Thursday, May 29, 2008


Dear Spike:

The summer's first thunderstorm came this morning. You and I curled up together in the big, comfy papasan chair, wrapped ourselves up in the soft feather comforter, and watched "The Empire Strikes Back" on your mother's nifty new computer.

Soon you were asleep. And not long after that, I was too.

I can't remember a better morning. Ever.



Dear Spike:

We went to see Dr. Schriewer today. She kept calling you "peanut."

At a year and a day, you're still not quite 15 pounds, which puts you among the very smallest of babies your age.

Your mother promptly went to the store, picked up a quart of heavy cream, and put some in your bottle. For dinner, she gave you oatmeal with cream and butter. Later this week, she tells me, she's going to reprise your birthday pound cake (which, for the record included butter, cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, orange extract, flour and three cups of sugar!)

One way or another, kid, she's gonna fatten you up.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Dear Spike:

A year ago at this moment I was holding your tiny body in my arms, rocking in you a not-so-comfy chair in your mother's room on the maternity ward at LDS Hospital.

That chair, that room and that entire ward are all gone now — moved to a new hospital a couple of miles down the road.

That's just the way things work in this world. The new replaces the old. Then the new gets old. And so on an so on.

Some people think it all moves too fast. And maybe they're right. After all, one moment I was rocking you in my arms, the next moment I was listening to you say "mama" for the very first time, a few moments later you we're going to swimming lessons.

And then, boom, here we were, eating birthday cake, singing that silly song, blowing out your candle.

Sure, it can all go by in the blink of an eye. Faster even. And particularly when you really don't want it to.

But if you stop to breathe, to watch, to listen, to smell, to touch, to laugh, to feel, to hurt, to know, to learn, to love — yes, especially to love — you can still enjoy the hell out of it along the way.

The past year has been the best of my life.

Yes, because of you, but maybe not in the way you think. You've forced me to turn on my senses in a way I've never had to do before — at least not for minutes upon hours upon days upon weeks upon months at a time. Together, and particularly with your mother's help, we've enjoyed the hell out of this thing called life, slowing down to watch the birds dancing in the lilac bush outside your window; to listen to the rain patter, patter plop against the backyard fence; to smell the lillies that grow in Mr. Vestal's front yard; to laugh at laughing, just because laughing itself is so darn funny; to feel the cat's long black and white fur (and sometimes to yank it); to hurt when we bump heads together in an ill-fated attempt at a hug; to know every single inch of the floor (and to eat most of what is on it - yecckhhh!); to learn about each other, step by step and sometimes by trial and error...



... and to love each other. To love the heck out of each other. To love the low-down, right-on, sure-as-can-be, ain't-no-doubt, gonna-be-yours-forever-and-then-some heck out of each other.

Thank you. For all of it.


Monday, May 26, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

7) Leave everything you encounter in this world better off than when you found it.


Sunday, May 25, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

6) Love like you mean it.


Saturday, May 24, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

5) Anything worth saying is worth the whole world hearing. Anything worth saying about someone is worth saying to someone.


Friday, May 23, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

4) Winning isn't everything and winning isn't the only thing. Play accordingly.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

3) Measured in innocent blood, nothing separates just war from genocide.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Dear Spike:

Seven thoughts I'd like to share with you in the week before your first birthday,

2) Moderation is a good way to handle vice. It is not good excuse for having vice.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Dear Spike:

In the final seven days before your first birthday, I thought I'd share with you seven thoughts about living in this sometimes big, sometimes small, mixed up, no good, beautiful, horrible, funny, tragic world.

Today, friendship:

1) Never fail to be a friend for someone who needs a friend.



Dear Spike:

Your mother began the school year with a classroom of 25 students, many of whom didn't speak English and most of whom had never had a book read to them, much less ever owned one.

She fretted. She cried. She wondered whether she was the right teacher for the job.

But she didn't run away. She didn't say no. And when she was advised to simply treat her kindergarteners as pre-schoolers, she declined.

Yesterday, the students' test scores came in. Almost all of them are reading on grade level.

Winston Churchill said it best: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in."


Saturday, May 17, 2008


Dear Spike:

Looks like you're an Aquamonkey after all.


Friday, May 16, 2008


Dear Spike:

At first I thought you might have a spot of diaper rash. (You'll forgive my ignorance as to what, precisely, diaper rash looks like, as you've managed to go nearly 12 months without it). In any case, it took me a few moments to realize what I was actually looking at — a series of small red spots all around your thighs and lower back.

Damn spiders.

You didn't seem too bothered, so I tried no to fret. But by the time your mother came home from work you'd scratched about a bit, and it looked like you were wearing a pair of hamburger pants.

(A note to you Googlers: If you got to this Website by searching for "Hamburger Pants," you need professional help. Really.)

It's bedtime now, and your mom has rubbed some hydrocortisone cream on your legs, along with your usual 8 p.m. regimen of Eucerin and 'roids.

I've searched the nooks and crannies of your room for a spider's nest, to no avail, so I suppose we're just going to have to set you out as bait and see what happens.

Early on, (that is to say, within the first two minutes of your birth,) I realized that I wasn't going to be able to protect you from everything this world was going to throw your way. But over the past year, I think your mother and I haven't done too badly in the attempt.

After all, you haven't been swallowed by a boa constrictor, or mistakenly swapped with a similar-looking baby (as far as I know,) or kidnapped by Gypsies. And while there was that one instance when I dropped you on your head in front of pretty much everyone I work with, your skull seems to have regained its nice, round shape, so "no harm, no foul," right?


Truth is, I don't expect to protect you from the worst parts of life — only the very worst parts of life. And even those things, I'm afraid, I have limited control over.

When Hobbes said life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" he really wasn't kidding. And while I don't think that's the full extent of life, I can't say I entirely disagree, either.

I also can't say that the bad is all bad. From pain we learn endurance, from struggle we learn tolerance, from loss we learn appreciation and in misery we find plenty of company.

You're not the first kid to get bit by a spider. You won't be the first to break your arm or knock out a tooth. And with the best of my focus on the snakes and Gypsies of the world, I'm just not going to be able to protect you from everything else.

But I'll try.

Lie still tonight, my darling little girl, we'll catch those spiders yet.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


Dear Spike:

I was feeling a little down yesterday, for no particular reason. Sometimes we just get the blues. That's all.

I thought a bit of happy music might do the trick, so I started flipping through our compact disc folder.

Problem was, we don't seem to own any happy music. And even music I thought was happy turned out not really to be that way once I started listening. Strange how that works.

Even more depressed than when I started, I tried something else: I started whistling. And I'll admit this is a bit strange, but I started feeling better right away. And when I say right away, I mean, right away. Like, within three notes.

Compelled to explore this phenomenon, I started whistling the first few notes of every song I could think of. And as it turns out, it is completely impossible to whistle a melancholy tune. Oh, you can hit all the notes, but it just won't feel sad.

Go ahead and try it.

Mozart's Requiem? Bethoven's Fifth? Morrissey's Bona Drag album? The collective works of Sinead O'Connor? When you whistle, it all sounds like part of a Sesame Street soundtrack.

This revelation alone was enough to make me feel better. And I know it's probably not going to help you out the first time you have your heart broken or when a good friend moves away.

But maybe when you're feeling a bit blue... well... give a little whistle.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Dear Spike:

I'm taking this week and the next off to spend time with you before your first birthday, and hopefully to finish the book I started writing for you before Christmas.

It was supposed to be sunny this week. And I was looking forward to spending most of my vacation with you outside, working in the yard, walking in the park and hiking in the canyons. So far, though, it has been a series of blustery days. And so we sit, by the window, watching wave after wave of thick, gray clouds roll overhead.

This isn't prohibitive, of course. When your mother and I lived in Oregon we never let a gray day disturb our plans (lest we do nothing at all!) And likewise, this afternoon, rain or shine, you and I will venture out for a hike.

Still, I am hoping for a warm and sunny day. The better to see the spring flowers on the hillside. The better to inspire me for when we do return indoors and I write as you sleep.

And as you sleep, the better to inspire your dreams.


Sunday, May 11, 2008


Dear Spike:

You could not know it, but at this moment you are giving to your mother the very best Mother's Day gift you possibly could give. You are asleep on her lap, in the rocking chair in your room. And she, in turn, has slumped down in the chair for a nap of her own.

We celebrated last Mother's Day with an anxious excitement. You were due to arrive within weeks. Your mother had set to work sweeping and vacuuming, arranging the baby clothes in the dresser drawers of your room, and pacing around our home looking for things to set straight in preparation for your arrival.

Some call these sorts of behaviors "nesting." Fathers feel it, to some extent, but not nearly as instinctually as mothers do. And perhaps that says something about the bond moms have with their babies — bonds that can be closely emulated but never fully duplicated by dads. For how could we possibly know what it is to share one body? To be one being?

That is, in part, what makes Mother's Day so special. And it is, I imagine, why your mother never looks happier than in those times when you are asleep, resting on her belly, as close as you ever will get to those times in which your rested inside of her.

Maybe when you are older, you will come to your mother, on this day, and lay your head on her lap. Perhaps you will fall asleep there and she, in turn, will fall asleep too. I can think of no greater present you could give her than to rest there together, as one body and one being, if only for a few moments.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Dear Spike:

You signed your first book the other day.

Well, scribbled, more or less.

It's been about a week now since "Things I Learned About My Dad (In Therapy)" was released — with a letter to you as Chapter Three. It was a nice treat to see my writing, which usually ends up in the recycling bin, between hard covers for a change — though it occurs to me that it quite possibly was the last time, too.

I don't think Gutenberg's Revolution is over quite yet, but I have a hard time believing we'll still be killing trees to make books when you're my age. Same goes for paper newspapers, which I doubt will be around much longer than the next decade.

I suppose I should be worried — I pay my share of our family's mortgage with my newspaper paycheck. But I've got this silly notion that the written word is far more enduring than whatever fleeting substance it happens to be superimposed upon. I mean, really, when was the last time anyone tried to write a novel on the walls of a cave? You know what I mean?

By whatever the means, I do hope you'll write. For yourself, if you wish. And for others, if you dare.

To that end, a warning: Not everyone is going to appreciate what you write. Some people will try their best to let you know that in a kind and supportive way. Some people won't.

Some people will be as mean and nasty as they possibly can. These people are called assholes.

As in many things in life, you'll have to have a thick skin. The truth is that most great writers aren't appreciated as such until they've long been gone from this world.

And since there's no way to know how history will remember you, you might as well assume you're one of the greats.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

where's the doctor?

dear spike:

you're sick -- and sleeping on my shoulder -- which is why i'm typing with one hand.

you've had a bad cough and a fever for several days, so after yet another restless night for you, i made an appointment to see the doctor today. we were told to show up at 1115.

at 1145 we were invited into an exam room.

at 1220, a snotty-nosed little boy walked in the room.

"what seems to be the trouble?" he asked, stroking his chin and furrowing his eyebrows.

"um, you're not my daughter's doctor," i said.

"i'm the substitute."

"like in school?"

"right, like that."

"no you're not. you're like six or something."

"i'm seven."

"whatever. where's the doctor?"

"i don't know. we've been waiting, too," he said, and walked out the door.

at 1:30, the doctor finally came in.

"sorry," she said. "it's been a crazy day. bad circumcision. you know how it is."

"um, no, i'm sorry. i really don't know how that it."

she laughed. "oh yeah, i guess not, well let me tell you..."

"yikes. i'd rather you didn't"


she looked you over and listened to your little lungs. you whimpered like a puppy that just got smacked with a newspaper.

"any history of breathing problems in your family?" she asked.

"yeah, i had asthma when i was growing up."

"ok. i think she has an ear infection."

"what does asthma have to do with an ear infection?"

"nothing, why?"

"because you just asked me about breathing problems."

"she's breathing fine."

"then why did you ask me about breathing problems?"

"did i do that?"


"oh. sorry. long day. bad circumcision. you know how it is."

she peered into your little ear, then pulled out a little stick and dug around in there before peering in a second time.

"oh yeah, ear infection. bad one. i'll write you a prescription. wait here"

she walked out the door.

a minute later, the little boy walked back in.

"ear infection, eh?"

"what!? how'd you know?"

"we were just consulting on your daughter's case in the hall. don't worry, sir, she's going to be ok."

he nodded reassuringly and walked out.

a few minutes later, the doctor walked back in with a clipboard.

"you were consulting about my daughter's case with a seven-year-old?"

"seven? he's seven? i thought he was eight for sure. maybe nine."

"what did you tell him?"

"i told him, 'tough case in there. the little girl has an ear infection, but the dad is insistent that the problem is her lungs.' "

"you're just kidding around with me, right?"

"yeah. it's been a long day. he's been hanging out in the hall for an hour waiting for his little brother to be seen, so i asked him if he would consult with me" she made quotation marks with her fingers "on some cases."

"can i ask you something?" i asked.


"you didn't consult with him on the circumcision too, did you?"

the doctor laughed. "oh heavens no," she said, she scribbled down the prescription, handed it to me and smiled. "i wouldn't do a thing like that..."

"... i let him perform it."


Monday, May 5, 2008


A note from Spike's Mom...

Dear Spike:

You smelled of chlorine — and vomit — as we walked through the door of our home this morning.

Today was your first swim lesson. I guess it is safe to say that your first experience with "big water" was not everything I had envisioned with I signed us up for swim classes. I woke up this morning excited — giddy — that today was the day my little piranha would terrorize the waves! But in the pool I was reminded that we do not always emerge from the water like Bo Derek.

We will return next week and you will kick a little more, splash a little more and cry a little less.

I was proud of you today for trying something new.


P.S. — Something good to remember: You don't have to enjoy swimming to play soccer or win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Dear Spike:

It all began with a 10 p.m. fit of tormented cries. You're teething again — and this time has been particularly tough. Four hours, three locations and zero seconds of sleep later, the pain had subsided, but by this time you were wide awake, bouncing on my lap in the rocking chair as though you were on a carnival ride that you wanted to go faster. Faster. FASTER!!!!!!!

At 2 a.m. I gave in, setting you on the floor of your bedroom to play with your books and toys. I lied down beside you, making a wall of my body, trapping you in the corner of your room between the changer and the desk, and closed my eyes. Ten minutes of half-sleep later I was jarred awake by a loud bang. You'd discovered your favorite pie tin in your toy box. I made you a trade, offering a quiet plush dinosaur in exchange for the noisy pan, and began to doze off again. After another 10 minutes I lifted my eyelid just enough to see that you'd settled down with a book. "Beebo," you cooed as you flipped a page. "Beebo, beebo, beeeeeeeeee-bo!" I chuckled softly and fell back into my semi-slumber.

Another 10 minutes. I opened my eyes to see you sitting inches away, staring at my nose as though you were trying to figure something out. I worried you might be plotting my death and made a quick search of the area for sharp objects before closing my eyes again.

Ten minutes more. You tugged on my ear. Hard.

"Time for sleep?" I asked.

You rubbed your eyes in reply.

I lifted you from the floor and we returned to the rocker. But the fight wasn't over. I rocked you and sang your favorite lullabyes until I couldn't hit but one lonely monotone note.

Rock-a-bye. And-good-night. Sweet-dreams. Sweet-dreams.

As I listened to my own hoarse, staccato singing I imagined myself as the central, soulless character in a science fiction story about a world where parents leave their children in the care of robot nannies. And I wondered whether the robots ever felt this tired.

Ten more minutes. You were still up. Quiet, now, but still very much awake and staring out the window at a whispy snow fall and a slow dancing lilac bush.

Quite beautiful, it was. But I was too tired to appreciate it. And too tired to even recognize how sad that was.

I offered you a bottle. You declined and began to sit up to get a better view of the outside world.

"Why?" I asked aloud to no one in particular. "Oh why? Why? Why?"

Ten more minutes. I looked down to see you sleeping soundly in my arms. Your head was nestled between my bicep and my shoulder. You were softly snoring. A whisp of hair had fallen over your left eyebrow. One hand was grasping my shirt, the other was on your cheek.

"Oh," I whispered, feeling the steel, wire and plastic of my robot heart melt once again into muscle, blood and tissue.

"That's why."


Thursday, May 1, 2008


Dear Spike:

"No," the woman behind the restaurant bar brusquely responded. "We don't have high chairs or booster seats at this restaurant."

The underlying message was clear: This was a classy joint. Too classy for kids. And the last thing they wanted to do was encourage parents to bring their little tykes by having someplace for said tykes to sit.

Fair 'nuff. I've seen my fair share of really amazingly awful children left to run amuck at nice restaurants — pulling tablecloths, throwing silverware, spilling wines. One time, I was on a date with your mother at a rather fancy bistro in the city when I looked down to see a ruddy little redheaded boy, with what looked to be raspberry jelly stuck to his face, sitting by my leg. His mother, sitting two tables away, waved apologetically, but didn't bother to get up out of her chair to come get her son.

So sure, I can understand why this place doesn't have a kid's menu.

But while this venerable downtown haunt is a perfectly respectable place to drop $100 for dinner and wine on a Friday evening, with selections such as "Lavender Seared Halibut with Watercress-Leek Cream, with crimson lentils and caramelized escarole," its lunch menu is far less intrepid.

I mean, really, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, alright? And that wasn't even the most low-brow item on the menu.

In any case, you and I were there to meet friends. And we weren't going to jet just because they didn't have crayons for you to draw on the table with. That's not withstanding the fact that I really like showing off how well behaved you are.

When you were just five months old, we took you to see a Charlie Chaplain flick at the downtown Capitol Theater. When we walked in everyone cringed. But you didn't so much as make a squeak the whole time we were there.

We get compliments all the time about how quiet and self-entertaining you are. I'd like to take credit — and of course, I do — but really, this is one of those nature over nurture things, I'm sure. You're just that way.

So today you sat quietly on my lap, eating fruit from my plate and staring at yourself in the mirror above our table. You squirmed, a bit, but didn't make a sound. A few old ladies waved at you. And I overheard the couple in the booth next to ours, who had been making faces at you, discussing whether it was time to start their own family. The poor suckers.

I guess what I'm trying to say is thanks, kid, for making it so easy to look like a good dad.

I don't expect anything less from you as you grow older. But I'll love you just the same — even if the only restaurants we can go to are drive-thru.