Saturday, December 30, 2006


Dear Spike:

Your mother tells me that she can feel you moving, pretty much all the time these days. Every night I put my hand on her stomach, but still can’t feel you in there.

Even still, it’s getting harder and harder to miss that you’re coming. And since we don’t want to wait until the last moment to get everything ready for your arrival, we’ve been working hard over the past few weeks.

A few days ago, we finished painting your room. Originally, we thought we’d do it up in yellow and blue, but on the way to the store to buy the paint, we changed our minds.

So it’s mossy green with a darker green trim. It made us rather nervous, at first, because we weren’t sure we liked it. But then the elephants went up — a parade of them in three different shades of brown marching around the room — and suddenly we could see it: A place we’re certain you’ll love.

We also painted your mother’s old dresser and desk for you (we even placed an internet order for some elephant-shaped knobs for the dresser) and we’ve been on the lookout, this week, for a crib, changing table, rocker, stroller and bassinet.

Tonight as we were heading to one baby store, your mother told me she was surprised that I seemed to enjoy preparing our home for you. Most men, she said, just don’t pay as much interest to such things.

I don’t know if that is true. I mean, haven’t we evolved past such inhibiting gender roles?

But as we walked through the store, looking at clothes, cribs and toys, I realized that some things haven’t changed as much as I thought.

The clothes area was particularly telling: Since we won’t know what sex you are for another week, we were drawn to unisex clothing. And that meant there just wasn’t much to look at.

Almost every piece of clothing was either bright pink or baby blue, with flowers and lace and bows for the girls and trucks and tools and baseballs for boys. It makes me sad that people make such a big deal of their baby’s gender, since gender means less to babies than it will at any other time of their lives.

Even worse were the toys. On the left-hand side of the aisle: rows and rows of dolls and E-Z Bake Ovens and make-up kits for girls. On the right: super heroes and space ships and swords and guns.

Even the toys meant to bend the gender lines were a disappointment: The dolls, for boys, all had guns or tools. The sports equipment, for girls, all came in the color pink.

We’ll do our best to allow you to choose your interests — and favorite colors — on your own, but I fear there’s just so much that our society will choose for you.

I suppose there isn’t any serious harm in it, so long as you know that you can be a man and still like to dance and cook (just ask your dad). You can be a woman and like baseball and comic book movies (just ask your mom).

It’s all up to you.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


Dear Spike:

Emma died early Sunday morning in your mother’s arms, lying between us with her head on my pillow and her tiny body curled up in the covers. It was what I had been dreading and yet, in her last hours, what I had been hoping for as well. On her final day she couldn’t walk and wouldn’t drink or eat. She gasped for breath and meowed softly. I really believe she wanted to go. And when she did, I was relieved for her.

I made for her a wooden box from some plywood and a section of two-by-fours left over from when I built the wine cellar. Inside, I laid her between two sheets cut from her favorite yellow blanket. And then I closed the top and nailed it shut.

It was still dark as I dug the hole, under a paving stone near the garage, with your mother standing next to me in the snow. The spot we selected was one she enjoyed looking over from the window in your room. The birds gather there, perching on the sprawling lilac bush by the back deck, picking seeds from the faces of the sunflowers in our garden.

The birds hadn’t visited since the snow began, but we’ve seen them often in the past few days. Today, your mother told me she saw the barren bush was filled with birds. “Maybe 50 of them,” she said. They’d come to visit Emma, we agreed.

We began to paint your room the day after Emma died. We needed a distraction from the sorrow of losing our beautiful little orange tabby. The room we chose is in the northwest corner of our home. It stays coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter, and when the sun sets it is often filled with the most stunning colors and shadows.

One day, I’m sure you will notice me gazing out your window at the row of paving stones near the garage. You may sense that I am sad as I watch the birds dart between the branches of the lilac bush. But this is not the case.

I am simply watching. For the birds in the lilac bush. For the wind against the wild flowers that grow beneath the window. For the shadows of the giant sunflowers to wash across the grass.

I’m pleased that this is the view you’ll have from your window. Perhaps it will help you understand that the littlest things in life are often the most beautiful.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Dear Spike,

She’s a dainty orange tabby cat, so small she looks like a kitten. We call her Emma.

Emma was the runt of the litter. When we found her at the humane society, she weighed half a pound and was very sick. We brought her home and nursed her to health. She’s been a part of our family for five years, now.

Someday, my child, we’ll sit under the clear night sky and watch for falling stars. When we see one, we’ll make a wish. And at the moment, I think you’ll understand, as I do, that the very best things in life are like falling stars.

As it turned out there was only so much we could do for Emma. A few months ago, after a period in which she had been losing weight and hiding, for days at a time, in dark corners of our home, we took her to the veterinarian.

It turns out that although Emma grew into a small but beautiful adult cat, her kidneys didn’t keep up. They’re tiny little things, so small that the doctor could hardly find them when she felt under Emma’s belly.

The first time we nursed her to health with special kitten food and formula. The second time it was antibiotics, special food for cats with bad kidneys, medicine for nausea and weekly intravenous fluid treatments.

This time, I’m not sure how much more we can do. She’s stopped eating on her own. She spends most of her day sleeping on a towel in one of the bathroom cupboards. And we can’t even let her onto our bed, anymore, because she’s been having accidents.

At some point, and I fear that point may come soon, we’re going to have to say goodbye.

Most cats live for 10 or 15 years. Some purebreds live into their early 20s. Emma, if she’s fortunate, will live to be six.

One evening, a few summers back, your mother and I were at a concert on our college campus. The Band was Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Toward the end of the show, the percussionist RoyEl was playing a solo set when a meteor flashed across the sky, right above the stage, so bright it lit up the entire crowd.

It was only just a matter of seconds — so brief that the musician, who had his eyes closed, didn’t even seem to notice.

But that moment was so beautiful. And it was made more so by its brevity.

I sure hope you get to meet Emma. It would be nice to have a photograph of you and her together.

More likely, I fear, is that her star will fall before yours appears. Death is part of life, albeit one we have trouble accepting.

More important, in any case, is the beauty that comes in between. Emma’s beauty was accentuated by her brevity and though it is hard to see her star fall, it makes her time here all the more special.

There is much beauty in this life, and the most beautiful things come and go quickly.

Whatever you do, keep your eyes open. I don’t want you to miss any of it.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


Dear Spike:

This time around, Dr. Stewart had no trouble finding your heartbeat. Thwump. Thwump. Thwump. Thwump. A hundred and sixty beats a minute — a very healthy rate, she said.

Next visit, about four weeks from now, we'll get another ultrasound picture and, if you're not too shy, we'll find out if you're a boy or a girl.

Just as exciting, your mother says she can feel you moving around inside of her belly. The fluttering feeling began a few days ago — at first she wasn't sure what it was, but after a while she began to suspect it was you dancing around in there. Now, having researched the matter in a few books, she's quite convinced. You seem to be most active at night, when your mom is lying still and on her back.

Of course, I can only imagine how strange it must be for your mom to have another living person inside of her. I think she's still getting used to the idea — which seems especially real to her now that she can feel you — but she's also very excited about it.

This Tuesday, you'll be 16 weeks along. That means your birthday will come around the end of May or beginning of June. If you're a bit late, we might even share a birthday. (If that happens, I'll let you choose what kind of cake we have.)



Dear Spike:

You mother attended the final class of her master’s program yesterday. In a few weeks, her grades will come in the mail and she will officially be done with this stage of her academic career.

I couldn’t be prouder of what she’s accomplished over the past few years, all while teaching full time.

I hope she’ll be an inspiration to you.

We want you to attend college, of course. And an advanced degree, like your mother’s, is a noble goal. But more importantly — and regardless of how long you go to school — I hope her example will inspire you to continue learning, throughout your life.

There is much in this world you cannot control. But your learning is entirely up to you.

Most likely, you’ll do much of that learning in classrooms and lecture halls. You’ll do homework, take tests, get grades.

But I hope you’ll also take time to read. To study. To speak. To debate.

Attend classes and lectures. Watch movies. Travel. Associate with interesting people.

I came home today to find your mother on the couch, curled under a blanket and engrossed in a new book. Done with school, for the moment, she didn’t have to read it. She was simply doing it because she loves to read and she loves to learn.

Follow her, my child. There is no more important advice I can give you.

Learn. And keep learning.