Thursday, January 31, 2008


Dear Spike:

Maybe, by the time you’re old enough to even recognize such things, the Miss America pageant will have faded into history like other throwback eccentricities of the 20th Century. A little footnote, it might then be, about how our society once found it appropriate to grade women like so much cattle through an auction yard.

More likely, the famous beauty pageant — which began as an Atlantic City bathing suit review and now bills itself as the nation’s largest “scholarship program” for young women — will still be around, the cultural causatum of a time in which it was acceptable to believe that women had a “proper place” in our society. And as such, it will be just one more thing you’ll have to contend with as you try to sort out what it means to be a woman in our nation, in our world, in our time.

I’m still sort of shaking my head over the surreal assignment I received to cover the pageant in Las Vegas this past weekend. The angle itself was worthy enough: “Miss Utah” Jill Stevens was a combat medic who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her decision to compete for a tiara to go with her Kevlar helmet — and the widespread support she received in that endeavor — may be a clue into the changing way in which our nation has come to see veterans.

At least, that was the noble premise of the assignment that had me immersed in pageant-girl culture for three days.

But it nonetheless was strange — and more than a little bit uncomfortable for me as the recently minted father of a beautiful baby girl. The little four and five-year-old pageant girls who dotted the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino were, to put it crassly — and, in fact, mildly — just a little bit creepy. That’s to say nothing of their mothers, one of whom I saw Christening her daughter in a thick cloud of hairspray while riding up an escalator in the casino and another of whom I overhead telling her little girl that Miss America would “never, ever, ever eat at a buffet!”

At one point I overheard Stevens mumble that she’d rather be back in Afghanistan. And I could relate.

And then my mind started to wander, as it sometimes does these days, 20 years into the future. . . Would I prefer you to be parading in a swimsuit on a casino stage or ducking incoming fire in another unnecessary war?

It’s a false choice, of course, as it is far more likely that you will be doing neither of those things. But I suppose the incredibly disparate possibilities do say something about just how far we’ve come away from the idea that there is any one “proper place” for women in America.

That’s a start. And I suppose it gives me hope that you’ll never be under the impression that high heels, swimsuits and evening gowns are in any way a prerequisite for being a woman.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Dear Spike's Friends:
Per a fun and lovely suggestion from Spike's Godmother, it's time for the second irregular edition of "Spiku." This week's challenge: Write a Haiku in the form of a classified advertisement. The ad must be baby related. Anything else goes. You can either act as buyer or seller. But please, none of those creepy "I saw you at the Starbucks" ads. I'll pick the top four, then let you vote in a poll. Winner gets a genuine press pass from the Miss America Pageant. No, really. (I'll be writing Spike more about it soon.)
Spike's dad
P.S. — This is all in good fun. Please do not call child protective services.

From Spike's dad:
For sale: one baby
Good condition, hardly used
Will take best offer

From Spike's mom:
Wanted: A hot bath
An uninterrupted sleep
Slumbering baby


Dear Spike:

You’re driving us nuts.

Don’t get me wrong, we still like you a lot. You’re cute, charming, smart and funny.

But lately, you’ve also been one big little grump.

You don’t sleep — not in your crib, not in our bed, not on your nap mat in my office. It takes 30 minutes to put you down for a 15-minute nap, which, to say the least, makes it hard to get much work done. At night, you wake up three, four, five times — not for food or to use the bathroom, it seems, but simply to make sure that we know you’re still there. Nonetheless, your mother wakes up every time to give you an opportunity to eat (that’s what moms do when their eight-month-old babies are only as big as most four-month old babies.) I’m not sure how she does it. Frankly, I’m tempted to check her pill box for methamphetamines.

You only eat sporadically. A little oatmeal here, some milk there. When I bring you to see your mother at lunch, you spend more time fussing than sucking. She doesn’t get a lot of time to feed you when she’s at work, so it’s frustrating for her.

It’s 20 degrees outside, but you rip off you hats, your socks and your leg warmers. You squirm out from under your blanket.

You pull at the velcro straps on the brance on my arm. You tug at your mother’s hair.

And you scream. All. Day. Long.

Back in high school I had a 1969 Ford Mustang. It was a beautiful old car, but it was troubled. The engine stalled. The headlights sometimes wouldn’t go on. The transmission was shot.

But I loved that car. And until recently, I never thought I’d be able to love anything so much that gave me so much trouble.

I was wrong.

Even when you’re completely rotten, you’re still the best thing in the world.

And anyway, since I can’t just take out a classified ad to sell you, like I did with that car, I suppose we’re stuck together for a while.


Friday, January 25, 2008


Dear Spike:

I miss you and your mother. Hug each other and have a good night. I'm already looking forward to coming home on Sunday morning.



Dear Spike:

I’ll be heading out of town for a few days, starting this morning.

Viva Las Vegas.

I suppose I should be happy about that. Vegas is, after all, “The Entertainment Capital of the World” — or so the brochure says, anyway.

I am hoping to fit in at least a few hours to see some cards at the Binion’s poker room. I’ve been assigned to travel with my good friend, Rick Egan, the photographer with whom I went to Iraq in 2005. And the assignment I’ve been handed is different enough from what I normally do that it should definitely be an interesting weekend.

But really, I’m feeling rather uninspired about the whole deal. And I’m worried that I’m going to miss something while I’m gone.

It seems like every new minute you’re doing something completely different and amazing.

Last week, for instance, you started imitating your mother when she coughed — it’s really quite funny when you do it. And just this afternoon you started giggling when your mom tickled your feet.

And then tonight, just before bed, there you were in your crib, quoting Spinoza — from memory.

OK, I made that last part up. You had some notes scribbled on your hand, but I pretended not to see.

I’m going to miss you.


And lots.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


A note from Spike's mom as Spike's dad's bones continue to heal. . .

Dear Spike:

I found myself joining a group on the Internet the other day called “Good Reads” after an invitation from one of my University friends.

I’ve never been much of a joiner but it looked like something I will enjoy. So I have created a page listing the books that I have read, rating each one and compiling a list of what I would like to read.

My recreational reading has decreased since you have come along. I find that I have read Goodnight Moon and The Belly Button Book more than anything I read for myself.

I have such happy memories of my Gaga reading the Little House on the Prairie series to me when I was little. I would curl up on her small yellow loveseat, stare at the thick blue rug and listen as my grandmother chuckled along with the text as she read. I learned that reading was warm, comforting and entertaining.

I hope that the countless hours we spend together looking, reading — and biting — books will pay off, for you, with an appreciation for literature (and our not having TV might help, too.)


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Dear Spike:

Your mother learned today how very sharp your new tooth is. Not surprisingly, this has been a very disconcerting development for her.

One day, when you are 13 or 14 and acting a bit rotten toward her, I am going to sit down with you and describe all the ways in which she has sacrificed of herself on your behalf.

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t put it past her to have this conversation with you herself. After all, this is a woman who has the uncanny ability to remember every time I’ve seriously wronged her, right down to what I was wearing at the time.

Then again, you’ve smitten her in ways I could never match. So just in case, blinded by love, she fails to let you know, I’ve been keeping track.

From the way the doctors tore into her body to pull you out to how she’s woken every night (sometimes two or three or four times) to feed you, your mom has endured extreme pain, utter sleeplessness, immeasurable worry and just plain all-around discomfort all to ensure you are happy, healthy and growing.

She loves you more than anything in the world.

And yes indeed, if you are ever rotten to her, you’re going to get to hear all about it.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Dear Spike:

A few days back, your grandfather called with some disconcerting news. He’d gotten shingles — an adult skin rash caused by the same virus which causes chicken pox — and feared that he may have been contagious when he came to visit you a few weeks back.

Sure enough, that very night we noticed you had developed some small red dots on your back. And the next day it was worse. Chicken pox isn’t the most dangerous virus in the world, but it’s no fun for anyone — and it can be most dangerous for infants — so we were sure to bring you in to see the doctor that day.

To our initial relief (and I’m sure to that of your grandfather, whom we definitely would have bombarded with photos of your red-dotted back captioned “why, papa, why?”) we learned that you hadn’t contracted chicken pox at all. Rather you were suffering from eczema, a fairly common skin inflammation that can be caused by a variety of factors, including extremely cold and dry weather like what we get during the winters here.

But while chicken pox would have come and gone in a week or so, this equally itchy irritation might be around for a while — likely until you are about three and possibly for your whole life, particularly as your family has a bit of a history with this condition. Sorry kid.

The doctor has prescribed a topical steroid, which already seems to be working to beat down the rash.

No indication yet on how this will affect your batting average, but I’ve already received a letter from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., indicating that any records you may set while “juiced up on the cream” will be considered null and void.


Dear Spike’s Friends:
An update on my injuries: It turns out I had it backward — in fact, my wrist is fractured and my finger is sprained. The doctor’s prognosis is a week in a splint for the sprain and up to six weeks in a splint or possibly a hard cast for the fracture. In the meantime, I’m learning that everything — from changing Spike’s clothes to strapping her into her carseat to writing her letters on this blog — takes three times longer when you’ve got two arms in various states of incapacitation.
spike’s dad

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Dear Spike:

It’s a bit tough for me to wriet rightr now.

See, our keeper did’nt show up for Saturday’s game, so I wound uop tending goal. About six miuntues into the fiorst half, I dove for a ball and came down on my right hand, breajking my pinky finger. Then, a few minutes later, I went after another ball and csame down on my left hand, spraining my wrist.

Now my left hand is in a bulky brace and my right hand has two fingers taped together. And thus Ii have, at this time, just three good fingers with which to type.

YUour mom keeps asking me what I have leanred from this experince. And for the life of me, I can’t say. I mean, really, what was I supposed to do? Leave when I got huyrt the first time? Leave my team in a lurch? Let the other team pount us ever hareder that they already were?

Someday, I know, you’ll bne on my side about things like this. Rihgt?


So even though it is just a bit awkward to type right now, I wanted to make syure I wrote — for posterity’s sake, because. . .

You’ve had an amazing week!

First, you got your first tooth — lower incisor, right side. It’s just a little nubbin poking out from your gums, but it’s definiely there.

Next, you said your first word . . . well, signed it, anyway. For a few weeks now, ytour mothher has been making the sign for milk whenever she feeds you. This week,m you started doing it in eresponse.

At first, I thought might just be a coincidence, since the sign for “milk” is really nothing more than one hand opening and closing and then op[ening again. But I’ve watched you guys go through a couple of feedding sessions now, and it’s pretty obvious that you’re doing it in response to her. Very cool!

And that has’n’t been all. You’ve also started to make kisding noises in response to us. You’re stabnding up while holding onto the side of your crib. And you’re rolling and scooting all over the place.

Now there is just onwe little thing I have to aask:

Could you please learn to type? I could really use some help right now.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Dear Spike:

You slept through the night last night for the first time in months.

Your mother and I thank you.


Sunday, January 6, 2008


More important than the Iowa caucuses. More historic than the New Hampshire primaries. More democratic than Super-Duper Tuesday. It's Spike Poll 3! Make your vote count! (It's just off to the right hand side there... a little down... a little further... there, you found it!)

Dear Spike:

I don’t know where I was when I first heard Desmond Tutu speak. I can’t tell you when I first heard U2’s Bono sing. And I’m not sure when my long and tortured relationship with St. Augustine began.

But I can still remember the very first time I heard a Weird Al Yankovic song.

I was in the third grade. My class was out in the playground, standing around the outside line of the dodgeball circle. Mrs. Tillman was leading an aerobics class. She had a big black boombox, in which was playing a mixed tape of Weird Al songs.

I’d never laughed so hard in my entire life.

Granted, I was only 9 years old, but still.

Sometimes you chose your personal prophets. Sometimes they choose you.

I know, it’s all kind of blasphemous, right? I mean over here, behind Door No. 1, we’ve got the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, who helped end apartheid in South Africa, won the Nobel Prize, and whose ticket for heaven is rumored to read: “Section 1, Row 1, Seat 1.”

And then over here, behind Door No. 2, we’ve got the guy who sang “Dare to be Stupid.”

To wit:
“Put down your chainsaw and listen to me,
It's time for us to join in the fight,
It's time to let your babies grow up to be cowboys,
It's time to let the bedbugs bite.”

But all sacrilege aside, I’d be really thrilled if someday...

... you know, before you fall in love with some talentless bunch of boy band eunuchs, and beg, beg, beggggg me to buy you a $150 ticket to go watch the corporately contrived group of hacks lip sync in front of 25,000 other preteen girls, all screaming at octaves and decibels that even Dick Cheney would concede violate the Geneva Conventions ban on torture...

... your first concert was a Weird Al concert.

And maybe your first date could be your dad.

And maybe we could sing along to “Yoda,” and dance along with “Fat” and laugh as the rail-thin, accordion playing singing comedian from Lynwood, Calif. belts out his version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody — polka style.

There will be plenty of time, later on, for us to discuss the lessons of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission and to debate whether Augustine’s just war theory is adaptable for modern humanists and to argue over who your generation’s Bono is, the way my father and I once pondered who my generation’s John Lennon would be.

And yes, I expect we’ll have some of those conversations.

But sometimes it’s simply best to...

“Settle down, raise a family, join the PTA,
Buy some sensible shoes and a Chevrolet,
And party 'til you're broke and they drive you away,
It's OK — you can dare to be stupid.”


Friday, January 4, 2008


Dear Spike:

I took you to the doctor’s this morning. Just a quick stop, in and out, to see how much you weigh.

Twelve pounds, nine ounces. Still so very, very small.

Dr. Schriewer plugged the new numbers into her computer and sighed. “She’s still on the same curve. She is growing.”

Just slowly, she said.

“She didn’t like the butter,” I admitted abashedly.

“How could she not like butter?” our gentle Southern doctor gasped. “Everyone loves butter!”

Her words hung in the air — funny, but a little sad, too.

“She seems to like everything else,” I said. “She is starting to eat lots of different foods – quite a bit, really.”

Dr. Schriewer nodded and smiled. She seemed concerned, but not alarmed.

“She is growing,” she repeated confidently. “And look at is this way: You get to have a little baby for longer than most people do. That’s special.”

Yes, it is.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Dear Spike:

This week was an absolute explosion of development for you.

You’ve begun to sit upright without any help at all. You can now roll from your back to your front and then back again. You’ve started to slither, just a bit, in an attempt to grab out-of-reach toys. You study your hands as they open and close and have begun to experiment with moving one or two fingers at a time. And, just in the past two or three days, you’ve begun to scream — not in sadness or agony, but simply to demand attention and maybe to sing a little song.

I’ve pretty much given up trying to capture every momentous moment with the camera. And recently, I’ve had to abandon the fantasy that I’m even going to be present for every little step.

To wit, this exchange with your mother a few days ago:

Me: “Come quick! Look what she’s doing.”

Your mom: (rushing into the room) “What? What is it?”

Me: (proudly) “Look! Spike is crawling toward her toys!”

Your mom: (sighing) “Oh that? Yeah, she did that with me a few days ago.”

Me: “A few days ago? Where was I?”

Your mom: “Well, you were somewhere.”

Me: “So I missed it?”

Your mom: “No, you just saw it.”

Me: “It’s just not the same.”

Your mom: “Yes, it is.”

She’s right, of course. It seems that we’re often so obsessed with firsts that we tend to miss the significance, the joy, the struggle and the glory in everything that comes next.

Many people know, for instance, that Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball. Far fewer can name the second black player drafted out of the Negro Leagues, Larry Doby, who played his first game for the Cleveland Indians on July 6, 1947.

The world had not, in the 11 weeks separating Robinson’s and Doby’s entries into the big leagues, suddenly become a more tolerant place for black baseball players. Doby spent the rest of the 1947 season – and indeed, a good portion of his Hall of Fame career — suffering through the same indignities as Robinson.

Robinson rightfully went down in history for his place in advancing the cause of civil rights for Americans of color. Doby’s role in the battle, meanwhile, was ignominiously ignored. And yet even in Robinson’s shadow, Doby still shined. He was a seven-time All-Star, twice led the American League in home runs and led the Indians with seven hits, including a double and a homer, in Cleveland’s 1948 World Series victory over the Boston Braves.

Many people know that Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first men to summit Mt. Everest. Hillary and the expedition’s leader, John Hunt, were promptly knighted for their accomplishment. Nearly lost to history is the subsequent journey of Swiss climbers Ernst Schmied and Jürg Marmet.

The 29,029-foot peak had not shrunk a single inch in the three years that separated the first and second ascents of the world’s tallest mountain. Marmet and Schmied (and, the following day, climbing partners Adolf Reist and Hans Rudolf von Gunten) didn’t have the promise of being first to the top of the world to help drive them up the deadly peak. They climbed not for history but for themselves.

And at the risk of beating a dead horse ...

Many people know that Charles Lindbergh was the first person to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The second person to make the solo hop hasn’t exactly been lost to history, but I think that’s likely because her name was Amelia Earhart.

To be certain, Earhart knew there was value in being first. “Never do things others can do and will do,” she once said, “if there are things others cannot do or will not do.”

But it seems equally clear to me that Earhart didn’t make her solo flight across the Atlantic — or any of her other “firsts” — simply to be the first woman to lay claim to those feats.

“Adventure,” she once said, “is worthwhile in itself.”

Being first — or being present to witness a first — is as good an excuse for doing something as anything. But being second should never be an excuse not to do something or appreciate something that is being done beautifully.

The last time our species set foot on the moon was in 1972 — six years before I was born. Someday I hope to see us (you?) return. And when that happens, I assure you, I won’t be disappointed that I’m not watching Neil Armstrong’s first “small step.”

A giant leap is a giant leap, after all.

Congratulations on all of your accomplishments this week. I can’t wait to see you do it all again.

And again.

And again.