stuff and I think it is so bizarre for children. Of course I don't like skulls etc. even for adults. But particularly for children I find it disturbing. I just keep hoping no one ever gives anything with skulls on it to me for my little girl. I think they're just following trends and not thinking and I imagine they'll think it's just another crazy American thing not to like them if I express any objection.

Tony said...

My five-year-old just started school, and I gave him a pencil case with skulls all over it. As I did it I had a flicker of "skulls = death", but my knowledge of his love of pirates won out.

They are still skulls though - and I have no problems with their link to death. I think we need reminding in this day and age that death is waiting us - and that that's okay. Me and boy have talked about it - we recently had the 'where's grandma' talk. (She's a cloud, not a skull!)

MarkF said...

I guess the problem is that we see children of all ages as younger versions of ourselves. We dress them in designer clothes that reflect our own taste and aspirations or in things that have branding that we wouldn't associate with young kids. There was a recent case in the UK of Penthouse bunny branded clothes and pencil cases being sold to school age girls. Looking back at my childhood from the 60s the clothes that I wore bore no relationship to what adults of the time wore but then kids weren't seen as a market to which business could sell via the parent...

Anonymous said...

I find the skulls morbid & would never dress my 9-mo. old in them. On a side note, your blog amuses me -- my husband is Swedish! I have been attempting to learn the language for a few years now. Rosetta Stone has helped the most.

Anna of Helylle said...

I agree - and enjoyed reading your oh-so-well-put post.

Anonymous said...

As a parent, I do give this thought.
For our son, it came from a pirate obsession.

Rose said...

I'm just fascinated with your meaningful tunnelbana ponderings and your memento mori associations, especially given that the parents probably hadn't given the motif a second thought! I'm sure they would have been perpelxed/bemused had you asked them about their choice of baby gear!

I too am startled!

Chicago Gwen said...

I must confess, I was borderline gothy myself during the 90's, and I still adore skulls. I would wear skull stuff, myself, except I've become convinced that it's age inappropriate for me (at 38). The question is, are skulls age appropriate for anyone, if you think of them as symbolic of death? Should we encourage the elderly to dress in skulls?

I would certainly dress a baby in skulls, but I'd be doing it for my own amusement. That's one of the nice things about babies - you can dress them in whatever you like. If you prefer to dress them in pastels and cutesy patterns, you're still doing it for your own amusement. PS - seems to me that, in general, Swedish babies are better dressed than American babies.

Carla said...

Agreed! I don't like skulls either. I like some punk and metal music, but not the angry FTW stuff, just the songs about politics or gettin' it on. There are lots of "cute" skulls on clothes and jewelry these days, but they still symbolize death or poisoning to me, even if the skull has a pink hairbow.

Anonymous said...

I would like to start out by saying that I love your blog. Of some reason it's very interesting for me (a swede)to read a foreigners perspective on things, especially when they're this well put. And yes, I probably made a ton of mistakes in this text but.. Well, that happens. The point I was gonna make is that we (or at least me) don't have as strong christian traditions/values as you guys. When my nieces/nephews ask me about where grandma is I say that she's in the cementary. That's it. Of course I tell them that some people think that she's in heaven and so forth, but it's not the "obvious answer" like it is for you. I hope you get what I mean.

Med vänliga hälsningar, Robin

James said...

I just discovered your blog. Good work from what I've read so far.

Death anxiety is so deeply förträngd (another one of your words of the day) that we can have death about us without being phased. We're existential dunderheads. Death'll hit us as we get older though, as we approach death more ignobly than any previous generation, trying to cling on to our neurotic lives by pumping ourselves with medications and supporting our rotting bodies with technologies not yet dreamed of. If that sounds dreary then wääääääh, get over yourself!

Ann-Katrin said...

On babies it is absurd, but kids love the skulls for the connection to pirates, not death. Who didn't want to be a pirate as a child? We would play pirates all the time. When we didn't play Cowboys and Indians, that was. Being indian was the coolest, they got to use bow and arrow. But cowboys were pretty cool too. But pirates, pirates were the best, with sharks in the waters and fights to fight!

 


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