Sunday, April 25, 2010

Procreation as contraception

“We’re not going to have any kids. It’s final, that’s the decision,” our friend Colleen said as we strolled around our neighborhood. She braced herself for the ensuing argument. People with kids are always trying to pressure their childless friends into having babies, most likely because certain emotional states seem to love company.

“Are you going to get a boat instead?” I asked.

As I understand it, the payoff for not having kids, besides the millions of extra hours of sleep, is that you get to have a boat. Also, you get to live your entire adult life without having the term “urine-soaked” apply to you.

Though she might have been expecting one, Colleen wasn’t going to get an argument from us. Back when Kara was pregnant, we used to work on our friends, saying, “Aw, come on, have one!” like we were offering them a Chiclet. But now that we’ve lived through the first ten months of parenthood, we’d never dream of pressuring anyone else into it, even those, like Colleen and Chris, who would be primo parents. The decision to upend your life and permanently pause your video games needs to come from you and your partner alone, not from those who might be looking to score an occasional playdate out of the transaction.

Of course, this doesn’t stop random passersby from asking me and Kara when we’re going to have another baby, which seems a lot like walking up to someone as they crawl out of the smoking wreckage of their overturned vehicle and asking, “When are you gonna do that again?”

“Not anytime soon, I hope,” you’d reply, in either situation.

We’ll get around to expanding our family eventually, and I don’t mean to imply that parenthood has been a bad experience. Sometimes, it’s been terrible. Most of the time, terribly rewarding.

For us, having a baby is like this: There’s a restaurant on the Jersey Shore that gives you a free T-shirt if you can eat an entire XXL pie by yourself. Several years ago, Kara agreed to go there with me and two of our guy friends on the condition that she could order just a salad. We all agreed, and then pressured her into getting a pizza anyway.

“We’ll help you out down the home stretch. We promise,” we lied.

With our three plates clean, and half a pie remaining on Kara’s plate, the three guys just stared at the table, trying not to make eye contact. We just couldn’t eat any more of that pizza.

That’s how Kara and I both feel about having another baby right now. We just can’t eat any more of that pizza, not yet.

“I just wanted a stupid salad!” Kara says every time I wear my awesome T-shirt.

Several of our friends are standing at the edge of the gene pool and deciding that it’s doing just fine without their contributions. Colleen and Chris were visiting us with another couple last weekend, who also floated the possibility that they might not have kids.

“Oh, can we go to a place that has a bar in the pool?” one of them said, as they planned the trip the four of them are taking to Cancun this summer. Poor, poor childless people.

“It’s gotta be a place that doesn’t allow kids. I don’t need all the ruckus while I’m trying to relax,” came the reply, as our son Evan banged spoons together in the next room.

Then Kara and I entered the room, and everyone fell silent.

“Sorry, we started talking about it when you weren’t here,” they said, looking like they’d been caught eating sundaes by their lactose intolerant friends.

Among his many powers, Evan has rendered our passports completely useless. Unless one of us makes a break for it.

You can sail away with Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 18, 2010

You can go home again, but your stuff’s gone

“Here,” Mom said during their recent visit to our house, dropping a trash bag full of treasures from my old room into my current garage. Dad followed, carrying three large boxes of junk non grata, setting them down with a smile.

At some point, parents of adult children will rebel against having their homes used as self-storage facilities. My in-laws are still trying to figure out how to get rid of their kids’ kayaks, wedding dresses and trophies from soccer tournaments held when ALF was still on the air.

As of last month, the lease abruptly ended on the closet in my old bedroom, a mere fourteen years after I’d moved out. Apparently, my parents have never heard of the term “grace period.”

The benefit of being the youngest kid in the family is that when you’re in middle school and your sister goes to college, you get to pick the best room in the house (hers), and it stays yours forever, rightfully stolen. Or so I thought.

Giving up my room in the basement has been a Band-aid that my parents have been ripping off for about a decade. I’ll never forget coming home after graduating college to find that they had turned my room into a guest room. I’d been demoted to guest status. No more Phish posters on the wall. No more glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. It was all wrong. The bedroom in the basement is supposed to remain a museum, in perpetuity, to your son’s tastes during his senior year of high school.

“It took us three hours to scrape those stars off the ceiling,” Mom said.

“But they were in the right constellations and everything,” I protested, too late. The stars were already aligned. In the trash can.

Their recent drive to rid their house of my belongings made much more sense last weekend, when we brought their grandson Evan for a visit. We hadn’t visited since Christmas, largely because driving four hours with an infant presents certain challenges that we’re just learning how to handle. Remember that scene from the movie Tommy Boy, when the deer wakes up in the backseat and proceeds to shred the car from the inside out? It’s like that, but without antlers.

When we arrived at their house, my wife Kara was the first to head down to the basement. After a few moments, her voice drifted up the stairs: “Awwwww.”

My parents’ storage room, the room where broken space heaters previously went to live out their golden years under piles of old wreaths, where grabbing a canteen off the back shelf had once required a harness and climbing equipment, had been converted into a nursery.

The junk was all gone. A crib sat against the far wall, next to a rocking chair and a changing table. A nightlight cast a dim glow from the top of a filing cabinet.

“We’ve been busy,” Mom said, marking the understatement of the weekend.

Creating a new nursery for Evan meant that we didn’t have to sleep with his crib in the guest room anymore, which was fantastic news for us. While Evan is a wonderful baby, when you’re trying to sleep, he’s a worse roommate than the one my buddy Derek had in college, who used to wipe his butt with Derek’s towels.

My folks had taken enough stuff to Good Will to warrant a memorial wing. They’d even removed all their dusty old liquor bottles, which was just as well, since most of them had turned into water over the years anyway. Teenagers seem to have that power. Kind of like Jesus, but in reverse.

Anyway, Evan enjoyed his promotion and slept peacefully in his new room, which he should have dibs on for at least the next thirty years.

You can watch ALF with Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Giving caution the finger

If you ever find yourself saying, “My friends spent an hour on the beach looking for the rest of my finger, but they never found it,” there’s a decent chance that you haven’t had the best week.

Last Saturday, I learned of my buddy Rob’s dedigitation when he texted a gruesome photo to my cell phone.

“Good lord!” I said, wincing.

“What’s the matter?” my wife Kara asked.

“Rob just texted me a picture with the top of his right ring finger missing. Doesn’t he know that it costs me a dollar to receive photos to my phone?” I said.

Of course, a good friend losing a beloved body part is not really a proper occasion to complain about donating a dollar to Verizon, but if someone had asked me which of my friends would find a way to chop off the tip of their finger, Rob would have been pretty high up on a very competitive list.

On ski trips in high school, Rob would launch himself over dump-truck-sized jumps with an impressive disregard for his own well-being, sometimes pulling off stunning landings that would earn disbelieving praise from anyone witnessing his flight path, though sometimes he’d land on various non-load-bearing bones as he tumbled to an abrupt stop at the nearest tree trunk, scattering assorted skiing implements and winter outerwear across the hill behind him as twelve-year-olds shouted, “Yard sale!” from the chairlift.

On a ski trip after college, after watching Rob jump off of a twenty-foot cliff and land softly in the powder below, our friend Johnny turned to me and said, “Did you know that Rob doesn’t have health insurance?”

It’s too bad he couldn’t have borrowed mine, since the biggest risk I take while skiing is sipping the hot cocoa before it has a chance to cool down.

Rob lives a few blocks from the beach in LA now, and has taken up kitesurfing as a hobby. Kitesurfing is a sport in which mentally unbalanced people tie snowboards to their feet and let giant kites drag them around the ocean. Rob once let me fly his smaller practice kite in a parking lot, and when the wind caught the kite for the first time, it yanked me off my feet like I was holding on for dear life to a dragon’s leash.

Photos courtesy of Rob "Nine Fingers" Kalmbach

Last week, as Rob was in the process of landing his kite on the beach, he lost his balance for a split second and reached his hand out to steady himself just as the kite, according to Rob, “powered up.” As the kite shot into the sky, its line sliced through the air with enough speed to shear the top half-inch of Rob’s ring finger clean off, marking the first of several days in which Rob would find it “kind of tough to type.”

Part of me feels terrible for Rob, though he fortunately now has health insurance that helped to make his finger almost as good as new, if just a bit shorter. But the other part of me is a little jealous that not only has Rob earned himself a conversation starter for life, but he also managed to mangle himself in such a cool way. The coolest way I could ever hope to auto-amputate anything is through a freak bagel mishap, at best.

Incidentally, someone once told me authoritatively that bagel-slicing accidents are the number-one cause of emergency room visits. If that is true, perhaps subsidies for English muffins should have been included in the recent health care bill.

“It feels much better now,” Rob told me a couple of days ago. “And even if my friends had found my finger, the doctors wouldn’t have been able to put it back on.”

So while Rob recovers, at least he can take some solace in that, if even just for a few moments, he made a lucky seagull very happy.

You can give Mike Todd the finger at

P.S. If you're dying to see disgusting pics of Rob's finger, scroll down in this kitesurfing forum (Rob's name in the forum is Wavehucker.) If you clicked that link, I bet you're the kind of person who inhales really deeply when somebody goes, "Oh, man, that STINKS!"

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Invasion of the personality snatchers

“Hello,” my buddy Josh said when he answered the phone last week, and I could tell immediately that something wasn’t right.

“Aw, dude, you’re still at work, aren’t you?” I asked. It’s easy to tell when a friend answers the phone while they’re still at work, because they’ll sound just like themselves, except with their souls removed.

“Yes, I am,” he replied in a calm, hollow monotone, the kind of voice someone might use to lower your guard just before they lunge across the table at you.

It was strange to hear Josh’s vacant voice on the other end of the line. He usually calls me during his afternoon commute on his way to pick up his son from daycare, catching me in the final minutes of the workday.

“Now’s not a good time. I’m just packing up to leave for the day,” I’ll say.

“Tell me when you’re walking down the hall, past everyone’s offices,” he’ll reply.

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I’ll say.

“You’re walking down the hall right now, aren’t you?” he’ll say, giving me a single instant to cover my cell phone’s earpiece with my thumb before he launches an unbroken string of high-decibel obscenities into the phone, continuing his never-ending quest to humiliate me, a quest that began in college when he’d hide home enema kits and feminine hygiene products under the microwave pizzas in my shopping cart.

But this time, he was subdued, domesticated, neutered. Or maybe spayed, whichever one happens to dudes.

“Shouldn’t you still be at work?” he asked.

“I left a few minutes early today, since I got in two hours early,” I replied.

Being an early person at work is an adjustment, since you have to find the right time to casually mention to everyone else how early you came in. Sure, the good parking spot you snagged should tip everyone off, but what if they didn’t notice? It’s tougher than you might think to squeeze a mention of a beautiful sunrise into a team meeting.

After thirty-two years of unsuccessful attempts at becoming a morning person, I’ve finally discovered the trick. The people who manufacture alarm clocks might want to consider dumping contraceptives in the water supply before babies run them out of business; it’s been nearly a year since I awoke to something other than the sound of our son crying, and never has the world seen a more effective person-waking device. Terminators are made to kill people. Babies are made to wake them up.

Sometimes, it’s his crying that wakes me up directly, other times his morning whimpering sets off a Rube Goldberg-type chain of events, causing the dog to wake up and flap her ears back-and-forth, making my wife Kara roll over and groan, compelling her knee to extend, swinging her foot across the bed and into my butt, forcing me to light the Bunsen burner that slowly ignites my synapses.

That morning, as Kara and I stumbled around the house at 5:20am, she opened the refrigerator door and said, “I need milk for my coffee.” And then she uttered a sentence that I had never heard before in all of my thirty-two years (twelve years, if you subtract PlayStation time). As she spoke, my brain twitched, trying to make sense out of the strange combination of words coming out of her mouth.

She turned to me and said, “What time does the grocery store open?”

And there, in those seven simple words, was the perfect summation of parenthood. What time does the grocery store open? It’s a question that someone without children could never dream up in their wildest imaginations. And if you asked that question to a single person, it would sound to them as if you were speaking Klingon.

You can shout obscenities into Mike Todd’s earpiece at

Friday, April 02, 2010