Category Archives: nostalgia

The Blink of an Eye

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Once upon a time there were two little boys. So little. They became friends at age two, when their parents and I would do child care swaps, taking turns hosting a playdate before nursery school so that each week at least one parent had a few extra hours to get errands done or maybe just breathe.  Neither of the boys could properly pronounce each other’s parents’ names, and sometimes they even forgot each other’s names, if we’re being honest.  I remember giving out sticker incentives as they learned to pull on their own snow pants, hats, and tiny mittens, and striving to make a grilled cheese sandwich that would pass muster with a 3-year old who liked his mama’s sandwiches better and wasn’t afraid to say so.

And boy, did they have fun together. Playing with trucks and trains and big blocks, and on the rare occasion getting into a tiny bit of mischief. I can still see the two of them looking at me with huge innocent doe eyes, sitting under a table and shaking their heads earnestly, convincing me that they were of course not peeling all of Baxter’s Pokemon stickers from his treasured sticker book and dropping them one by one into the heating vent in the floor. What fun that must’ve been! Several years later, after sadly leaving another awesome play date, one declared that he was “born to play” with the other.

In our new apartment, the boys live a short distance from each other. They are big and responsible enough to take the El home after school together once a week without a grown-up, 10-year olds on a grand urban adventure. They head to one apartment or the other to eat a snack and play Wii, laughing and chatting for hours. I think they would still say they were born to play together.

There are parenting moments that go by so quickly you’d never believe it. One moment you are doling out colorful star stickers to tiny boys working so hard to put on their own mittens – oh, those awful thumb holes! – and in the blink of an eye you are looking at the same boys smiling broadly as they walk through a train station turnstile together after school and although you can just barely still see their baby faces in those expressions, you know you always will.



Shadows & Light

Once upon a time I wrote here at The Wonderwheel with great frequency. The kids were small, I was new to Chicago, and I shared many a parenting roller coaster ride in this space. I’m so happy I did, because when I periodically return here and peruse old posts, selecting a month and year at random, I find so much that I’ve forgotten about the kids’ earlier years and my parenting experiences back then. I’m grateful for the time I took to write down what mattered to me.

Back in those days, I also made a lot of wonderful friends through blogging. We followed each other’s lives closely and offered true support to one other; though many of us were very occupied all day and we were scattered all over the nation, it was the virtual equivalent of a bunch of moms sitting together watching their kids play and grow up together, talking for hours. Over time, I met a great many of those amazing writer friends in person when one of us happened through each other’s part of the world, or when we all descended together on the annual BlogHer conference in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. I was never disappointed or surprised by who I found a virtual friend to be in person; when someone writes with her true voice you really do know her before you know her.

Many of us from back then still write, though some of us have moved to more private platforms as our kids have aged or because we have things to say that are not as appropriate for the public eye. The friendships have survived, either way, and the network of support that formed years ago holds fast. I am so grateful for it.

One of my very favorite people in the whole world is one such friend, the exceptional writer Kristen Spina. I’ve been lucky enough to spend weekends with Kristen every few years, on one coast or the other, and we are in touch almost daily. When Kristen was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas one of the first things she did was to begin writing – and, lo, a blog was born. There we have had the privilege of reading what has been on Kristen’s heart and mind as she has ridden the sharp crests of denial, fear, and strong determination to this point. Now, just two days before her all-day surgery, Kristen is strong. And she is ready.

Today I’m asking this loving, supportive community – old and new Wonderwheel readers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers – to head over to Shadows & Light, where you can read Kristen’s beautiful, honest words. If you’re so inclined, help us support this fabulous woman in her journey by leaving little love notes of support, prayer, and positive thoughts.

We are all behind you as you head into surgery and recovery, my friend, whatever comes. You’ve got this, Kristen. I love you. xoxo

A Year of Yes


Dear Baxter & Lyle:

I have never been so sad to see a summer end.

It was a pretty fabulous one. We got to spend a whole lot of time together and I loved every minute of it.

It was our Summer of Yes. If the three of us wanted to make it happen, we did. We went on our first of (I hope) many camping trips together, road tripping to Northern Michigan and camping in the woods with friends for four days. We canoed and swam and ate ice cream and explored and listened to great music and podcasts for hours and hours on end in the car and came home smiling. I pulled you both out of a scary river current and let Lyle poop at the side of the road when we ran out of options. Those are the things you’ll never forget, while I will always remember the laughter, cooking over the fire, waking up under the tall oaks, twinkling fireflies, and the deep sense of empowerment I felt by the end of the trip. I want to cover some real distance with you one of these summers because I see now that we three can do anything we set our minds to and there is so much to see in this world. Let’s do it.

We also had a wonderful week in California where I went in another direction for a few days so that Nana and Papa could spoil you epically, away from my watchful eye. You swam, saw movies, ate insanely syrupy breakfasts, and went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where you rode all the wildest rides together, screaming, over and over. When I joined you we hiked and climbed rocks along the coast, visited with your great-grandmothers, and had lots of laughs with Nana and Papa. You met your newest cousin, tiny baby Oden, and fell in love with him. You didn’t want to come home to Chicago, you were so happy there.

But we did make it home and then it became the summer of Spot the baby leopard gecko, whom we added to our family as a birthday gift for Lyle. You both adore that cool little guy and take good care of him.

You didn’t get along every minute, god knows, but the two of you are real pals. When Lyle returned a gift at Target yesterday that he couldn’t use, he turned around from the register and gave Baxter half the money he got from the cashier. Baxter hadn’t asked, nor had he complained as he watched Lyle get so many special gifts, but Lyle showed enormous empathy, remembering what it feels like to be the brother not getting anything on a birthday and simply said to his big brother, “Here, Baxter. You can get something, too.” There was so much love and generosity in that exchange.

Although we have wished aloud for this summer to last forever, the final day arrived today. We wondered how it could be, that today really was the last day and that you’d be back at school tomorrow. But walking up to our beach blanket after playing in the lake this glorious afternoon, you both agreed that you were ready. You want to see your friends and to know what’s in store for you in fourth and eighth grades. And so after dinner you made tomorrow’s lunches uncomplainingly and have headed to bed early to read for a while before I go in for snuggling and lights out.

Let’s make it a whole Year of Yes. Yes to new classrooms and friends and learning and new experiences, to travel and time spent relaxing at home and snuggling in bed at night. Yes to reading funny chapter books aloud and baking together and Jedi training in the basement and feeding live crickets to the lizard. Yes to watching you two, who have all my love, growing up more beautifully each year.


Magical Years

I love Christmas.

Love. it.

The lights, the tree, candles in the window. I love listening to great Christmas music in the house and the cheesy stuff in the car on Lite FM radio. I couldn’t be happier to be living again in a place where winter means piles of snow and dangerously dangling icicles and seeing our breath outside. Driving through falling snow to be with family on Christmas Eve. I fully embrace the Elf on the Shelf and prolonging the belief in Santa just as long as we can, reading the Christmas books that come out just once a year along with the decorations, sitting by the fire, and hot cocoa with lots and lots of marshmallows.  I get on a baking jag and can’t stop.  One day in December I made a double batch of sugar cookies, a double batch of butternut squash soup, and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce. It made me so happy to have delicious things to pull out of the freezer at a moment’s notice.  During the first snow I took the boys to the local garden shop and bought the most fragrant wreath I could find.

Seasons mark the passage of time in a way that is important to me, and holidays punctuate it. I piece together my memories of recent years by knowing where we were for Christmas that year, or who hosted Thanksgiving. As the kids grow older, our traditions become more important to us all. Listening to music, lighting candles at dinner, decorating the tree, making a million bajillion cookies and then giving away most of them. Christmas Eve with all of the cousins, the kiddie table set for eight, and the White Elephant Bingo game they love, singing carols all together and then opening gifts from that enormous pile 20 generous family members manage to bring for each other. Receiving actual presents in the midst of this season is truly an embarrassment of riches.

Matt and I, people who tend to prefer living in a less cluttered, more spare house, happily haul in boxes of decorations from storage in early December. Christmas is everywhere in this house, from the place mats and napkins to the hand towels in the bathroom. There are special throw rugs that come out, and certain photos of siblings (some now grown) with Santa and some of old friends in Christmas frames that are only seen during this season. Every snowfall is magical to me in the month of December and I love watching the beach down the street fill with snow while I wait for the lake to freeze over.  Heavy snow on trees and a sunrise over the frozen tundra of beach make me catch my breath with wonder early in the morning when I take the dog out.

Christmas changes over time, like everything else in life, and I believe we are in an especially magical period. I have no scars from Christmas past that open up each year; it is not a mixed experience for me like I know it is for many others.  We’re surrounded by kind, generous family on both sides, people who genuinely like one another and enjoy spending time together. A couple years ago, I thought we had THE magical Christmas and there could be no other like it. This year I realize I am feeling that way for the third year in a row.

The kids are old enough to anticipate it without being completely bonkers (most of the time). They can be up until midnight having fun with the family on Christmas Eve and sleep until almost 9 on Christmas morning, unlike their younger days when they’d be up at 6am NO MATTER WHAT. Even though Baxter and I had a frank conversation about Santa last summer, he clearly suspended reality for the season, choosing to believe (and therefore not questioning us about it or threatening to “trap” Santa) for a while longer. Both of them were on their best behavior, just in case that Elf they looked for every morning was real.

I don’t have a clue what Christmas with teenagers will be like someday, but I have no doubt it will be wonderful in its own completely unexpected way, just as every stage with these boys has been. However, I am fairly certain that when the kids are all grown up and I wax nostalgic about Christmases with the kids, it’ll be this stretch of their middle childhood that my mind will return to.  I can’t believe my great good fortune and need to preserve these memories by writing them down because I fear that someday I will laugh a self-deprecating laugh, accusing myself of sugar-coating these years with the false glow of nostalgia.

But, no: they really are beautiful.

World AIDS Day: I Remember

He was just a little boy – nearly six years old – when he came to live with my family. Lyle’s age now.

First his father died, in June, and then his mother, about six months later. There was no one in the family who could take in both boys during this traumatic period of grieving the loss of one parent and visiting the other in the hospital, so when his aunt and uncle took in his 2-year old brother after his father’s death, Ray came to us.

It was 1985 and I was fourteen — a time when life revolves around friends and school, and attention to family is maybe not at an all-time low, but on its way down fast. I have memories of this time when Ray lived with us, but they’re vague. I know there was sadness and confusion about how not one but two parents could fall ill within such a short period of time, how a family – brothers – could be torn apart. Memories of reading to him in his room, going to his soccer games, riding with him facing backward in the station wagon on the way to Cape Cod, him singing “We Are the World” over and over and over. Ray did a mean Stevie Wonder impression. I remember his birthday party with us, soon after he arrived, and I remember driving to New Haven so that he could see his little brother, Jason.  Every night when my dad got home from work, Ray hollered, “Beat me up, Bob!” and they had a terrific wrestling session. I remember my father pretending to “beat him up” and telling him it was for all the things he didn’t catch him doing that day. The boy screamed with delight. In retrospect that kind of bonding was probably what got the child through this period intact.

I clearly recall reading and rereading a blurb in the neighborhood newsletter that referred to Ray as my “brother” — in quotes, but still a shock. I recall a phone call with an 8th grade friend where Ray got on the line and droned, “Helloooooo…hellooooo…helloooo…” over and over until I lost my mind. I remember my brother being happy there was a younger kid in the house who danced all over the fragile Christmas ornaments and got into trouble more often than he did. For a little while, we did have a pesky, adorable younger brother. There were visits my parents made to his teacher at school, and counseling appointments I was only barely aware of. Looking back I can only imagine how much my parents did for him; I certainly wasn’t paying attention to that at the time.

I remember Ray’s parents pretty well. His mother Yvonne worked in my father’s office back when I was very young. She had a huge smile and chocolate covered peppermint sticks in a clear plastic container on her desk. She was fun, generous and full of life. Beautiful. His father, George, was quieter, I think. A good, kind man. He and my dad worked together later on. They moved to our town, so we saw them once in a while before they fell ill. After they died, the boys’ grandmother moved into our neighborhood and raised the boys together, getting them through high school and into college. My parents remained involved for years and continue to be in touch with them sporadically from across the country. I haven’t been in touch with them in years.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned Ray’s parents had suffered from AIDS. In 1985 our town’s small hospital didn’t seem to recognize it for a while. It was early. One died of kidney failure and the other of pneumonia, I believe. Hearing this for the first time in college, I took in the information as a more reasonable explanation than anything I had come up with, but because I hadn’t known it at the time of their deaths, I don’t tend to connect the loss of these wonderful people with AIDS in a strong way.

But this evening I read Kristen Spina’s gorgeous post remembering her father, who also died of this disease far too young. Something in the incredible way she wrote about her loss connected me to my own memories, and impressed upon me the loss those boys suffered when they were too young to grab hold of enough memories of their own parents before they were gone.

December 1st, tomorrow, is World AIDS Day. I will remember Yvonne and George’s beautiful spirits, because I can, in honor of their children.


When Matt came to bed last night I woke up just enough to ask, “Where’s Mom?”

“What?” he asked, laughing.

“Where’s Mom?” I repeated, getting annoyed. “It’s 11 o’clock and she’s not home yet!”

Thankfully, he oriented me pretty quickly. “She lives in California and you’re in Chicago…”

He could’ve really messed with my head. I’m not sure I’d have been so kind.


I don’t know if the major dream I remember began with that confusing, sleepy conversation, but it seems likely.

I had a long, involved dream in which some kind of new opportunity came up for Matt in San Francisco, where we lived for almost 10 years before moving here in 2006.

In the dream we ultimately realized that there were more opportunities for us there (something we do joke about once in a while, as many interesting things for each of us have surfaced in the Bay Area since we left) and that we needed to move back.

I remember being in tears in my dream, overwhelmed with the idea of leaving my beloved Chicago, but making all sorts of practical decisions (such as deciding we’d go back to renting rather than trying to buy a home) at the same time. It seemed at the time that it was something we had to do and I was resigned to it.

When I woke up, I was shocked to find it was a dream and that I was more than a little sad about that.

My Piano

Many of you have read posts here about my maternal grandparents in the past. You might remember how, three-and-a-half years ago, my cousin and I traveled to Massachusetts and spent Spring Break “hoeing out” the large old house that my grandparents had lived in for 50 years. And perhaps you recall that just a year later I dropped everything to be with them when my grandfather had a stroke, and one year after that my mom and I brought the boys there to visit. Then, last October, I spent most of a week there when my grandmother was in the hospital and doing poorly. They both survived those illnesses, but sadly, my grandfather passed away in January of this year. Some of you read my post about that visit (I was there when he died) and maybe the tribute I wrote to him and attempted to read at his funeral (thanks for stepping in, Matt).

Obviously, my grandparents have meant the world to me.

Just two weeks ago, my 89-year old Grandma D.B. (short for Doris Bird, how awesome is that?) left her apartment in Springfield, Mass., the town where she’d lived for more than 50 years, and moved to California. To me, this was a stunning act of bravery. You have to realize that not only had my grandmother never lived outside of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but she is legally blind. She knew her way around her hometown so well that she could continue to give me driving directions, unseeing. “Honey, at the top of this hill, you’ll see a white picket fence. And there’s an Italian restaurant across the street? Take a left there.”  She is also extremely attached to a great many family members and those of her friends who are still alive. Add to this the fact that my grandfather, her husband of over 60 years, was recently buried there in town, and I honestly don’t know how she did it. But she did. And so there she is in California, soaking up the warm sun and taking tai chi. (I kid you not.)

Although my grandparents were determined to take their upright piano with them to the independent living apartment a few years ago, the new smaller assisted living apartment in California could not accommodate it. And so, as I had mentioned a few years ago that I would love to have the piano should it ever become available, it came to me. The piano arrived this week along with a few sets of towels and a huge box of my grandparents’ beautiful china.

I sat down at the piano last night for the first time and automatically plunked out the “Do-Re-Mi” song from The Sound of Music, which is the only song I know how to play on a piano, thanks to my father sitting down with me at this very piano and teaching me when I was probably about Baxter’s age. There is a big scratch on the piano bench that I made as a small child; a few years back my grandmother found my father’s letter of apology and offer to fix it for them. One box that the movers carried in on Monday held the contents of the piano bench itself. There are ancient books of music, the most contemporary I found being the piano music to Godspell. I found pages from a notebook, a teacher’s scribblings to a student (my aunt?) instructing what to practice that week, and a birthday card my grandfather had given my grandmother. It’s hard to tell if the card is 10 years old or was perhaps the last one he signed for her, but I will send it to her. The piano bench, in and of itself, is a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Tonight as I pulled into the driveway behind my condo building after work, I heard the plink-plink-plink of the piano keys coming through my house. Baxter’s experiments sounded much like my own at his age. I’ll have to teach him “Do-Re-Mi”. Perhaps some of us will take piano lessons. Or maybe I’ll just look at the photo of my grandparents I placed on top of the piano the minute it arrived, trace my finger on the scratch, and remember. Right now, that seems good enough.

What a tremendous gift.

Quotes from the Past

On an organizing spree recently, I came across a brown notebook that looked vaguely familiar. I opened it and there was writing on a few of its small pages. It turns out it was where we wrote funny quotes from Baxter when he was 26-27 months old – “Our first blog,” Matt observed.

In an effort to relieve myself of the responsibility of keeping track of these few pages, I am going to set the quotes down here for our family’s future enjoyment:

Baxter: “What’s that?”

Mommy: “That’s the new necklace I got for Christmas.”

Baxter: “I want to need it!”

Mommy: “Well, this one is my special necklace.”

Baxter: “Mommy share it with Baxter, please!!”

(26 mos.)


“Look at that Daddy! He’s big enough!” – Baxter, looking at Matt’s hand. (27 mos.)


“Oh, Mommy is so fancy!” Whispered before falling asleep, holding Mommy’s hand to his cheek. (27 mos.)


“What is that gee peeking out?” Asked about a singular goose looking around the corner of the page in a book. (27 mos.)


“Where does the sky come from? Where does the sun come from?” (27 mos.)


“What means I’m sorry?” (27 mos.)


“Baxter played with those cars last night with Uncle Dana!” (27 mos.)

One Lucky Mama

It was almost time for Lyle to change into his pajamas this evening when I offered to take him on a short dog walk with me.  We decided to walk just down to the beach and back to get a little fresh air.  As Lyle ran ahead, screeching to a halt as if his shoes had some sort of braking system at each driveway and alleyway, I took in how still the night was.  It had been a chilly and windy day here, necessitating my winter down coat for our earlier walks; I didn’t need it anymore tonight.

The beach lured us in, sunlight glowing on the rising waves.  The air was still and we watched a dozen seagulls coasting over the water, waiting to see one diving for a fish. We talked about different types of shells we found and I showed him that there were huge shadows over the lake because the sun was setting behind us, behind the buildings at the end of our street. But where the sun was bright, the light on the water, the sand, and my boy was beautiful.

The scene reminded me of one of my favorite Mother’s Days, when we lived in San Francisco, a few months before Lyle was born.  I woke up in our apartment that day to breakfast in bed brought in by Matt and Baxter (probably from Arizmendi Bakery), and we looked out our bedroom window at a clear, sunny spring day.  On a fogless day like that we could see the ocean about 30 blocks away from our bed, and suddenly being there was all I wanted.  And so the three of us headed out to play at Ocean Beach after breakfast and it was a glorious morning. My sense memory of the clear California sunlight and that blue, blue water is very strong. I felt lucky to be in it.

3-year old Baxter patting unborn Lyle on Mother’s Day 2004

As I thought about that long ago morning, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I was standing on a beach in Chicago this time, talking to that once unborn child, six years later on the eve of Mother’s Day, when suddenly it started to rain. Hard, and from out of nowhere.  “Lyle!” I said, delighted, “the sun is shining and it’s raining! We should look for a –” I turned as I said it and there in front of us was suddenly forming the most incredible rainbow I’ve seen in my life.  It extended over Lake Michigan in a perfect arc, both ends resting atop the water right in front of us and appearing to be close enough that we could reach out, grab it and take it home in our pockets to admire later.  As the colors became brighter and stronger, there emerged a slightly lighter second rainbow – a double rainbow! – above it.  I looked around but we were the only ones on the beach to witness this wonder so close up. If I’d had my camera with me you would have thought I’d photoshopped it in, it was that unbelievable.  I searched for an image similar to it and it was somewhat like this one without the landforms behind it and a little brighter and closer.

We stood there in amazement. I told my boy that seeing a rainbow like this will bring us great luck and we talked about how special it was to have seen it together. We stood back on the sidewalk before it faded and carefully made our own visual memories of it so we’d never forget it.  I know we never will.

I now have another amazing Mother’s Day memory from another beach in a different city with my second child to add to my cache. I felt like the luckiest person in the whole world.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lyle’s rendering: to help him remember


I think –  or at least I am hopeful – that my readers get a sense of my overwhelming gratitude for my life from this blog on a regular basis.  This Thanksgiving it truly abounds.

I’m filled with gratitude about these past few months, when I’ve had the privilege of having successful, fulfilling work experiences and also being with my family so much more.  I’m able to plan for and cook dinners for my family, know when the kids’ gym days are, and remember who has what quiz on which day.  I’m able to practice music with the boys every day and run to the grocery store when they’re at school.  Some years in the recent past I couldn’t even remember what Baxter’s room number was at school, let alone when he had art class.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that my grandparents are well enough to be together in their own home on this Thanksgiving; every day is a gift.  I’m so grateful that at Christmas we’ll be able to see my wonderful family in California, and that our nearby family is incredibly supportive and loving.  I’m grateful for the relationships my kids have with their cousins and the ones I have with mine.

I’m so thankful that Lyle, who can be what my grandmother refers to as a “reluctant dragon”, has started school and is happily engaged there, leaving the house every day with a smile and a “smooch” and usually a few nose kisses.  I love that he’s willing to stretch himself to learn to play the violin, and accept the bumps along the road in the process.  I’m thankful every day for his snuggles and the sparkle in his eyes – yes, even when it’s the littlest bit defiant.  And I’m grateful that he and his brother are so close and have a great time playing together.

My gratitude also knows no bounds for Baxter, whose zest for life has been enormous from the minute he was born, diving into the world with both arms straight ahead like Superman (yes – he did).  Even his teacher used the word “enthusiastic” at least twice in his conference last week.  The fact that his glass is not just half-full, but more like 99% full much of the time brings joy to all of us.  And I will add that I’m thankful his categorizing and memorizing brain has begun to shift from the world of Pokemon to the world of Greek mythology: a welcome respite for us.

I’m beyond thankful for Matt, who keeps me laughing and graces us with the lovely sounds of his guitar as he learns to play.  I love that he comes home at night and manages to correct some of the things I tend to let go with the kids and that he always cleans up the kitchen in the evening after I’ve made dinner.  I’m grateful for his hard work at his job,  his patience with me and my quirks, and his wrestling with the kids.

And last but surely not least, I’m grateful for all of you, Wonderfriends, whether you are a member of my family, an old friend, new friend, or someone I know well but haven’t met in person yet.  Thank you for your support, for coming back here again and again, and for the laughs.

I hope each and every one of you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow – a chance to enjoy a good meal and conversation with people you love, and to think about all that you are grateful for in your lives.