Sunday, March 28, 2010

What’s a ton of prevention worth?

“I remember when we used to have electricity,” I said to my wife Kara last weekend, holding the plug to the vacuum cleaner in the air. “That was so awesome.”

We’d been guilted into the cleaning our house by our son Evan’s daycare provider, who told us as we were picking him up last week that, “I have to wait until you pick up Evan in the afternoon before I can vacuum. It really seems to scare him.”

She said this peering over her glasses at us, the clear implication being that Evan had never seen a vacuum cleaner in operation before. Kara and I took great umbrage at this charge, which was exceeded in its offensiveness only by its veracity.

“Oh, come on, we still have electricity,” Kara replied. “You just have to take the plugs out of the sockets first.”

Much like Johnny Appleseed spreading a trail of trees in his wake, Kara Socketplug travels around our house, plugging sockets I didn’t even know we had, in preparation for a time when our completely immobile son will start wandering around, trying to jab various implements into them.

“Really? Evan won’t be able to reach that plug until he grows three feet and learns to work a stepladder,” I said, pointing to the outlet behind the toaster.

Also, is it possible that we learned a little too much about Johnny Appleseed as kids? We were led to believe that he was a historical figure on par with George Washington and whoever the second president was, but you hardly ever hear anyone making an argument about what our Founding Landscaper intended.

In any event, of course it’s a good thing that Kara is preparing our house for Evan’s impending mobility, but back when we were kids, we all got along just fine, even though I’m pretty sure outlet plugs hadn’t been invented yet. Sure, a kid occasionally stuck some scissors in there, but that just evened the playing field for lefties, whose scissors were coated in green rubber, giving them God-like powers.

Not only did my parents not have outlet plugs, they furnished their living room with a coffee table that consisted of a huge square pane of glass sitting upon a wooden block, which suspended the four pointy glass corners at toddler-head height. If that table was left on a beach on a remote Pacific island, the natives would immediately start using it to crack open coconuts. And to display their hardcover travel books.

“We did everything wrong when you were kids. It’s a wonder anyone survived,” my mom said recently. Mom’s friend had just been babysitting for her new granddaughter who was having a crying fit, so she put a dab of honey on the end of the pacifier, a common practice from when she’d been a new mom, but which is apparently now a no-no.

When the baby’s mother returned home and found out what had happened, she screamed, “Why are you trying to kill my baby?”

If you’re trying to attract a new mother, you might be better off using vinegar. Honey seems to make them mad.

That scene reminded me of the time we’d brought Evan to a party, and our friend Emily dipped her finger in barbecue sauce and lifted it towards Evan’s mouth. I watched in amazement, figuring she was joking, not realizing she was seriously about to give it to him. Kara leapt into action, smacking Emily’s hand like a Kung Fu master at the last moment.

“Ouch!” Emily said.

“Hiiiii-yah!” Kara replied.

New parents are probably justified in being slightly paranoid, though, because we’re getting advice from the same people who used to rub whiskey on our gums when we were teething, presumably because they’d run out of musket balls for us to chew on.

You can crack Mike Todd’s coconuts at

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring training for a mid-life crisis

“This is going to be a tough birthday for me,” I said to my wife Kara last week, as her thirtieth birthday approached.

“For you? But it’s my birthday,” she said.

“I know, but I just realized that I’ll never get the chance to sleep with someone in their twenties, like, ever again,” I said, pausing for a moment to allow her time to lavish me with sympathy.

She replied, “Oh, you’ll survive. I haven’t slept with someone in their twenties for years.”

Besides her willingness to be seen with me in public, Kara’s quick wit is one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. Fortunately, the old battle axe hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

As much as I might joke about Kara getting old despite the fact that she’s nearly three years my junior, the thirtieth birthday can be a tough cake to swallow. Few other birthdays, and certainly none of the ones preceding it, elicit quite the same amount of introspection.

“We never went to Scotland. Are we ever going to get there?” she asked yesterday.

Thirty seems to be the age when our friends who haven’t started families begin to wonder if they’re waiting too long, and those who have started families begin to wonder if they’re ever going to get to visit exotic places again, like Scotland or the movie theater.

“And what about seeing Billy Elliot on Broadway? It’ll be gone by the time we get around to it,” she said.

Of course, our restricted recreational activities these days are much more a function of parenthood than age. Ever since the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out, you occasionally hear someone mentioning their Bucket List, the list of everything they want to do before they kick the bucket. I realized then that I was witnessing Kara going through her Minivan List: the list of everything she wanted to do before she began serving her ten-to-twenty-year sentence in a minivan.

When you’re parenting a nine-month-old, it becomes easy to imagine that, for the rest of your life, “fun” will begin with chirpy voices saying, “It’s learning time. Yippee!” when you push the big red button beside the Fisher-Price logo.

“Well, at least when we’re able to go out and have fun again, we’ll be eligible for senior discounts,” I comforted her.

Last weekend, we watched a bit on TV in which the comedian Louis C.K. noted that parents are better at appreciating the little things in life. He said that the walk around the car to the driver’s door after you’ve put the kid in the backseat is a miniature vacation, “like taking a Carnival Cruise.” That may be true, but I think Kara will be looking for something a little better than that for her birthday.

The roundness of a birthday number puts extra pressure on a spouse to come up with a good idea for a present. For my thirtieth, Kara booked us on a hot air balloon ride, which is going to be a tough act to follow. With a baby in the mix now, trying to think of something in that same vein is going to be difficult. Skydiving might be fun, but I’m not sure our Ergobaby carrier is safety rated for speeds approaching terminal velocity.

To get too disheartened about our inability to venture further beyond the house than Babies R Us, though, we’d have to completely overlook the time-honored tradition of peeling out of the grandparents’ driveway while a baby-laden carseat spins in place on the welcome mat. We may not get as far as Scotland this time, but a weekend is plenty of time to knock an item or two off the Minivan List.

You can blow out Kara Todd’s candles at

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The text is on the wall

“Guess how many text messages went through my daughter’s cell phone last month,” our friend Judi said over lunch recently.

You have to be careful when somebody asks you to guess how many. The correct answer must be wacky or they wouldn’t be asking, but you don’t want to steal any thunder by overshooting. That’s why I always guess fifteen, no matter what the question.

“Fifteen,” I guessed.

Honestly, I have grown so cynical and jaded in my ever-advancing thirty-two years that I thought nothing could amaze me anymore, except maybe the movie Avatar, and also people who think that snow in the Northeast disproves global warming.

Judi set down her drink and said, “Eight thousand.”

I wish I’d been drinking milk at that moment so that I could have sprayed it out of my nose in a great white plume, which would have been the only appropriate reaction.

Eight thousand text messages in one month, assuming 31 days to a month and 16 hours of consciousness per day, and not subtracting the hours the average teen spends daydreaming about vampires or the Jonas Brothers, equals one text every 3.72 waking minutes, though you might want to run those numbers past someone who uses math for something other than tips.

On my texting plan, Judi’s daughter would have rung up $1,600 in charges in that month. I’m on the “Either You’re Old or You Have No Friends, or Possibly Both,” plan, which charges twenty cents for a text message, and a buck or two if someone sends a picture.

“Aw, dude, I-Ball just texted a picture of his kid dressed like a Nittany Lion,” I’ll say.

“What? It’s cute,” my wife Kara will reply.

“You know what would be cuter? Not paying two bucks to look at it,” I’ll reply, then immediately I’ll feel like an old crank railing against technology, probably the same way my grandfather would have complained about color TV or microwave ovens. It’s just a shame nobody’s invented a way to attach a picture to an email so that I could see I-ball’s kids for free.

When a friend looked at my phone recently, she said, “Wow, that doesn’t have a keyboard on it? I didn’t think they still made those.”

It’s true that my phone is technologically ancient, having been purchased nearly two entire years ago, but there was a time when all phones just had numbers on them. You only used those little letters above the numbers to dial 1-800-MATTRES, or, if you were twelve, to make crank calls to 459-HUMP.

I’ve gotten so old, I can remember when “text” was a noun. And also when Geraldo Rivera got hit in the face with a chair. That was really big news back then. These days, I feel like Geraldo could get hit in the face with a sleeper sofa and nobody would care.

I’ve always held out hope that I might be the first cool adult in history, but now I understand why so many countless millions have failed before me. Just when you start to believe that teenagers might think you’re cool because you still say the word “dude” without irony, they go and develop a new language, one that is spoken entirely with their thumbs.

“It’s just how they communicate now,” Judi told Kara and me as our mouths hung open, occasionally forming the words “eight thousand” silently. Judi was like Jane Goodall, explaining apes to people who would never understand without living in the jungle themselves. Fortunately, our son Evan isn’t a year old yet, so even though he’d be obsolete if he were a cell phone, our family won’t be moving to the jungle for about twelve more years.

You can send text messages via email to Mike Todd at

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The ladies’ room: Not just for ladies anymore

“Oh, man, this is an important one,” I said as my wife Kara glared back at me.

“Ready?” she asked.

“OK, I’m ready. No, no, I’m not ready. OK, let’s do it,” I replied.

Our eyes locked like two heavyweights listening to the referee as he told us to have a clean fight.

“Here we go,” Kara said, holding up her fist between us.

“One-two-three, shoot,” I replied. In my head, I’d been planning to go with scissors all along, but my hand mutinied and went with paper instead. And there were Kara’s two fingers, outstretched, making a V for victory, a V that opened and closed as her fingers scissored through the air.

With the grim reality of Kara’s victory confronting me, I pulled the diaper bag over my shoulder and picked up our son, whose pants were filled with a grim reality of their own.

“Have fun back there,” Kara said, smiling.

We were eating lunch in a pub that had only half of its power restored after another hernia-inducing snowstorm. I pushed open the old wooden door to the men’s room, hoping to find a changing station, though guessing that I was more likely to find the entrance to Narnia. What I found was a pedestal sink, a john and a urinal crammed into a room that might have fit into a breadbox, if breadboxes still existed.

“Oh, Buddy, we’d have to plant your diaper on a flagpole in here,” I said to Evan as he stared at the candle beside the soap dispenser, the only source of light in the room. Perhaps blueprints for nuclear submarines had been drawn up in that room, or great novels written, but I can say with some degree of certainty that those walls had never seen a dirty diaper. The only viable option for changing Evan was the floor, which taught me that I actually do have some standards.

Kara and I treat our rock-paper-scissors results as binding contracts, so returning to the table as a failure was not an option. Evan and I exited the men’s room and made a U-turn, knocking with gusto on the ladies’ room door before entering.

A strange new wonderland stretched out for acres in front of us, adorned with ornate mirrors and vases full of flowers. The candlelight brought an ambience that made me check the floor for a trail of rose petals. I placed Evan on the ample countertop and began rummaging through the diaper bag, which Kara had packed as if, after lunch, we might decide to through-hike the Appalachian Trail. I started pulling everything out of the bag, burying Evan under three outfits, seven bibs, assorted bottles and medicines, and still no diapers. Finally, I found them in a secret compartment, presumably designed to foil muggers.

Evan and I emerged from the ladies’ room triumphant, though I hope he didn’t get too spoiled in there. In the Spartan future waiting for him in the men’s room, he’ll be lucky if the cruel world throws him a urinal divider.

Not every man takes his diaper-changing responsibilities so seriously. A couple of months ago, while Kara and I picked up a pizza together, our favorite pizza man said, “Angela and I raised six children together, and I never changed a single diaper.”

He said this beaming with pride, looking at me to see if I was impressed.

I glanced at Kara, whose jaw had dropped. As he continued to brag with our pizza on the counter between us, I began to worry that Kara’s gaze might burn the crust.

In the parking lot afterwards, she said, “I can’t believe that guy never changed a diaper. Seriously, I think I would kill you.”

And perhaps she would. But I think she was missing the bigger point, which is that our pizza guy must be the world’s best rock-paper-scissors player.

You can try to change Mike Todd at