Monday, August 31, 2009


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.


Saturday, August 29, 2009


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.


Friday, August 28, 2009


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.


Sunday, August 23, 2009


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.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


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.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


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.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Dear Spike:

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

That's what you said.

No more LSD in your milk.


Monday, August 3, 2009


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.