Monday, January 26, 2015

Room at the mop

My son, Zack, backed away in fear.  He’d never seen anything like it before.

“What’s that?” he asked, peering around the couch, staring wide-eyed at the strange device I’d just unearthed from the deepest bowels of our home. 

“This, my son,” I told him, wielding the staff like a middle-aged mutant ninja turtle, “is a mop.”

Silence.  I could just as well have told him that it was a banjo.  “What’s that?” he asked again.

“You clean floors with it.  Well, not YOU, but me.  Actually, someday you.  But we can build up to that.  For now, just concentrate on not wiping your nose on our couch pillows,” I said.  

He sized me up for a moment, saw that the mop had no electrical cord that might indicate the imminence of scary noises, and went back to ignoring me, in favor of Captain Hook.  Netflix only has two seasons of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” available to stream, but Zack has watched them enough times that, even though he was only partway through season two, he was really on season sixty-four.

“Blasted barnacles!” Captain Hook yelled, again.  Zack crawled back to his spot on the couch, wiping his nose on the pillow as he went.

“Avast, ye swabs!” I replied, squeezing the warm water into the bucket and taking a first swipe at the floor, enjoying the fresh scent of a pine forest cloaked in a morning fog, a fog made of chemicals that didn’t quite smell like a pine forest.   

Would I have done this for free?  No way.  Mopping isn’t something I usually get too jazzed about, but last weekend, I was getting paid good money to mop my own floors.

How did I land such a sweet gig?  It started several years ago, when our friends had an engagement party at their house.

“Place looks great!” we said.

“We had a cleaning lady come help.  Her name’s Carmen.  You should call her sometime,” they replied.

And thus began our complicated relationship with Carmen.  She’s been over a few times over the years, usually before a get-together at our house.  She charges reasonably and does a great job, but I can’t shake the mental image of a vacuum cleaner reaching into our bank account and applying powerful sucking action every time she visits.

I can stomach having some help before an event at which we are likely to be judged by our ability to not have dog fur on our kitchen counters, but my wife Kara wants more.  She’d like Carmen to come over every two weeks, while I’d like to have her visit our house with the same frequency as Santa.
   
“The house is a mess.  I’m going to call Carmen,” Kara will say, periodically, the implication being that if I want to continue living in squalor (which I do), it’s going to cost us.

Having someone clean up after you sounds awesome, in theory, like you can treat your house the same way Axl Rose treated hotel rooms in the 80s.  But you have to clean up before they come over anyway, which defeats the whole purpose.  Not very rock n’ roll at all.

So I fend off Carmen the best way I know how, and my weapon of choice is a mop.  I’d hate mopping if I had to do it for free, but since I’m getting paid by not having to pay someone else, the sheen across the floor takes on the aroma of fake pine chemicals and dollar bills.

For other husbands in a similar situation, I hope this has been an inspirational tale.  With just a little hard work, you too can train your wife to let you mop the floor.        

You can trash a hotel room with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, January 19, 2015

No day for a snow day

“The phone’s going to ring any minute, and then our lives will be over,” I said, pulling the covers over my head and bracing for the worst.

“It’s really not that big of a deal.  It’ll be fine either way,” my wife Kara replied.  As soon as those words left her mouth, the phone rang, and our lives would never be the same, at least not until early that evening. 

“Your school district is super-wimpy and we don’t feel like teaching your kids today, so even though there’s barely enough snow to cover the grass, we’re cancelling school.  To those parents who have really important meetings today, you will not be in attendance, at least not in person, and if you’re able to call in, everyone on the conference line will hear ‘Jake and the Neverland Pirates’ playing in the background.  Good luck!  If you will excuse us now, we have a long day of not teaching your children to attend to, and this margarita machine is not going to pour ice into itself.”

That’s pretty much what the automated message said, though I might be paraphrasing somewhat.

“Yay!  No school today!” our sons yelled, hugging and running around in circles.  I wished I could share their enthusiasm, but an important part of getting older is learning to detest things that bring joy to children. 

When I was a kid, a snow day was a pure, unadulterated, wonderful thing.  Though I never really thought about it at the time, I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad felt that way, too.  But back then it was different, because parents were just parents, not actual humans with needs and wants of their own. 

“Okay, let’s compare calendars and see how we’re going to get through this,” Kara said, and we started figuring out how we would both get as much work done as possible while still, ideally, keeping the children alive. 

“Pirates!” Zack, our two-year-old, yelled, reminding us that we already had a babysitter in the house, her name was Netflix, and she only charges nine bucks a month. 

“That’s an excellent idea, matey,” I said, picking up several remote controls in the correct sequence to begin what would become a marathon session of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.”  Both kids sat, transfixed, kind of like the guy from Clockwork Orange, except without the eye clips. 

We’ve reached the magical moment in parenting when, after many years of chasing the kids around the house, we can finally outsource our parenting responsibilities to various electronic devices.  Between Netflix and the iPad, Kara and I are basically extraneous, except as providers of chicken nuggets. 

“We always used to say how easy it would be when the kids were old enough to watch TV and entertain themselves even for a little while.  But now we’re finally here, and I feel guilty.  I know today’s an exception, but we should be paying more attention to them,” Kara said.  At least that’s what she told me later that she said.  I was staring at my laptop, so I wasn’t paying attention. 

“The show stopped!” a child screamed.  If you let Netflix play for too long, a prompt pops up to make sure you haven’t done anything unthinkable, like going outside to get some fresh air.

“Are you still watching?” Netflix asked, and perhaps I was being too sensitive, but it felt a little judgmental. Netflix doesn’t come right out and say it, but you can almost see the “, or do your parents care about you” implied right before that question mark.

“Yes,” I clicked with the remote.  Of course we care.  But sometimes, to survive a snow day, you need a little help from a trusted babysitter.

You can walk the plank with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sometimes I like to scare strangers

“Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball,” I told the librarian, and she smiled faintly, nodding as she looked back down at the pile of books between us.

I waited for a moment, then realized that she was avoiding meeting my eyes, in the same way I might respond to a stranger on the sidewalk who asked, “Can I ask you a question?”

The correct response to that question/paradox is to pretend that the person who just said it is not a human, but an inanimate object meant to be ignored by passersby, like a fire hydrant, a mailbox, or the tip cup at Starbucks. 

The librarian seemed to be offering me the same regard she might have given to a street lamp.  After a few more beats, she glanced up and quietly asked, “Do you remember the name of the book?”

“Sometimes I Like to Curl up in a Ball,” I repeated.

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball

It’s the story of a wombat with complicated emotions, designed to teach small children that it’s okay to have lots of different feelings, as long as you’re a wombat.  If you’re a little boy, your dad will teach you how to bottle up your emotions so that they destroy you from the inside, but don’t embarrass you in public.

Actually, I’ve heard that small boys are taught not to express their emotions, but if our household is any indication, society can scratch that problem off the list.  Our two boys, ages 5 and 2, are roiling fireballs of constantly expressed emotions.  Sometimes, their skin melts off and all that is left in the place where a child used to be is a fiery, gaseous cloud of pure emotion, like a picture from the Hubble telescope, swirling and astonishing to behold, except in space there is no sound, and in our house, the emotion clouds emit deafening sounds that go something like this: “ZACK KICKED ME IN MY EYEBALL!  I’M MAD AT YOU, YOU LITTLE STINKYPANTS!”

Someday, our kids will be able to think of worse things to call a person than a little stinkypants.  We’ll enjoy our lives in the meantime.

Back out the checkout desk, the librarian looked relieved.  “Oh, oh, oh.  Of course, one moment,” she said.  I realized then that she’d thought I had been using for her a little impromptu therapy session.

“Oh, you thought I was telling you that I like to curl up in a ball?  Sorry for the confusion.  No, I don’t make a habit of that,” I lied.  If you have young kids and you don’t occasionally need to curl up in a ball, you must have a really good nanny.

“No, no, I should have known.  And yes, that book is due back today,” she said.

“I’ll keep hunting for it, then.  Hope it turns up soon,” I replied.  The boys liked the wombat book so much, they wandered off with it to flip through on their own, which means there’s not a single location in the house that can be ruled out.  That book could well be in the vegetable crisper.

Just then, Zack and Evan finally caught up with two more books to check out. 

“Two more?  Look at this pile of books.  How many are we bringing home today?” I asked.

Zack, the two-year-old, held out a finger and counted.  “One, two, five, two, five,” he said, nodding definitively.  It’s the answer he gives every time he counts.

“You got it, my man,” I said.  We’ll let his future math teachers sort it out.

Then Evan and Zack both bolted for the exit door just as she scanned the last book, so I grabbed the pile and whisper-yelled at them to wait for me.  Sometimes, I like to curl up in a ball.  After I catch them, so they can’t get away.

You can pretend you didn’t hear Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The barely departed

When we’re not departing on a multi-day outing, our family, for the most part, does not resemble a prison riot.  No scores are being settled, nobody’s trying to shiv anybody.  When we are, though, you might want to keep a sharpened toothbrush in your pocket, just in case.    

“Slow down!  You’re not wearing shoes!” my wife Kara yelled as she dumped another armload onto the staging area at the top of steps.  Our sons skated past the pile, sliding across the hardwood floor in their socks, taking full advantage of their preoccupied guards.

“Zack’s hittin’ me!” Evan yelled, sliding to a stop.

“No, I didden!” Zack protested, as he continued hitting Evan. 

The dog, sensing that some perspective needed to be brought to the proceedings, climbed halfway up the stairs, and barfed.

“Thank you for your attention.  As you can see, I have been cleaning up after the deer in the yard,” she said, without words.

“I could just get in the car and drive away.  By myself.  Right now.  Just put some Tom Petty on the stereo, turn off the cell phone, and drive,” I thought, looking to see if I could get to the door before Kara could stop me.  As I looked from the door to her face, though, I realized that she was already looking at the door with the same thought, and she had a few steps on me.

We’re normally a perfectly functional family, but something happens when we’re getting ready to go somewhere.  When you’re travelling to visit family or go on a vacation, you are ostensibly removing stress from your life and going on an enjoyable trip.  But stress cannot simply be deleted.  It must go somewhere.  And that somewhere is the final hour before your departure, during which time you will act like a lunatic.  I call it Dysfunctional Family Departure Syndrome, and, in my experience, it’s the only way to insanely prepare to travel. 

After cleaning the stairs, I took a final load down to the car as multiple children slid past the doorway above me.  The dog clung to my ankle like a remora on a shark, sensing that a long trip was about to happen.

“Don’t ditch me.  Don’t ditch me.  Don’t ditch me,” she exuded.  To a dog, getting ditched is even worse than having to vomit on hardwood when fresh carpet is nearby.

I crammed the last of our belongings into the back of the car and patted the blanket that lined the floor of the small, square canyon therein, surrounded on all sides by cliffs of luggage, electronics and toys piled precariously to the ceiling. 

The dog hesitated, looking up at me as if to say, “Dude, the indignity.”

“Don’t even talk to me about indignity after what you just made me clean up.  Come on, hop up,” I said.

Memphis hates getting ditched, but her enthusiasm for car trips has decreased in direct proportion to the number of children we’ve added to the family.  She used to have the entire backseat to herself.  Then half of the backseat.  After the second car seat/throne got installed, Memphis was demoted to the cargo area.  In many ways, she’s like an airline passenger.  She used to get hot meals served to her, a choice of chicken or fish.  Now she’s lucky to get a packet of pretzels, she just paid $30 to check a bag and she’s crammed into an area that is barely large enough to hold a kindergartner’s backpack.  But she’ll still travel with us, because what choice does she have?

In any event, we eventually wrangled all of the inmates into the car without inadvertently teaching them too many new words.  As we rolled out of the driveway, the Dysfunctional Family Departure Syndrome was cured, and the relief was palpable, until the dog started heaving.

You can leave without Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Household of Brotherly Shoves

“I want the rings!” my son Evan yelled from his seat at the dinner table, reaching to snatch the object from his little brother’s hands.

“No, my wings!” Zack screeched, clutching the plastic circles close to his chest.

“Rings?  That’s the thing that holds the ketchup bottles together.  It has no other purpose,” I said.  We get much of our food from Costco these days, so our ketchup comes in triplicate. 

After wrenching the bottles apart, I’d set the otherwise useless but soon-to-be-coveted plastic doodad on the table for a moment, until I could squirt another gallon onto each of the kids’ plates, so they could keep their chicken nuggets properly lubricated.  Prior to having kids, a bottle of ketchup in our house would last about four years after its sell-by date.  Now, we buy a three-pack of gallon jugs just to get through the week.  Our kids eat so much ketchup, their blood type is Heinz-positive.

“My wings!” Zack yelled.

“No, my rings!” Evan said, making another lunge.   

“You know you guys are fighting over a piece of actual garbage right now, right?  Why don’t you fight over the egg shells I just threw away, or an old banana peel?” I suggested.

“What?” Evan asked, trying to figure out if he was actually allowed to go play with egg shells.  While he was distracted, Zack peeked at the plastic thing in his hand, wondering if it might be useful for anything other than tormenting his brother.

They call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love, which must mean this: People in the city really do love each other and want to spend time together, and also shove each other sometimes, and occasionally steal each other’s stuff.  That’s what brotherly love looks like in our house, anyway.

As our sons grow up together, I wonder what their relationship will look like as their bonds, and punches, grow stronger.  My dad is very close with his brother, our Uncle Ed.  They’ll chat on the phone for an hour or more, with Dad holding the phone just under the scar beneath his eye, which was given to him sixty-five years ago by the man on the other end of the line.

Dad was chasing Uncle Ed around their house in rural North Carolina.  With Dad closing in, Uncle Ed happened upon the perfect brother-impeding obstacle – some extra barbed wire.  He pulled the wire tight across my dad’s path, and dad ran right into the barbed wire, face first.  Mission accomplished, brother impeded.

Of course, this was back in the day when kids were allowed to be around things like barbed wire.  If we had barbed wire around our house now, my wife Kara would put foam rubber bumpers on each barb.  Animals would come from all around to rub up against our satiny-soft barbed wire.  Back then, though, “childproofing” wasn’t really a word, or if it was, it probably meant wearing protection, not adhering it to every corner of the coffee table.

The fight over the ketchup doodad ended like most of our kids’ fights do: they forgot they were fighting and ran off to the next thing, together.  As we cleaned up after dinner, the doodad sat next to Zack’s plate; once it lost its brother-tormenting properties, it became trash again.

Anyway, I can only hope that someday, Evan and Zack grow up to be as close as Dad and Uncle Ed (who still feels bad about the barbed wire thing, even though he’d already been apologizing about it for a decade before our current president was born), but it would be okay if they skipped the step where one of them almost takes out the other one’s eyeballs.  Besides, they’d have to figure out a way to do it with foam rubber.
 
You can give Mike Todd a brotherly shove at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Just can’t elf my shelf

“Dear Sparkles, I am so very sorry that my sisster touched you,” the letter began, and I realized that I did not understand the rules at all.

“I will apolougey because she will not apolougey to anybody and I mean anybody.  I don’t want you to go to the elf hospital.  Love, Emily.  P.S. Jordan touched you, not me.”

If you are a practitioner of Elf on the Shelf, then this letter probably makes perfect sense to you.  The first rule of Elf on the Shelf, besides “Everyone must pay $29.95 for Elf on the Shelf,” is that you do not touch the elf, lest it lose its Christmas magic.

A high school acquaintance posted a photo of this letter, written by her daughter, to Facebook.  It prompted me to look up Elf on the Shelf, a phenomenon of which I was aware but did not completely understand, which describes my relationship with most phenomena.  

Apparently, some families have an elf that lives in their house through the month of December, sitting on a shelf and watching the proceedings, returning to the North Pole each night to squeal on the kids, and also to have a good laugh with Santa about how much people are willing to spend on a little elf doll.

“Ho ho ho!  Tell me again!” Santa says.

“$29.95!  For like two dollars’ worth of stuff!” the elf sputters out, and Santa’s belly shakes like a bowlful of jelly.

Actually, for that $29.95, you also get a cute little book, written by first-time children’s book author, the National Security Agency, which understands the importance of getting kids used to living in a surveillance state as early as possible.

When the elf returns back to your house from the North Pole, it chooses a different place to sit, so that each morning, your kids wander around the house until they locate the elf, so they know which room not to misbehave in.   

“The squealer’s sitting on the coffee maker, so we have to be good in the kitchen today.  Let’s go to my room and light roman candles out the window,” your kids will say.

Prior to Elf on the Shelf, I thought Santa had the surveillance thing under control all by himself.  If he can’t keep an eye on things without the help of the elf, I’m worried that some misdeeds might slip by unnoticed, like the scene in my car last week.   

“Where goin’?” my two-year-old son Zack asked from the backseat.

“To pick up your brother from school,” I said.

“Why?” he asked. 

“Because if we don’t do it, Child Protective Services might instead,” I said.

“No pick up brother.  Ice cream,” Zack said.

“Wait.  You want to stop and get ice cream instead of picking up your brother?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Ice cream,” he said.

 “Dude, we have to pick up your brother.  If you eat a good dinner, we can talk about dessert later,” I said.  Zack’s response was to scream for several minutes as he wondered why I couldn’t just be reasonable.  Perhaps it couldn’t hurt to have one of Santa’s goons around to scare him straight.

We probably won’t invite an elf to come live in our house, though, because I worry we might get an elf who forgets to travel back to the North Pole each night, on account of his already-too-hectic schedule.  That elf probably doesn’t need one more thing in his life to worry about.   

Incidentally, for the letter that sparked my interest in the first place, I changed the kids’ names rather than send a creepy message to a high school acquaintance asking for permission to reproduce the letter.  Facebook’s mission remains intact: To connect people who will never actually talk to each other again. 

I did leave Sparkles’ name unchanged, though, in the hopes that he might be encouraged to offer clemency.

You can keep an eye on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wreath beats turkey

“Where’s my turkey?” our son Evan demanded, pointing at the wreath on our front door accusingly. 

The huge-ornament-and-possibly-fake-pinecone-festooned ring occupied the spot where his beautiful crayon Thanksgiving drawing from kindergarten had been taped for weeks.

Silence filled the room.  My wife Kara had stuffed the drawing in the trash five minutes prior, after holding it up to me and looking sad.

“Bah, he’ll never notice,” I said.

“We could save these seasonal drawings somewhere, and pull them out throughout the year…” she said, her voice trailing off as she realized that we would never be able to pull that off without hiring a personal assistant.

“Oh, we had to move it to the kitchen to make room on the door,” Kara told Evan, which was technically true.  The turkey drawing really was in the kitchen, just the trash can part of the kitchen.

Fortunately for our peace of mind, Evan wouldn’t have found his drawing without doing some serious archaeology.  We’ve learned that when you throw away your kid’s art projects, you must always stuff them down deep.  You never leave them sitting on top of the other garbage, or you’re just setting yourself up for cries of, “AAAHHH!  Why’s my bunny in the trash can?”

Before you judge us, it’s important to understand that without a certain degree of purging, our house would not have room for humans in it.  You just can’t hang onto everything, or you’ll end up on a reality show, not being able to tell the interviewer how many cats you have under all that stuff.

But we do love our kids’ art projects, and look forward to seeing the magic they create with cotton balls, pipe cleaners, construction paper and glitter.  Well, not glitter.  The only reason that stuff is even used in schools, I presume, is because of the powerful Dust Buster lobby.

It was in the spirit of jettisoning the old to make way for the new that we assembled our family in the toy room, formerly known as the living room, to prepare for the Season of Receiving.

“If we can’t clear this room out, we’re going to have to put a sign in the fireplace that says, ‘Too many toys already.  Thanks anyway, Santa.’”   

“Nooooo!” the kids agreed.

I nudged an empty plastic bin into the center of the room. 

“We need to fill this with toys we don’t use anymore,” I said.  I figured they’d start with the little Happy Meal toys that litter our lives, since the kids generally spend more time playing with the McNuggets than the toys.

Without hesitating, Evan walked over to the avalanching mountain of toys and plucked a Woody doll out. 

“Here,” he said, dumping Sheriff Woody into the bin.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Dude, we got this toy for you at Disney.  It’s like an actual real one, just like in the movies” I said, grabbing Woody and pulling the string in his back.

“There’s a snake in my boot!” Woody said.

“Nobody ever plays with it,” Evan replied.  Woody didn’t have a friend in Evan.

“What about those plastic trumpets?” I asked.  I’d had it out for those trumpets since the day they came home from the county fair, their single shrill note bouncing incessantly around our walls and craniums.

“But we love the trumpets!” Evan yelled as Zack tried to wrest it from my grip.

“Okay, okay,” I relented.

After many more rounds of negotiation, we finally got the room to a place where we could tell what color the carpet was.  If Santa decides to skip our house, it won’t be because we didn’t make room. 

Also, I’m pretty sure that Woody doll is mine now.

You can put Mike Todd on the curb and hope the trash truck takes him at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Same room, different worlds

“Hey, sorry, we’re running behind.  We’ll be about an hour late,” my buddy Josh said, and I already knew he was lying. 

“No problem, see you in an hour,” I replied, hanging up and waiting for the rumble of his car in the driveway.  Three beats later, I heard two car doors slam, and then he was walking to the front door with his six-year-old son, Issac.

“We got you!  It was Isaac’s idea,” Josh said.  If that was true, Isaac comes by his sense of humor honestly, because his dad has been calling from our mailbox to tell us he’s running late for over a decade.  Some jokes, like my hairline, are genetic, which is only funny depending on your perspective.   

“Hey, look, Evan, Isaac’s here!” I said, curious to see if Evan would jump for joy or play it cool.  He’d been bugging me all day. 

“Is Isaac here yet?  Is Isaac here yet?” he’d been repeating for hours, to the point that the words began to lose their meaning.

“Is Isaac really his name?  Is ‘yet’ a word?  It doesn’t sound like a word.  Yet.  Yet.  Yet,” I thought. 
Evan hid behind my leg, going through his normal thirty seconds of shyness.  He’d played with Isaac several times, but since we live a few hours away, we can only get them together a couple of times a year.

Finally, Evan emerged into full view, smiling, looking up at me as if he had something important to say.  As a parent, you treasure moments like these, when the stars align so that your kids can carry a friendship forward to the next generation.

“iPad?” Evan asked.  The regular reader(s) of this column might recall that Evan has recently become obsessed with an educational (for the wrong reasons) game in which he controls a shark that devours people.

“Dude, you’ve been waiting all day for Isaac to get here,” I replied, trying to save the situation.

“Play iPad now?” Evan asked. 

Isaac looked at Evan, then back at his dad.

“Dad, can you go get my iPad out of the car?” he asked.

So that is how our kids came to be sitting in the same room, inhabiting different worlds.  To make the scene worse, our youngest son, Zack, just got a hand-me-down iPad from my father-in-law, a generous byproduct of Grandpa’s upgrade to a new one.

Great hangin' with you guys
 We asked if Grandpa would rather get some trade-in money for his old iPad, but apparently you can’t trade in the original iPad anymore.   

“Whoa, haven’t seen one of those in a while,” the guy in the Apple store said, as if he’d just been handed a gramophone. 

Do you remember when the original iPad debuted?  According to Wikipedia, it was released on April 3, 2010, after Marilyn Monroe invented it.  I have mustard in my fridge that is older than the original iPad.  That mustard has more trade-in value, too. 

Josh and I looked at the three kids sitting there, paying zero attention to each other. 

“Remember in college when that guy passed out on my floor, and we used him as a coffee table, propping our feet on him for hours while we played Mortal Kombat?” he asked.

Sure, when we were younger, we stared at the screen for hours with our friends, too, but at least we were staring at the same screen.  Also, it’s good to have friends in your life who can remind you of the times that you used human beings as furniture.

“This is making me sad.  Let’s make them do something else,” I said, motioning to the three zombies.

With the iPads stacked on the fridge, we found that a game of “Pelt a Dad with a Snowball,” is a great way to get the kids connected, assuming you can get them disconnected.


You can trade Mike Todd in for a newer model at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 01, 2014

I, Dad, lose to iPad

Sometimes, before the sun even peeks above the horizon, you learn your place in the universe.

“Good morning, buddy!  Time to rise and shine!” I said to my son Evan as I pulled his blinds up with the ZIIIIIP that starts most of his days.  Now that our kids are no longer nocturnally yodeling babies, perhaps I derive too much pleasure from being the one who gets to do the waking, but you know what they say about revenge: It’s a dish best served to small people who can’t do anything about it.

“iPad,” Evan croaked from under his covers. 

“Dude, that’s not how you greet someone in the morning.  It’s good manners to say something like,
‘Good morning, Father!  It’s so great to see you!  I missed you all night long, and also you are exceptionally good-looking!’”

“iPad!” Evan agreed, letting me know where I stood in relative importance to a device that is, in all fairness, much cooler than me. 

Until last week, I thought Evan had escaped the curse of video game addiction, the affliction that plagued my childhood, leaving me with happy memories of idyllic summer days spent saving princesses, when I should have been outside getting Lyme disease and sunburn.

“Is he into video games?” a friend asked me recently.

“Not yet, but I’m not sure he knows what he’s missing,” I answered.  Marketers have a hard time getting to our kids since we cut our cable TV and dump the contents of our mailbox directly into the recycle bin each day, grabbing anything that looks important as it flutters past.

It’s kind of refreshing, being cut off from society.  At the grocery store checkout, I play a game where I get a point for each celebrity I don’t recognize.  “LAUREN’S REVENGE,” the cover says.  Don’t know who that is.  One point! 

“MACI FIRES BACK: RYAN WON’T DESTROY US!”  Two-pointer!

But even without Madison Avenue’s help, Evan was bound to find out about the intrinsic awesomeness of video games on his own.  It happened last weekend, when Evan discovered an old game on our iPad that I thought had been deleted long ago, called “Hungry Shark.”  It’s not really meant for kids, though you could make the case that it is educational.

“Hey, Evan, whatcha playin’?” our friend Anna asked during a recent visit, noticing that the iPad was welded to Evan’s hands.  Of course, he did not respond, because when a kid is focused on entertainment, you can only communicate with them via the pause button, which will provoke an immediate and forcible response.

As Anna moved closer, she was probably expecting to see Elmo teaching Evan how to spell.

Then she heard a swimmer scream.  Hey, a shark’s gotta eat.

“Oh.  Oh dear,” Anna said, looking at the screen, and then at me, to see if I was aware of what was going on.  While we aren’t really wild about Evan playing this game, it’s not much worse than what he sees in nature specials -- you’d be surprised how often the gazelle doesn’t get away.

Evan’s also crazy about sharks, which are, for the moment, even cooler than dinosaurs.  We watch shark documentaries every night, which seems like a scholarly pursuit, so we consider Hungry Shark to be a lab exercise.  

Besides, back when I was a kid, we didn’t worry about learning things all the time.  We used “hand-eye coordination,” a concept invented by Nintendo’s marketing department, to justify wasting our lives. 

In any event, Hungry Shark is teaching Evan valuable life skills, like how to devour people whole, leaving nothing but their blood in the water and their screams hanging in the air, which will serve him well if he ever goes into finance.   

You can get a bigger boat with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Paris Hilton with a bald spot

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you will find yourself in New York City with a dog in your purse, trying to bring her into a fancy restaurant.  You will think this is okay, because the dog is wearing a pearl necklace and a pink lace gown, so it’s not underdressed, as so many dogs are.

“Please don’t go any further, sir.  We could lose our license.  Do you have papers for your dog?” the host asked me, stepping out from behind the podium. 

I glanced at Coco, whose little white head poked up from the red purse slung over my shoulder. 

“My dog?” I asked, as if the suggestion was absurd.  I am a thirty-seven-year-old dude with a bald spot the size of a Doberman, not Paris Hilton.  Can’t a guy carry a dog in a woman’s purse without everyone assuming it’s his?  While the host’s assumption was understandable, he could have given me the benefit of the doubt, like the cashier when my wife Kara sends me to the store for wine coolers or feminine hygiene products.

But there I stood, in the foyer of Tavern on the Green in Central Park, trying to figure out what it means for a dog to have papers, and not being able to leave without somehow getting Coco past the bouncer.

We’d come to NYC for a small get-together of family of friends to celebrate the wedding of Kara’s friend Isabel to her new husband Jim, in preparation for a larger celebration in Isabel’s native Spain next year.  Kara and I showed up to Isabel’s apartment early that afternoon to help.  Well, Kara was there to help.  My job was to keep Kara company and stay quiet, much like a dog in a purse.  After they got done doing things I may never understand in the bathroom, Kara and I agreed to head over to the restaurant early to make sure it was all set up, while Isabel and Jim met a wedding photographer in Central Park.

“Oh, Mike, can you bring Coco to the restaurant, too?” Isabel asked on her way out.

When someone in a wedding dress asks you to do something, yours is not to question why.  Yours is to do whatever you tell me, pretty drill sergeant. 

I’d met Coco once before, on a prior visit.  When not in the purse, that dog will trot at Isabel’s feet, without a leash, weaving around the foot traffic and actual traffic, shadowing Isabel’s movements like a fuzzy little remora.  If we brought our dog Memphis to New York City and let her off leash, the over-under on her shuffling off this mortal coil would be about three minutes, if the first few cabs had good brakes. 

Coco is far better at navigating New York City than me.  I have gotten parking tickets 100% of the times I’ve left my car curbside.  If you find an empty parking spot in New York City, it is open because everyone but you understands why it’s illegal to park there.

The signs that explain the rules look like this: METERED PARKING EXCEPT COMMERCIAL VEHICLES AND CARS WITH TIRES, 10 MINUTE LIMIT FOR FIRST 3 HOURS, NO STANDING, NO EXCEPTIONS, EXCEPT ON DAYS WITH VOWELS, RUB YOUR HEAD, PAT YOUR TUMMY, HOW’S YOUR FATHER, VIOLATORS’ VEHICLES WILL BE VAPORIZED 3PM-6PM.  

This is all a long way of explaining, of course, how I came to have all eyes in Tavern on the Green on me, the guy with the canine bridesmaid in a purse.

“Does Coco have papers?  What kind of papers do dogs have?” I asked Kara.

“Yes, Coco is a service dog.  We have to go find Isabel to get the proof, though,” Kara replied.

We tracked Isabel down in Central Park and got the papers.  Coco very much enjoyed sitting under the table for the celebration, which was a great success, as was my first experience bringing a doggie bag to a restaurant.
       
You can let Mike Todd out of your purse at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Trying not to go paleo

“Can we go outside and dig for dinosaur bones?” my son Evan asked last weekend. 

He was really asking if we could go out to the woods in the backyard with one real shovel and one little plastic beach shovel, chipping away at the mixture of roots and rocks that passes for soil back there, which is only slightly tougher to penetrate than your average sidewalk.  Depending on your demographic, this activity is either viewed as paleontological adventure or backbreaking manual labor. 

“Sorry, buddy, but I have to go blow leaves right now,” I said, giving a typical blow-off-your-adorable-kid-because-you-have-stuff-to-do-but-someday-you’ll-look-back-on-this-moment-and-cry-while-listening-to-Cat’s-in-the-Cradle response.

Evan looked hurt.  Five-year-olds feel emotions harder than normal people.  You can tell this because an adult will rarely scream when told that they’ll have to wait until after their lunch to open their Happy Meal toy. 

“But I really want to dig for dinosaur bones!” he said, as if the only thing keeping us from unearthing a T. rex in the backyard was that he hadn’t expressed his desire clearly enough.

Until that moment, I hadn’t put my finger on the disconnect between his enthusiasm for this activity and my complete lack of it.  The major difference was that, in my mind, when digging up our yard in search of bones from the Cretaceous Period, there’s a zero-percent chance of success.  In Evan’s mind, it’s more like fifty-fifty.

He’s come to this conclusion honestly.  Last year, we made a big mistake when we brought our kids to the local children’s museum.  At one of the exhibits, we saw a full mastodon skeleton that had been found in a suburban backyard, discovered quite by accident when they started digging to put in a swimming pool.  We made of big deal of it at the time, trying to impress our kids with the wonders of the natural world, but now Evan is pretty convinced that if you don’t find a mastodon in your backyard, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough.

Instead of trying to tear up our yard that day, Evan really should have been trying to tear it up on the soccer field.  We’d skipped his game because, well, he didn’t want to go. 

“Do I have to go?  I’d rather stay here,” he said.

“Well, I guess you don’t have to,” my wife Kara replied.

At his age, they don’t even bother with proper teams – they just divide the big clump of kids into smaller clumps of kids and let them scrimmage, so nobody missed us. 

We do feel a little guilty that we’re not doing a better job of pushing Evan to sporting greatness.  Sure, we’d love for him to be so good at sports that he crushes the spirit of other small children each week, but for now, he’s content being curious, adventurous and creative on his own.  These skills may serve him well for the rest of his life, but who’s going to force him to enjoy kicking a ball, within the confines of a strict set of rules, if we don’t do it?

“Pleeeeeeease.  I wanna dig for dinosaur bones!” he pleaded.

Fortunately, my parents were visiting for the weekend and they had a free afternoon, since their services as soccer hooligans were no longer needed.

“You go blow leaves.  I’ll take Evan outside and watch him dig for bones.  I’m not going to dig, but I’ll hang out with him while he does,” my dad said.

Shortly thereafter, as I came around the corner with the leaf blower, I saw my dad, shovel in hand, standing knee-deep in a freshly dug trench.

Evan crouched beside him, peering into the hole.  With a wide smile, he pulled something out of the hole.  From where I stood, it looked like a rock, but maybe it was a T. rex tooth.
   
You can have a good time then with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.