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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 01, 2009