Monday, September 15, 2014

Left to our own devices

“Nice sandals, man,” my buddy Jeff said during his visit last weekend, and something in his tone told me that my insecurities were about to be laid as bare as my toes.

“Is something wrong with them?” I asked, looking down at the only footwear that might allow a grown man to maintain his self-respect while strapping things to himself with Velcro.  

“No, not at all.  Those are very sensible dad sandals,” he replied.  Dad sandals.  They’re like mom jeans you wear on your feet.

“Dude, these are not dad sandals.  They’re hiking sandals,” I replied.

“Hiking sandals?  That’s an oxymoron,” he said.  He had a point.  I’d never actually worn them hiking, on account of them being sandals.

“Whatever.  These are not dad sandals,” I said, taking a moment to craft a mental defense that would highlight the newness and coolness of my stylish five-year-old hiking sandals, but it was already too late.  Jeff had taken his phone out of his pocket and his thumb was swimming Facebook laps up and down the screen.

While I may get defensive when criticized by, well, anyone, I also appreciate the value of shame in a close friendship.  Without being shamed by my friends, I’d probably still be wearing tightrolled stonewash jeans and Big Johnson T-shirts. 

“Did you know we’re not allowed to wear cargo shorts anymore?  Someone decided that,” I said, offering the only piece of fashion advice I could think of to lure Jeff back to our current time and place.  I’d recently learned about the prohibition on cargo shorts when a distant friend shared a local news story on Facebook about an armed robbery captured on camera, in which the robber looked amazingly like my friend.

My friend’s defense?  “It can’t be me robbing that store, because the robber is wearing cargo shorts, and it’s 2014.”

In response, I immediately changed out of my cargo shorts, never to put them on again.

“Oh, yes, that’s right.  We can’t wear those anymore,” Jeff responded, briefly looking up.  Jeff is the most recent practitioner of a trend we’ve noticed in our house, wherein visitors travel great distances to stare at their phones in the company of friends and family.

While it’s easy to malign people for forsaking their actual, real-life friends for virtual candy-crushing, acquaintance-stalking and farming activities, I find myself doing it, too.   

“Maybe a high school acquaintance had another baby.  Why don’t you check?” my phone will say from my pocket.

“No.  People I actually care about are right here in this room,” I will reply.

“But maybe someone liked the photos you posted last night!” it will say.

“Well, okay, just for a moment,” I’ll reply, flicking through pictures of people I’ll never see again as my son takes his first steps in the next room.

Sometimes, though, our devices can bring us together with people we would have never otherwise met. 

Shortly after wishing Jeff a good night in the guest room, and warning him to prepare himself for being awoken in the morning by a two-year-old jumping on his head, I was jolted awake by the house phone ringing.

“Hello?” I mumbled, trying to sound awake, so as to impress the person calling at 1am with my alertness.

“Someone from this number just called me twice.  Can you tell me why?” a lady asked.  I couldn’t. 

After five minutes of interrogation, we left on better terms than we’d started, but we still didn’t have any answers.

The next morning, we found out that Jeff had used our house phone to call his cell phone to locate it, like Linus trying to find his blanket.  He hadn’t dialed a 1 first, so it called a local number instead.

“You have to dial a 1 first?  What is this, 1995?” he asked.

According to my sandals, yes.

You can pay half-attention to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The bus stops for thee

“I can’t talk about it right now,” my wife Kara said, and just like that, the list of verboten topics in our household grew by one.  I already knew that I’d never convince her that the toilet paper roll should pull from the front, or that we could burn less oil in the wintertime by wearing thermal underwear in the house, or that mouse-trap-emptying duties can be gender-neutral.  I’ve learned better than to talk about these things. 

But the newest addition to the list would be much tougher not to discuss, since it was going to change all of our lives very soon, and in a big way.  In just a few short days, a big, rectangular door will fold in half and slide to one side, our oldest son will step through it, and he and his childhood, along with the very fabric of our family, will be swallowed up inside. 

“Munch, munch, munch.  This childhood tastes delicious!” the school bus will say, and then it will rumble away, leaving us with our pictures, our tears and a cloud of diesel fumes. 

“Brother!” our youngest son Zack will yell when the cloud clears and he realizes that Evan has left him behind.

Then we’ll drive to daycare in silence, except for Zack, who will scream at us for letting this happen.  I’ll make mental notes of the tiniest details of that day, so that Zack can relate them in greater detail, forty years later, to his therapist.  I’ll glance into the rearview mirror to see Evan’s empty car seat, and regret all the times I yelled, “You’ll have to wait until a stoplight!” when he dropped his sippy cup on the floorboard for the seventh time, wailing as if he’d just seen an episode where Dora the Explorer catches Ebola. 

“It’s okay, buddy,” we’ll tell Zack as we drop him off at daycare, alone, for the first time in his life.   
“You and Evan will be in the same school again in three years, which is really not that long, even though it’s longer than you’ve been alive,” we’ll say, which won’t help.  Meanwhile, a bully will be dumping out the contents of Evan’s new Avengers backpack and stealing his chocolate chip bunny-shaped snacks.

This is the scenario that Kara fears, so kindergarten is a topic upon which we’ve been treading lightly.  Of course, I share these fears, but I’m a guy, which allows me to express my emotions by reading do-it-yourself articles on improving our attic insulation. 

Almost five years ago, when Evan started daycare, and we paid the first monthly bill that, at first glance, looked like we’d mistakenly assumed the mortgage on another house, I couldn’t have imagined anything other than elation at his graduation to public school.  The reality, though, has been decidedly more of a mixed bag, as we gradually come to understand that change for our kids is scary for us, too.

“You’re growing up.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  You’ll have fun!  You’ll make new friends!” Evan will say as he pats us on the head.

I’ve heard it said that the best two days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.  Perhaps a similar saying applies to daycare: The worst two days of daycare are the day you start and the day you finish.  (Oh, and also the day you catch pinkeye.) 

We’ll get a chance to find out about the last day very soon, when Evan cleans out his cubby for the last time, and his parents pretend like they’re holding themselves together.

But really, we’re excited for Evan and his new adventures.  Just don’t talk to us about it quite yet.





You can wait with Mike Todd at the bus stop at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Two wheels, no clue

“That sounds like a really dangerous thing to do,” my wife Kara said, ending the sentence without expressly forbidding me to do it, so I naturally assumed that we’d just reached an agreement.

“She’s letting me do it!  Glad that’s settled,” I thought.  Rather than test our fledgling accord by risking additional verbalization, I went back upstairs, satisfied that my husbandly communication skills had once again won the day, like that time that I, well, I’m sure there are many other great examples.

A few minutes later, I came downstairs, toting my big hiking backpack.

“Okay, I’m off to the grocery store now.  Text me if you think of anything else we need,” I said.

“You’re bringing your backpack?  Are you seriously still thinking about riding your bike there after we just agreed that you weren’t?” she asked.

Apparently, she hadn’t been paying attention to the part where we’d stopped the prior conversation just before it had gotten to that inevitable point.

I’d spent the prior two weeks staring at Google Maps, charting a bike path from our house to the grocery store, toying with the idea of actually doing it.  Not the grocery store right down the street, with the annoying customer loyalty card, wilting produce and six-dollar ice cream, but the good one, a few miles further, with the shorter checkout lines, happier employees and enhanced wife-angering capabilities.

Back in college, I’d bike everywhere, which was perfectly safe, because drivers back then hadn’t yet realized how much more efficient their lives would be if they texted while they drove.  A few weeks ago, we dusted off our bikes for our tenth-anniversary trip to Block Island, and rediscovered how much fun it can be to locomote like ten-year-olds.

Shortly afterwards, I hatched my bold plan to actually accomplish something useful while riding my bike.  I’d be like a caveman, venturing forth from our dwelling and returning with sustenance, using nothing but my cunning and my club (or its modern-day equivalent, the credit card).  I’d go at night to avoid traffic, and return with tired legs and frozen pancakes.  I’d use my new bike headlight, which was bright enough, if pointed upward, to summon Batman.  It was a great plan.

“This is a terrible plan,” Kara said.

We discussed it for a few more minutes.  After ten years of marriage, during which Kara and I have successfully negotiated at least two or three minor disagreements, it’s possible that I may have failed to learn a few obvious lessons.  For instance, when your significant other says, “Well, since you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well just go ahead and do it,” that doesn’t actually mean, “Just go ahead and do it.”  That means, “For the love of all that is good and/or chocolatey in this world, DO NOT do it!"

But since I was going to do it anyway, I went ahead and did it.

Biking at night gives you the chance to notice so many things you’d miss if you were in your car.  The chirping crickets.  The reflection of the moonlight off the pond in the distance.  The feeling that every approaching vehicle might be driven by a teenager playing Angry Birds, and that maybe wearing a Styrofoam hat doesn’t make you invincible.

After locking my bike to a signpost in front of the store, I pulled out my phone and texted Kara: “Sorry you married a stubborn person.  I am at the grocery store, alive.  Hopefully that’s good news.”

She reluctantly agreed that this was good news.  In general, though, if you’re going to do something after your partner says, “Since you’re going to do it anyway, just go ahead and do it,” it’s probably best if you keep a helmet handy.

You can pass Mike Todd on the left at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Play it again, Samsung

“We are family now, you and I,” I said, watching the blood drip from my finger, forming an unbreakable bond with my silent compatriot. 

“What are you doing?” my wife Kara asked from the doorway behind me.

“Just having a moment with the laundry machine,” I replied.  I’d never felt closer to an appliance than I did at that moment, with our washer’s bare frame in front of me and its parts spread all over the room.  The machine was at its most vulnerable, and it was depending on me, my Phillips screwdriver and all the king’s horses to get it back together again.

Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea

“Dude, is that blood?” Kara asked.

“There are some sharp spots in there,” I noted.  I hadn’t noticed the cut on my finger until blood smears started appearing on the pump housing.  When you’re a big, tough, appliance-fixing person like me, boo-boos are a part of the deal. 

Earlier that day, back when I knew nothing about appliance repair, our washing machine decided that rather than wash our clothes, it would prefer to sit there blinking the letters “ND.”  From some quick online searches, I found that “ND” is an error code, short for “Not Doin’ your laundry anymore.”

Some web searches showed a few easy things to try that would probably fix the problem.  None of them worked, but they still provided a nice respite from watching videos of people dumping buckets of ice on their heads.  (Which, by the way, I fully support, but would enjoy some variation to keep things interesting.  Buckets of spiders, perhaps?)

I called the manufacturer, Samsung, to see what they had to say, which was: “Unplug it.  Now plug it back in.  Still doesn’t work?  Huh.”

They generously offered to let me pay them to pay someone else to come fix it, but I needed to do more research first.  After talking to a local appliance guy, I found that a housecall would cost $110 for him to change out of his jammy pants, then another $135 to diagnose and possibly fix the problem, plus parts.  But I’d have to unstack the washer and dryer before he’d even look at it, which was the part that had the most cussing, grunting and toe-smashing potential in the first place. 
So I turned to the world’s most trusted source of reliable information: YouTube.

“Look, the guy in this video fixes it in eight minutes,” I told Kara.  I was feeling confident from my earlier success at patching our roof leak.  I was so good at it, I got to patch the same leak three times.  

As the video progressed, the guy took the top off the washer, then removed the panel of buttons, then the big rubber seal, then the entire front panel, and then he started playing with the innards.  The color drained from Kara’s face, the first time that day that anything in our house had drained properly. 

“You can’t break something that’s already broken,” my dad said over the phone, which was encouraging.  Not true, really, but encouraging. 

So I dug in, armed with nothing but a screwdriver, an iPad and a misdirected sense of self-esteem.  (I should also give credit to Kara here, because I wouldn’t have been able to drop the dryer on myself by myself.)

To my amazement, after following the eight-minute video for three hours, the washing machine worked.  It was the best fix-it job I’d ever performed, but I won’t call myself a hero, because people expect modesty from a hero.

The next day, I found a little rubber flange on the counter that had previously kept the flow of water going one-way into the machine’s pump.  Or maybe out of it.  So not only had I fixed the machine, I'd upgraded one of the pipes from one-way to two-way.  You don’t get that kind of service from someone trained and knowledgeable.

Anyway, Dad’s advice turned out to be good.  I gained confidence, skills and at least $235.  And possibly tetanus.

You can try to fix Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Newly kidless on the Block

“Wait, wait, wait.  It might bite you,” my wife Kara said.  I paused in the ankle-deep water, weighing the relative importance of getting this photograph versus keeping all of my fingers.

“I don't think horseshoe crabs can bite, can they?” I asked.  It was a question a person could only ask while on vacation, like: “Do my feet look sunburned to you?” or,

“What day of the week is it again?”

“Maybe not, but it sure looks like they could pinch or sting,” she said.

The crab scooted a little deeper into the sand while it waited for us to sort this out.

For our tenth anniversary, Kara and I were exploring Block Island, Rhode Island, which sounds redundant, until you realize that the people who named Rhode Island clearly had no idea what the word “island” meant.  Or maybe they did.

“By the time the tourists realize there's only water on one side, they'll be in Connecticut.  Forsooth!”

But unlike Rhode Island, Block Island is actually an island, and its miles of beaches proved to be a wonderful place to pretend that we didn’t have kids for five days.

“You’re at the beach?  Without me?” our five-year-old son Evan wailed into our videoconference on our third night there.

“Should have stuck with plain old phone calls,” I whispered.

“We found some pretty shells for you today, buddy!” Kara said, trying to pull the conversation out of the fire, holding her phone closer to her face so that Evan couldn’t see the sand behind her.


 “I wanna be at the beach!” he wailed.

We’d been rather vague about this trip with our two sons, telling them that Mommy and Daddy were going on a date for a few days.  With Grandma and Grandpa in town to babysit and the ice cream flowing freely, they didn’t ask questions.  It was okay that we were gone, just not okay that we were gone and having fun.


















“We’ll all go to the beach together soon, I promise,” Kara said, and Evan calmed down, locking that promise into his memory banks.

A few moments later, we all said “good night” and “I love you,” and Kara hung up.  Even the red-orange sunset, glistening off of our wine glasses as the waves gently lapped on the shore just a short distance from our semi-reclined beach chairs, couldn’t alleviate our guilt.  But, you know.  It didn’t hurt, either.

On top of celebrating ten years of married life together and acting like the preceding four non-married years didn’t count, we were also location-scouting Block Island as a potential place for our wider family to gather next summer, including my sister’s family with their two small children.  

“Look at all the kid-friendly stuff there is to do here!” we wanted our photos to say.  Since we’d ditched our own kids, though, we had to demonstrate the kid-friendliness of Block Island in a more hypothetical context.

“Look!  There are little horseshoe crabs here that small children could harass, assuming these children had parents who hadn’t ditched them!” was the message we settled on, which is how I found myself crouched over a little horseshoe crab, debating the prudence of posing with it.

A caveman pondering an interaction with an unknown creature would just have to take his best guess (“Throg think tiger look tasty!”), which is why cavemen had an average life expectancy of about four decisions.  Too bad cavemen didn’t have iPhones in their backpacks.

“Nope, it’s safe.  They just use their tails for balance, and they can’t pinch,” I said, grabbing the crab for a quick photo op. 

Look!  A horeshoe crab!

Hang on a minute.  This one's dead.

 Look!  A different horeshoe crab!


Back in the water, the crab dug himself into the sand again, where there’d be less chance for an encounter with the paparazzi.

If we make it back with the kids next year, he might want to stay hidden.

You can take a relaxing vacation away from Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.  


Monday, August 11, 2014

You say tomato, I say Dorito

The regular reader(s) of this column might recognize this column from 2008.  Sorry for the rerun - didn't have a chance to crank out a fresh column for this week.  But now that we've kicked all five seasons of Fringe, our Netflix queue officially has nothing worthwhile in it, so I should have more time from here on out.  Back to original programming next week!
      
As my wife Kara and I cruised the aisles of the grocery store in preparation for a visit from some out-of-town friends, I looked down into the cart and beheld a menagerie of items that surely must have belonged to somebody else: diet root beer, low-fat cheddar cheese, no-taste sour cream, joyless cream cheese and soul-crushing baked potato chips.

“I think we accidentally grabbed Richard Simmons’ cart,” I said. Back home, we’d already stashed some cases of light beer for the big weekend. Light beer. It was almost too depressing to contemplate. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be partying with V-8 juice and those carrot shavings that have the raisins mixed in.

For the first thirty years of life, I knew that most food came with nutritional information printed on the back, but it was one of those facts that never seemed to have any bearing on me personally, like knowing that male seahorses are the ones that give birth and that Tulsa is the capital of Nebraska. But as the years have sped up and the metabolisms have slowed down, the back of food packaging has become more interesting than the front.

“This bag of Smartfood has 45% of my daily fat intake,” I told my dad on vacation recently as he drove us back from a hike. We’d rewarded ourselves for a day of tromping through the woods by stopping at a tiny general store and cleaning the place out of anything that contained cheese or cheese-like substances. I thought I’d made a responsible choice by choosing Smartfood popcorn over Doritos, but apparently Smartfood is only the smartest choice if you’re an underweight sumo wrestler.

Dad reluctantly handed me his bag of Cheetos like a bad cop turning in his badge.

“I don’t really want to know, but tell me anyway,” he said.

“Let’s see…looks like 60% of your daily fat intake,” I said as Dad winced. “This bag was supposed to have four servings in it.”

He took the bag back and turned it upside-down, dumping the remaining crumbs into this mouth.

“Well, there must have been a mistake, because this bag only had one serving in it,” he replied.

Food was much easier to purchase when the only food-related issues that really mattered were whether or not your slice of pizza had enough pepperoni on it and whether you could scarf down the entire cone before it started to melt. Once you have to start worrying about calories and fat grams, things get way too complicated. I want my food simple, the way nature intended: partially hydrogenated.

Trolling through the grocery store to finish up our trip, Kara lamented not being able to find the last few items on our list. Healthy things are harder to find because they don’t have neon packaging and mascots, just pictures of smiling farmers beside the higher price tags.

By far the most difficult item to find in every grocery store I’ve ever visited is a can of sliced black olives. It won’t be with the jars of olives, and it won’t be with the cans of vegetables. You will wander through the aisles, wondering why you married the only person who enjoys putting sliced black olives on everything short of cereal, until you find them stuffed under a sack of rice in the storeroom.

“Okay, all we need now is a cucumber,” Kara said. “Why is it so impossible to find anything here? I don’t think they have cucumbers.”

“There’s a whole pile of them right there,” I said, pointing to a tray filled with oblong green things.

“Those are zucchinis,” she replied.

“Aren’t those the same thing?” I asked. I still think she was trying to trick me; nobody can tell me that zucchinis and cucumbers aren’t the same thing. I didn’t just fall off the radish truck.

You can steam Mike Todd (he’s healthier that way) at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Scooter boy of the apocalypse

Speeding toward us, I saw a vision of the future so bleak, so alarming, I almost hid in the bushes and waited for it to pass. 

“BUZZZZZZ,” said the future as it approached.

“It’s okay, buddy,” I reassured my two-year-old son Zack, who was riding in my backpack, as he shifted to the side to get a better look.

Finally, the grim future arrived in the form of a twelve-year-old boy, zipping past us on our neighborhood street, riding what appeared to be a battery-powered bike with no pedals, signaling the fall of our civilization.

I waved to the kid, since he still had a couple of years before he became a surly teenager who would return a friendly wave by pretending he didn’t see it, and he nodded, ho-hum, looking extremely bored for somebody riding something about two steps down from the hoverboards in Back to the Future 2. 

Is this what we’ve come to, giving our kids bikes that they don’t have to pedal?  What’s next, video games that play themselves?  You’ll just turn on the game and the zombies’ heads will start exploding all on their own, freeing up your hands for shoveling in more Cheetos.

I could feel Zack trying to turn around in the pack to continue watching our society collapse. 

“Don’t worry.  You’ll never have one of those,” I told him.

“Binky,” he replied, still proud of himself for pulling off the coup of keeping his pacifier after his nap.  We normally make him leave his binkies in his crib, but on this day, he was feeling sick, and I was feeling soft. 

A few minutes later, I stopped to chat with a neighbor in his driveway.

“Ha, boggy,” Zack said, offering garbled salutations to the neighbor’s dog.

“We’re still working on getting rid of the binky,” I explained.

“When our kids were that age, we waited ‘til Christmas, then told them that Santa took their binkies.  Nobody can be mad at Santa,” he told me.

At first blush, this seemed like a genius idea.  You could painlessly remove your kid’s most cherished, speech-impeding possession without incurring any negative consequences, all through the simple power of lying to your children. 

As I thought more about it, though, I didn’t really want our kids to grow up worrying about a magic elf stealing their stuff while they slept.     

“Lock it down!  Santa’s coming!” they’d scream, running around with bike locks on Christmas Eve, chaining their stuffed animals to the fridge.

Just as I began to formulate a response, a faint buzzing sound began to grow louder.   

“BUZZZZZZ,” said the childhood-crushing machine as it rounded the corner, carrying its bored occupant zipping past us again.  The device he was riding, as I’ve learned from subsequent web queries (Googling “end of the world, causes”), was a seated electric scooter, the “perfect device for teens or adults wanting to run errands or zip around the neighborhood, or have their souls extracted.”  I’m paraphrasing, of course.

He appeared to be doing laps around the neighborhood, suggesting that riding that scooter was a form of recreation, though his expression said “thirty-three minutes into an algebra lecture.”

I must have reacted so negatively to that device because some of my fondest memories from childhood involve riding bikes with the neighborhood kids.  We’d accidentally ride our bikes into pricker bushes, or walk them up steep hills, slumped over, wheezing, or sometimes we’d fall off and break our arms.  That’s how we liked it.

Like the kid on the scooter, we weren’t going anywhere, either, but we had fun getting there.  Finding new ways to add indolence to our kids’ routines just seems backwards.

Anyway, if I were that kid’s dad, after Christmas, there’d be one less scooter in the garage.

You can steal Mike Todd’s toys at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lepers by the lake

“What?” my wife Kara asked, turning off the blow dryer.  She could tell something was wrong because the blow dryer normally doubles as a husband repeller, if only because when she’s using it, somebody needs to be downstairs, making sure that our sons are not creating crayon murals or experimenting with the aerodynamics of our cutlery.    

“One of us is not going to work today,” I replied, holding a thermometer in the air and pointing at our son Zack.

“Oh, no,” she said.

This routine has become sadly familiar to us.  Every day after daycare, our kids bring home wonderful art projects, often accompanied by a wide variety of colorful diseases, featuring pink eyes, red throats and green faces.

This year has been worse than most.  Remember at the end of War of the Worlds, when the aliens keeled over due to their lack of immunity to Earth’s diseases? 

“Go get ‘em, microbes!” I said at the time, before realizing that someday, we would be the aliens.

Also, my apologies for not putting a spoiler alert on the ending there, but the book is over a hundred years old (according to Wikipedia, which also notes that the original story was written by King Tut), and the movie has Tom Cruise in it, which means that you either saw it back when he was still cool, or you’re never going to see it anyway. 

So Kara and I began one of our regular horse-trading sessions, when we compare our schedules to see who can go to work, who stays home, and how often we’ll need to commute to switch places.  We ask important questions during these sessions, like, “You have a meeting?  Is it with your boss?  Are you leading it?  Is anybody bringing donuts?” and we sort it out from there, hoping that we don’t hit any serious conflicts.  Sometimes, when both parents work, it doesn’t really work. 

Complicating matters, Zack’s fever occurred on the Monday before our vacation to Rangeley, Maine.  We were to leave in six days. 

“It’s probably Coxsackievirus.  He’s going to be miserable this week.  And you’re going to be miserable, too,” the doctor said, smiling broadly as if he couldn’t hear the words coming out of his mouth.  

That evening, Zack briefly spiked a fever of a 104.5, putting us minutes from a trip to the ER.  Sibling rivalry being what it is, Zack’s big brother Evan hit 104.6 two days later.  Then Kara hit a paltry 100.  I also barely cracked triple digits, a shameful performance.

On Saturday, when we were supposed to leave, the kids bounced downstairs.

“Can we go today?  Pleeeease?” Evan said, bright-eyed, feverless.  Both kids were the picture of health.  Kara and I were feeling fine, too.

“Why not?” we said, taking a few hours to stuff the entire contents of our house into the car.
Somewhere around Vermont, I noticed the blisters on my hand, a symptom of Coxsackievirus that the kids had thankfully avoided.   

“Dude, these weren’t there this morning,” I said, looking at my hand as if it had been bitten by a zombie.

“Oh, man, I’ve got one on my ankle.  I thought it was a bug bite,” Kara replied. 

We’d gone from War of the Worlds to Walking Dead.  Too late to turn back, we continued toward the lake, where we‘d see lots of beloved family members who would be getting air-fives from us.

The waves gently lap against the shore and the loons call to each other across the lake as I type this, as quickly as possible, before my fingers fall off.       

But really, Maine is as good a place to convalesce as any.  Hopefully, it’s okay that we spraypainted a skull and crossbones on our cabin.

You can give Mike Todd a wide berth at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A ride of passage

“Want to go on a boat ride, buddy?” I asked my two-year-old son Zack, not being entirely forthright about the nature of our upcoming nautical adventure.

“No,” he replied. 

You know how kids will just say whatever they think their parents want to hear?  Me neither.

“But don’t those little boats look like fun?  We can all fit in one,” I said.  By that point, we were nearing the front of the sweaty, snaking line, so I had to close the sale fast.  I pictured my dad trying to stuff our old family cat into the crate before a trip to vet, then pictured myself trying to cram our youngest child into the log flume boat at Hersheypark as he yowled, scratched and fought his way back out. 

“Brother?” he asked.  He idolizes his older brother, but can’t pronounce the “v” in Evan yet, so the word “brother” is the first thing he says in the morning, the last thing he says at night and the loudest thing he screams when expressing mutual interest in whatever Evan happens to be playing with. 

“Yes, your brother is going, too,” I said.

Zack nodded, sale closed.  If his brother would ride a boat over a fifty-foot cliff, then Zack would, too.  It would have been a very brave decision, if either of them had had any idea that that’s what we were doing.

Evan actually understood, on an intellectual level, that he was going to ride a boat over a waterfall, but he couldn’t really know what that meant without experiencing it.  To that point, the wildest ride he’d ever taken had been the time I didn’t notice the speed bump in the Babies R’ Us parking lot.   

Zack had no idea, though.  Bringing an unsuspecting two-year-old on a scary amusement park ride might sound like poor parenting, but my wife Kara and I had done our research the previous evening.  Hersheypark gives you a free three-hour pass for the evening before the date on your admission tickets, which more than makes up for the fact that Hersheypark should definitely be two words. 

So we ditched the kids with their grandparents and visited the park by ourselves, free for the first time in over five years to hop in line for rides that didn’t have cars shaped like ladybugs. 

“We can finally ride roller coasters again!” Kara said.  When we got there, none of the rides had lines longer than ten minutes.  We were soon to learn that roller coaster lines have obscene wait times to protect you from yourself.  The human brain needs an hour-long cool-off period before it can happily handle sloshing against your cranium again.   

“No more roller coasters,” we agreed after an hour, woozily.

That’s when we investigated the log flume as a potential family ride for the following day.   

“No way, that would terrify the kids,” we agreed, laughing as the boat skimmed to a splashy stop. 

Then, in front of us, a family disembarked from a boat holding a smiling baby who looked newer than the latest iPhone model.

“Do little kids usually come out of the boat screaming?” I asked the teenaged attendant.

“Nah, they love it!” he said.

About fifteen hours later, our family’s boat bounced its way toward the big drop, both according to and against our better judgment.

“Are you holding Zack?” Kara asked.

“Yes, of course!  Over my head, so he can get a better view,” I replied.

“Not fuuuun-nnnnyyy!” she said, wrapping her arms around Evan as the boat plunged down the hill. 


Afterward, the kids were quiet. 

“Did you have fun?” I asked Evan as we walked across the big rotating floor.    

“Yes.  Can we not do that again?” he replied. 

Zack agreed.  That was fun, let’s never do it again.

Next time, it might be tougher to stuff the cats into the crate.

You can go over the edge with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, July 14, 2014

S’more pain, no gain

Until the moment when our five-year-old son Evan wailed that he’d accidentally killed our dog, the camping expedition had been a great success.

Our original intention had been to go camping at a public campground about twenty minutes from our house, because our lives were not difficult enough already.  Our youngest son, Zack, finally started sleeping through the night shortly after his second birthday a couple of months ago, so we were on the lookout for some fresh new hardship to endure. 

“Let’s take the kids camping!” my wife Kara said, excited about the prospect of giving our children
the classic Norman Rockwell experience of tormenting their parents in the woods.

“That’s a great idea.  Let’s go this weekend!” I replied, ignoring everything I’d ever learned about life and parenthood.

So we made grand plans.  I pulled the big tent out of the closet under the stairs.  We gathered the sleeping bags and portable crib.  We picked up marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers.  Then we started thinking about what we were doing.

“You know, if this goes south, we’re in for a long night,” I said.

“I just checked.  The campground has a two-night minimum.  This is starting to sound like a commitment,” Kara said.

We’d already sold the kids on the idea, though, so we couldn’t retreat without taking casualties.

“You know what’d be even better than going to a campground?  Setting the tent up in the backyard, like we’re having a big slumber party!” I said.  Parenting involves a certain amount of salesmanship.

“Will there still be marshmallows?” Evan asked, and I realized that “quality family time” and “communing with nature” were a little further down his priority list, below each of the ingredients for s’mores.

So we pitched the tent, bought a fire pit and had a campfire in our backyard, living just like frontiersmen, with most conveniences more than ten feet away.  Like a modern-day Daniel Boone, my Wi-Fi signal was perceptibly weaker that far from the router.

While Evan fixated on cooking marshmallows, Zack wandered around the fire pit, trying to figure out how he could most efficiently cook Zack roast, barbecued Zack or Zack flambĂ©.       

“Look, buddy, your very own little camp chair!” Kara said, directing Zack to sit down.

He did sit down, and as Kara helped Evan brown his marshmallow to perfection, it was a wonderful family moment. 

Then, as Evan assembled his very first campfire s’more, Zack dumped over sideways in his chair, shrieking.  In the excitement, our dog Memphis sensed a window of opportunity, quietly tugging the s’more out of Evan’s hand and wandering off.   

“My s’more!” Evan wailed as we righted Zack’s chair.

Zack, now upright, wailed in unison with Evan.  Kara and I looked at each other, relieved that we’d kept this show off the road. 

“Dogs can’t eat chocolate!  It’s poison!  It’s going to kill her!” Evan wailed.  We were touched that he felt any sympathy for the thief who’d just eaten his entire reason for camping. 

“Well, that’s called karma,” I replied.  The dog, for her part, did not pretend to be nearly repentant enough.     

“Babe, not helpful,” Kara said, assuring Evan that Memphis would be fine as she loaded his stick with another marshmallow. 

Shortly thereafter, we noticed that we were offering up our sons as sacrifices to the mosquitoes.

“Are we really going to sleep outside tonight?  We can’t go to bed yet, and the bugs are out in full force,” Kara said, smacking her arm.   

“The kids could always play in the tent tomorrow.  That’d be fun,” I replied.

In the end, the boys deemed our camping expedition to be a great success.  Maybe next time, we’ll actually sleep outside.   

You can skewer Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The great indoors

Note: This week, I celebrated my independence from creating original content.  This column is from 2011, way back when Nintendo was still a thing.  Back with new stuff next week!

“Use the Razor Wind, not the Zen Headbutt!” my little cousin John yelled, looking over the shoulder of our cousin Ryan.

Ryan held a Nintendo DS in his hands, a device that has a similar effect on my little cousins that the One Ring had on Gollum.

“My turn! It’s my turn now!” one of my cousins will yell.

“My precioussssss,” the other will hiss, diving into a nearby pond.

No, they actually behaved quite well as they coached each other through various battles with their Pokemon characters. For those who aren’t familiar, a Pokemon is apparently a small Japanese creature with the power to trap children indoors on perfectly beautiful days.

“Anyone want to throw sticks into the pond with me? Memphis is itching to play fetch,” I said last weekend, during the small family reunion that my parents were hosting at their house.

A couple of heads turned my way as the kids decided who would be their spokesperson. Finally, an indeterminate voice from the other side of the couch said, “We’re good.”

At that moment, I had a flashback to me sitting on that very same couch twenty years ago, back when it had upholstery the color of Snuffaluffagus.

“Michael, you’ve been playing Nintendo all day. Go outside,” Mom said as the birds chirped in the afternoon sunlight.

“I’m almost done this level,” I’d reply, guiding my superspy down elevator after elevator. I’d continue being almost done that level until dusk, when the comedies came on, keeping me entertained while, just outside, the lightning bugs probably danced and twinkled against the night sky.

There I stood, twenty years later, the roles reversed. You know you’ve gotten old when you have the urge to tell someone younger than you to go outside for no reason.

“Hey, kid, go outside,” you say, not exactly sure what you expect to happen on the off chance that the kid complies.

The idea seems to be that kids are guaranteed to have magical experiences just because they’re on the other side of the sliding glass door, but they’ll probably just end up back on the couch in a few hours with sunburn and Lyme disease.

To their credit, my cousins actually did fend off the lure of the Pokemon for a much bigger chunk of the weekend than I would have done at their age, and the dog spent each evening slumped on the floor, recovering from a full day of fetching sticks. With five kids standing on the shore winging sticks over her head, Memphis was like Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyor belt. As the unfetched sticks piled up in the water, the kids came very close to building their own beaver dam out there.

While I felt like one of the kids standing at the edge of the pond, cheering on the dog while holding my son Evan in my arms, I found myself proving even more that I’d become an old person.
As a rain of sticks splashed down in the distance, I looked down at Evan and noticed a fleck of dried yogurt on his cheek. I held Evan tight, licked my thumb and started squeegeeing his face. Evan squirmed, determined not to lose the yogurt he’d rightfully accessorized, but I persisted, working my thumb up-and-down like I was challenging him to a thumb wrestling match.

The point I’m trying to make here is that old people love licking their fingers and scraping things off of kids’ faces. We don’t really know why we do it, but it passes the time if we can’t find any kids to force outside. Until we learn how to land a Comet Punch in Pokemon, it’ll have to do.

You can dodge Mike Todd’s Zen Headbutt at mikectodd@gmail.com.