What The Babies Are Doing Really

Babies make simpletons of us all, even of old Ralph Waldo Emerson, who I fell in love with all over again yesterday morning on reading what he had to say about his own little ones.

It’s funny because you think of Emerson as this very grave man, with his  great nose and his sad wise eyes and those sloping shoulders you see in every portrait and bust ever done of him;  but when he brought that careful attention to his babies’ doings, something so delightful emerges, I just had to jot some of it down here.

For example, he recorded that at four months old  his baby “studies Manipulation, and Palmistry and Optics.”

Wh-a-a-a- at? I thought at first – until I realized that of course! Those are exactly the topics all babies are puzzling about on first coming awake in the world.

Optics: ‘Well it’s certainly much brighter here than it was in my old apartment and things appear to be more ‘layered’. I mean here’s my terrycloth bunny that seems much larger than that that chest of drawers over there. Yet the chest holds all my clothes!’

Manipulation: ‘And what are these two waving appendages that go wherever I go and can I get either one of them into my mouth?'”

Palmistry: ‘Ah yes, here’s one now, right near my mouth and almost in it, a knotty-appearing  thing that opens and closes like a day lily with five smaller and more wiggly appendages attached. Hmmmm.’

A few years later when a little sister came to Emerson and his wife, he wrote that she “slept incessantly – hands up, as for defense.”

Later, as she was learning to walk he wrote of “little balancing Nelly, moving with forthspread arms and smelling as delicious as a cake pan.”

Delicious as a cake pan:  I love that. I love that he said his little son was ” as handsome as Walden Pond at sunrise.”

And I really love that I live just 20 minutes from Walden Pond and drove past it at 7 last night – past its deep waters, and the  exiting pilgrims who had come to see where Emerson’s great friend Thoreau built his cabin and lived deliberately; past the train tracks whose shuttling commerce back and forth from Cambridge to Fitchburg at first so alarmed the denizens of sleepy Concord.

I was returning from a family event where our own new baby herself kept busy studying Manipulation and Palmistry and  Optics. I felt so glad of my morning reading, which let me look at this first granddaughter with a whole new set of eyes, and isn’t that what a good writer does for us every time.

Maybe little Callie will write one day herself. What fun to see if what SHE has to say! What fun to learn of any new person’s ‘take’ on the world !


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