Friday, May 27, 2011


Dear Spike:

Today is your fourth birthday — and we certainly made the most of it.

We started the day with a tradition that I hope you will continue to uphold as your grow older: We gave your mother a present — a emerald bracelet — to thank her for everything she did to bring you into this world.

And then it was your turn. You made out like a bandit, but your favorite presents, by far, were the two costumes that your grandmother hand-stitched for you: A Cinderella dress and a cowgirl outfit. Both are lovely, but my inner feminist prefers the latter — and indeed, that's the get-up you wore as we took our birthday celebration to Liberty Park.

We started the day at the Tracy Aviary — one of your favorite places (and, conveniently, just a short walk from our home) where we took in a bird show (your mother and grandmother both were chosen to participate) and fed a flock of Sun Conures. You bravely let the curious little birds jump onto your arm and eat an apple slice from your fingertips. And your smile was as bright as their rainbow-colored feathers.

Next to the aviary is a small amusement park, and your grandfather and grandmother treated you to turns on the Ferris wheel, carousel and other rides. We ate over-priced hot dogs and sweet potatoes fries from the park's concessionaire, and then we headed home to set up your new tent in the backyard.

In the evening, we shared a meal of your choosing (soup, salad and bread) a cake that you made with your mother (homemade chocolate with green butter frosting and candied pansies).

In the end, today will likely melt into all the other birthdays of your young life. You might not remember it all that clearly — if you remember it at all.

But I assure you, we all had a blast.


Sunday, May 8, 2011


Dear Spike:

Today is Mother's Day. And as it happens your mother is working overtime on your behalf today.

Sometimes, the things in life that could most certainly go without saying are the most important things to say. And in this spirit, let me say something about your mom:

She's amazing. And she loves you like nothing else in the world.

You're a lot like your mother — more and more every day — and I figure that's a wonderful thing, because there is no better person on this planet for you to be like. If you are kind as she is, and if you are passionate as she is, and if you are capable as she is, then you will grow up to be a very amazing person.

As she is.

It's been a very long couple of days for me here (and you both, there, I know) — and the days ahead are almost certain to prove to be even more challenging for all of us. But I am strengthened by the absolute knowledge that you are in the absolutely best hands in the world.

Be good to your mom. Today and always.


Saturday, May 7, 2011


Dear Spike:

You cried off and on all morning long. But when it came time to say goodbye, you were very brave.

“I’ll miss you,” you said as we knelt together on the drop-off curb near Terminal 2. “But you will be home soon.”

“Yes,” I said. “I will be home soon.”

A bird flew past my luggage, landing on a bench nearby. “Can I chase it?” you asked.

“Not today,” I said. And with that your mother lifted you off the ground and hefted you into your car seat.

One more hug and a kiss — awkward as I leaned into the doorframe with my heavy rucksack on my back — and then I lumbered away. Heartsick.

I love and hate these trips.

The hate part is easy to explain. I hate leaving you.

The love part is tougher to put into words. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, going to be a comfortable trip. It will take me six days of hard traveling to get to my destination in southern Ethiopia. Once there, we will camp outside of a tribal village and, over the next week, work to build trust with local villagers enough to get them to share with us a dark and disturbing secret. I don’t love the mosquitoes, the parasites, the burning hot African sun. I don’t love the prospect of dealing with layers upon layers of government officials who do not want me to share their shame with the world. I don’t hate those things, per se, but I don’t love them, either.

But I do love the prospect — however slight it might be — that my work might matter. It might change some lives. And, in this case, it might just save a few, too. That’s why I love this. That’s why I leave you.

It’s easy to love something. A person. A work of art. A job. A place.

And it’s easy to hate, too. (Far too easy, I’d say.)

But those things that make us feel both emotions at the same time — those things are what make us human, I think.

And I am feeling very human today. I’m anxious, excited, giddy and sad. I’m wary and tired and curious and proud.

I’m ready. And I’m not.

I will miss you, dear little one. And I will think about you every minute that I am away.


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