Category Archives: nostalgia

Tomorrow

Dear Baxter,

On the night before your first day of kindergarten in August 2005, your parents started a blog, Baxtergarten. I didn’t really know what a blog was, but I remember sitting down to write my first post that night in the little sunroom off our bedroom in San Francisco as if it were yesterday. I wrote about how we helped prepare you for school and what was on my mind as you set off for such a big adventure. What a milestone in our lives that was! I found the post – you can read it here.

On this, the night before your last day of senior year in high school, with college on the immediate horizon, this paragraph of that kindergarten eve post brings tears to my eyes:

Everyone asks if we’re nervous or sad about this big change. I can’t speak for Matt, but I’m mostly just excited. I don’t feel nervous at all, and sad? – no. It’s more like nostalgia for me. Amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to this night, and how much Baxter has changed in these four-and-three-quarter years. But he couldn’t be more ready for this new adventure, and I feel confident that he’s completely up for it. That much was clear when we watched him bolt up the unfamiliar school stairs in search of the play yard on Friday. So I feel ready, as ready as that backpack and lunchbox and fresh outfit all laid out in his room. Then again, maybe that’s just tonight.

There was so much I knew about who you were at age almost-five, and a great deal I could have guessed at if anyone had asked me what you’d be like as you’re leaving high school and home. But there were a few things I never could’ve known back then.

I knew you had a great sense of humor when you went off to kindergarten, but I didn’t know that you’d be making me fall over laughing just about every day as a high school senior with your dry and very quick wit.

I knew you could chant for a Democratic candidate with the best of them, but I didn’t know you’d be following politics and world events as closely as I am in 2018. Thanks for marching with me this year and for paying attention. I’m sorry you won’t be 18 in time for the midterms.

I knew then that you loved music and that each time I was about to turn up one of my favorite songs you’d call out from the back seat of the car to ask me to turn it up. “I love this one!” you’d crow from your booster seat. But I didn’t know that we’d be touring colleges all over the midwest years later, belting out the Hamilton soundtrack together in the car over and over from Illinois to Minnesota to Iowa. I should’ve known you’d be able to memorize every word, though, you always could do that.

I didn’t know that my little guy who avoided writing and drawing at that age would make me hilarious hand-drawn cards every Mother’s Day and birthday year after year, all the way through high school, gifting me a treasure trove of delightful cards to enjoy long after he leaves home.

I knew that you loved animals, particularly dinosaurs, the day you went off to kindergarten, and that you wanted to be a zoologist or paleontologist when you grew up. You slept with a visual animal dictionary under your pillow, after all. But with all the interest in math and computer science during the intervening years, I didn’t know that by the end of your senior year you’d be hoping to study biology – with an eye toward zoology – in college. When you went to the 2-day event for admitted college students this past spring, you told me the best class you sat in on was zoology and that on the day you visited they were learning about dinosaur sex. See? College is going to be awesome, son.

Just as I felt that night before kindergarten so many years ago – before Pokemon and Bey Blades and our move to Chicago and the changes in our family, the stapled bonus jaguar and summers at our little urban beach on Columbia Ave. and all those other Explore More projects and before the glasses and the braces and then adjusting to the lack of braces and the contacts and the new friends and all the crazy house moves and the Pathfinder and the Magic the Gathering and the Dungeons and Dragons and the college tours and you Rick Rolling me on the Sonos and trips to California and long road trips together and all those big high school kids gathered around the dining room table playing games and eating pizza and dropping f-bombs and all the laughs at the dinner table and the night you managed to get tomato soup all the way onto the wall across the room (we still don’t know how you did it) and a million bedtime hugs and I love yous – I feel exactly the same way about the milestone you have now approached. That is:

I’m mostly just excited. I don’t feel nervous at all, and sad? – no. It’s more like nostalgia for me. Amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to this night, and how much you have changed in these 17-and-a-half years. And also, in hindsight, all the ways you are exactly who you were at 4-and-three-quarters. But now, like then, you couldn’t be more ready for this new adventure, and I feel confident that you are completely, 100%, up for it. Also, looking back at kindergarten eve, it’s great that you make your own lunch and pick out your own clothes, so thanks for that.

Go take on the world, my love. The world is a wonderful place with you in it and every new person and place you meet will be made better for knowing you.

Love, Mom

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Mirrors

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Beth, Jordan, Julie, Cara, Sara

 

Wherever, whenever we meet

there is love.

Gathering every year or two

we see our selves in each other’s faces

the reflection of younger features known so well from pictures

shared and reshared and texted at amusing moments

for years on end

until we see the young faces in the middle-aged

and can no longer tell the two apart

and we know it doesn’t matter anyway.

We see our own selves at 19 and 26 and 30 and 38 and 42

and, now: 47, 48.

In one visit everyone suddenly has BIFOCALS

and then eventually we’ve all upgraded to PROGRESSIVES

and each time someone ventures to share another change in her life

the odd CHIN HAIR or the first HOT FLASHES

or a HEALTH SCARE or a disdain for PROMPOSALS

someone else or four someone elses raise their hands

and say, Oh, yes – me, too, with that thing you shared. Me, too.

The funny texts from parents

and kids growing up awfully fast, with moody eighth graders being a real thing

that needs to be discussed at length

and one of us with a son about to leave for the college where we all met

each other’s faces

29 years ago

and that feels very, very eerie and wonderful.

There is love

and there is laughter, so much of it,

the kind that hurts your face

and your abs

and makes you run for the bathroom very quickly after age 40

and that requires you to find a box of Kleenex fifteen minutes into the visit

because at least three of you are already crying laughing and no one can breathe

and there’s something said about starting a podcast in which it’s all dead air

because of the incessant silent unbreathing laughter

and it’s not a visit until she needs to take her inhaler from all the laughing.

Which only happens with these particular friends.

We see our past and present selves all bound into one

when we look into each other’s faces

and we see the future as well,

one in which we will take trips

New Orleans, ASAP!

Mexico, for our 50th birthdays!

or just, you know, anywhere that lets us talk

so probably not a library or movie theater

and we talk about building a compound

for us all when we get old

to take care of each other

where there will be talking and laughter

amid the shared meals and care

and noisy chickens on the roof so we always have fresh eggs,

but we won’t hear them because we’ll all be a little deaf, she assures us.

And so we stand in middle age

or rather lie doubled over laughing in middle age,

tears streaming from our eyes,

our oldest truest selves revealed to us yet again

and seeing with gratitude

past, present, and future together

in each other’s lovely faces

and all it really means is

there is love.

 

 

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.

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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

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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.

Love,
Mommy

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.

Dreams

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.

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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.)

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

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

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

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

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“What means I’m sorry?” (27 mos.)

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