Monday, January 29, 2007


Dear Spike:

My friend Jon moved out here about eight months ago. At the time, he and his wife expected they would be apart for just a month or two — he getting set up in Salt Lake City, she and the children selling the family home in Los Angeles.

But the housing market is difficult for sellers right now — and particularly so in L.A. So their family separation has stretched out months longer than expected and there appears to be no end in sight.

Life is funny in that way. It will test the limits of your patience and the bounds of your love. And most often it does so when you believe, as my friend Jon did, that you’re very close to “having it made.”

But the most challenging times in our lives are also the times in which we are given the most opportunities to grow. Jon, for instance, is learning to trust his wife to make decisions about their two children that they once made together. She’s learning to do things on her own.

Their children are learning something too, I think. In a world in which so many of their peers come from single-parent families, they are being given an early taste of what that is like. They’re still very young — three and five years old — and so it may be a taste they remember faintly, if at all. All the same, at this impressionable age, I imagine it may be enough to set in their subconscious minds an empathy that will help them understand and communicate with their single-parented peers.

Life is funny in that way, too. What is a hardship for you is a reality to many others.

I don’t know what your hardships will be. I hope that, for the most part, they are few, far between and easily surmountable.

But although it feels strange to me to wish for your life to be anything less than perfect and joyous, I also hope you are occasionally challenged to the heights of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.

In this nation, your family is called “middle class.” But it would be well for you to remember that, in this world, we are royalty. Indeed, we “have it made.“ As such, consider the times in which life tests your limits as an opportunity for insight and empathy.

Embrace these times as an opportunity to grow.

And know that, when you need me to help you through, I will be there.


Thursday, January 25, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother and I are having one of our very favorite dates — spread out on the couch, covered with layers of blankets and watching a movie on the computer.

Someday, I hope you’ll enjoy finding a small snuggle spot between us. I think you’ll like that — and I think you’ll also love the movie we’re watching tonight “The Iron Giant.”

Each year, around this time, minions of ridiculous Southern Californians invade Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, bringing with them their designer jeans, fuzzy boots and silly sunglasses. For three weeks, it’s enough to make me wish there was no such thing as Hollywood.

But even during this preposterous time, I still can’t help but acknowledge the power of a really well made film — and this is one. It’s the story of a young boy who befriends a enormous robot — teaching it that, in this life, we are what we choose to be.

It’s a beautiful lesson – a lesson I plan to share with you.

You don’t need to wear designer jeans, fuzzy boots and silly sunglasses to be accepted — even in Hollywood. The guy who made this film (and later, the very popular Disney movie “The Incredibles”) is as unHollywood as they come.

Brainy, nerdy and more than a bit awkward, I imagine that Brad Bird could walk the crowded streets of Park City in blissful anonymity this month, even as those around him gawk at the endless parade of cookie cut “stars” that appear here each January.

In making his way in life, Mr. Bird didn’t follow others — he simply followed his heart. In this case, that meant making a touching movie about a little boy and his robot.

You can make movies. You can write songs. You can build towers or design tools or bake cakes. You can write like you father or teach like your mother. You can do anything.

And you can do anything while forging your own way in this world, following others because you’re inspired by their examples and ideals — not because you wish to “fit in” but because you wish to make the world a better place.

You, my child, are who you choose to be.


Thursday, January 18, 2007


Dear Spike:

It’s late at night — early in the morning, actually — and I’m waiting for a call from your Uncle Michael, who is due in on the train at any moment. We’ll spend the next few days in a friend’s cabin in the mountains, strumming away at our guitars, writing songs and trying hard not to fight over lyrics and chords.

I haven’t always had the best relationship with my little brother. I accept blame for that. Four years his senior, I should have been looking out for him when we were growing up. But often I was the one he needed to look out for.

The tough brotherly love I dished out, from time to time, was compounded over the years by the fact that Michael and I are little alike. And so, by the time I enlisted in the Navy after high school, I think he was ready to see me go.

I don’t think my mother was ever all that close to her siblings, either. And last year, when she lost the second of her two brothers to a rather awful form of cancer, I could feel how much it pained her to know that she’d never been able to reclaim those relationships – and now never would.

So last fall Michael and I took a road trip down the California coastline — strumming away at our guitars, writing songs and trying hard (though ultimately unsuccessfully) not to fight over lyrics and chords. The result of that trip was a six song album of music that I'm rather proud of (although now, when I listen to it, I realize I should always allow your uncle – credited in at least one Sacramento band’s latest album as “Mike Megavoice” — to sing by his lonesome.)

You’re very likely to have a sibling. And I am hoping you become close with your cousins as well (again, lamentably, something I wasn’t able to achieve as well I would wish.)

There are six billion people on this planet. Only a small handful share any significant amount of the DNA that makes you who you are. Learn from them. Spend time with them. And though it may sometimes be hard, love them.

Life is fleeting. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it, “nasty, brutish and short.”

But with respect to Mr. Hobbes, it can also be beautiful, fulfilling, exhilarating and joyful.

The difference, I think, has much to do with those with whom you choose to travel. And the relationships you keep with those, like your family, that life chooses for you.


Saturday, January 13, 2007


Dear Spike:

For the past few weeks I’ve been growing a beard. Today I’ll shave it off.

I’m not leaving for Afghanistan as I’d thought I might next month. My editors decided they didn’t want to spend the money on the trip, after all.

Your mother threw her arms around me when I told her. Seems this trip, to yet another new and dangerous place, was one final worry in a season full of solicitudes.

I’ve told my editors that, once you come, I won’t be traveling for a while. I’m not sure they really care. There are few rewards, in this industry, for adventurism any more. The safe profits are close to home. Once, newspapermen were the minutemen of written history. We’ve long since abandoned that post.

In the past I’d be angry with my editors for letting dollars get in the way of duty. In this case I was relieved. I got to come home, flowers in hand, and tell your mother that this scraggly beard was going away.

As it happens, I’d been thinking a lot about how to balance my job and family, as of late.

Yesterday I attended the memorial service of three airmen from a local base who were killed in the war in Iraq. Their desert combat boots were lined up in a row, behind a line of inverted rifles, capped with empty helmets.

The slain service members were bomb disposal technicians. So where shots might be fired into the air as a final salute to some service members, these individuals were sent off with three resounding explosions. The end of the service, though, was the same old song: Twenty-four notes, played in the most hauntingly melancholic musical composition ever written.

Sobbing in the front row of chairs, as Taps was played, were the wife and child of one of the airmen, the most senior of the group. Eulogizing the man, a fellow sergeant said he’d never known anyone who had worked so hard to balance family and service.

He died, just the same, on a road south of Baghdad, leaving behind a sobbing wife and son at a time when most of his countrymen believe the cause isn’t worth his sacrifice.

I wonder if you’ll understand, when I leave you and your mother for long trips to dangerous places, why I do what I do.

There won’t be a flag to wrap yourself in when I go. And if I fall, no one will play Taps over my grave. There will be no shots fired. No resounding explosions. And most of my countrymen, who long ago gave up their subscription to the morning paper, won’t understand the sacrifice.

Of course it is far more likely that we’ll be together for a very long time. I’ll grow to see you grow and your children grow and your children’s children grow.

Whenever the end comes, I don’t know how well people will regard the way I balanced my family and my job. Most probably won’t think I did very well at all.

But I don’t live for them. I live for you. To be there for you. And, when I am not, to be an example for you.

And I will not abandon that post.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Dear Spike,

After a week of worry, wonder and wait, I suppose there are only three things that really need to be said right now.

You're beautiful. You're healthy. And you're a girl.

OK, four: I love you.



Baby of mine,

I heard a baby cry today. I’ve heard babies cry many times. Today was different. I didn’t recoil at the sound of the small catlike cry. I was jealous. I was jealous of the mother sitting there with her perfect child and wondering if I too will be so lucky in May or June.

The last few days have been very difficult for me and for your dad. But unlike your dad I can’t bury myself in my work to keep my mind off of what is happening. No matter where I go you go with me. And with us goes the unease of probability.

I’ve never truly loved math. I used to spend hours sitting with my father — and stacks of green engineering graph paper — trying to twist my brain around the ins and outs of math concepts.

But I can’t say that I received many (or any) Bs or Cs in math classes in high school or college, either. Math was never easy for me, but I am too stubborn a person to let a little glitch like difficulty hold me back from an A — so much that the occasional minus sign that would appear on a test would eat away at me as I tried to find mistakes in a professor’s calculations to obtain a solid A,

Usually, any problems on the tests were the result of my transposing a number.

Without ever really trying to accumulate math credits, I graduated with my undergraduate degree just three classes shy of a math minor.

And even after that, try as I might, I just couldn’t to escape math.

Math followed me into my profession. Today I began to teach my students about probability. We worked with terms like “certain” and “impossible”. As my students tried to figure out if it was impossible to draw a red marble from the jar I too considered probabilities.

I began to make a mental list...
• It is certain I am pregnant.
• It is impossible I will give birth to a cat.
• It is certain I have felt you move.

As the lesson progressed, I introduced new terms. My list continued...
• It is possible something is wrong with you.
• It is improbable the blood used for the test was switched with someone else’s.
• It is probable that I will be broken hearted if Wednesday’s ultrasound is not sound.

If this was a normal pregnancy the probability of you having Trisomy 18 would be 1 in 4,000 — a small outlier on a scatter plot.

I’m sorry to say, baby of mine, that our probability is 1 in 55. Your father equated the chances of you having this problem are like drawing the ace of spades from a deck of cards.

So here I am with my deck, but unlike him, I’m not drawing any cards. I’m just shuffling them back and forth and wishing away any possibility that I would “win” and draw the right card.

I’ve never loved anything more in my life than I love you. I love you more than your father, more than our fat and fluffy cat Cole. I love you more than I love getting A grades on papers and more than pajamas in the middle of the day.

I would do anything for you. I would vomit daily. I would eat sauerkraut. And I would never again so much as flinch when pricked with a needle if it would make everything all right.

But if Wednesday comes and we draw the right card from the deck and “win” it would not change my love for you. I will still love you more than your father, our fat and fluffy cat Cole, As on papers and pajamas in the middle of the day.

I am truly blessed to have you. Now and for the rest of your life – no matter how long it may be.


Monday, January 8, 2007


Dear Spike:

I’m not worried.

I keep telling your mother that. I wonder if she believes me. I wonder if I believe me.

We went out to the movies last night. I kept looking over to see if she was paying much attention to the show. She kept looking over to see if I was. And so it goes. And so it will until Wednesday, when we get your pictures.

Everyone keeps telling us not to be nervous. “I had a friend who had a screen test like this,” they say. “It happens a lot,” they say.

I keep thinking about the odds. Like drawing the Ace of Spaces from a deck of cards, I tell myself.

I’ve got a deck here in the drawer of my desk. I shuffled through it three times. Queen of hearts. Eight of clubs. Seven of diamonds.

Everything will be OK. The odds are on our side.

I do realize that someone has to draw the Ace. And I feel guilty hoping it isn’t us, because that means I’m hoping for someone else’s pain. But so it goes.

For the most part, I’m being honest when I tell your mother I’m not worried. I do think about it, but I don’t brood. And other than the fact that I kept looking over at your mom last night, I was watching the show.

I am confident that things will turn out fine for us. And so more than anything, I’d simply like to get this chapter of our pregnancy behind us.

Turns out, though, that times runs no faster or slower for the sake of want. You’ll learn that when someone you love is leaving and you want your final days together to go on forever. You’ll learn that when you have to be away from your family for work, and you want the days to move more swiftly. And so it goes.

Two more days. Two more nights. Then we’ll know you’re fine. And then we’ll move onto another worry.

Four of diamonds. Eight of spades. Three of spades.

So it goes.


Thursday, January 4, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother called me this afternoon at work. The conversation was routine for our 4 p.m. chats — “how’s your day” and whatnot — but she didn’t sound well.

“Is everything OK?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Can you come home early? I got a call from Dr. Stewart today.”

Through sobs, she told me that a blood test she took last week had come back positive, potentially indicating you have a condition known as Trisomy 18 — a severe kind of Down Syndrome.

“Most babies with it don’t live,” she cried. “I’m so afraid. I don’t want to lose Spike.”

On the way home, I got a call from my mother-in-law, your grandmother. "I just talked to Heidi," she said. "You know, this is how her sister lost a child."

The knot in my stomach tightened.

I made it home just a few minutes before your mom. The house was a mess. We’ve been painting your rocking chair to match the rest of the furniture in your room, so the kitchen had a giant plastic drop sheet taped to the floor. There were paint buckets and cans and washed out brushes littered about. That’s not to mention the dishes that have been piling up on the counter over the past few days.

She came in through the back door, right into the kitchen, right into the mess, right into my arms. She was trembling. I’ve never seen her so scared. Between gasps for breath she read from the notes she’d taken as she spoke to Dr. Stewart.

“The doctor said it’s more likely than not that things are fine,” she said.

Over the next few hours I got the rest of the details. The more I heard the better I felt, though the knot never really went away.

Later in the evening, after a bit of research, we learned that about 1 in 20 women has an abnormal result on her blood screening test, like your mother. The test can indeed indicate problems in fetal development, but only about 2 percent of the time — about the same rate at which you would randomly draw an Ace of Spades from a shuffled deck of cards.

Most often, there is another explanation.

Oftentimes, a positive test result simply indicates that the baby is a different gestational age that previously thought. That’s a likely scenario, we figure, since there’s been a bit of confusion at the doctor’s office about when to place your due date (currently, you’re expected to make your debut May 30, but at various times the doctor has also said June 6 and June 13.)

The test can also indicate twins or triplets (unlikely, in our case, since we only saw one of you when we had our emergency ultrasound last month.) And there’s also the possibility that the severe bleeding your mother had last month (which led to the ultrasound) has something to do with the result of the test.

Then, in some cases, there simply is no good explanation. In those cases, I figure, it’s best to just make one up.

“Maybe you ate some bad Chinese food that day,” I told your mom. “Or maybe you wore a hat that was too tight.”

Of course, I wish I’d known more about all of this when your mother first called this afternoon. Maybe I could have more quickly assuaged her fears.

And I probably could have saved my mother — your other grandmother — a lot of time, panic and prayer.

It probably didn’t hurt to get her involved, though. She’s got a pretty good line to God, not to mention a bunch of friends who also like to spend their time with their heads bowed. By sundown, you probably had dozens of people praying for you.

We’re unlikely to learn whether you are a boy or a girl, as we’d expected to, at tomorrow's appointment with Dr. Stewart. Instead, the doctor told your mom, we’ll spend some time talking about the test and what it all means.

We’ll do the ultrasound and an amniocentesis procedure on Wednesday. Hopefully then we’ll get to assign you a pronoun.

More importantly we’ll get to know you’re still happy, healthy and developing as you should be.

And maybe then the knot in my stomach will go away.


P.S. A few of the questions we'll be asking Dr. Stewart tomorrow:
• What will you be looking for on the ultrasound?
• Is our baby at risk for other problems, in addition to Trisomy 18, based upon this result?
• How likely is it that this means our baby has superhuman stregth or X-ray vision?

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


Dear Spike:

I have an announcement to make: Your mother is not sleeping.

Rather — and this is novel — she’s lying in bed in her pajamas (the ones with the flying pigs) with her feet in the air, singing Christmas carols while balancing a tiny bobble-headed cat (we bought it from a little girl on the beach in Puerto Vallarta last year) on her hand as she extolls the virtues of the turvey-headed feline over the other two creatures we purchased.

“I’m not acting weird,” she is telling me. “If you had bobble heads, you too would touch them and try to figure out which one is the best.”

I suppose I can’t argue with that.

Normally by this time of night, she’s fast asleep and snoring. But I think she’s got a few things on her mind right now.

Like, for instance:

• I just felt you move for the first time! I put my hand low on your mother’s stomach and pressed into the location where she said you were moving about. A few seconds later — whoosh! — there you were, brushing up against my fingers! Suddenly, your presence could be felt by someone other than her. Suddenly she had proof (other than her ever-expanding baby belly bump — which we’ve taken to calling “the Spike space”) that you were in there.

• In less than two days, we’re supposed to find out whether you are a boy or a girl. Finally we’ll be able to stop calling you “Spike” in favor of the real name we have chosen for you. (In these letters you’ll remain “Spike” as we’ve decided to make your pronouns public but keep your proper nouns private until you have a birth certificate.)

I can’t blame her for being excited. I’m on cloud nine at the moment. And even though your birthday is still nearly five months away, I feel as if you might come at any moment.

Here’s to five more months of sleepless nights. As strange as you mom may be when she’s awake, this time of night, she’'s still darn cute.

Oh look, she’s asleep.


P.S. — I’ve told my poker buddies that your naming rights are on the line at our home game this Friday. I plan on winning, but just in case, you won’t mind being called “Deuces,” will you? I mean, that can’t be worse than “Spike,” right?


Dear Spike:

The fireworks were still bursting outside when it struck me: It’s now 2007 — the year in which you are going to be born.

I do pretty well remembering dates. Your mother and I were engaged on Dec. 9. We were married on Aug. 10. We moved to Salt Lake City on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17.

So when you’re born, I won’t have any trouble remembering your birthday. I promise.

But for whatever reason, I have a bit more trouble remembering years. Just now, for instance, I had to glance up at the date on the picture hanging on our bedroom wall to remember that your mother and I were engaged in 2001. Working from there, I can recall that we were married in 2002.

Then, using the knowledge that I’m about to hit my three-year anniversary at the newspaper and working backward, I can tell you that we moved to Salt Lake City in 2004.

So I hope you’ll forgive me if, in 10 or 20 years, I have to think a bit before coming up with your birth year.

And, in a way, I hope I do have to think a bit about it.

Here’s why:

On the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress, declared Dec. 7, 1941 would be “a day that will live in infamy.” Indeed, for millions of Americans, that day (and year) became a marking point in time — a date by which to remember other events, from marriages to birthdays to bar mitzvahs.

Sixty years later, our nation was given a new marking point: Sept. 11, 2001. And these days, when I’m trying to remember in what year something happened, that serves as a convenient, if not lamentable, starting place.

So ask me when I graduated from college and I’m likely to recall that I was awarded my degree just a few months after the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. (the date on the diploma, coincidentally, is Dec. 7.)

And ask me when I worked in the small farming town of Lebanon, Ore. and I’m likely to recall that I left my job as a sportswriter at The Express just a few months before the Twin Towers fell.

And so it goes. Working forward and back from that date (much like I used the date on the picture on our wall to remember when I married your mom) I can tell you where I lived, where I worked, where I traveled and even what concerts and ball games I attended over the past 10 years.

There are a few other dates that serve as markers for my memory — I joined the Navy in 1996, I arrived at college in 1998, I went to Israel to celebrate the New Year in 2000 — but none so much as 2001.

But this year, I hope, will be marked by nothing in my mind except for your birth. And if I have to think, a bit, to remember, that’s OK.

I want the world to welcome you in peace. Simple, unremarkable, unrememberable peace.