A Lady Baby Update

The blog’s been weeks in London, but I’ve been home and also again with Lady Baby! I feel so lucky to have seen her each of the months of her new life, but when we first saw each other again, I wondered if she would remember me at all. She did look slightly puzzled, the way you look about someone you can’t quite place, not really known, but familiar. We settled quickly back into knowing each other!

Lady Baby initiates smiles now, smiles in response to smiles, and laughs at our dumbest songs or sounds or moves. It’s a huge treat to watch her parents – her mom sings little love songs when she greets her, “oh my baby, here’s my baby.” Lady Baby’s dad returns to her the sounds she makes and elicits giggles with funny faces and moves.

Lady Baby loves books. She sits in the reader’s lap with a book in front, and if you aren’t the reader, you can watch her eyes scan the page as she listens to the words. Neither image nor words can have much meaning, but something in the patterns of both transfixes her. She sits with her little arms outstretched – sometimes relaxed, other times pumping, as she vocalizes sounds of effort and concentration along with the reader. (“The Barnyard Dance” and “Bear Snoozes On” are lively indeed.)

The bathtub brings on those sounds as well. Lady Baby bathes in a clever plastic bathtub with a molded seat and headrest. With much endeavor, she agitates the water and a little baby soap to make bubbles. She begins with a gathering in that makes you think all her core muscles are tightened and a look of concentration with jaw clenched (such a little jaw), then takes in a breath and explodes in a whirlwind, windmill, of arms and legs and splashes. Then she laughs – a cackle of delight followed by a smile of complicity at what she’s done. As warm water and bubbles eddy about her, the sequence begins again.

It’s entertainment for all her staff hovering next to the tub. Sensing fatigue, Mr. Carson washes her hair and lifts her out. Mrs. Hughes places her on a warm towel and bundles her up.

During the long and sunny Anchorage spring days, Lady Baby loves outings in a front carrier or stroller. Her “Merry Muscles” jumper hangs in the kitchen – she twirls and pirouettes, sometimes hitting on two feet, bending knees and rising up in delight, other times twirling on the toe of one foot while her arms hang down or reach toward a passing cat or dog.

The Ladies Cora and Megan, in particular, plant themselves nearby when she is jumping – maybe it’s the sunshine in the kitchen, or maybe it’s the natural protective instincts of such dogs – occasionally an orange cat walks by as well.

Lady Baby is fun, her days full and peaceful. I can hardly wait to go back.

A POSTSCRIPT:  After reading this, the wordsmith wrote me a note:

“I think babies — well, all children, really — aren’t so discriminating and just love being read to, whatever the book, right? Still, it’s important to entertain the reader as well.

My favorite baby book is “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” for the very bright, simple illustrations but also for the rhythm and opportunity to put some drama into a tale of tree-climbing and pending catastrophe. Plus, who doesn’t like to say “coconut?”

Everybody likes “Goodnight Moon” but I actually prefer Margaret Wise Brown’s “Big Red Barn” as a soothing, bedtime ritual.

And for a peek-a-boo flap book, “Where is Baby’s Belly Button?” is great.”

Other suggestions from you readers? I’m always looking now!

Visiting Mrs. Delany at the British Museum

A quick reply from the Superintendent of the Print Room at the British Museum advised me where to go: “the door is located just behind the Michelangelo cartoon” in Room 90 of the museum. (To visit you need only a form of identification and to know what you would like to see.)

There to see some of Mrs. Delany’s collages, I followed directions and rang the buzzer next to a wooden, glass-paneled door. A young man greeted me and led me to a little locker for my belongings, but let me keep my iPhone, a pencil, and a notebook.

The Study Room is beautiful, large and rectangular, lit by skylights overhead. It smells like paper – like a bookstore, but an older flavor. Only the clickety-click of computer keys and the occasional ring of an old-fashioned telephone interrupted the library hush. People with looks of concentration and focus (dissertation work? book research? curiosity?) sat at long wooden tables in front of easel-like structures (for propping works to view).

I filled out a request slip for a selection of Mrs. Delany’s “mosaicks,” and soon a Museum Assistant brought me a pair of white cotton gloves and a large, but thin, archival box. She told me I could pick up each of the 10 pieces (a sample – Mrs. D. made nearly 1,000), and instructed me to place them carefully atop one another when finished.

It thrilled me to see the depth and dimensionality of these paper collages in real life. The blossoms appear against always-black backgrounds, amazingly still vibrant after 200 years. It surprised me to see that each eight by twelve-inch piece of black paper is glued (apparently by Mrs. D.) to strips of gray paper – making an edging. No longer in albums, as they were when received from Mrs. Delany’s descendants in 1897, the Museum has inset the whole page into protective recessed mounts.

Sometimes the smallest pieces of a flower are paper, even the fine tiny bits of deeper color along the edges of leaves or veins. Paint sometimes makes shadows. Mrs. Delany signed with her initials and pasted a label with the flower’s botanical name to one side of the stem at the bottom. The first piece was a spirea – the leaves cut paper, but the tiny blossoms painted with white opaque paint we would call gouache (Mrs. Delany would have said “bodycolour”).

As I worked my way through the box, and then drew one of the Delany flowers on my iPhone, I thought about Molly Peacock visiting the Prints and Drawings Room to work on her book “The Paper Garden.” Back home, I reread the sections about her visits, and then began to reread the whole wonderful book. (I first wrote about it here.)

Peacock tells of finding by chance Ruth Hayden’s “Mrs Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers” in the Museum gift shop and reading it on the plane home. Hayden was the great, great, great, great, great, great, great niece of Mrs. Delany, and Peacock relates how Hayden came to write her book after countless visits to see the images, and she mingles Hayden’s story with that of Mrs. Delany’s – and her own – to inspire us.

Look at the world! Peacock says, “Observation of one thing leads to unobserved revelation of another.” And she says it again: “Direct examination leads to indirect epiphany.”

With the language and grace of the poet she is, Peacock articulates the importance of practicing an art to “process the material of a life” – and by that she means “love and death and every insect bite in between…”. In the book, Molly Peacock invites us to sort through our creative impulses and find the center of such work for ourselves.


On the plane home from Alaska and Lady Baby, I read nearly all of V.S. Pritchett’s “London Perceived.” It’s an old book, first published in 1962 – a few years before I attended a university in the north of England for a year. I wish I’d read it then (I went in 1965) because with the myopia of youth, I thought the war was forever earlier. Now I realize it was only 20 years earlier.

Pritchett does describe the London I found then – full of burned and bombed blocks turned magenta by rosebay willow herb – the flower we call fireweed, the Thames dirty, and the air so polluted it grimed buildings and one’s face after a day in the city.

I often went to London for the weekend in that university year. I’d hitchhike down the motorway with another student, accepting rides in huge lorries (do not tell this to Lady Baby – times have changed so much). It was the 60s, and on top of its history London was “happening.” I loved it. And have loved it ever since on trips with my family.

Late last fall the mother of my young friend in Anchorage (my friend is 12 now), my good-natured husband, and I hatched a plan to visit London during school spring break. An adventure so rare and unlikely, it has cheered our thinking all winter.

I wondered how to talk about this trip on “Her spirits rose…” so rather than waiting till home to absorb and write, I decided to keep a London diary on the iPad – a record day-by-day of the highlights of our trip.

A few days into the trip (unrecorded days), on a day-trip to Oxford, we saw a fence protecting a construction site for the Bodleian Library. On the fence’s blank surfaces, the Library had enlarged images of treasures from its holdings in an alphabet list. Our young friend posed in front of “T is for Tolkien.”

A trip to England is much about language and literature. Already thinking about the pleasures of words – seeing the fence planted a seed, and the next morning I woke up thinking – aah! A London alphabet – an organizing principle for a travel tale!