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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

THESE BUSY TIMES

Dear Spike:

Someday, when you’re old enough to read all these letters, you might notice a gap between April 23 and May 6 in which your father didn’t write a single word for you. In the nearly three years I’ve been penning these letters, I’ve never let such a long period go by without so much as a word for posterity.

My devotion to you has not waned in these weeks, nor has your life suffered from a lack of interesting episodes, worthy of documentation and contemplation. This has simply been a busy time for me, a period in which converging deadlines at work and school have left precious little time for other pursuits.

You’ll have these busy times too, one day — times in which you won’t have the time or energy to visit with your dad via whatever communication technology is in vogue at the time.

And I’ll understand. Everything you’re mother and I are doing for you, right now, is designed to prepare you to live a healthy, independent, successful and fulfilling life. In the midst of all that, I’m sure there will be many days — and maybe many weeks — that we will not have the opportunity to communicate. I’ll love you nonetheless.

Then there is that chance — slim, I hope — that I will not be there at all. One day I’ll simply have written my last word for you. You’ll have to take it from there. A gap of two weeks will turn into four. Four will turn to eight. And so on and so on forever. I hope that when that day comes you never feel as though I was too busy for you in the times I could have been.

You’ll  never suffer from a lack of my devotion or interest in your life. But if you ever feel you’re suffering from a lack of attention, you are free to ask for an adjustment to our lives.

For you should never doubt that you are the most important thing in my life. And I will do my vest best never to give you reason to even contemplate it.

Love,

dad