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