Monday, March 30, 2009


Dear Spike:

It's been nearly a year since I decided to take the plunge back into school. Today was the day I actually hit the water.

In deference to my unpredictable work schedule and my often sleepless nights, I've elected to enter an online program at California State University East Bay, which happens to be the same stately institution that your grandmother graduated from when I was a boy. As of midnight, I'm a Pioneer. With any luck, I'll be graduating with a master's degree in education sometime before you start college.

Your mother and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything in this life, but one thing we wholeheartedly agree on is education.

Not as a route to a job. Not as a path to more money. Not as a way to bolster our personal and professional credentials.

We believe in education just for the sake of education.

We believe in the nobility of knowledge and the sanctity of its pursuit. We believe that the very foundations of our society can be found in the relationship between teachers and students. We believe in learning.

And we expect you believe, as well.

That doesn't mean you have to spend your life in school. Although we expect you to go to college — and anticipate that you might stick around for graduate studies — you'll have free agency to make your own decisions about these matters. We will only ask you to recognize and respect the amazingly fortunate lot you've drawn in this life, and to pay heed by striving to learn as much about this world as you can.

In all things, ask questions.

In all things, seek answers.

Share your thoughts and thirst for the thoughts of others.

Explore and experience.

Read and write. Read and write. Read and write some more.

Create. Appreciate. Be.

Learn. It's what this life is for.


Sunday, March 29, 2009


Dear Spike:

It's flippin' freezing outside — and in our big, old drafty home, too — but you've taken a sudden interest in running around the house naked as the day you were born.

"Nuders!" you cry, as you streak through the kitchen. "Nuders!"

Your mother and I — not real big into the nudist scene — weren't really sure where you were getting your fixation on nakedness until she caught you talking to yourself while watching Sesame Street.

"Big Bird is nuders!" you squealed with delight. "Cookie monster is nuders! Grover is nuders! Elmo is nuders!"

Damn Muppets.


Friday, March 27, 2009


Dear Spike:

Here's the entirety of a "conversation" you just had on the phone with our nation's chief executive:

"It's ringing!"


"Hi Obama!"


"Good. Good!"


"Dancing? Dancing!"


"Ooh-kay! Dancing!"


"Ooh-kay Obama. Good bye!"


"Bye bye!"

When I asked you what you and Obama had been talking about, you just smiled a wagged your finger at me.

"No daddy," you said. "Not daddy's phone call."

I think you have a crush on the president.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Dear Spike:

You call him “Brother Cole.”

There’s a reason for that: We never wanted you to think of our cat, Coltrane, as a possession, but rather as a member of our family.

Not everyone would approve. There’s an ancient and still rather widespread resistance to anthropomorphication of animals. Some believe such ideas are representative of a limited sort of homocentric thought that doesn’t allow for animals to just be animals — and doesn’t keep us homo sapiens in our rightful place atop the taxonomical hierarchy.

I tend to see things in a different way. I believe that if we spent a little more time looking for human qualities upon our animal brethren, we might just become a bit more human in the process.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. This afternoon, while reporting on the death of a long-ailing gorilla, named Muke, at our local zoo, I spoke to a zookeeper named Andy Henderson, who said that he’s also prone to think of his animal charges in human terms.

"We do tend to anthropomorphize a little," he told me. “We try not to, but especially with an animal like the gorilla, they're so close to humans, it's hard not to."

That’s especially true on a day like today, when Andy and his colleagues were trying to figure out the best way to help Muke’s longtime companion, Tino, understand what had happened to her. Ultimately, they decided that it would be best if Tino could visit Muke one last time, and so they all left the room and let the big silverback in.

At first, Andy told me, Tino just sat and stared. He seemed confused about why Muke wasn’t moving. He walked around the room, sniffed at her a few times.

At then, very gently, he reached out and stroked her leg.

Could anyone look upon such a scene and not relate in human terms?

Later in the afternoon, I spoke to Penny Patterson, best known for her work with Koko the gorilla, who communicates in sign language. Penny told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty about assigning human emotions to animals.

“Darwin spoke of the emotions of man and other animals,” she said. “We don’t tend to think along those lines, that humans are just another line of animal that evolved alongside other primates, but that’s how we evolved — and that’s how our emotions evolved.”

And if that’s true, she said, all of those things that make us human — all the joy, all the anger, all the grief, all the pride, all the compassion — must be found in our animal relatives, too.

I don’t think that means we have to give voting rights to chickens, freedom of speech to dogs or Geneva Convention protections to guinea pigs. I don’t think we need to give Coltrane a place at the dinner table.

But he’s a part of our family. He makes us happy. And I hope we make him happy, too.



Dear Spike:

Me: "You know, sometimes you really drive me crazy."

You: "Drive you crazy?"

Me: "Yes. You drive me crazy."

You: "Drive you crazy? Drive you crazy! Drive you crazy! Drive you crazy! Drive you crazy! Drive you crazy! Drive you crazy!"


Monday, March 23, 2009


Dear Spike:

Where we live, winter always recedes for a week in March, only to stage an encore late in the month, as it is today. It happens every year, and every year we act as though we've been the victims of a bad practical joke.

Sure, the joke's on us, but we're our own pranksters. The sun comes out. Our spring clothes come out. Our jackets are closeted. The furnace is turned off.

And then the snow returns. And we scramble like bears who came out of hibernation too soon.

Spring will be here soon, and I'm eagerly awaiting that time. It seems as though it has been a very long winter and I'm ready to feel as though my bones have finally thawed.

But given that the choice is not mine, right now I'm trying to appreciate the beauty of our winter. The delicate line of snow on the branches of the tree outside our home. The small clouds of breath, yours and mine, that mingle in the frigid morning air. The mountains, white as a storybook picture, that emerge on the horizon each afternoon as the morning storms clear.

You can't always have what you want, when you want it.

But try to appreciate what you have. It'll make the waiting easier.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Dear Spike:

Your cousin Stas will be born in a few minutes. And given his Irish heritage (along with some French, English, Polish -- hence the name -- and a whole lot of other stuff thrown in for good measure) today's a good day for a birthday.

Your Aunt Kelly had planned to give birth at home, but after nearly two full days of labor, she and her midwife and her doctor decided that everyone would be better off in the hospital. That's the way life is, sometimes. We make plans. We try our best to keep them. But life sometimes has other plans for us.

I reckon you'll be meeting your new baby cousin on the video phone in the next day or so. And we'll be traveling down to Los Angeles to meet him in person in the coming months.

Between now and then, we'll be working on our Irish lullabies. And there's one in particular, that everyone seems to know at least a bit of.

It goes...

Toora loora loora, toora loora li,
Toora loora loora, hush now, don't you cry

... and it's a sweet song about a mother's love for her child -- and a child's love for his mom.

Yes, life sometimes has other plans for us. But there are some constants. The bond between parents and their children is one constant.

And for baby Stas, there's at least one other: Our love is a constant. It didn't need any planning. And it won't be affected by life's ups and downs.

Toora loora loora, toora loora li,
Toora loora loora, that's an Irish lullaby


Update: And here he is:

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Dear Spike:

I am Morpheus, God of sleep. And you, my pretty little pajama piggy, are powerless to defy me.

All hail Morpheus. Hail! Hail! Hail!


Sunday, March 8, 2009


Dear Spike:

Round three in the great sleep battle goes to me: You were down in 15 minutes flat.

Round four, I'd like to call a draw: You threw up about five minutes into our "happy night-night" routine and so we had to start all over, after cleaning you up. It took an hour from that point to get you down, after that, so if we really had to pick a winner, I guess the round can go to you.

Rounds five and six were clear victories for your dad: You were out both nights with little protest.

Tonight was a tougher battle — you begged for 15 minutes for me to get your Teddy Ruxpin out of hiding so he could tell you a story. But I held fast and you fell asleep mumbling something about hitting daddy with an ax. I'm claiming the round.

I don't want to claim outright victory yet, but it seems that our new sleep routine is working.

Please don't kill me in my sleep.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


In which Spike's dad loses ground in the battle of the bedtimes.

Dear Spike:

Round one of Mortal Combat Beddy-bye Time goes to me. I put you down at 8:30. You were dreaming by 8:45.

Round two goes to you.

We followed the exact same routine as last night — we said goodnight to your mother and then marched around the house saying goodnight to everything in sight.

“Goodnight front door.”

“Goodnight wilting plant.”

“Goodnight pile of Newsweek magazines.”

Then I made you a bottle of milk and off to bed we went. Lights off. All quiet. Sandman cometh.

All was going according to plan — and having a plan, that we follow night after night after night until you learn how to shut your little wiggly body down, is the plan — until I faltered.

“Daddy tell a story,” you whispered. “Daddy tell a story. Tell a story pleeeeeease.”

I love bedtime stories. It took me a while to get the hang of telling them — its as much a science as an art, I’ve found — but I’m getting better at it all the time. But bedtime stories are not part of our plan.

“Daddy tell a circus story,” you whined. “Tell a circus story, pleeeeeeease.”

I love the circus story. It has dancing elephants and acrobatic cats. Clowns balanced on tiny bicycle and trapeze artists who do death-defying tricks high up in the big top.

And so I told the story. Slowly and almost in a whisper, as to lull you to sleep.

And when it was over, I looked to see you nestled comfortably in your pillow…

… eye wide open.

“Daddy tell another story,” you begged. “Tell another story, pleeeeeease.”

And so one story turned into two. And two stories turned into three. And now its 10 p.m. and you’ve finally fallen asleep.

Round three commences tomorrow night. 8:30 sharp.
Which means story time is going to have to commence at 8.


Sunday, March 1, 2009


(In which Spike's dad makes sleep-deprived references to 30 years of pop culture.)

Dear Spike:  

It's time to go to the mattresses.

You're well-nigh two years old. A little scrawny, sure, but pretty damn impressive in every other facet of your development. Hell, I'm checking to see if Harvard accepts pre-schoolers as undergrads.

Just one little thing... 

... OK, one big thing ... 

... one big thing that has caused me to contemplate, on no small number of occasions, tossing you out your bedroom window:

You sleep like a meth addict ... 

... on Red Bull ...

... after a triple-shot of espresso. 

Every night is a fight to get you down to sleep. And every night — two, three, four times a night — you're awake and screaming for something that you've decided, mid-slumber, that you just can't live without.    

There was a really nice stretch of about five months, last year, when you slept through the night just about every night. Then you went all "rock me Sexy Jesus" on us and needed to be rocked to sleep every night, which was really sweet and cute until we realized that anytime we tried to put you down in your crib, you screamed bloody crucifixion and demanded more rocking.

And yeah, that rocker is comfortable, but it's not that comfortable.

Then came the Big Girl Bed. Oh, how you loved the Big Girl Bed. Oh, how your mother and I loved the Big Girl Bed. 

You slept like a hibernating bear after a nice, big Boy Scout soufflé...

... for about two weeks. 
And then you went all Lionel Richie on us...  

... karamu, fiesta, forever ...

... let the music play on, play on, play on ... 

Well, my friend, the time has come to reacquaint you with my friend, The Sandman. Oh yeah, baby. Exit light. Enter Night. It's off to Never Never Land.
No more, "Milkers? Pleeeeeease Milkers?" 

There is no Milk.

No more, "Mommy Daddy bed? Pleeeeeease Mommy Daddy bed?"

There is no Mommy Daddy bed.

No more, "Teddy Ruxpin tell a story? Pleeeeeease Teddy Ruxpin tell a story!"

There is no Teddy Ruxpin. Teddy Ruxpin has gone on a treasure hunt with Grubby. And he's not coming back until you sleep enough that your mother and father can...



... do mother and father things.  
This all ends now, consiglieri. No more meetings. No more discussions. You're going to sleep at 8:30 and you're sleeping 'til 7. And God help us all if you so much as make a peep inside those 10.5 hours.

It's time to go to the mattresses. Oh yes, it's time to go to the mattresses.