Thursday, December 31, 2009

FRESH WHOLESOME MILK

Dear Spike:

It's been a tough couple of nights, but you've been very brave and I'm very proud of you. It's not easy coming down off an addiction, after all. And you've been hooked on this stuff for a long time.

I'm speaking, of course, of 4-O-beta-D-Galactopyranosyl-D-glucose.

Lactose, baby. The magical elixir that turns an ordinary glass of H20 into an delicious serving of fresh, wholesome, milk.

We're actually not weaning you off milk, per se. You're still welcome to it. But your mother and I have decided it's time — long past time, actually — that you stop drinking your cow juice from the bottle.

And so, for the past two nights, it's been off-to-bed-without-the-white-stuff. No more bottles for baby. It's time to be a big girl.

I won't pretend that it's been as hard on us as it has been on you. It hasn't. But it has been tough to watch you graduate away from one of the last vestiges of babyhood.

Alas, with your long, messy locks and your bilingual vocabulary and your determination to do everything by yourself, it's clear that you are most certainly not a baby any longer.

And heck, sometimes you act more like an adult than I do.

Sometimes it's sad to see how fast you've grown. But it can also be a lot of fun. And since change is inevitable, there's no use dwelling on what was.

You're a big girl now.

Milk it for everything it's worth.

Love,
dad

Monday, December 28, 2009

FOR BEING DIFFERENT

Dear Spike:

You were confused. That much was certain.

"Did Santa Claus come to your house on Christmas?" the restaurant hostess asked as we waited for our friends to arrive for breakfast this morning.

"No," you replied, shaking your head and clearly perplexed — and maybe a bit terrified — by the notion that the white-bearded fat man would make a house call. "He didn't."

Your relationship with Santa Claus is not substantially different that your relationship with Mickey Mouse. He's a character. A guy in the movies. A fairytale.

He doesn't know when you are sleeping. He doesn't know when you're awake. He doesn't climb down your chimney with a bag of toys. And he doesn't leave a lump of coal in your stocking when you've been naughty.

He might do all those things for other kids. And there's nothing wrong with that. But we've chosen to celebrate a slightly simpler version of Christmas, one that doesn't include the guy in the big red suit as anything more than just one of many symbols of Christmas — no more important than a snow flake, a candle or a tree. In our home, Santa's been sidelined.

But in doing so, it would appear, we've robbed you of a bit of cultural literacy. And so you were caught unprepared for a lot of the questions that adults ask of children in the days surrounding Christmas...

Are you going to visit Santa at the mall? What do you want Santa to bring you this year? Have you been a good girl for Santa Claus? Was Santa nice to you this year?

There's nothing wrong with those sorts of questions. For a few weeks, each year, Santa is an opportunity for adults to relate to children. He's an easy conversation starter — like the weather, the local ball club... or the works of Leo Tolstoy.

But for kids who don't celebrate Christmas — and for those who don't celebrate the St. Nick version of Christmas — it can be a bit awkward.

That's the price you pay for being different sometimes.

You'll have a lot of opportunities in this life to make decisions that set you apart from the crowd. Sometimes the decisions you make will set you so far apart that you feel like you're really not a part of the crowd at all. At times that can feel confusing. And sometimes it can feel lonely.

Alas, when you choose to dance to a different beat, sometimes you're going to be dancing all by yourself.

Just keep dancing.

If there really was a Santa Claus, I think that's what he'd tell you, too.

Love,
dad

P.S. — For Christmas this year, your mother made you a complete set of animal friends from A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh series (Pooh Bear, it might be noted, first appeared by name in a Christmas story written by Milne for London's Evening News in 1925.) You hugged each one and said, "welcome to my family." I reckon you'll be friends for a long, long time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

IN SHINING ARMOR

Dear Spike:

Close your eyes and envision a knight in shining armor...

...

...

... come on, now. Go ahead and do it ...

...

...

... what did you see? Was it a young man? I figured as much.

I've long railed against the princessification of our nation's young women — how 40 years after the modern feminist movement our society still teaches little girls that a good way to rise up in the social ranks is to look pretty and keep quiet.

I don't blame Walt Disney entirely, but Mickey & Co. shares a big chunk of the responsibility. Snow White was a beautifully animated film — and revolutionary, to boot. The music in The Little Mermaid ranks among the most joyous in the American cinematic cannon. And if were I to have had a vote in 1991, Beauty and the Beast would have received my Oscar endorsement over The Silence of the Lambs, no contest. Sorry Dr. Lecter.

But while I appreciate those films for myriad reasons, I'm not a big fan of the messages they deliver.

Snow White lives a miserable existence, dreaming (and singing) of a prince that will carry her away from her wretched life. And then he does — but not before she relies on seven other men to solve her problems with her step-mom.

Ariel the mermaid lives a charmed existence under the sea, and in an attempt to meet a prince, trades her voice for a set of sexy legs. Like clockwork, the prince falls in love with the pretty girl on the beach. And later he kills Ursula the Sea Witch while Ariel floats helplessly by.

Belle offers herself in trade for her imprisoned father — not a bad gesture, but then she proceeds to fall for the man-beast that is holding her in slavery. Um, yuck. In the end, she saves his life — not by any act of great bravery, mind you, but by simply falling in love with him.

And then there's Cinderella, who with a pretty dress and a bit of bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, manages to get a handsome prince to desire her hand in marriage without so much as telling him her name. I reserve a special brand of contempt for Cinderella.

Alas, to my great horror, it turns out you love her. In fact, you want to be her. And, on some days, you spend hours pretending you are her.

And to make matters more complicated, you pretend I am your prince.

We dance. You sing ("so this is love, la la la la, so this is love"). We twirl around as you hold the hem of your dress, ballroom style. The clock strikes midnight. You run away, kicking off one of your tennis shoes... um, excuse me... glass slippers as you go. I pick it up, find you and slip it on your little foot. And then you announce, confident that everything has gone as it should, that "now we can get married."

And so we do.

There is no way on God's Green Earth that I would refuse to play the part of your prince. If you want me to be your hero, I will be your hero. But I hope that someday we'll graduate to a game of make-believe in which you can be my hero, too.

And today I was given some hope, in the unlikely form of a Disney princess movie. The Princess and the Frog is a story about a pretty girl, yes — and it even ends with a princely kiss. But along the way it's about ingenuity and hard work, bravery and compassion. And there's really no questioning that the knight in shining armor is the girl in the pretty dress.

Yes, I suppose it's possible you can have it both ways. And either way, you'll always be my hero. Even in a shining tiara.

Though, on balance, I still prefer to think of you in the shining armor.

Love,
dad

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BOOTS WITH FLOWERS

Dear Spike:

Someday, if ever you wish to be married, we will have very detailed instructions:

"I am going to marry Peter Pan. We will dance to the Jolly Holiday song. There will be a cat there, and a dog with poofy hair, and a girl named Cassandra, the giant anteater. My dress will be black. My shoes will be rain boots with flowers. For my honeymoon I will go to Disneyland where I will eat honey with Poohbear and then we will move to Fremont to live with Gaky and Papa. I will meet Peter Pan in California at a Disneyland character parade party. There will be fireworks and we will play Candyland. For dinner we will have olive pizza and French fry cake and for dessert we will have applesauce."

Love,
dad

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ALWAYS WILL BE

Dear Spike:

Your Uncle Eric arrived this evening for our annual weekend of basketball, snowboarding and beer. We'll hit the slopes tomorrow, catch the Lakers-Jazz game on Saturday, and empty every bottle in the fridge by Sunday afternoon.

When I say "we," I mean Eric and I. I'm afraid you're not invited to any of those activities — especially not the beer. But we'll also do some sledding at the hill at the part, we'll build some snowmen and we'll make lots of cookies — and you'll be a major player in that action.

When Eric and your Aunt Kelly decided to divorce, I was afraid that I'd lose a brother and that you'd lose an uncle. It was one of the worse days of my life.

But Eric has made a commitment to be part of our lives — and we have made a promise to be part of his. So while many things have changed in the past few years, one thing hasn't: We're family.

And when I watched you run and leap into his arms at the airport, today, I knew that we always will be.

Love,
dad

Saturday, December 5, 2009

HOW IT WORKS

Dear Spike:

As usual, you were patient and kept very quiet as I went about my journalistic duties. Finally, after I finished my interviews, I lifted you into my arms and we headed back to the car.

Now, it was your turn to ask questions.

"What is that?" you asked, pointing to the building we had just exited.

"That's the food bank," I said.

"What is a food bank for?"

"It's for people who need food."

"I'm hungry daddy. Let's go to the food bank."

I set you on the curb beside our car and sat down next to you.

"OK... well... that's not how it works," I said.

You stared up at me expectantly and waited for me to continue, but I was having trouble coming up with the right explanation for a two year old — particularly an amazingly empathetic two year old with an incredibly thin emotional skin.

"How does it work, daddy?" you asked.

"Well," I said, pulling you onto my lap, "you know how when you want something to eat, all you have to do is ask mommy or daddy and we get you something from the kitchen?"

"Like macaroni and cheese," you said with a confident nod.

"That's right," I said. "We have lots of food in our kitchen. That makes us very lucky."

"We are lucky to have macaroni and cheese," you agreed.

"But not everyone has food in their kitchen," I continued, pausing to assess how you'd take this news.

Your little brow was furrowed, but your chin wasn't trembling, so I continued on.

"Some people don't always have enough to eat, so they go to the food bank for help."

You nodded your head, shrugged and pushed yourself off my lap. I opened the car door and you hopped into your seat without a word. I figured you had lost interest. And to be honest I was a little bit relieved. I had an article to write and I didn't really need a sobbing child making things difficult.

As I turned on the car, I peered into the rear-view mirror and gave you a smile.

You smiled back, but I could see you were trying to work something out.

"Daddy," you said finally. "We can help the people with no food."

I can't begin to tell you how proud I was of you.

This weekend, we'll take make a special trip to the grocery market to fill a bag of groceries for the food bank. We'll get a few loaves of bread, some meat and some canned vegetables.

And, of course, some macaroni and cheese.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 29, 2009

STILL NO EXPERT


Dear Spike:

Bad news — you can spell "ice cream" and "candy" — and probably a bunch of other words that we spell around you when we don't want you to know what we're talking about. Effective immediately, our new "secret adult language" is Spanish. And when you catch onto that, I guess we'll move to Pig Latin. After that, I'm calling in the Navajo Code Talkers.

I can hardly keep up with all the ways in which you are learning and growing. Let's see: You've finally mastered your tricycle, you're sleeping without a diaper, you know every letter of the alphabet and words that start with each one.

I can't begin to explain how proud I am of you, but I try to let you know as often as I can. And it's my plan to make that a habit.

Two and a half years into this game, I'm still no expert in being a dad, but there's a few things that I'm relatively sure of.

One is that I've got to help you make good decisions by correcting your bad ones — as early as possible. It's no fun for me to send you to your "timeout corner" for doing things that you don't even know are wrong, but that's the way your mother and I have decided is best to help you understand that certain behaviors aren't tolerable — not even once.

Another thing I've learned is that we are your biggest, best and most influential examples. It doesn't do any good for me to tell you to stop picking your nose if I've got half a finger dug into mine. It doesn't do any good to tell you to say "please" and "thank you" if I don't do it myself. And it doesn't do any good to tell you to love your neighbor if you don't see me loving mine.

I've learned that sometimes even the best of two-year-olds still act like two-year-olds. I've learned that sometimes even parents with the best of intentions still act like parents without a clue.

But most of all, I've learned that the best thing I can say to you, when I don't have anything else to say, is "I love you," followed closely by "I'm proud of you."

I love you. And I'm proud of you.

I love you. And I'm proud of you.

I love you. And I'm proud of you.

Love,
dad

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FOR YOUR DREAMS

Dear Spike:

You've had bad dreams before, of course. We know this because you sometimes wake up screaming or crying. Sometimes you sprint into our room and leap into our arms, you tiny body shaking in our embrace. Other times you just simply sob softly in your sleep.

But you've never been able to explain your nightmares to us before. Not until this morning, that is. That's when you came, sobbing uncontrollably, to your mother and explained that you had dreamed that she made food for me and none for you.

I can't explain this dream. And I can't even explain to you why we have bad dreams at all — although psychologist Antti Revonsuo has an interesting theory: He suggests that nightmares serve the evolutionary purpose of allowing our species to "rehearse" for facing various threats and in so doing prepare us to better face those threats in real life.

I suppose I can see some logic to that hypothesis inherent in the terribly sad dream you had this morning. We don't fret as much as we once did about your weight, but everytime you find a friend on the playground who is your same age I am reminded of just how very small you still are. Food is important for everyone, but it is especially important for you. I promise that we would never forget to feed you — let alone purposefully ignore your needs, as you dreamed this morning — but I guess I can see how preparing for this threat subconsciously would be worthwhile in a Darwin-meets-Maslow-meets-Freud sort of way.

But fear defined is no less frightening, so even if that explains the reason for your dreams, it certainly won't make it any easier to wake up in a cold sweat with your heart pounding and your fists clenched as tight as clamps.

I understand. I have bad dreams, too. Every night, when I close my eyes, I see death and sadness and evil and emptiness. And so I don't get a lot of sleep.

There are, of course, just two things you can do when confronted by fear: You can run from it, or you can face it.

And when you can muster the courage to do so, face it.

Face it because, when you do, you'll likely learn something about yourself you didn't know before.

Face it because, when you do, you'll likely find that many of your fears are not so frightening as you once dreamed.

Face it because, if you don't, you'll just have to keep running.

And, if for no other reason, face it because I so often have chosen not to. And I know that I am no better for all the running I've done in my life — just more tired.

I'm sorry you had such a bad dream this morning. I hope you won't have the same dream again.

But if you do, when you wake up, your mother and I will be here to hold you. And then we'll make you the biggest breakfast ever, just so that you understand: Dreams are just dreams. And every bad night deserves a beautiful morning.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BACK UP AGAIN

Dear Spike:

It's 3:02 in the morning. You've been in and out of sleep all night.

And that's the story of your life.

I wish I knew what to do to help you sleep more, but the truth is that I've been stumped. We've tried feeding you at bed time and not feeding you at bed time. We've tried giving you milk and not giving you milk. We've tried black noise and total silence. We've tried nightlights and no lights. We've tried ignoring you and being with you.

I supposed that this is just one of those things about parenting, and maybe about life. Sometimes you just don't have the answers.

Sometimes you don't have a clue.

It's 3:07 a.m. now, and you're back up again.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NOT A HURT

Dear Spike:

"Mommy, my leg hurts."

"Your leg hurts? Where does it hurt?"

"Right here."

"Um..."

"Right here!"

"Honey, that's not a hurt. That's blueberry from your cheesecake."

"It hurts."

"Want me to lick it off?"

"Yes Please."

"What do you say?"

"Thank you."

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 8, 2009

AND THANK YOU

Dear Spike's Friends:

It's been a while since I last wrote to you, and I've been pretty lousy about checking the comments on Spike's blog, so I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your kind words, your sage advice and your wonderful support.



Some of you have been reading Spike's letters for more than three years, now. You've laughed with us and cried with us and cheered Spike on, every step of the way, even though many of us have never met.

I can't begin to tell you how fortunate I feel knowing that Spike has developed such a wonderful "cyber family." You're the best, and we love you.



I'm not writing to deliver any big announcement. I promise to keep on putting Spike's letters online so long as you keep coming around to visit.



As you've probably noticed, I've slowed down the pace of my letter-writing over the past year — owing both to my crazy-busy schedule and to the fact that I can now actually have conversations with my beautiful and intelligent daughter. But I plan to keep writing Spike up until she runs off to college — and maybe even after that.



Thanks for reading. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your support.

best wishes,
matthew
(spike's dad)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TO OUR LOVE

Dear Spike:

Your mother and I have been married for more than seven years now and although things aren't always perfect, I've never regretted my decision to commit myself to her. She is my hero and my best friend. And I cannot fathom what my life would be like without her.

So it might be strange for you to hear me say that, every now and again, I regret that we got married.

Let me explain.

Today, voters in Maine shot down a law that would have allowed gay couples to marry. In doing so, Maine became the 31st state where voters have decided that the right to marry should be limited to those who look like your mother and I do.

By the time you are old enough to be president, today's vote will be yet another sad footnote in our nation's history. Older Americans, who oppose gay marriage in great numbers, are taking their interpretations of Old Testament scripture to the grave. Younger Americans, those who will be voting for decades to come, simply do not care to mix religion and politics, particularly when it comes to depriving fellow citizens of their rights.

Like segregation and anti-suffrage, this too shall pass.

But today I am sickened. Heartbroken. Angry.

And I am left wondering: What good is marriage?

What good is marriage if it does not represent love?

What good is marriage if it does not represent commitment?

What good is marriage, if it does not represent the will of two people to stand by one another, for richer and for poorer, for better or for worse, forever and ever?

Of course, for most of us — heterosexual and homosexual alike — marriage represents all of those things. Marriage is love and commitment and the will to stand together, through all of life's challenges, because life is too damn hard to stand alone.

But the marriage certificate that your mother and I signed seven years ago? That little slip of paper filed away in a box somewhere in the basement of the Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis, Ore.? That legal testament to our love?

It is meaningless to me. Worthless to me. And perhaps it is fortunate that today we live so far away from the town where we were married, because I feel a burning compulsion to march into that courthouse, demand that piece of paper and tear it up, shred by tiny shred.

Yes, today I regret that we got married. I regret that we felt compelled to ask for a rubber stamp from a government that does not offer that same easy endorsement to anyone who loves the way your mother and I love. I regret that we felt the need to ask permission to love one another from this nation of the people, by the people and for all the jealous, greedy, judgmental people.

I do not regret the way I love your mother. Not one bit.

I do not regret the day I stood, holding her hands and looking into her eyes, and promised to love her, to cherish her, to honor her and to be there for her forever.

I do not regret the dance we danced or the cake we cut or the toasts we made.

Not one bit.

But I'd burn that marriage certificate. By God, I would.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 1, 2009

BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ


Dear Spike:

For weeks, you've been telling anyone who would listen:

"I'm going to be a bumble bee for Halloween!"

And so you were. You visited some of our neighbors with a "trick-or-treat, buzz buzz buzz" and claimed enough candy to last you through Christmas.

This morning, when you woke up, you asked if you could go trick-or-treating again. And you didn't seem to understand why Halloween doesn't come around more often.

But we know. The world just can't take this much cuteness more than once a year.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SMART LITTLE GIRL

Dear Spike:

We went to the teacher's supply store this morning to pick up a box of magnetic letters for the refrigerator door. (Many of the letters we had mysteriously began disappearing as you began using them to spell. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?) After we found a tub of 108 letters — "that's more than four alphabets," I told you — we wandered around the store a bit to see if there was anything else we couldn't live without.

In one corner, there was a rack of small flags from all over the world, and I picked you out a tiny Chinese banner for your room. And so long as we were at it, we asked one of the store attendants if she had a map of China.

"I'm pretty sure we do," she said, leading us to the back of the room, where hundreds of tightly-scrolled maps were waiting in plastic bins. "May I ask why you're interested in China?"

"I'm going to live in China when I grow up," you told her confidently.

The lady took a step back to size you up. "Well, you're going to need a map then," she finally said, handing you the 18-inch roll of paper in a plastic bag.

"Thank you," you said.

"In Chinese," I corrected.

"Xie xie," you said.

"You're teaching her Chinese?" the lady asked.

"Nah, she's teaching us," I replied, explaining about how we'd come to decide to have you learn a language that your mother and I don't know ourselves.

"What else does she know?" the woman asked.

We went over a few of the basics. You told her what colors she was wearing and shared the names of some of your favorite animals.

As we headed up to the front counter, the lady called over some of her co-workers. "Can you tell us some more?" she said.

You obliged.

"She's a pretty smart little girl," another woman, who was ringing us up at the cash register said.

She picked up the box of alphabet letters and read the label. "108 foam letters," she said.

"That's more than four alphabets," you told her.

The woman looked around the room as though she were trying to spot the hidden camera.

"How does she know that?" she asked.

I just kept my mouth shut and shrugged. If people want to think my daughter is the smartest two-year-old in the world, who am I to argue?

Because, for all I know, they could be right.

Love,
dad

Saturday, October 17, 2009

WAITED AND WAITED

I'll never forget the day I met disaster.

It was Oct. 17, 1989. The San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics were just about to take the field in Game 3 of the World Series. Your Uncle Mikey and I were in our family's garage, shooting pool, playing darts and listening to the pre-game show on KNBR-AM on my little red-and-black boom box.

And then the world moved. It moved as though God had picked up the planet and was shaking it in anger. It moved as though it were about to break apart into outer space. It moved as I had never felt before and have never felt sense.

The tools hanging on the garage walls shook. A rake fell from its post. Mikey and I dashed out the back door, into the backyard. We wrapped our arms around each other and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

They say it was 15 seconds. It felt like the entire afternoon went by as we waited for the world to stop shaking.

By the time it stopped, I knew: That quake was a killer.

Indeed, 63 people died that day. Thousands more were injured. And I lost the ability to believe that God was always good.

The photos poured over the television. Stomach-churning images of cars crushed between fallen slabs of freeway and people crushed under the fallen facade of an old San Francisco building. Fires raged all night long.

And in the midst of it all, a small miracle: The cities hardest hit by the Earthquake were being represented in one of the biggest contests in all the sporting world. So millions of people who might otherwise have been on the freeways, on the bridges or walking along old city streets, were instead in their homes or packed into bars to watch the game.

So maybe God is good. Or maybe God just has a sick sense of humor.

This was the disaster that stole my innocence. But, of course, it wasn't the last. Or even the worst. Not even close.

A few years later, Los Angeles shook. Seventy four people died. The next year, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building took 168 lives, including that of one-year-old Baylee Almon, whose lifeless body, cradled in a firefighter's arms, became the iconic image of terror in the heartland.

A year after that, TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Two hundred and thirty perished.

And then Columbine. And then September 11. And then Columbia. And then Ivan and Katrina and Rita.

15. 2,992. 7. 124. 1,836. 120.

How do I explain this to you? How do I tell you that, even though this world is a very beautiful place, sometimes it shakes? How do I tell you that sometimes it kills? How do I tell you that God is only sometimes good?

On the day I met disaster, your grandfather was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, getting ready to cover the baseball game. Instead, he spent the evening covering the aftermath of the quake, then drove the long way back to our home across the Bay.

He never told us why it had happened. He just gave us all a big hug and told us that he loved us.

I guess that's all I'll have to offer you on the day you meet disaster. And you will.

Because even though this world is a very beautiful place, sometimes it shakes.

And when it does, I will not waiver. I will not tremble. I will be here to hug you, to hold you, to wipe away your tears.

I will be here. I will wait with you for the world to stop shaking.

And when it does, we will listen for the birds. And we will watch the wind rustle through the leaves of the trees. And we will know that the world is still a beautiful place.

Love,
dad

Sunday, October 11, 2009

SAY IT AGAIN

Dear Spike:

You've yet to perfect the pronunciation of the letter 'f,' so when your mother and I asked you where you wanted to go for a hike today, we were having some trouble understanding your answer.

"In the sorest," you said.

"The what?"

"The sorest."

"Um... the source?"

"No, the sorest."

"Can you say it again?"

Finally you grew frustrated and took a long contemplative pause.

"The woods," you finally said. "In the woods."

Even after you perfect your phonemes, there are going to be times in which intellectual, linguistic, social, cultural or technological barriers are going to prevent successful communication with those around you.

There's little in life more important that good communication skills. But faced with the inability to get their point across on the first try, many people just give up.

You, apparently, are not one of those people. And as a result, you're going to have access to a world that few others will.

You're going to see the sorest — and the trees.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 5, 2009

AT THE CENTER

Dear Spike:

Far more people have argued about the Mojave Desert Cross than have actually seen it.

I'm pretty sure I passed it, once, just about 10 years ago, while taking a shortcut from the Marine Corps base at 29 Palms to Las Vegas. But if I noticed the simple, white structure, jutting from the top of a 30-foot rock outcropping, I certainly don't remember it now.

So I would never again have thought of that lonely drive had I not heard, this week, that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to hear arguments about whether the 75-year-old war monument should be torn down in adherence to the principle of separation of church and state.

Turns out folks have been fighting over this for years. Hiring lawyers and filing petitions. Building coalitions and organizing legislation. Fighting and writing and wrything in despair over two pieces of steel pipe, affixed at the center, painted white and planted in the middle of nowhere.

Here's the irony of it all: The people on both sides of this issue are good Christians. The man who filed the original suit asking for the cross to be taken down is a devout Catholic who says he is opposed to the government's exploitation of the most sacred symbol of Jesus Christ's sacrifice. Those who want the cross to remain where it is say they're defending that same sacred symbol against anti-religious zealots who want to destroy all vestiges of God in government.

I wonder if either side has given much thought to the resources that have been squandered in this years-long legal battle. What else could those thousands of hours have done? What else could those millions of dollars have bought? Whose lives could have been bettered — or saved?

How is it possible that neither side has decided to turn the other cheek, as Christ commanded? To give to Caesar what is Caesar's, as Christ commanded? To use what limited resources we have in this world to help those who need it most, as Christ commanded?

There are things in this world worth fighting for. Choose your battles wisely. I often fail in this regard. And so I am in no position to cast any stones — only to offer some advice.

Fight the fights that are worth fightin' — and leave the rest to God.

love,
dad

Friday, September 25, 2009

ON A DATE

Dear Spike:

It was an evening I'll never forget.

I was just finishing up my work for the day when you walked into the room with a suggestion.

"Daddy, you want to go to a movie with me?"

"Watch a movie? Sure, tonight we can do that."

"No," you said resolutely. "Not watch a movie. Go to a movie with me."

I don't know where you got that idea, but I liked it. I liked it a lot. I hopped online to see what was playing — and was pleased to see that Hayao Miyazaki's latest film, "Ponyo," was playing at the small theater just down the street from our home.

An idea began to take shape.

"Would you like to go on a date with me?" I asked.

"Yes please!" you replied.

And our adventure began.

First, we decided, we needed to dress up.

You chose your brown velvet dress, silver beaded necklace and cranberry shoes.

"You look fancy," I said.

"Thank you," you relied.

I put on a suit, my panda bear tie and a fedora.

"You look dapper," you told me.

"Thank you," I replied.

And with that, we set out on our date.

Our first stop was the candy store. You chose a pineapple chocolate and I picked out a mint. As usual, the lady behind the counter let you choose a sucker from the box.

"Yellow!" you decided.

Then we went to the coffee shop for a pre-movie drink. You got a banana-chocolate mlk with whipped cream.

And then we headed next door, bought our tickets, and walked into the nearly empty theater to watch our show.

You loved it. I was just confused. And by the end, we were both hungry — so we walked across the street to get some Lebanese food.

We ordered a sampler platter and a orange blossom limeaid and chatted about the film. After you had explained it to me, I wasn't so confused anymore.

When we were done, you asked for the bill.

"Check please!" you said when the waitress came near.

She brought it to you and then stood there waiting to see what you'd do with it.

"Here you go, daddy," you finally said, handing me the bill.

I'd been hoping to go Dutch, but I really didn't mind paying for such great company. I signed the bill and lifted you from your seat. And when we walked out, I took note of all the other tables and was proud to recognize that I had the prettiest date of anyone in the room.

We walked home together, hand-in-hand.

And I was the happiest guy in the world.

Love,
dad

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ARE YOU CRYING?

Dear Spike:

Me: Why are you crying?

You: Because I'm sad.

Me: Why are you sad?

You: Because I'm unhappy.

Me: Um, OK. Why are you unhappy?

You: Because I'm sad.

Love,
dad

DO NOT WHINE

Dear Spike:

It was a bit of a rough day today — well, OK, it was a really rough day. You couldn't seem to stop whining — even when there was nothing in particular to whine about.

We have a no whining rule in our home — and you know it — so you spent a lot of time in the time-out corner. That, of course, just seemed to make you whine more.

You wanted to watch movies, to play in our bed, to have a tea party. All of these things are treats, though, for little girls on their best behavior — so I had to say no. And that, of course, just seemed to make you whine more.

Some folks might find our way of parenting a bit absurd. We don't spend a lot of time telling you what not to do. And unless you look like you're going to be badly injured — say, by running out in the middle of traffic — I don't stand in the way of your bumps and bruises.

Most of the time, when you do something wrong, nature punishes you.

When She's busy, I'm here. And I don't give you a whole lot of second chances. When you do something wrong, I address it and punish it immediately. That way there's no doubt about what I expect of you.

But today was tough. There was obviously something wrong - something I couldn't identify. But rules are rules. So if you're not hurt or sick, you're not aloud to whine.

"Dogs whine," I've told you, again and a again. "Little girls do not whine."

Sometimes it's tough to stick to your guns. Not only because it's simply no fun to punish the person you love more than anything in the world, but because it's just plain hard work. And sometimes — like today — it doesn't seem to work.

But rules are rules.

Let's hope tomorrow is a better day.

For the both of us.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SOME MORE BREAD

Dear Spike:

You: "May I have some more bread?"

Your mom: "Hey, you took my bread!"

You: "Thank you, mommy, you are very helpful."

Love,
dad

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A DIFFERENT PLEA

Dear Spike:

Your mother and I took turns corralling you back into bed tonight.

Each time, you reemerged at the door of your bedroom in your two-sizes-too-big piggy pajamas and carrying a different combination of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals in your arms.

And each time, when we'd scoop you up and put you back into your bed, you'd try a different plea, pitch or protest.

My personal favorite of the night: "No, daddy. I don't want to be independent!"

Love,
dad

Friday, September 11, 2009

THE SIDE EFFECTS

Dear Spike:

One of the side effects of being tired is feeling crabby.

One of the side effects of being a toddler is the inability to say certain words.

Which is why you've been trotting around the house, all day, saying, "I'm crappy. I'm crappy! I'm crappy!!!"

Love,
dad

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

OUT OF BED

I understand 10 o'clock.

Eleven, sure.

Even midnight.

Sometimes you just have trouble falling asleep. I get that. I have the same problem.

But 4:30 in the blessed a.m.?! Are you kidding me?

I'm at a total loss here. I know we've taken some wrong turns when it comes to your sleeping routine. Summer came and we got soft on your schedule. We caved (blissfully, no less) to requests to rock you to sleep every night. Sometimes we let you sleep in our bed with us following a family movie night.

But last night, you broke all records. You were in an out of bed until just before dawn. And I was there by your bedside (and sometimes, at your request, even nestled into your tiny green bed with you.) I sang to you. I told you stories. I even tried ignoring you altogether.

But no sand.

Now, less than one bleary-eyed day later, it's 11:30 p.m. and I'm afraid that I'm losing another battle. You insist that "I'm not sleepy" when I put you down in your bed, but promptly pass out when I hold you, rock you and pet your little head. And then, when I try to put you down, it's "I'm not sleepy," all over again.

I'm not completely against using duct tape at this point to keep you in bed. Or chloral hydrate.

It's time to sleep, sweet one. It's time for all of us to sleep.

Love,
dad

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A BALL GOWN

Dear Spike:

You: "What's this, mama?"

Your mother: "That's a ball gown."

You: "A ball gown?"

Your mother: "That's right. Where do you think you might wear a ball gown?"

You: "To the ball game!"

Love,
dad

Thursday, September 3, 2009

OF HOME IMPROVEMENT

Dear Spike:

This week we'll start work on your Uncle Mikey's apartment. The plan is to remove an upstairs window and about a foot and a half of bricks underneath it to make way for a new door. We'll also be building a small balcony and staircase so that he has a private entrance. After that we'll blow out his closet and run some pipes for a bathroom. And finally we'll knock down some walls to make more space in the room for some bookshelves and a new closet.

"Wow daddy," you say, "I didn't know your many, many, many, many, many talents extended into the world of home improvement."

OK. Well... truthfully... that's probably not the case. And while I'm proud of some of the very minor projects we've done around the house, we've never attempted anything like this before. But we're not rich enough to hire someone else to do it — and even if we were, I think I'd still like the challenge.

If you ask me, one of the best parts of life comes when you get out of your comfort zone — when you ask yourself to do something knowing that you might not be the best at it.

To paint when you're not a painter.

To dance when you're not a dancer.

To build when you're not a builder.

Sometimes you're going to fail — and there are plenty of lessons to be learned from failure, too. In fact, there's so much to learn from failure that you can never really completely fail.

And sometimes, you're going to succeed. Not only will you exceed your expectations, you'll exceed all hopes as well. You'll paint like Rembrandt. You'll dance like Fred Astair. You build like... um... like Bob, I guess.

You never know unless you try. Sometimes that means picking up a paintbrush. Sometimes that means picking up a set of tap shoes.

And for us, this week, it means picking up a sledgehammer.

Keep you head down, little one, this might get a little bit dusty.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Perfect Day

Monday, August 31, 2009

OF A MIRACLE


Dear Spike:

Your mother's new students arrive today — and the spectacle that is Title 1 Kindergarten starts anew.

Most will show up unable to spell their names or recite their ABCs. Some of them can't count to 10. Quite a few can't speak any English.

By June, they'll all be reading. They'll be able to count to 100 — by ones and twos and fives and tens. And the ones that couldn't speak any English at the beginning of the year will be translating for their parents at the end of the year.

What your mother does, in nine short months each year, is little short of a miracle, particularly considering the fact that, at the school she teaches, many of the children are homeless, or in the country illegally, or have fled to this nation from their war torn native lands, or are being abused at home, or have parents in prison. And some of them have all of those problems.

But she welcomes them into her classroom and gives them a seat at their very own desk. She tells them that they are special but also reminds them that they are no more special than anyone else. She teaches them how it feels to put their noses to the grindstone.

For most, her expectations are higher than anything that's ever been expected of them. For many, her classroom rules are more structure than they've ever had in their lives. For some, her class is the only place they have to feel loved.

And under her watchful eyes they bloom.

She doesn't always notice the miracles she creates. The changes are magnificent over time, but usually quite subtle from day to day to day. And when her students succeed, she's more likely to praise their efforts than to take any credit for herself.

That's just the way your mother is.

But you and I know the truth.

She makes miracles.

Love,
dad

Saturday, August 29, 2009

OFF TO BEIJING

Dear Spike:

Today we met your new Mandarin tutor, Xinling. Already you seem to have become fast friends.

She was impressed with your vocabulary — both English and Chinese — but was rather unimpressed with the way your mother and I have been beating up her native language. You, on the other hand, seem to have weathered our linguistic incompetence. Xinling told us there's nothing wrong with your accent that a little shutting up on our part won't fix.

You'll start your lessons together on Wednesday.

I figure you should be ready to jet off to Beijing by Friday or so.

I'm proud of you, my little panda.

Love,
dad

Friday, August 28, 2009

SING, PLAY, DANCE


Dear Spike:

Your Uncle Mikey arrived this week, carrying an enormous keyboard under one arm and two guitar cases in the other.

That's good news for you, because while your mother and father have a diverse array of talents, music isn't our strong suit. So when Mike takes care of you during the days when I'm called away to work, I've asked him to play music for you — and with you.

We're not the only species on this planet that makes music, but there's no other animal that has figured out how to do it with such diversity. We make music with our mouths and with our hands, with simple percussion tools and elaborate wind instruments, with wood and brass and plastic, with electricity and with digital ones and zeroes.

I once visited an Alzheimer's home where music was being used as a conduit to people whose minds had otherwise been lost to the present world. Music is good for your brain.

I once heard a muezzin call the faithful to prayer in Iraq's volatile west desert. In the city of Ramadi, where everything stopped at sunset for fear of death, his song continued on. Music is good for your soul.

And today, every time I hear you sing — your sweet little voice rising and falling, mostly in tune — I fall in love with you all over again. Music is good for your heart.

Sing, play, dance and humm. Whistle, tap, snap and clap.

Moan and chant. Scream if you must.

Make music. And don't ever stop.

Love,
dad

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ON IDIOT FATHERS

Dear Spike:

I was waiting for a set of fishing licenses at the sporting good's counter at K-Mart. You were admiring a display case full of BB guns. Your mom was elsewhere in the store.

"You like those?" I asked you while the kid behind the counter punched my info into his computer. "I think you should tell your mother when she gets back that you want a BB gun."

"I want a BB gun?" you asked.

"Yeah," I said. "Say it just like that."

"I want a BB gun," you repeated.

"Perfect. Say that and watch: Your mother's face will turn red and smoke will come out of her ears!"

You thought about this for half-a-second and decided you didn't like that idea whatsoever. Your chin began to tremble. And then you began to cry. And then you began to scream.

"Nooooooooooo!" you wailed. "No smoke out of mama's ears!!!!!"

I have wonderful, bright and extremely sensitive daughter — who takes everything I say litterally. And even though I know this, I still managed to implant in your head an image that could scarcely be more terrifying.

Attention K-Mart Shoppers: We've got a sale on idiot fathers in sporting goods.

Your mom was on scene in seconds. I stuttered out an explanation. But I'm sure something got lost in the translation.

"Nooooooooooo!" you continued to scream and she swept you up into her arms and carried you out of the store as I continued to wait for our fishing tags. "Nooooooooooo!"

The kid behind the counter tried to rush through the rest of the process so that I could go out and face the music, but in his haste he kept hitting the wrong buttons, freezing the computer and forcing him to start all over again.

You were still sobbing when I got back to the car, 10 minutes later. You begged for me to hold you.

"She's terrified of me," you mom said, graciously not adding the words "thanks a lot, moron."

"She keeps telling me that she's sorry and that she doesn't want a BB gun," she said.

"Nooooooooooo!" you screamed. "No BB gun. No BB gun!"

I tried to console you. I rocked you in my arms and patted you on the back and apologized profusely for my use of cartoonish metaphors. All to no avail. Your shrill screams echoed off the building's cinderblock walls.

Meanwhile, a parade of shoppers did their best to pretend not to stare at us as they came and went from the parking lot. There is nothing worse that getting tut-tutted by K-Mart customers.

Finally, blessedly, you passed out in the car. And I drove toward the lake in complete silence for the next 15 minutes.

Your mother sat the the back of the car and — continuing her graciousness when we finally did begin to talk again — didn't bring up the fact that her husband was a complete moron.

Things were a bit better when you woke from your nap. We had a nice boat ride on the lake and I did my best to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the afternoon.

Sometimes I think I should just have the damn thing sewn up so I can't speak at all. But I know better, now, than to tell you something like that.

Love,
dad

Thursday, August 20, 2009

UNTIL IT GOES

Dear Spike:

You don't really know what you're going to miss until it goes away.

That's how it was when we stopped rocking you to sleep at night. We'd pushed hard to help you learn to go to sleep in your own bed. We even invented a "happy night-night" routine to help you get in the mood for slumber.

And, I'll admit, the first few nights that you fell asleep on your own were grand. You mother and I hardly knew what to do with ourselves in our newly found adults only time. (We figured it out eventually.)

But after a while, I really got to missing the nights when I'd wrap you up in a blanket, give you a bottle of milk and watch as you fell asleep on my lap. And it made me sad to think that I'd never get to do that again.

You don't really know what you're going to miss until it goes away. And you never really understand how to appreciate something until it goes away — and come back.

Recently, you started asking us to rock you to sleep at night once again. And even though we know it would probably be better if you were falling asleep on your own, your mother and I have been more than happy to oblige.

I know that you'll grow out of this soon enough. And one day it will be true that I will have rocked you to sleep for the very last time.

And since I understand that, now, I'm savoring every precious moment. Rock-a-bye, baby. Rock-a-bye.

Love,
dad

Sunday, August 16, 2009

YOU COULD BE

From Spike's Uncle Scott, who was in Colorado today covering President Obama's visit...


Dear Spike:

If you don't want to be president, I guess that's OK.

But you could be. Just saying.

Love,
dad

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WHAT YOU SAID

Dear Spike:

"No door! Don't steal my butt!"

That's what you said.

No more LSD in your milk.

Love,
dad

Monday, August 3, 2009

YOUR UNCLE MIKEY


Dear Spike: 

Our household is about to get a bit bigger — though not in the way you might expect.

In a few weeks, your Uncle Mikey is going to come to stay with us.

It all seemed to work out quite nicely. Our lovely babysitter, Amanda, is pregnant and won't be available to watch you a the drop of a hat, as she did last year. Mikey, meanwhile, is about to finish the musical in which he's starring in Berkeley and has been having trouble finding a day job that suits him in California. 
 
And so it is that, starting at the end of this month, Mikey will take on his toughest role yet: A sort-of Kato-Kaelin-meets-Mary-Poppins character who will sleep in our home and eat our food while occasionally watching over you when I have to chase a story. 

There are plenty of details yet to be worked out in this arrangement (including how, exactly, to keep your father and your uncle — who have never exactly gotten along — from ripping each other's heads off) but one thing is already clear: You're a fortunate little girl. Among other talents, Mikey is an extremely gifted musician and he'll be here to help you develop your musical gifts, too.  

Most importantly, though, is that he absolutely adores you. And that gives your mother and I faith that everything else will ultimately fall into place.   

This certainly isn't how we expected to arrange for your child care this year, but we're feeling fortunate to have Mikey playing a bigger role in your life.

Love,
dad

 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

THE RIGHT PLACE

Dear Spike:

Our Mormon friends would argue that it was a matter of divine inspiration. I'm in no position to say they're wrong, though I've got another theory.

The Day was July 24, 1847. The Mormon leader Brigham Young had just crossed over the Wasatch Mountain range with his band of religious refugees. Looking out over the desert that would become Salt Lake City, Young said, "this is the right place."

The place where Young's party rested when he made the decision to make this place his church's Zion is just a few miles up the road from our home. And until I stood there — and in lieu of any better explanation — I was willing to go with the "divine inspiration" theory.

But from that spot, what you see is miles and miles of desert — followed by another range of rugged mountains. I think Young — who was sick with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and unable to even walk for himself — had simply had enough. And so this was the place.

One hundred and sixty-two years later, the state of Utah still pauses each July 24 to celebrate Pioneer Day (or, as it was once called, The Day of Deliverance) — a day that is met with greater revelry and far greater reverence than the day that marks our nation's independence, three weeks earlier.

There are festivals and fireworks and a parade so grand that thousands of people camp out the previous night to ensure a spot along the miles-long route.

This was all quite difficult for us to understand when we moved here. And even today your mother and I still marvel at the spectacle. Each year on Pioneer's Eve, we ride the parade route on my motorcycle in order to better appreciate the throngs of people sleeping in tents and lounging on blow-up mattresses. And we shake our heads in wonder.

The next morning, scores of church-sponsored parade floats, all celebrating the virtues of the pioneers (though conspicuously disregarding the role that polygamy played in the founding of this state) roll right by our home. Bands play. Soldiers march. Missionaries strut in their starched white shirts and ties. And Brigham Young's most recent successor — at the moment a curmudgeonly looking guy named Thomas Monson — gets a standing ovation as his convertible rolls down the road with the Latter-day version of the Secret Service jogging alongside.

It's all so easy to mock. And we do.

But there's also a lesson to be learned from Young, his polygamous tribe and the worldwide religious movement it spawned.

Young's followers could have noted — just as easily as I did when I first stood at the mouth of what has come to be known as Emigration Canyon — the dubiousness of their leader's choice of the Salt Lake Valley as their new home. Instead they built a city – one of the most beautiful in this nation.

However they got here, they were here. And they made due.

We could spend each July 24 decrying the ridiculous spectacle and the farcical way it came into existence. Instead we celebrate. We gather our friends for mimosas and bloody marys. Your mother cooks up some Jell-O.* And after a few belts we saunter down to watch the parade and cheer the Saints as they go Marchin'.

However we got here, we're here. And we make due.

Life doesn't always makes sense. And whether that's divine inspiration or dumb luck, it doesn't really matter.

No matter how you got here, you're here. So make due.

Love,
dad

* The official desert of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

UPON THE MOON


Dear Spike:

When I tell you, one day, that we went to the moon, I wonder if you’ll think I’m just sharing a story.

This is, after all, a once-upon-a-time tale. And it has been since before I was born.

Man’s first small steps on the Sea of Tranquility came on July 20, 1969. Our last giant leap came on Dec. 7, 1972.

Since then we’ve sent hundreds of astronauts into orbit. We’ve dispatched robots to explore Mars. And we’ve built telescopes that can see billions of years into the past in hopes of learning something about our future.

But we've never returned to the moon. Nor have we made any substantial movement toward sending someone to Mars — which was largely considered to be the logical next step when the Apollo program ended.

So it’s still uncertain what that future holds for us outside our own orbit. Space exploration is dangerous and expensive work. And, alas, we have so many pressing problems here on Earth.

Yet I will not tell you not to dream of running on the moon. I will not tell you not to hope to take that next great leap to Mars. And if you seek to soar beyond our solar system, I will not tell you it cannot be done.

You can do anything. I know this to be true.

Because there was a time when we decided we’d walk upon the moon. And when we went, the world stood still to watch. Hearts raced. Imaginations soared. Untold dreams were realized. And untold more were born.

Perhaps it’s true that we have lost our way, a bit. But there is nothing that you have ever lost that you cannot find once again, if that is what you want to do.

Yes, you can do anything. Yes, I know this to be true.

Because, once upon a time, we walked upon the moon.

Love,
dad

Thursday, July 16, 2009

DID YOU KNOW?

Dear Spike:

Visiting a flock of friends at the aviary yesterday, we came upon the southern ground hornbill habitat.

"The hornbill is from Africa," I read aloud from the sign on the cage. "It eats reptiles, frogs, insects and small mammals."

I turned to you. "What does the hornbill eat?"

"Milk, like me!" you said.

Funny, albeit incorrect. Problem was, I misheard you. I though you said, "Mammals, like me!"

"That's right!" I said, giving you a big hug. "You're so smart."

Just then, a group of older children walked by.

"Hornbills eat milk, like me!" you told them, obviously impressed with this new piece of information. "Hey kids. Hey kids! Hornbills eat milk, like me."

It took some time to explain to you that, in the animal kingdom, only mammals drink milk.

By then it was too late.

"Did you know those birds over there drink milk?" I overheard one of the kids tell him mom.

"Really?" the mom said. "I thought that only mammals drink milk. I tell you, I learn something new every time I come here."

Love,
dad

Thursday, July 9, 2009

THE BOO-HOO SONG

Dear Spike:

Today you bit your mother so hard that she bled.

Tomorrow you will get nothing resembling lenience from me. You'll get one chance to do everything your mother and I tell you to do. And if you don't, you'll be singing the boo-hoo song in the time-out chair. And if that doesn't work, we'll start taking your stuffed animals hostage.

Oh yeah, that's how I roll.

Love,
dad

POURING SOME HONEY

Dear Spike:

I hear you were very brave — and I couldn't be prouder. But I am very sorry you had to meet the business end of a honey bee earlier this week.

You were on a walk with your mother clear on the other side of the park when it happened. You were batting away some nasty summer gnats when a bee landed on your hand. When you tried to swat it away, too, it sank its stinger into you.

You were still sobbing, a bit, when you finally made it home, but you held up your hand rather proudly to show off a tiny red spot on your finger.

You held out that same hand, yesterday, as I was pouring some honey into a coffee mug.

"Some honey, daddy?" you asked.

I obliged, dropping a dab on your finger.

"Mmmmmm," you said as you tasted the thick golden liquid. "Some more?"

For a moment, I felt like helping you make the connection between two moments — one sweet and one painful.

But then I thought better of it.

"Here you go," I said, squeezing another drop from the bottle. "Enjoy."

Love,
dad

Monday, July 6, 2009

PICTURES DON'T LIE

Dear Spike:

From one day to the next, you look and seem the same to me. I know that you're growing bigger and bigger, smarter and smarter, but I cannot see it.

But, as they say, pictures don't lie. And the ones your mother shared with me recently told a thousand words about how you've grown over the past year.

In the first, taken just after your first birthday, you walk through a narrow waterpark stream aided by your grandmother's hand. You're cautious, feet fixed in the water and weight low to the ground. Your hair is soft, short and swept to the side.


In the second, taken just after your second birthday, you navigate the same stream all alone. You're confident, tip-toeing through the water with carefree abandon. Your hair is set up in pig tails.


My how you've grown. My how you have changed. I can only imagine what next year's photos might reveal.

But I'm happy to wait to find out.

I love this moment in your life, just as I did the last. And I am savoring every moment.

And taking lots of photos.

Love,
dad

Friday, July 3, 2009

YOUR REAL NAME

Dear Spike:

Last week, inexplicably, you demanded that we start calling you by your real name...

...

...

... Banana Dog.

"Banana Dog?" you mother asked.

"Uh huh, Banana Dog," you replied.

"Um, OK. Hello Banana Dog," she said.

"That's right!" you beamed.

This morning, you decided, you needed a new name.

"I'm Walrus the Fob," you explained.

"Um, OK," I said. "Good morning Walrus the Fob."

"Good morning, daddy," you replied.

I think I like this.

Love,
Buck Duck Brahma

Monday, June 29, 2009

TELL A STORY

Dear Spike:

Your imagination is blossoming like a summer rose, full of color and life and fragrance — an absolutely beautiful thing to watch unfold.

This evening, as I was working on my computer in the shade of our porch, you came outside wearing a set of butterfly wings and one of your mother's silk scarfs. "Would you like to come to a birthday party, Daddy?" you asked.

Well, who could say no?

"You have to wear this hat," you said, handing me one of your mother's straw hats with a purple bow.

No problem at all. I dutifully put on the hat and followed you into our home to find a table with a Play-dough birthday cake and a gang of costumed animal sitting on pillows all around.

"We've been playing birthday for the past half-hour," your mother explained, herself wearing a funny hat and scarf.

"You set this all up?" I asked her.

"No, she did," your mother replied, gesturing in your direction.

Later in the evening, you were bouncing on our bed like a caffeinated monkey on a trampoline when you suddenly decided you wanted a change of pace.

"A cave!" you cried, diving under the blankets. "Mommy and daddy come, too."

We all ducked under the blanket together and you began to tell a story.

"Once upon a time, a long, long time ago..." you began.

The story was about Goldilocks, the Three Bears — and you.

"... and then they all cleaned up the house together," you explained.

You can make a telephone out of anything. Once when we were out to dinner with your Uncle Papa, you spoke to Barack Obama on a pickle.

This afternoon, your mother tells me, you were on the line with someone of even higher stature.

"She was talking to God," she told me.

I wonder what She told you. Maybe tomorrow you'll tell me all about it.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

CHAIRMAN AND SPECIAL

Dear Spike:

When we named your stuffed cat "Chairman Meow" we thought we were being quite clever. Turns out that the word for "cat" in Mandarin is "mao," (or so you tell me) so we could have named the little furry feline "Chairman Mao" and been just as savvy and ironic.

It wouldn't likely change the way you feel about him, which is to say that he's pretty much your best inanimate friend in the world — except for maybe your favorite blanket, a sea green knitted throw you've taken to calling "Special."

You go pretty much everywhere with Chairman and Special. And you won't go to sleep without them. Not without a fight, at least.

Which is why I am, at this moment, sitting on the folding table of the laundry room in the oh-so-posh Desert Inn Hotel, across the street from Disneyland, while you, just upstairs, are fighting sleep like a death row inmate being dragged down the green mile.

In retrospect — goodness, I say that a lot these days — we may have played up this Disney adventure a little too much. We've been talking about it since your birthday, nearly a month ago. And each day of this long trip, we've reminded you that your impeccable behavior would be rewarded with a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth.

Hell, we might as well have called it Mickey Mecca.

You didn't get much of a nap today after playing on the beach with your new friends in San Clemente (turns out you like the ocean after all, but that's another happy story.) So when it came time to put you down to bed, tonight, we thought for sure you'd fall fast asleep, visions of Tinkerbell dancing in your head.

As it turns out, though, you were a little too excited to slumber. In fact, you were pretty much bouncing off the hotel's wall paper.

But you were tired.

So you were a little upset.

And then upset turned into cranky.

And then cranky turned into sick.

And then you puked macaroni noodles all over the hotel bed.

And all over on Chairman.

And all over Special.

It fell to me to find a laundromat — and luckily there was one just downstairs from our room — to clean all that up.

But I've got the easy job. I really don't envy your mother, who at this moment is sitting at your bedside trying to keep you calm so that — in 31 minutes when this drier has run through my buck-fifty and I appear heroically at the foot of your bed holding your freshly-washed friends — you don't respond by puking all over your best buddies again.

If all goes well, though, you'll be curled up with Chairman and Special very soon.

And in any case, I've learned my lesson. I'm not saying the "D-word" again until we're walking down Main Street, U.S.A.

Love,
dad

AS WE DID

Dear Spike:

We'd been planning on spending the a good part of this week lounging on the beach, making sand castles, splashing in the waves and collecting shells.

You took one step into the ocean and decided otherwise.

"No!" you screamed. "I can't. I can't."

Your mother and I looked at each other with mutual — and utter — confusion.

First of all, where in the world did you learn to say "I can't"?

And secondly, what do you mean you can't? It's the ocean. It makes up three-quarters of the planet's surface. It's a sunny day in Venice Beach. What could possibly be the problem?

Maybe given a few more days, you'll find out that you really do like the beach. But it was a bit sad for both your Oregonian mother and Californian father to realize, in the midst of your panicked screams, that our Utahn daughter isn't going to have the same relationship with the ocean as we had growing up, chiefly because she's just not going to see it as much as we did.

OK, it wasn't a bit sad. It was a lot sad. A whole lot sad. My daughter's afraid of the sea — I'd never felt so guilty for moving our family to Utah as I did on Monday.

Still resolved to get you better acquainted with the beach, but not to scar you for life, we took a break today and instead took a hike a Malibu Creek State Park to the place where the show M*A*S*H was filmed. At the sacred spot, some volunteers have set about recreating the camp's footprint with ropes and stakes and helpful signs. They even recreated the famous 4077th camp sign, next to which we stood for a photograph that will stand as proof of our family's nerdy obsession with a show that ended nearly a quarter-century ago.

We then marched up the path of the old helicopter landing pad, found a patch of shade and sat on the hillside and listened to you tell stories about what you saw in the "camp" below.

"There's Colonel Potter," you said.

"Where?"

"Hiding in the trees... Hello Colonel Potter! I can see you!"

"Who else do you see?"

"Klinger!" you said. "And Radar and Hawkeye... Hello Hawkeye!"

Funny what you pick up from your parents. And funny what you don't.

You appear to have picked up our love for an old television show — but not for the ocean. I guess one out of two isn't bad, though if I had a choice, it would be in the opposite order.

But I guess parents don't really get a choice about those sorts of things. Kids pick up some passions and pass on others.

Tomorrow we'll try the ocean again. And I'll love you no matter what happens when we get there.

Love,
dad





































Today we decided to

Monday, June 22, 2009

KEEP IT UP

Dear Spike:

What a trooper you've been.

Halfway through our trip, you're clearly starting to feel the strain of jumping from place to place, sleeping in strange beds and visiting pretty much every last one of the 37 million residents of California.

But you've remained in pretty good spirits — and for the most part, you've remained on your best behavior, too.

Keep it up, kid. Disneyland awaits.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SARDINES FLY BY

Dear Spike:

We spent the morning at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Your mouth hung anchovy agape as you watched the tuna, sharks and schools of sardines fly by.

Now it's nap time. We blown up an air mattress in the back of the car for you, but — no surprise — you don't seem to want to sleep. 

Still, life is good. The sun is beginning to burn through the clouds. There's a cool southern breeze blowing over the bay. We've got nowhere to be and no schedule to keep. 

Life. Is. Good. 

Love,
dad 
    
 
 
   

Thursday, June 11, 2009

LONG AND SHORT

Dear Spike:

Your mother seems to be on the road to recovery. And barring a turn for the worse among the other members of our family, it looks like we'll all be on the road to California in a couple of days.

It's a trip that feels quite a bit overdue. Your cousin Stas was born way back in March and we still haven't met the little guy. How can you miss someone you haven't even met yet? Because that's how I feel.

While we're in Los Angeles, we'll take a turn through Disneyland — a belated birthday trip for you to the purported Happiest Place on Earth. Stas and his parents are scheduled to join us there, as will your Gaky and Papa.

Along the way we'll do a bit of sightseeing, hit the beach, pitch a few tents and, undoubtedly and repeatedly, listen to Uncle Mikey's song, "Keep Moving," — your favorite tune for drives both long and short.

Best of all, we'll all be together, having an adventure.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

LIKE CRAZY CAKES

Dear Spike:

This is not the way your mother intended to start her summer vacation.

She called me from school yesterday afternoon. "Please come and get me," she said. "I'm sick."

Boy, was she ever. Green in the face and unsteady on her feet, she walked to the car as though she'd just been hit by a logging truck.

She was feeling a bit better today, but not enough to head back for the last day of school. Your Auntie Sue said goodbye to the class — a good third of which was missing, apparently having been brought down by the same bug your mother has.

It's because of the apparently hyper-contagious nature of you're mother's current ailment that we decided it would be best to keep you and her apart, today. So it was that, for the first time in the two years that you've spent on this planet, you went a whole day without a hug or a kiss from your mommy.

It took a while, but you ultimately seemed to understand the funny new don't-touch-mommy game we were playing — although you did attempt a few end runs around the no-contact clause of your contract, today.

"Mommy is very, very sick," you said.

"That's right," I said.

"She needs to go to the doctor," you said.

"Could be," I said.

"I'm a doctor!" you suggested.

One neat thing about this otherwise unfortunate arrangement is that it gave your mother a chance to watch us in action as we went about our daily routine. As I got your ready for a morning run, fixed your lunch and read you books before your nap, she watched from the sidelines.

"You know, you're a pretty good dad," she said a few times today.

I smiled and shrugged. I think I am a pretty good dad, but it felt good to hear her say that.

I don't usually get to watch over you from wake-up to bed-down, so today was quite a joy for me. I even got to take you on a date to the Lebanese restaurant down the street from our home while your mother rested. And you were absolutely lovely company.

I know the day was torture for her, though. She loves you like crazy cakes. And to have to spend an entire day without being able to nibble on your little toes or blow on your tiny tummy or nuzzle into your little neck was simply too much for her to bear.

She cried a lot today.

In the end, it might not matter that we kept you apart. Like a game of viral Risk, your little body might already have been conquered by the same microscopic army that's playing "When Johnny Comes Marching" with your mother's immune system right now. Mine, too, for that matter. Ugh.

I'm hoping, though, that we've managed to save you that pain. Not just for your sake, but for your mother's, too. She missed you a lot, today, and I'd hate to think that she'd gone through all of that for naught.

No matter what happens, though, you should know that your mother loves you so much that she's willing not to hug and kiss you.

And that's a lot of love.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ALL I NEED

Dear Spike:

Lately I've been wandering around this place and wondering just who owns it.

Your mother and I are ones whose names are listed on the mortgage, of course. But as I walk from room to room, I see less and less that belongs to us and more and more that belongs to you.

There's a soccer goal in the dining room. A tricycle in the living room. In the kitchen there's... a kitchen — a plastic replica that took me several hours to piece together (thanks again, mom.) The bath tub is filled with rubber toys. The front porch is home to two strollers (one that goes fast and one that goes really fast.) My office is staffed with your stuffed animals. Your mother's sewing room is littered with dress-up outfits.

Not even our own bedroom is our own bedroom. When I woke up this morning I was spooning a stuffed hippo. And I swear he had this funny little grin on his face.

I'm not complaining. When you're around, this stuff keeps you engaged and entertained. When you're not, it reminds me of you.

But, it's true, you do seem to have accumulated quite a bit of stuff in your two years on this planet. And that gives me a bit of pause because your mother and I aren't exactly "stuff" people. We're not into trinkets or gadgets or glam. We're not big on fancy clothes or expensive furniture.

I'm not too concerned that any of these things will turn you into a material girl, but it's probably worth noting, nonetheless: All of this stuff is nice, but none of it will make you happy.

For that you need freedom and enlightenment and music and love. For that you need fresh air and beautiful sunsets. For that you need quiet moments, a comfortable bed and good friends.

For that, you don't need anything or everything.

You just need you.

That's all I need, too — just you. And you're mother, too.

All the rest of this stuff is nice. But it's just stuff.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

LOVE YOUR MOTHER

Dear Spike:

Even though she sometimes tries to push me off the bed when I'm sleeping, I love your mother.

It's an unconditional sort of thing.

Love,
dad

Sunday, May 31, 2009

VISITING THE DOCTOR

Dear Spike:

Your mother's plan was pure genius.

For as long as you've been able to sit upright, you've been terrified of the doctor's office. Just as soon as you see Nurse Tara — the one who give the shots — you start looking for the exits.

In most situations, you're a pretty cool cat. But every time Tara asks us to strip you down to be weighed, you go a bit bonkers.

You cry.

You squirm.

You scream.

It's all really sort of embarrassing.

So with your second birthday approaching — and your two-year check-up impending — your mother had one of those lightbulb-above-the-head moments. She hopped online and found a bag of toy doctor equipment. Then, figuring that you wouldn't be satisfied with a plastic toy stethoscope, she found you the real thing. She also picked up two books about visiting the doctor.

By the time your appointment came round, you were ready. Doctor's bag in hand, you marched into the office as if you were making a house call.

And then you saw Tara.

You cried.

You squirmed.

You screamed.

But by the time Dr. Schrwiever arrived on the scene, we'd calmed you down a bit. And you were more than happy to let her check your vitals — a stark improvement from our last visit, when the poor doctor had to leave the room for a bit for fear of sending you into complete hysterics. You were eager to let her listen to your breathing and check out your eyes, ears and throat. And we were proud as pup when the doctor showed us that you had shot up in weight a bit — enough so that you were finally actually on the chart! (Albeit hugging the bottom line.)

When Tara returned — with a shot, I'm sad to say — you once again flew into a rage. But you recovered nicely, afterward, even if, for the next two days, you complained that "Tara hurt me." (We keep insisting to you that she was simply doing what your parents asked her to do, but you're not buying it.)

All told, though, your mother's plan worked rather well. You don't like getting shots (who does?) but you kept your cool for most of the appointment, which is all we could have hoped for.

Meanwhile, your "check up gear" have fast become your favorite playthings. And it's probably worth noting that you look stellar with a stethoscope dangling from your ears.

You bedside manner does leave a little something to be desired. ("You are very, very, very, very sick," I heard you tell one of your stuffed animal patients this morning.)

But nobody's perfect.

Love,
dad

Thursday, May 28, 2009

WHATEVER IT IS

Dear Spike:

"Let's clear the air on something right now before it becomes a problem," your mother tells me, out of the blue.

I swallow hard and look up with her with my best whatever-I-did-I'm-very-very-sorry face.

"When your daughter says, 'Mommy met a man' she's talking about the guy who loaded the bag of chicken feed into the trunk. That's all, OK?"

Whew.

I'm glad we got that straightened out. And I'm glad that your mother still doesn't know about whatever it is that I've screwed up today — and, alas, there is probably something that I've screwed up today.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

EXCEPT IN RETROSPECT

Dear Spike:

When you're a parent, you get to say a lot of big words like "retrospect."

For instance, in retrospect, it might have been a good idea not to spend the past two weeks talking about all the fun we're going to have on the occasion of your second birthday, because now — on said birthday's eve — you're so giddy with anticipation that you can't get to sleep. And it's going to be a bit tough to make good on all those exciting promises tomorrow if you can't keep your eyes open.

Lesson learned.

There have been a lot of those over the past two years.

For instance, if you want your daughter to be excited to see you after a week away from home, it's best not to do something to drastically alter your appearance, as I did when I shaved my beard on the way home from Cuba, last year.

And if you don't want your kid to puke up rotten milk all over her bed covers, it's a good idea to make sure she hasn't hidden a bottle under her pillow during nap time so that she could have an extra few sips before bed.

And if you decide you want to teach you daughter to spell the word "fun," it's a bad idea to laugh when she mispronounces the letters "F-U-N" as "eff-you-man" — because that's the way she'll spell that word for a long time to come.

I've learned what songs make you laugh and which ones make you cry. I've learned how to hug you when you say you need a hug and how to hug you when you say you don't. I've learned that I need to remind you every day that, even though your mother has gone off to work, she'll be coming home soon.

I've learned all this because, in retrospect, there was a time that I should have done something else.

There are very nearly 7 billion people on this planet — and every single one of them had parents. And every single one of those parents had parents. And every single one of those parents had parents. And so on and so on until our Eve.

You'd think, with all that experience, our species would have developed a full-proof plan for parenting. Of course, we've got nothing of the sort. Even good parents — and I think your mother and I are good parents — manage to screw things up quite a bit. Hence the little girl in the room right next to ours who, in between adorably off-key choruses of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has been chanting "birth-day! birth-day! birth-day!" for the past 30 minutes.

The trick is not to screw up in any irreparable ways — and so far (I think) we've managed to guide your little ship past any catastrophic crashes upon the rocks of life.

I guess we won't know for sure, though, except in retrospect.

But we're doing our best. And we're having a lot of fun.

That's "F-U-N," by the way.

Lesson learned.

Love,
dad

Friday, May 22, 2009

EVEN MORE ADVENTURES

Dear Spike:

I'm sleeping alone tonight while you and your mother are on an adventure — in a tent in our backyard.

Your mom has been getting you ready for this all week. When the evening finally came you couldn't contain your excitement. You even asked to go to bed early.

I can tell that your mother is getting excited too. In just a few more weeks, she'll begin her summer vacation. Then you can have even more adventures like this one.

And maybe sometimes you'll let me come along.

Love,
dad

Monday, May 18, 2009

EVER GREATER EXPECTATIONS

Dear Spike:

I'm guessing the lady at the hardware store's check-out stand asks everyone the same question: "So watcha makin' hon?"

"I'm building a book nook in the attic for my daughter," I told her.

"Ahh, that's sweet," she replied. "How old is she?"

"She'll be two later this month," I said as I slid my credit card through the machine.

The lady looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

"Two year olds don't read, hon," she said, handing me a receipt.

"Um, mine will," I said.

"Well, sure sweety," she said, already turning to the next customer, "good luck with that."

We get this sort of thing a lot.

When you were about three months old, I was chatting with a pregnant colleague about potty training, when another coworker walked by.

"Potty training?" he said to me. "What do you know about that? Your kid isn't potty trained."

"Actually, she uses the toilet pretty regularly," I said.

"No she doesn't," he said.

I gave him the best "whatever, jerk" look I could muster, then turned back to the coworker with whom I'd been conversing. I explained how, as long as we were perceptive to your needs, you were more than capable of doing your business in the toilet.

But the nosy coworker was undeterred. "So you're saying that you just hold her over the toilet and she goes?"

"Something like that."

"She's probably just peeing because she's terrified that you're going to drop her," he said. "Good luck with that."

At the park, a few days ago, we were practicing your colors in Chinese. Another parent walked by.

"Do you mind me asking what language that is?"

"Mandarin," I told her.

"Oh, is her mother Chinese?" the woman asked.

I looked down at my Irish-pale daughter. "Um, no," I said. "We just thought it would be good for her to know another language."

"Oh, us too," she said. "My daughter's learning Spanish."

"That's great" I replied. "That will be very important."

"You know, Chinese is much too hard for a toddler to learn," she said. "You should start with something else."

"Thanks," I said. "But I think she's doing pretty well with this."

"OK," she said. "Good luck with that."

Sigh.

When other parents ask me for advice, I share what we've learned — all our successes and all our missteps. But I'm not in the habit of dolling out unsolicited advice. And no, even though I'm really proud of you, I don't really care to compare you to their kid. I just don't feel the need.

Everyone develops differently. You took a long time to walk, but you talk like a champ. You're one of the smallest kids on the playground, but you're pretty fearless when it comes to tackling the big kid toys. I'm certain that you'll excel at many things. And I'm sure there will be some things that you'll struggle at.

It all comes out in the wash.

But it's true that we have big expectations of you. And so I never set out with the assumption that you can't do something.

So yes, I believe you'll be reading this year. Maybe not War and Peace, but definitely Dick and Jane. And yes, that infant potty training thing worked out quite nicely, thank you very much. And yes, I'm pretty sure that your ability to learn Mandarin is only limited by how much exposure we can give you to that language.

But our love for you isn't conditional on any of those things. You don't win any more love for being bright than you would if you were the dumbest kid on the block. In fact, all you really get for exceeding our expectations are even greater expectations.

That might sound like a raw deal. And I suppose that in some ways it is.

But the way I see it, it's your own darn fault.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SLEEPING FOR REAL

Dear Spike: 

Right around the time we were getting ready to ship you off to bed, you walked into our room dragging a box top, your special green blanket, and a stuffed bear.

You set the box top down, laid down inside of it and pulled your blanket up over your body.

"Um... exactly what are you doing?" I asked.

"Sleeping," you replied. "Shhhhhh."

That wee bit of ├╝ber-adorableness was all it took to win a pajama party with your mother and father. We slid a disc into the DVD player, hopped into bed and snuggled in. 

Now, you're sleeping for real, taking up more than your fair share of the bed, and I'm trying to keep from falling over the side. 

Maybe I should have just let you sleep in the box.

Love,
dad    


Friday, May 8, 2009

JUST LIKE THAT

Dear Spike:

I was working a late shift in the office, last night, when I got a call from your mother.

"I'm about to put the baby to bed," she said. "Would you like to say goodnight?"

And thus began our very first phone conversation...

"Hi Daddy!"

"Hey baby, how are you doing?"

"Good. What you doing Daddy?"

"I'm working, honey. Are you getting ready for bed?"

"Yes."

"OK, well, have a happy night-night."

"Happy night-night."

"I love you."

"Love you Daddy."

It's a strange thing talking to someone on the phone who, such a short time ago couldn't say a word. It made me realize just how much you've changed in the past year.

These days you speak in (nearly) complete sentences, you tell jokes, you make rhymes, you translate food names and numbers and colors into Mandarin, you sing on key and you spell words like "cat" and "mom" and "pig" and "fun." 

You choose your own clothes, you take yourself to the potty, you say "please" and "thank you" and you're even showing signs of being able to control those terrible twos, before two ever starts. 

Today your babysitter's daughter was sick, so I brought you along to a meeting at a coffee shop near our home. You sat patiently, watching Sesame Street and drawing on my notebooks for a good hour, but after a while you started to get a bit bored, and decided that you were going to start throwing donut crumbs all over. When I stopped you, you cried. But that didn't last long.

"What are you doing right now?"

"Throwing tantrum."

"Is that good or bad?"

"Bad."

"What do you say?"

"Sorry Daddy."

Just like that, it was over. And that's been par for the course, lately.

That's not to say you don't ever test our patience. You've picked most your mother's favorite flowers from the garden before they ever had a chance to fully bloom. You seem to enjoy throwing food on the floor when you're done eating. And sometimes, when you decide that you just don't want to go to sleep, you turn into quite a cranky little gnome.

That's all part of growing up, too. And you're growing up so fast.

Love,
dad