Friday, January 21, 2011


Dear Spike:

We've long since lost track of how many words you know in Mandarin. You're far from fluent, but you can identify all the most important people, places and things out there; you can answer simple questions and you can ask — politely — for the things you want.

Your mother is picking things up quickly also. She's gonna have a pretty gnarly English accent, of course, but she's got a lot of words under her belt.

And then there is me. I've always been a little bit tone-deaf, and Mandarin is a tonal language. I'm lousy but I'm trying.

So it was a real confidence booster today when you and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant and — working together — successfully completed our order in Mandarin. (I think Mandy, who was waiting the tables this afternoon, was being quite forgiving, but I'm still tacking this one up in the wins column.)

Feeling rather good about ourselves, we decided to do lunch in Mandarin.

We had soup. Hē tāng.

And drank water. Hē shuǐ.

And had vegetables. Chī shūcài.

With rice! Fàn!

While we ate, you schooled me on all the animals on our Chinese Zodiac place mats, and Mandy came by every few minutes to fill our water, praise your Mandarin and correct my pronunciations.

Toward the end of our lunch — just like every meal we eat, no matter the language — I noticed that you really hadn't eaten much off your plate.

"Chī Fàn!" I pleaded. "Chī Fàn! Eat Rice!"

Finally stuffed, you turned to me and said:

"Daddy, I'm eating so much rice, I'm going to get Chī funny."

Really? Chinglish puns?

Zhēn bàng!


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Dear Spike:

Your mother and I moved your bed into our room earlier this week when you were running a fever. For two nights you sweated it out, right next to us, moaning and crying through the night, ripping the covers off, then burying yourself underneath the blankets, then ripping them away again.

We finally beat back the mercury, but three days later your bed remains in our room. You don't seem to want to go.

Tomorrow we'll force the issue, but tonight we relented. We rationalized that you still have a cough that has been keeping you up through the night, but the truth is that we just like to hear you snore.

When you were a baby, I would bolt upright in the middle of the night and rush over to your cradle just to make sure you were still breathing. I hear that's not an uncommon thing for parents to do, but I always felt a little bit silly afterward. Still, I liked to run my fingers through your thin wisps of hair, to kiss you gently on your forehead, to pull your soft blanket up to your chin.

I still do.

I won't be able to do that forever, of course, and I think I've made peace with that fact. Like everything else in life, you have to enjoy the moments that you're given today because, by definition, those moments won't be around tomorrow.

I want to let you know that I've been trying really hard to remember that these days.

As I try to figure out how best to juggle three jobs — each without a definitive time schedule to guide my work — sometimes I worry that you might end up feeling like you're just one more ball being tossed into the air.

I'm working not to let that happen. Last night you and I went out to pizza and then to a movie, where we chowed down on a $7 bag of popcorn, sipped on a $4 cup of fruit punch and nibbled on some cupcakes that we had sneaked into the theater. Next week, assuming you're feeling better, we'll head up the mountain to spend a morning on the bunny slopes. And next month we're going to Disneyland.

But I'll tell you something: None of that means anything. You can't quantify good fatherhood based on hours devoted, calories consumed, money spent or activities completed. In fact, I don't think you can quantify good fatherhood at all.

If you could, though, I suppose that part of the equation would have something to do with discipline. Not just for you — although that's certainly very important — but for me. You see, I would love nothing more than to spend our time together watching movies and eating sugary foods and racing down the slopes on our snowboards and spinning round and round at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. That would be a lot of fun for me. And it would be fun for you — but it wouldn't be good for you.

Those are sometimes treats. The rest of the time, it's important for us to do things that will help you grow big, strong, smart and kind. We'll practice your reading. We'll clean up your playroom. We'll eat healthy foods. And we'll make good decisions.

Which brings me back to your bed. Tomorrow night, it's going back in your room. That's part of being a big girl.

It was, I'll admit, nice while it lasted. And yes, I might sneak into your room to run my fingers through your hair and listen to you snore. But if you start to wake up, I'll sneak back out again.

That's part of being a dad.