I remember my sister Liz clearly as a toddler. Her back was shaped like a lower case L, curving around her bubble behind. Her voice was high and bubbly, and everything that she said was goofy—intentionally goofy. I didn’t realize until high school, unfortunately, that she was trying to make me laugh. I missed out on years of laughter, because I just thought she was Little Liz. Little Liz, who Joe and I would “time” to get us things. (I take full credit for her later success at the 400 in track.)

Little Liz who was always the family peacemaker. Little Liz who took a 5 minute video of my dad golfing (so he could see his swing), holding our parent’s huge VHS camcorder on her 3-year-old little shoulder, commentating the whole time with her little froggie toddler voice, “Oooooooooooooo!” “That one went really high!” “Ooooooooooo!” “Reaaaaaaallly far!” It wasn’t an intentional family moment caught on video, but it is my favorite of all the family videos we own.

I didn’t remember this Little Liz quite as vividly until the past few months, when her toddler personality clone came to life in her son, my 18 month old nephew, Kellen. Wally Ben and I call him Kookie Kellen, and he immediately responds saying, “Wacky Wally!” in his high little froggie toddler voice.

That’s right, he’s an early talker. He was at the pediatrician for his most recent check up and the doctor handed him a pen-like object to distract him while she checked his ears. He put his thumb on the top and said, “Click it!” The doctor was surprised, “Did he just say click it? Would you say he has at least 10 words?” Liz said, “Ummm, I actually would say he has more like 300 words.” She stopped counting when he sat on her couch this summer, looked at the blank TV, and said, “Olympics, on.” Oh, and just this morning, on a drive, Kellen looked out the window and said, “Oh my gosh! A train!” He’s slightly advanced in the vocabulary department.

So yes, Wally Ben and I call him “Kookie Kellen” because he makes us laugh. On purpose. In the same, subtle way Little Liz used to. He makes you laugh just in the way he enjoys life, encouraging you to enjoy it with him. As an example, he has been walking for months, but still is a little Frankenstein wobbly. (As advanced as he is in the talking department, he is taking his time mastering the art of coordination. The funniest sight was watching my dad, who is a little unbalanced because of a numb heel, holding Kookie Kellens little hand, and watching them both toddle into the gas station on a stop on our recent road trip.)

Anyhow, despite his toddling, he loves to run. But his idea of running isn’t quite track ready. You have heard that two ugly parents will inevitably make a cute baby. Perhaps the same theory holds here with two track stars—let’s just say if he wanted to watch the Olympics because of his track dreams, he should keep dreaming. When he runs, he leans his head and torso forward, making himself forward heavy, and lets his weight project him forward. But the smile on his face goes for miles, and you just know that smile is meant for your personal delight.

Because he is such an advanced talker, he is unclassifiable. He is not a toddler. He is not a baby. I was recently deceived into thinking he was like Wally Ben, because of his walking and talking, and I let him play trains with Wally. After rebuilding the entire table twice while holding his little destructive, pudgy, waving arms back, I realized he is not choo choo approved. Wally Ben was recently deceived about his baby-ness when he witnessed him sleeping his nap with a pacifier. We tell WV that Vivi uses pacifiers, not Wally. Pacifiers are for babies. Wally didn’t say anything at the time, but when he saw Kellen with a pacifier, he tried working that one out for days afterward. “Now, Kellen is not a big boy. Kellen had a pacifier yesterday. But Kellen is not a baby. Babies use pacifiers.”

Wally Ben is right. Kellen is not a big boy. And Kellen is not a baby. He is just Kookie Kellen. He is my reminder of Little Liz. And I love him!

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