Sunday, December 27, 2009

To daycare and beyond

“I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” my wife Kara said last week, just before she took a deep breath and pulled open the screen door to the daycare center.

We stepped inside to see the sort of semi-organized chaos you’d expect to see in a facility that caters to people who need to be told on a daily basis not to eat paint. Just inside the door, a boy sat on the floor, struggling to pull a Buzz Lightyear costume over his shoes.

“Are you going to infinity and beyond?” Kara asked. The boy looked up at her as if she were completely insane, apparently not as big a Toy Story fan as the bunched-up astronaut suit around his ankles suggested.

We made our way back to the infant room, a place that was amazingly quiet, considering that the adult was outnumbered four-to-one. About a year ago, when we first reserved our spot at daycare and our son was a black-and-white peanut on an ultrasound printout, four-to-one sounded like pretty good odds. After six months of parenting, though, I don’t understand how any single person can care for four babies without first stepping into a phone booth to put on a caped leotard, or to frantically dial 9-1-1.

“Hello Evan! Nice to meet you,” said Valerie, the Woman of Steel. The one-year-olds buzzed around our shins, dragging toys across the room and standing on their tiptoes to peer into Evan’s car seat. While they were adorable, their enthusiasm didn’t appear to be the only thing contagious about them. It looked as if we’d wandered onto a set during the filming of “Revenge of the Miniature Snot Monsters.”

As we talked, Valerie deftly moved from nose to nose, wiping them as quickly as she could, but they seemed to just keep running faster, like the conveyor belt from “I Love Lucy.”

As an adult, it’s easy to forget about runny noses, which are much more likely to figure into your day if you’re under five, kind of like fire trucks and zebras. Not that these things aren’t important once you grow up, but to a kid, boogers, zebras and fire trucks play a role in about 50% of their cognitive transactions, with the other half being reserved for tractors and Dora the Explorer.

We knew that kids were more likely to catch colds once they enter daycare, but the dramatization playing out in front of us was sobering. Since having a baby, Kara keeps a bottle of Purell in a holster, with a backup strapped to her ankle. There are no longer any bacteria in our house, except of course for the Purell-resistant kind. We’ve thinned the herd so much that only the strongest bacteria can survive at our house, the kind of bacteria that get tribal tattoos on their flagella and spend their afternoons bench pressing ants.

Kara took Evan out of his car seat and held him to her shoulder. As I reached out to wipe some drool off of his chin, I dropped the burp cloth onto the floor. Kara looked at the cloth and then back at me with a look that said, “We have to incinerate that now.”

Valerie, as practiced in dealing with overprotective new parents as she was with overproductive mucus membranes, said, “We clean the place from top to bottom every night. Don’t worry. We know what we’re doing. Everything’s going to be fine.”

And of course she was right. A few moments later, we shook her hand and left with Evan, his dress rehearsal successful.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be back to drop him off for his first full day, which should give us just enough time to custom fit a sneeze guard over his car seat.

You can douse Mike Todd with Lysol at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

International infant of mystery

“Let’s get you zipped up, Dr. Evil,” I said to our son Evan as I zipped him inside his fleece car seat cover. Evan winced as the first winter wind he’d ever experienced swept across the parking lot. Technically, it was a fall wind, since it happened before December 21, but really, when a wind is cold enough to make you question the series of life decisions that resulted in your living in the Northeast, that’s a winter one.

While Dr. Evil is the perfect nickname for any infant, the name works double-time for Evan, who just discovered the joys of sucking on his hands, so he often unintentionally strikes the pinky-to-the-lips Dr. Evil pose. He doesn’t yet show an inclination toward world domination, but sometimes I get the impression that it might be on his list of things to try, right after solid foods.

Evan was born in June, so I fear that the past few weeks have been a bit of a shock for him, as we drag him from store to store in search of non-sweater Christmas gifts. My wife Kara and I are trying to shake it up a bit this year, since over the past few Christmases, we have distributed more sweaters than L.L. Bean.

The upshot of our travels is that Evan, who probably until very recently thought he lived in Florida, is getting his first real taste of winter. Winter is most definitely an acquired taste, like beer, salt-and-vinegar potato chips and many other things that are bad for you, which is what your body was trying to tell you in the first place, before you went ahead and acquired the taste anyway.

Fortunately for Evan, his old man has a thing or two to teach him about surviving tough winters. For instance, if it weren’t for me, who would teach him what to do after you run over the garden hose with your snow blower? I feel that I am uniquely qualified to offer advice in this department. Answer: You take a kitchen knife to the garden hose, but only after you’ve told your fingers how much you’ve enjoyed knowing them.

As an addendum, if one little area of snow is lumpy, but the rest of the driveway isn’t, you probably shouldn’t run over the lumpy spot with the snow blower. No good can come of it.

Evan will also need to be taught that while the dog normally needs to take a walk every day, if it’s really cold outside, you can skip it. This will cost you one sock. The dog will be happy to take payment behind the couch while you’re watching reruns of Supernanny.

Someone also needs to tell him to make sure he has warm pajamas once he gets married, because if any expeditions need to be made beyond the covers, he will almost certainly be leading them.

“Oh, I just heard my phone ringing downstairs. Can you go get it?” Kara asked a couple of nights ago.

“Dude, it’s cold out there. Ugh. Where’s your phone?” I said. I may whine, but of course I will go get things for her, eventually. In our house, chivalry is not dead, despite my best efforts.

“In my purse,” she said. This is her answer every time she asks me to retrieve something, even though her purse has never rested in the same place twice. The Northwest Passage is easier to find.

“Where’s your purse?” I asked.

“In the diaper bag, somewhere downstairs,” she said, making my target a bit larger. Since having a baby, her purses have become like Russian nesting dolls. This process apparently continues, with bigger bags swallowing up the smaller ones, until you have no choice but to buy a minivan.

You can wreck Mike Todd’s snow fort at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas cards from the edge

“Better hurry,” my wife Kara said. “There’s not much time.”

Our son Evan was perched on her knee, issuing warning coos. To the untrained ear, they might have sounded like happy-baby sounds, but we’ve had enough practice to know that the thunderheads would be rolling in soon.

“This stupid camera makes you punch seventeen buttons in the right order to set the timer,” I said, trying to stay cool. “I feel like I’m playing Simon over here.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Simon, it’s an old game that made you punch brightly colored buttons in increasingly complicated sequences, accompanied to the sound of robotic beeps. Believe it or not, Simon actually used to keep children entertained, but you have to remember that this was before Nintendo or Miley Cyrus had been invented. Before Simon, kids spent all their time wearing tri-cornered hats and chasing after a metal wheel, trying to keep the wheel rolling by smacking it with a stick. And also avoiding the plague, which back then was called mouse flu.

“OK, I think it will work this time,” I said, pressing the shutter button and running towards the couch. The way our camera works, when the timer is set, you get a series of long beeps followed by a couple of short beeps, which sends the signal to the dog to start sniffing your crotch. I suppose this might count as a canine version of a holiday greeting, but it doesn’t make for the best Christmas card photos.

Kara and I finally decided to break down and send a few Happy Holidays cards this year, though we haven’t quite worked out how to take a cute family photo, which is a prerequisite, if for no other reason than to prove that you can get everyone to sit still for ten seconds. We might just give up and choose an easier way to pass the time, like juggling flaming wreaths or figuring out what to get my mom this year that isn’t a sweater or jewelry.

We’d put off beginning the Christmas card tradition for many years because once you’re in, you can never get out, like the mafia or an alumni association mailing list. Once you send that first card, the only way out is to fake your own death.

But now that we have a baby of inestimable cuteness, we decided that it’s time to bite the fruitcake and start sending some cards around.

“Smile, everybody,” said Kara as I jumped onto the couch beside her.

“WAAAHHHH!” said Evan. Despite my best efforts, the dog heeded the signal from the camera just in time for the flash.

“Dude, the dog just did it again,” I said.

“Hey, where’d Evan’s other sock go?” Kara asked.

And so it went for nearly an hour. Trilogies have been filmed with fewer takes, and still we didn’t have a winner.




I’ve been campaigning for us to just send around our outtakes. Outtakes are always the best part of the movie, especially a movie with Eddie Murphy in it. Besides, taking 700 pictures to get one decent, calm shot of our family is basically the same thing as Photoshopping the love handles off of the model for the cover of Vogue. Reality has not been accurately depicted.

But Kara thinks we have the potential to get a shot in which the two of us, the baby and the dog are all behaving ourselves relatively well. She also thinks that root beer doesn’t get as cold as other liquids in the fridge. She has many crackpot ideas.

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” she said.

And so we will. And probably the day after that, too. Anyway, if you’re on our mailing list, I hope you’ll enjoy our first Christmas card, which should arrive in time for St. Patty’s Day.

You can say cheese with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Snow day

We had our first snowfall over the weekend. I submit the following as evidence:










There was also a severe cuteness advisory in effect:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lord of the Leaves

“I think you stole my iPod,” I said to my wife Kara yesterday. She chuckled and shook her head, not looking up from her laptop.

“No, seriously, give it back,” I said.

“Did that help?” she asked. My time-tested technique of locating lost items is to accuse an innocent person of stealing them. The only other effective method is to buy a replacement, which assures you’ll find the original, provided that you’ve also lost the receipt. But wildly accusing loved ones is much cheaper, so that’s Plan A.

“Maybe you should stop looking for it and take the dog outside,” she said.

At the sound of the word “outside,” Memphis jumped off the couch and ran to the sliding glass door, prancing near the handle. Somehow, she’s managed to pick up a foreign language better than I did through five years of Spanish classes. Her vocabulary is still pretty limited, but she understands enough to tell when a trip outdoors is pending, or that I’d prefer for her to stop ripping the heels out of my good work socks. Actually, the second one might have more to do with my delivery than with her English-as-a-Second-Language skill. Screaming is the universal language.

Ever since I dumped a jar of Thanksgiving turkey fat over the deck railing out back, the dog has been trying to go feral. I couldn’t figure out why she was repeatedly ignoring my calls to come back inside until I noticed the slurping sounds coming from just off the side of the deck, as Memphis licked her newfound delicacy off the leaves that I hadn’t yet blown to one side of the yard so that nature could blow them back the next day.

Incidentally, is there any tool that can make you feel more God-like than a leaf blower? You simply point your hand, and the leaves scatter like armored warriors attacking Sauron, or Magneto, if you prefer. And if you don’t know who Sauron and Magneto are, you can console yourself that, while this paragraph might not have made any sense, at least you were cool in high school.

In any event, I’ve learned a new thing this week, which is that liquefied turkey fat is irresistible to a dog, much like steroids to whoever broke the home run record this year.

“Or you could feed the baby, if you prefer,” Kara said.

“Didn’t we just feed him?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “We’ve always just fed him.”

Not that it will do me any good until I find my iPod, but a friend just showed me an article about a new application for iPods that can listen to a baby crying and tell you what the problem is. This application does not sound like it’s worth thirty bucks. I can tell you why the baby is crying: either he’s hungry or there’s a clown nearby.

Babies do not stop eating. The plant from Little Shop of Horrors was probably written by someone with a baby at home.

“Feed me, Seymore!” our son Evan yells every two hours, in so many words.

Of course, it’s not fair to compare a baby to a singing plant that devours people whole, mostly because babies can’t sing. Also, they don’t end your life, just your social life.

Desperate in my search for the iPod, I picked up the lid on our little ceramic pumpkin to see if I’d left it in there. Over Thanksgiving weekend, that pumpkin had severely disappointed Kara’s sister Sarah.

“Dude, cough drops?” she said. “Who keeps cough drops in the candy pumpkin?”

“They’re vitamin C drops,” Kara replied. “We’re trying not to get sick around the baby.”

But that’s who we’ve become: The people who keep cough drops in the candy bowl. Before you know it, we’ll be giving out pennies for Halloween and complaining that we don’t understand how to use any technology that’s been invented since we were twenty-five.

Speaking of which, did you steal my iPod?

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

Monday, November 30, 2009

He who laughs first

Two weekends ago, Evan laughed for the first time. So of course we put it on YouTube. These are his first laughs in the whole wide universe. If his grandmas' views counted each time they watched it, this would have more hits than David After Dentist.

And if this column was for babies, every week would just read "booga booga booga" over and over again.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baby on a plane

As my wife Kara and I walked down the jetway like two inmates taking a final walk down the Green Mile, we steeled ourselves for the ordeal to come. Perhaps there are easier ways to get an infant to Florida for a cousin’s wedding than bringing him with you on the plane, but the doctor said we couldn’t mail him anywhere until he’s old enough to know that packing peanuts aren’t for eating.

“Ready to do this?” I asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Kara replied.

We’d been dreading this flight for several months, worried about how our five-month-old son Evan would fare. He’s generally pretty good, but airplanes to babies are like full moons to werewolves. I’ve spent a decent portion of my life listening to other people’s kids screaming on airplanes, or as I’ve come to think of it recently, banking credit. The time to burn through that credit had finally arrived.

We unpacked Evan from his car seat and carried him onto the empty plane, enjoying the only perk of flying with a child, which is that you can get on the plane before everyone else, maximizing the amount of time you spend trapped with him.

I might not totally understand all of the plot intricacies of the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” but from what I gleaned from the trailer, people on the plane greeted the snakes with the same enthusiasm with which they greeted $15 checked bag fees. Still, when it comes to which terrifying creature your average air traveler would prefer to be stuck next to for three hours, I’d guess that a significant portion would choose boa constrictors over babies.

You could see people checking their boarding passes as they approached us, sighing with relief as their numbers didn’t match ours. Our row-mate either missed the flight or fled the scene, deciding it might be more pleasant to just walk the 1,500 miles.

Evan spent the first hour or so practicing kung fu moves in my lap, karate-chopping the bottle out of his mouth over and over again. Feeding time would be much easier if someone would make straightjackets for infants. I don’t know any parent who couldn’t make use of a Baby Houdini.

“At least he’s not screaming,” Kara said, which Evan took as a challenge.

“EEEEE-AAAAHHH!” he yelled, and for a moment, it would have been quieter to ride on the wings than in the cabin. Kara crammed a binky in his mouth as I bounced him briskly on my knee, beseeching him to be quiet. To our amazement, the nearest passengers looked at us and smiled, content for the time being just not to be us.

Evan noticed the TV screen in front of him and became transfixed. Ordinarily, we try to keep him from watching TV so that his brain won’t get addled like ours, but this was a special occasion.

“Go ahead and get ADD if you want, Buddy,” Kara said. “Just please don’t scream anymore.”

Except for a few minor screeches thereafter, Evan actually stayed pretty quiet for the rest of the flight, deciding to save his screeching credits for the next time you’re in the same move theater as us. In general, there is an inverse relationship between what is good for my life and what is good for this column. In this case, I was glad for the tradeoff.

“Well, this wasn’t so bad after all,” I said to Kara as the plane began its descent.

Evan smiled as if to agree, then puked on my lap. Seasoned parents might tell you that it was actually spit-up, not puke, but the distinction is lost on me.

Kara got a good laugh as she helped me clean up, but Evan evened the score in the rental car line by peeing on her shirt. Maybe it’s not too soon to start teaching him about packing peanuts.

You can use Mike Todd as a flotation device at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Scenes from the home theater

“Well, your mother found them in the garage, so now I have to get rid of them,” my dad said mournfully over the phone last week. “I’m just glad that you’ll be able to give them a good home.”

I don’t know how Mom found anything on Dad’s side of the garage. You haven’t been able to put a car in there for at least twenty-five years. I come from a long line of men who pick up random bolts and washers in the street and bring them home, depositing them in plastic cups that line the walkways in their garages, walkways that meander through piles of things that sit where cars are supposed to go. Meanwhile, the cars sit outside, making sure that no bird poop gets on the driveway.

The contraband that Mom discovered was a pair of home theater speakers that Dad purchased from a friend at work whose wife wouldn’t let him keep them, either. The problem is the size: the speakers look like the perfect accessory for a home theater, provided that your home says IMAX in front. Mom apparently doesn’t appreciate the finer points of having her fillings rattled loose during an episode of House.

As Dad wove his tale of woe, explaining how he got busted just as he’d been waiting for the right moment to move the speakers from the garage into the basement, I made the mistake of pausing for a moment from pacing around the living room. My five-month-old son Evan, strapped to my chest, started rocking his head back and forth and kicking his feet.

My wife Kara looked up from the couch and said, “Dude, he’s telling you to giddyup!”

Evan tilted his head back and began a shriek that stopped as soon as I started walking again. The perpetual motion of being a parent can be unfortunately literal. Sometimes, the only way to keep Evan from shrieking loud enough to send nearby banshees scrambling for earplugs is to wear him like a baby kangaroo, which is why I’ve been working on expanding my pouch.

This method of settling him down only works as long as you keep moving constantly, though, kind of like a shark, except shark dads have the benefit of not having any ears. Also, they hardly ever stub their toes on the rainbow of giant plastic things that have invaded their living rooms.

“C’mon, Horsey. Don’t stop,” Kara said.

“I feel like the bus from Speed,” I replied. “Any time I drop below two miles per hour, the baby detonates.”

My mom, who had joined the call to explain how hideous the speakers would have looked in their basement, but how awesome they’d look in ours, said, “Awww, he sounds so cute right now. I want to give him a big hug.”

It’s amazing how much cuter a baby gets when you’re not the one taking care of him. The baby could be pooping, crying, peeing, screaming, flailing or all of these things at once, and as long as you’re not the one holding him, it still seems adorable.

“Our baby is ridiculously cute,” Kara or I will say, whichever one is not currently holding him.

“You want him?” the holder will ask.

“No, I’m good,” the other person will say, slowly edging out of the room, staring at the ceiling and whistling quietly. It’s not that we don’t both love spending time with our child, but independence is at a premium these days.

As we rounded the living room for the twentieth time, Evan rested his head against my chest, a river of drool flowing onto my shirt as he rested up for the next show at our home theater.

You can keep Mike Todd moving at least 50 mph at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On the road, off the rocker

“This is a really bad idea,” I said to my wife Kara as I switched on the ignition. The dog jumped onto the center console and licked Kara’s cheek. The baby’s feet kicked up and down in his car seat like he was trying to paddle the car into motion. After a moment, we were rolling out of the driveway in the Toyota Matrix that we used to call “the big car,” but which no longer seemed deserving of the title.

People can be forgiven for thinking of Pennsylvania as one of the smaller states in the Union, until they try to drive across it lengthwise, at which point it turns into Kansas. Early settlers headed west often just gave up and opened truck stops, where they were so delirious that they put things on their menus that didn’t even exist, things like fried okra and chicken fried chicken.

Kara and I were attempting to traverse the state to attend her cousin’s wedding in Pittsburgh, a place that would have much to recommend it even if its residents hadn’t discovered that the fastest way to improve any type of food is to stuff as many french fries into it as possible. All you have to do to prepare a salad or a sandwich “Pittsburgh style” is to add french fries, but they don’t call it that in Pittsburgh, just like how they don’t say “Belgian waffle” in Belgium or “parmesan cheese” in Parmesia.

Kara spent three days before our trip packing a suitcase for our son Evan. Everest expeditions have been launched with less preparation, and with less gear. There was a time when packing for the weekend meant throwing a toothbrush into a backpack. Now it means putting a cargo box on top of the car and filling it with enough supplies to cover us on the off chance that while we’re away from home, we accidentally have octuplets.

Since we were staying with Kara’s relatives, who had graciously extended an invitation for us to bring our entire family, including the dog, we decided to go ahead and invite the pooch as well. Once you’ve decided to take a child on a road trip, you could pretty much bring along a Kodiak bear without really changing the degree of difficulty.

A few minutes into the trip, Kara brought out her breast pump, complete with eight freshly charged AA batteries, and said, “How am I going to pump without flashing any truckers?”

“I doubt they’d mind,” I replied.

Just then, Evan started exercising his lungs from the back seat, wailing in the way that babies do when the world is ending, or they’re a little bit hungry.

“This is going to be a really long trip,” I said, pulling off at the next truck stop. After we’d gotten Evan squared away, Kara went into the general store and emerged carrying a knockoff Snuggie, the blanket with sleeves. You would have thought that the original Snuggie was also the poor man’s Snuggie, but that would be before you saw the truck stop Snuggie.

“This is perfect! Now I can pump without flashing the world. How do I look?” Kara asked, putting her arms through the gigantic crimson sleeves.

“Like you’re getting ready for a big Quidditch match,” I replied.

As soon as we got back on the highway, Evan started shrieking again.

“I can’t reach him. Can you get the binky in his mouth?” Kara asked. We’ve tried to avoid parental crutches as much as possible, but life without a pacifier quickly reaches unacceptable decibel levels. Besides, Evan seems to greatly appreciate it when we give him his binky, though he might take issue with referring to it as “putting a cork in the scream hole.”

In the end, he settled down, and even proved to be an excellent little traveler. Which worked out well, because for a moment there, I thought we were going to have to open a truck stop.

Yinz can reach Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fishsticks for Halloween

Come home and help!” my wife Kara said last Friday, the panic in her voice in direct correlation with the number of toilet paper tubes on the floor in the bathroom, which were strewn about like the bones at the entrance to an ogre’s cave.

Before your parents arrive for a weekend visit, it’s better for everyone if you do everything in your power to maintain the illusion that they didn’t raise a slob. Of course, they don’t really believe it, but nobody really believed that David Copperfield (may he rest in peace, unless he’s still alive) made the Statue of Liberty disappear either, though we all appreciated the effort.

Initially, I was surprised that my folks were going to leave their house unguarded on Halloween. Hell hath no fury like a child denied fun-size Snickers.

“Aren’t you worried about your front door getting peed on or something?” I asked.

“Everyone in the neighborhood has grown up now. Besides, we left some treats on the front porch for the kids or the raccoons, whoever gets there first,” Mom replied. Ever since we told Mom that our son Evan would be dressed up in a Tigger costume for his first Halloween, a zombie epidemic couldn’t have kept her away, though it might have delayed her for a few minutes if the zombies had wanted to see some baby pictures.

While we’d been planning on having my folks arrive on Friday night, they called from the road to let us know that they’d be getting there late in the afternoon instead, setting off a mad scramble around our house to combat the universe’s trend towards disorder, especially in our kitchen.

I ran straight from the garage to the guest bedroom, where I stripped the used sheets off the bed. Since people with new babies are about as mobile as wagon trains with no wheels, we’ve been hosting family most weekends and washing more sheets than La Quinta. We’re still waiting for someone to invent disposable sheets that sit on a giant spool at the foot of the bed, like the paper at the doctor’s office.

On Saturday, we all sat down to watch the Penn State football game, which started out much closer than it should have been.

“Aw, sugar,” Dad said, but not really. Dad hasn’t had to watch his language around the house since about 1994, so he had some difficulty acclimating to our recently instated moratorium on colorful metaphors.

“Maurice, you have to find a new favorite word to use,” my mom said, and Dad looked much the way I used to when getting in trouble for the same thing twenty years ago.

Then Dad smiled, pointed at Evan and said, “Well, how’s he ever going to learn how to watch football the right way?”

When the trick-or-treaters started coming around a little later, the rain was coming down hard enough that only the heartiest of candy seekers ventured up our driveway. It’s a shame that the hot costume this year wasn’t the Gorton’s fisherman.

Ever since our mailbox was filled with shaving cream two years ago, I can’t help but feel that Halloween is maybe three parts adorable to one part extortion.

When an older kid comes to the door, shaving cream can barely concealed under his football jersey, he looks at me as if to say, “Hey, I saw some kids running down the street with silly string and Barbasol cans. It’s a dangerous world out there for a mailbox. If I had the energy from a few extra Butterfinger bars, I might be able to help protect you.”

But for the most part, the kids were overwhelmingly polite. Many of them even seemed to spend their time outdoors studying for their biology exams, as evidenced by the large anatomical drawings they left on the street.

You can smell Mike Todd’s feet at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why the Yankees so MEAN?

Last year almost made us forget, but this is what being a Philadelphia sports fan is supposed to feel like:

I'd encourage Evan to root for New York teams instead, but he'll build so much more character if he sticks with Philly.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Go Phiwies!




Since we're raising him in Yankee country, the indoctrination must begin early.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Things that go dorky in the night

“Maybe we should have gotten a second dog instead,” I said to my wife Kara as our son Evan threw his head back and wailed in our faces, his tongue waggling like a screaming Simpson.

At this time last year, about two weeks before we found out that Kara was pregnant, caring for a dog seemed like the absolute pinnacle of responsibility. These days, by comparison, the dog seems to require about the same amount of care as a cactus.

“Did you give Memphis her dinner tonight?” Kara will ask, and I won’t be able to remember. I can hear the sound of the food hitting the metal bowl, but was that last night or tonight? Or this morning? And Memphis will sit there, dusting the floor with her wagging tail, hoping to score her second dinner of the night. Or her first. Who can remember?

There is little chance of forgetting to feed the baby, though. Run ten minutes late to feed Evan and you bump into the very real risk that his screaming will start knocking shingles off the roof.

Of course, it’s not fair to compare a baby with a dog because dogs are programmed to give you nothing but unalloyed adoration, while babies are programmed to scream in your face for a few years, then to take a short break while they turn into teenagers, and then to recommence screaming in your face.

“Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush,” Kara said, attempting to settle Evan down with a little Goodnight Moon, which is required reading for children until they’re old enough to realize that it doesn’t make any sense.

“WAAAAAH!” Evan replied.

“Maybe he has colic,” Kara said, shutting the book and rubbing her temples.

“I don’t think so,” I said. From what I understand of colic, you never need to wonder whether or not your baby has it. If you ask my mom what it was like when my sister had colic, a dark cloud settles over her face, and you feel like you owe her a glass of wine just for asking the question.

I try not to complain too much about Evan’s crying, partly because I know it really isn’t that bad, but mostly because having a baby and then complaining that he cries seems a lot like buying a lawnmower and then complaining that it cuts your grass.

“Maybe it’s time for your Moment of Zen,” I said to Kara, and her face lit up. Her Moment of Zen happens when I take the dog and the baby out for a walk around the neighborhood, giving Kara a brief opportunity to remember what quiet sounds like. Or what a former child star dancing the Paso Doble to “Singin’ in the Rain” sounds like, if it’s a “Dancing with the Stars” night, which it seems to be every night.

Now that it gets dark so early, giving Kara a moment to herself requires me to push the stroller with one hand while holding the leash and the flashlight in the other, which sometimes makes it tough to handle the trombone while playing the bass drum with the foot pedals.

A couple of weeks ago, as I stood in the garage with Evan in the stroller, I took a deep breath and removed the yellow reflector vest from the packaging that it had lived in since last Christmas, when Santa was on a prenatal safety kick.

It was a big moment for me, surrendering coolness points for safety points. I’m from the last generation to spurn wearing bike helmets and sunscreen. To us, a little added coolness is worth a severe laceration or two. But not so with a baby involved.

If you’ve ever wished that maybe your parents were a little bit cooler, there’s an excellent chance that their current condition is very much your fault. They might be wearing reflector vests now, but before you came along, they were snapping their fingers to turn on jukeboxes. Or at least getting high scores on their PlayStations.

You can forget to give Mike Todd his dinner at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

YouCute

Seriously, tell me that our son isn't cute. (Embedding an HD video doesn't work so hot on this blog - I shall investigate some other time.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Got (your wife’s) milk?

Being a parent means having a different answer to the question, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever experienced?” every week.

As I came downstairs last weekend to find my wife Kara, our son Evan and our dog Memphis arranged in their usual positions on the couch, Kara said, “I couldn’t get the dog to stop licking Evan’s sleeve this morning. She seems to like the way this outfit tastes.”

Memphis is inseparable from the baby, preferring to spend the vast majority of her time within a two- foot radius of him, an area that we affectionately call, for reasons that probably shouldn’t be enumerated here, The Blast Zone.

While we’ve tried to keep the dog from licking the baby too much, it has often been a losing battle. Having a baby around the world’s dumbest and friendliest dog (an honor for which Memphis is in a twenty-million-way tie for first place) is a beautiful thing in so many ways, but it also means we run the risk that Evan is going to spend his formative years thinking that he is a Jolly Rancher.

I thought back, trying to come up with a reason why Memphis would be especially interested in Evan that particular morning.

“Dude, she was licking him because he spit up on his arm last night,” I said.

The point, of course, is that both dogs and babies are disgusting. But you invite them into your house anyway, for some reason. Maybe it’s because of the chance to make the world a better place by molding their young minds, teaching them about the rewards of good decisions and the consequences of bad ones, which they’ll need to be successful in life unless one of them becomes an investment banker.

For us, besides being an opportunity to stress-test our laundry machine and our collective patience, parenthood has also been a voyage of personal exploration, a voyage that recently took me to our refrigerator, where I stood, famished, holding a dry bowl of Special K with a freshly poured glass of orange juice on the counter behind me. The orange juice had no pulp in it, because even though I prefer orange juice that could be eaten with a fork, Kara thinks pulp is weird, so we compromise by getting orange juice with no pulp in it.

In a moment of sheer horror, the dream of a non-breakfast-bar breakfast slipped away when my eyes alighted upon the gaping hole where the gallon of milk should have been. Ever since Kara started running her breast pump, she’s been drinking a lot more milk, perhaps in solidarity either with Evan or with her fellow pumpers.

Incidentally, if I was ever in a support group for women who had to pump, I’d definitely lobby to call our group the Moo-Moo Sisterhood.

Anyway, you find out a lot about yourself, and your limits, when you notice the four-ounce containers lining the top shelf in the fridge, the containers that your wife has worked so hard to fill with the very liquid of which you are now in so desperate a need.

“Why haven’t you ever tried it? I want you to try it and describe it to me,” one of my buddies said recently.

“Dude, that’s just weird. You’re welcome to try it if you like,” I said.

“That’s way weirder. She’s your wife. It’s completely natural. And it’s less weird than drinking milk from a cow, when you think about it,” he said.

And I did think about it, the whole time I crunched through my dry bowl of Special K.

You can share a breakfast bar with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

They call him Runs with Babies

"Don’t run with the baby!” my wife Kara said as I bounded down the stairs with our son Evan cradled in my arm. In a turn of events unimaginable only a few short months ago, I had become too comfortable handling a baby.

“What, it’s not like he’s pointy,” I said, offended that Kara would put our son in the same category as a pair of scissors.

Kara was running the breast pump and watching TV, determined to keep Evan on breast milk for as long as she can. Since Evan spent his first month in the hospital feeding on bottles, he never could quite get the hang of breastfeeding afterwards. The doctors called it “nipple confusion,” a term that I had previously thought only applied to Super Bowl halftime shows.

“Did I just see a nipple?” we all asked, confused.

I sat down with Evan on the couch and saw a priest being interviewed by two cops on TV. All of a sudden, I had déjà SVU: the feeling that you’ve seen this episode of Law and Order before. Déjà SVU usually doesn’t strike until fifteen minutes into the show, making you feel doubly guilty for wasting your life twice.

“This is the one where the bad guy doesn’t quite get what he deserved, but the cop learns an important lesson, right?” I asked.

Just then, perhaps realizing that a bottle was imminent, Evan pinched his cheeks into a little smile, a trick he just recently learned.

After my buddy Josh had a son, he reported that the first six months of fatherhood were the toughest because the only two moods you ever saw were crying and non-crying indifference. Just as I was starting to wonder if Evan would ever develop a third mood, he started busting out these beautiful little smiles that are the infant equivalent of a friendly wave from a motorist who just cut you off.

Your baby can barf on your work shirt. He can demand to be fed at 3:30 in the morning, then again at 5:00. He can make you stop a stream of pee with your bare hand, like Superman stopping a laser beam. That little smile erases all of it, except for the stain on your shoulder, just like how a wave from a driver makes it okay that he just ran over your foot.

“Check out this smile!” I said to Kara, holding the baby up by his armpits. His legs caught underneath him, and for a moment, he was supporting his own weight, another one of his recently acquired tricks.

“Rawr! I want to smash things,” I said, rocking Evan back and forth on his feet.

“When he does that for me, I make him dance,” Kara said.

“Bring me Tokyo! I want to stomp on it! Roooooar!” I replied. If dancing genes are at all attached to the Y chromosome, he’s a lost cause already, so we might as well focus on nurturing the things at which he might excel, like mayhem and destruction.

Evan is already quite adept at punching himself in the face. You never see babies in Anne Geddes calendars dressed up like bumblebees while they sock themselves in their own faces, but it sure seems to be how they enjoy passing the time. It’s not like he’s really trying to punch and scratch himself, but when he spends the bulk of his days shooting his arms and legs around in an odd rhythm, like he’s watching a Richard Simmons video that we can’t see, he’s bound to land a few blows. Sometimes, Kara puts socks on his hands at night. Hopefully we won’t have to graduate to one of those lampshades that the vet uses.

“Wait a minute. King Kong didn’t stomp on Tokyo,” Kara said. Evan smiled and looked around the room, making a mental note of which items our little Godzilla might destroy first.

You can run amok through a major metropolitan area with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cuteness to go




Sunday, October 11, 2009

The road to Vick-tory

“I was going to get Evan this cute little Eagles jersey, but now I just can’t bring myself to do it,” my wife Kara said recently.

I understood why without asking. With Michael Vick now wearing the jersey that we once would have proudly purchased to begin our son’s indoctrination into liking everything that we do, starting with professional sports and leading to politics, religion and pizza toppings, we’ve been forced to think about whether a person can be both a dog lover and an Eagle lover.

“Maybe I’ll get him a Giants jersey instead,” she said.

“That’s not funny. Don’t even joke about that,” I said.

But I understand where she’s coming from. While Kara enjoys having her postseason hopes crushed annually just as much as every other Eagles fan, she’s from Binghamton, NY, a place that cares much more about Italian food than pro football, which might mean that its priorities are pretty well squared away.

While Kara could probably give up on the Eagles without surrendering too much personal investment, I’d have to give up on a lifetime of caring more about Randall Cunningham’s gold-tipped shoelaces than my own fashion sense, which is probably why it took me two years to notice that I was the only kid in middle school still wearing tie-dye.

My hero growing up was “Arkansas Fred” Barnett, who caught that impossible 95-yard touchdown pass against the Bills in 1990 almost entirely due to the sheer strength of my adoration. The biggest villain of my childhood was head coach Rich Kotite, who committed the unspeakable sin of making the Eagles boring, a problem that I might be willing to trade for today.

When I was twelve, I waited outside the Eagles’ training camp, grabbing autographs on my dad’s old football from as many players as I could accost. The only legible signature when I got home was from Izel Jenkins, the cornerback whose nickname was “Toast” because he got burned so often. I’m not sure if that made the football worth more or less, but either way I never threw it around the front yard again. Mostly because I was in the basement playing ExciteBike on the Nintendo, but still.

These days, though, I feel guilty for trying to goad Kara into still rooting for the Eagles. If we hadn’t both said the words, “I hope nobody signs Michael Vick,” the day before the Eagles signed him, I might be able to broach the subject now without reeking of rationalization.

We both expected the boos greeting Vick’s first appearance on the field to show up on a seismometer, but it seems as though the silence has been much louder. Apparently, everyone has decided that it would be much easier to stay angry at the guy if he wasn’t so danged good at football.

“How about a Jets jersey?” Kara asked. “They look a lot like Eagles jerseys if you squint.”

Maybe that will be the compromise for now. Kara will still watch Eagles games, but not with the same level of enthusiasm. And I can’t shake the feeling that the dog is shooting us sideways glances.

But while Kara might be a lost cause for now, fortunately for me, I’m very weak-willed, the kind of person who enthusiastically embraces vegetarianism between meals. Generally, I can keep a boycott going for exactly as long as it remains convenient and cost-effective for me to do so, and taking a moral stand against the Birds sure doesn’t sound like very much fun.

But if Michael Vick pulls off any impossible plays this season, it’ll be a safe bet that it was due to something other than the sheer strength of my adoration.

You can wax Mike Todd’s nostalgia at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

PCBs build character

Since summer was only two weeks long this year, we didn't get out a whole lot. But we did sneak in one last pooch swim a few days back at the Mills Mansion in Staatsburg, NY. Memphis loves her some Hudson River.


Can you find the baby in this picture?

It's easier in this one:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Smells like Middle-Aged Spirit

As my father-in-law and I drove towards our house during their recent visit, a horrible thing happened. I had been absent-mindedly fiddling with the radio dial, not really paying attention to the road, when I settled on the classic rock station, its primary virtue being that it wasn’t blaring any Hyundai commercials or playing that country song that goes, “I love your love the most.”

Then all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, a Nirvana song came on. I nearly swerved off the road as I double-checked the station.

“There must be some mistake. The classic rock station is playing a song that came out while I was in high school,” I said.

My father-in-law laughed. “It only gets worse from here. Just wait until it starts showing up on the oldies station,” he said.

And I wondered if someday I might find myself sitting in my motorized recliner, eating shaved carrots with raisins mixed in, playing “Smells like Teen Spirit” for my grandkids as they fidget in their seats the way I used to do when Grandpa put on the Lawrence Welk Show.

“Everybody started wearing flannel shirts after this song came out,” I’ll tell them.

“That’s great, Grandpa,” they’ll say.

“It was back in the summer of 1994 when I saw my first mosh pit…” I’ll begin, not noticing that they’ve left the room.

My advancing age became even more apparent last weekend, as I picked up the phone to check in with my parents on Saturday night.

“They won’t be home. They have social lives,” my wife Kara said as she burped our son Evan.

Oh, the indignity of having parents who are cooler than you. It was already bad enough with my dad being a better dancer than me at weddings.

Fortunately, as we think about dipping our toes into the shallow end of middle age, Kara and I are doing so with a child who has actually started letting us sleep some at night. But we’ve found that having a good baby is a lot like having a well-trained werewolf. You still have your hands full.

Though we’re starting to become more comfortable with venturing out into the germ-addled world with Evan, for the past few months, Kara and I have basically been tag-team wrestlers, with only one of us allowed into the ring at a time (the ring being anywhere but our house). I’ll walk in the door, we’ll high-five and she’ll be off.

“We’re like the people in Ladyhawke,” I said recently.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“This dude and Michele Pfeiffer were in love, but he turned into a wolf at night and she turned into a hawk during the day so they could never be together. Matthew Broderick was in it. It’s a movie from when we were kids,” I said.

“Maybe from when you were a kid. I’m not sure I was born yet,” Kara replied, noting for the first time (that day) that she is two-and-a-half years my junior, and reveling in the last few months of her twenties.

The point here is that more people should catch Ladyhawke references, if only because it is one of the top three Rutger Hauer movies of all time, right up there with Omega Doom and Hostile Waters, two movies that I’ve never heard of, either.

While there’s not much point in worrying about getting old, I’ve found that it is a pursuit that can keep you entertained pretty much as long as you’d like.

In any event, when your wife turns thirty, aren’t you supposed to try to get a younger one then? Or was it forty? I have to check our vows to see if we said anything about that.

You can push Mike Todd into the mosh pit at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Walkway over the Hudson

Nine years ago (God I'm old), my roommate and I got chased off by the cops when we tried to get onto the old railroad bridge that crosses the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie (I had an old guidebook that said you were allowed on it, which was apparently a few decades out of date.)

Since then, the Walkway Over the Hudson organization has been doing this:


And this:


And this:


And this:


So that the bridge would look like this:

(All pictures above stolen borrowed from walkway.org.)

This weekend, that ratty old railroad bridge is turning into the longest elevated pedestrian walkway in the world. The frickin' world! What's up now, places that aren't Poughkeepsie?

I've been reading the Poughkeepsie Journal articles on the bridge for years, and I'm really effing stoked that it's opening up. The bridge is 1.25 miles long and stands 212 feet over the water, which I'm guessing would make it really fun to pee off of.

Here's our little family out by the bridge a couple of weekends ago:

And here's a better shot I stole stole from the Poughkeepsie Journal:

I think we'll probably stay home this weekend and wait for things to settle down -- they're talking about shuttle buses (public transportation is fantastic for other people) because there won't be a single parking space anywhere near Poughkeepsie for the grand opening, maybe not even at the Ames that's been closed for ten years.

But this is a freakin' excellent development, and the people who made this happen deserve some serious karma coming their way. Living in Greater Poughkeepsie (a phrase that Google just informed me I did not invent) is about to get a whole lot cooler.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Land of the Lost Sanity

With nowhere left to look, I started rummaging through my son’s things in the nursery.

“Do you really think you left the good headphones in his dresser drawer?” my wife Kara asked as I turned to face her, elbow-deep in a formerly neat stack of jumpsuits.

“There’s nowhere left in the world to look,” I replied. I’d already checked the trunk of the Civic three times. The refrigerator. Under the couch. I’d searched every nook and cranny of the house, and I didn’t even think our house had any crannies.

One would have expected the search to go fairly quickly. With a baby in the house, Kara and I have pretty much been staying put. I’ve only been like three places in the last year. But somehow, the only pair of headphones in the house with the advanced feature of functioning in both the left and the right ear had managed to evade capture since the last time I’d mowed half the lawn.

Stringing together forty-five minutes to mow the whole lawn in one shot has become nearly impossible. As the days grow shorter and the baby grows longer, the mower will often sit for days in the middle of the yard like a rusted-out Trans Am, right at the border between the cut grass and the grass in which one could easily lose a golden retriever.

The thought of mowing the lawn iPodless was almost too much to bear. You might think that a new father would appreciate the time to be left alone with his thoughts, but when I’m mowing the lawn, the sum total of my cognitive achievements is usually singing “Barbara Ann” in my head for the better part of an hour, and I only know the part that goes, “Bah bah bah, bah Barbara Ann. (Barbara Aaah-aaah-aaaan).”

“Hey, careful. You’re getting his clothes all wrinkly!” Kara said.

“He’s three months old! He doesn’t have any job interviews coming up,” I replied.

It’s tough not to get snippy when things are lost that shouldn’t be. I recalled putting the headphones somewhere I’d remember, so I was angered on the very principal that my own brain had fooled me. To make matters worse, Kara had recently decided that we weren’t allowed to swear around the baby anymore, which, while a wise policy, made it very difficult for me to properly celebrate Swear Like a Pirate Day, a holiday I very much felt like inventing right then.

You have to start behaving like a parent at some point, though, so it’s just as well that we can’t swear anymore. The thing is, once you have an infant in the house, there’s so much more to cuss about. Unless you live in a fraternity house, there’s a good chance that, as long as you don’t have a child around, nobody is going to projectile vomit on you today. Parents don’t have that sort of assurance.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard the term “projectile vomit” many times before, but it’s a term that is very difficult to fully appreciate until someone does it on you.

The first time it happened, I was unable to speak for the first few seconds, experiencing the kind of mild shock you get after jumping into cold water, except that I was actually swimming in Kara’s breast milk. It looked like I’d been trying to defuse a cow when it exploded in my face.

Our son Evan was equally drenched, though he actually seemed to be enjoying himself. As I held him up by his armpits, he looked at me as if to say, “Dude, it’s the weirdest thing. I’m hungry again.”

“Here, here, I’ll get you a towel out of the diaper bag,” Kara said, rummaging through the giant purse. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot I put your headphones in here.”

You can wash Mike Todd’s mouth out with soap at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Painting the town powder blue

There comes a point, a few months after having a baby, when you start to wonder if Netflix can really replace the friends you used to hang out with. The answer of course is no, unless you have some really good HBO shows in your DVD queue, like Deadwood, or maybe True Blood. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no substitute for true friendship, at least not on network TV.

While we’re still basking in the glow (and wandering through the fog) of new parenthood, my wife Kara and I have missed interacting with people who don’t make a habit of peeing on us. It has been especially tough for Kara, because while I still have one mature adult in our house to spend time with, she doesn’t have any. For the first few months after you make that last adrenaline-fueled drive to the hospital to deliver your baby, as far as your friends are concerned, it probably seems as though you flew off over the horizon and disappeared with Amelia Earhart or Ricky Martin.

So when we were able to finagle our way to our friends’ engagement party last Saturday night, courtesy of some clutch baby-sitting from the in-laws, Kara and I hardly knew what to do with ourselves. Usually, when neither one of us is holding the baby, our son Evan passes the time by trying to punch a hole in the ceiling using nothing but his vocal cords. But this time, as we got dressed upstairs with Evan downstairs cooing for his grandparents, the only screaming in the room came as I held up a hand mirror to check the status of my bald spot.

Evan’s cooing continued as his grandparents tickled his tummy and played peek-a-boo while Kara and I headed for the front door, which raised an interesting question: Does it count as baby-sitting if the babysitters don’t notice that you left?

At the party, we reunited with friends and did our best not to be the first to bring up breast pumps and dirty diapers. As new parents, it can be difficult to remember that graphic descriptions of the seamier sides of parenting, of which there are many, can easily transform polite conversation into something else altogether. Besides, we want more of our friends to have babies, so we have to be careful not to scare any of the amateur creators from going pro.

All in all, our first social engagement outside of the house since becoming parents was a success, and we felt fortunate to have had the chance to celebrate Julie and Sergey’s engagement properly. Still, even if you manage to escape the house and leave your newborn in capable hands for just a little while, it’s impossible not to be reminded that your life is not at all the same.

At just before 10pm, Kara turned to me and said quietly, “I’m full. We need to go home.”

“What?” I replied. “We don’t need to be home quite yet. Just don’t eat anything else if you’re full.”

“No, I mean they’re full,” she said, pointing to her chest. “I need to go pump.”

I’ve had to leave parties for many reasons in my life, usually due to the lack of an invitation, but this was a first.

I remember back in my late twenties, when I started getting concerned about the continuing and stubborn advancement of my age, I decided that you weren’t truly old until the parties you attended got smaller after 10pm. It seemed like a solid hypothesis at the time, but now I’m not so sure. At any rate, it’s impossible to test it out on myself, since I have no idea what happens to parties after 10pm. Who can stay out that late?

You can drink the rest of Mike Todd’s beer at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009