A quick week at Downtown Abbey in late January was all about words and ice. While the East Coast shivered under Alaska’s missing Arctic air, thawing rain alternated with freezing to coat Anchorage streets with a thick layer of ice, polished by wind one day, covered with water another.
When we arrived (my good-natured husband, Poppa, also came north), Lady Baby seemed glad to see us but very calm. She sat us on the couch and placed plastic firemen hats on our heads, one pink, one red. We reacquainted ourselves with all the babies, Lady Cora, and the Lords Cromwell and Wolsey. We inspected the babies’ new clothes, and Lady Baby requested that we hang the babies’ jackets in the “entryway.”
And it’s like that with everything. It isn’t anymore marveling that she can pronounce things – as Mrs. Hughes said – she knows all the words of her world. The joy now comes with how the words are used, so appropriately, in comments and judgments and the telling of stories.
Her little narrative phrases exactly capture the essence of a situation. To her mother, about her dad during a very busy work week: “Daddy. Nice guy. Works.” We all took to saying it.
And she’s learning words to songs. We audited her music class where she and toddler friends and their mothers or fathers greet each other with song, learn about rhythm by drumming with sticks or clapping, and follow the teacher’s lead as she sings. Lady Baby sings along now – with her mother whose pretty voice can defuse a potentially difficult situation with a verse or two of “Baby Beluga” or “Shake Those Grumpies Out,” and with her dad who learned “Amazing Grace” to share with her.
When I started my usual version of our “Booley Girl” song, a sometimes lullaby, repeated since she was born to a sleepy Lady Baby, (I can’t sing, the words are nonsense, and packed with truth: I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, you’re the booley girl, I love you truly. Etc.), she startled me mid-hug by joining in and knowing all the words.
We often realize now how much she’s been listening and absorbing all along. She still has that agreeable, conversational “yes” or “yeah” (though sometimes it’s accompanied by a contradicting shake of her head). And the way she employs those affirmatives allows one to chatter on to her.
We talk about the increasingly complicated books we read, sharing repeated laughs about “Miss Honeycutt’s Hat” (it’s a real chicken). She delighted her mother one evening by saying “I’m glad to see you mama.” Since we’d been cautioning one another about the ice, she’d say, “Be careful Poppa,” when he headed out the door.
Her mother always understands what she says, and as the week went by I learned to translate things better – but not always. The one day I saw a true glimpse of two-year old was when we needed to wash hands. I tried to do “wishy washy” where I rub her hands gently with soap under the water. She would have no part, pulled her hands back and said a word several times with increasing frustration. Luckily Mrs. Hughes called out from the other room: “Self – she wants to do it herself!”
Of course – I’m reminded – “You know nothing Granny Kaytee.”