Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Even a decade ago, the thought of being excited about shrubbery would have been exceedingly depressing, but I’ve found that with each passing year, it becomes easier and easier to get jazzed about small-leaf rhododendron. And Imodium AD.
At this point, there’s really no reason to pretend that coolness is an attainable goal anyway. After eating a few slices of pizza last Saturday night, I officially stepped across the wrinkly threshold to oldpersondom. Just before climbing into bed at 10pm, I preemptively popped a Pepto pill, then paused, realizing in horror that this was first time in my life I’d taken medicine for indigestion I didn’t even have yet.
It was like that scene from The Matrix – once you take the pink pill, there’s no turning back. I’ve seen how deep the rabbit hole goes, and it ends at the early bird special at Denny’s.
Our new shrubs look just fine, exactly how you’d expect a few freshly planted bushes to look, but they represent something much more: a hard-won victory, however fleeting, of order over entropy. Over the past few years, the flowerbed we’d inherited from the previous owners of our house had turned into flower bedlam, a tangled embarrassment of scraggly flowers, vibrant weeds and assorted dead things.
“That’s a weed, I’m yanking it,” I’d say.
“No, no, I think that’s a mum,” my wife Kara would say, pleading for the life of each plant individually, like my sister used to do with every fish my dad ever caught.
Finally, last weekend, armed with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I successfully beat back the forces of chaos and their dandelion hordes. There’s just something about the smell of compost, the feel of dirt under your fingernails and the taste of peat moss wafting in your face, something that makes you wish you were paying someone else to experience them.
By the way, the lady at the nursery tricked me into buying two bags of compost. I didn’t really know what compost was, except that it was good for plants and that hippies liked to carry on about it. I’d already paid by the time I went to pick up the bags, which pictured a large cow on front and proudly proclaimed, “Composted cow manure. Made in
The current motivation for pulling our house out of disarray is our son’s upcoming first birthday party, which promises to be the most fun he’ll have no idea that he’s having. Of course, attendant with inviting large numbers of friends and family over to your house is noticing that the place is falling down around you.
Kara and I had known for some time that our front steps were a little rickety, as apparently the original builders didn’t foresee the unlikely event that people might walk on them. After returning from the hardware store with seventeen dollars worth of brackets and braces, ready to strike another blow against disorder in the world, I discovered that the bottom of the steps had completely rotted out. I’d have better luck reinforcing a Kit Kat bar.
Fortunately, I have other things in life to help keep these minor inconveniences in perspective. Like the leak in the attic.
You can plop Mike Todd in your compost heap at
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Foreshadowing the scene I was about to encounter, the dog came trotting through the living room with great stripes of mashed green beans laced across her back.
As I entered the kitchen, I saw Kara sitting next to our son Evan, who was perched in his high chair, conducting an orchestra with his rubber spoon. From the looks of their surroundings, the Jolly Green Giant had just spontaneously combusted in the kitchen. The floor, the baby and the wife were all spattered with thick green goop.
“He got a hold of the beans,” Kara said.
Evan looked at me and gave a Bronx cheer from behind his bean mask. He doesn’t know any words yet, but he often delivers lengthy monologues using nothing but blown raspberries.
“Try to use words,” Kara will say to him as I blow raspberries back. She’s only worried that we’re not doing enough to encourage his verbal development because she doesn’t understand that up until the age of twelve, little boys carry on their most meaningful conversations in fart noises anyway.
When Evan was smaller, and the thought of being able to eat mashed green beans was just a legume in his eye, Kara asked her cousin Roscoe, a parent of two, “Does it ever get any easier?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Roscoe replied after a moment. “But it doesn’t really get any harder, either. As soon as you stop having to worry about one thing they outgrow, you start having to worry about something new they get into. You just keep trading one thing for another.”
We found that to be an interesting notion, that parenthood is just a constant flow of new challenges of roughly uniform difficulty. I’d be inclined to conjecture that nothing is as hard as the first few months of parenthood, when we’d fall asleep at the base of the crib because we were too exhausted to crawl back to bed, but then I’ve never experienced potty training, which I gather can turn parts of your house into a sort of demented Jackson Pollock painting.
Our newest challenge is dealing with a mobile Evan, who has just discovered the wonders of crawling, and whose middle name should now either be “Danger” or “Faceplant.” His favorite activity, when he’s not trying to topple a bookshelf onto himself, is to motor around the floor, picking up dog hair and eating dust bunnies. Essentially, our child has turned into a Roomba. (If you’re unfamiliar with Roomba, the little vacuuming robot, you can simulate ownership of one by dropping a metal trash can lid on your carpet and telling your friends, “I don’t know why it’s not working.”)
Anyway, whether there’s anything to Roscoe’s theory or not, Kara and I have noticed the challenges of parenting evolving lately. For instance, as Evan slowly shifts from bottles to solid food, we’ve had to evolve to using simple tools, like putty knives, to clean the kitchen.
The wealth of pureed food flying about the house has been enthusiastically greeted by the dog, who has proven to be a valuable ally in the fight to de-Gerberize the house. While Evan might not be the most effective vacuum,
You can show your Roomba off to Mike Todd at
Sunday, May 16, 2010
There are worse ways to wake up from a nap, like getting stepped on by a horse, for instance, or having a tear gas grenade skitter across the floor, but I sure haven’t experienced any of them lately.
“I was holding him as he stood beside the coffee table, and he just lunged for the remotes all of a sudden,” she said, in tears herself.
Babies are born with an innate appreciation for remote controls, as if they can sense the great potential of the devices to enable a lifetime of sedentary splendor.
In our basket of remotes, Kara and I know what about two percent of the buttons actually do, so to keep Evan from linking our cable remote to the neighbor’s garage door, we spent fifteen bucks to get him his own
Evan’s zeal for our remotes, coupled with his previously undocumented ability to lunge, caused him to smack his head on the coffee table, one of the few remaining unpadded surfaces in our house, resulting in a small cut behind his ear.
Before this event, it would have seemed impossible for a baby to get hurt in our house. Kara had plugged every outlet, padded every corner and forced me to put up more gates than
"Anybody got a cake with a nail file baked in?"
But one can never underestimate the primal drive of human beings to clonk their heads on things. We once thought our house was babyproof, but “babyproof” has proven to be a relative term, like “non-stick”, “interest-only” or “fair and balanced.”
You’ll never forget your kid’s first step or his first minor laceration, which, if our experience is any indication, is likely to follow shortly after that first step. Having a baby who’s just figuring out locomotion is like being stuck permanently with your drunken roommate from college, all wobbles and weaves and no fear, with a fair chance of peeing their pants at any moment.
Three hours and one stitch later, Evan seemed to have forgotten all about the trauma of the morning as he scooted about the floor, searching for new inedible things to stuff in his mouth, though his mother wasn’t so casual about the whole thing.
“That’s it, I’m padding the entire house,” she said. There are times when you think parenthood might cause you to live in a padded room, but I didn’t see it happening quite like this. Kara disappeared to Babies ‘R Us and returned with a three-foot receipt, several bulging bags and enough foam corner protectors to babyproof your highest-scoring game of Tetris.
That evening, she knelt beside the coffee table, mummifying it.
“We could just swaddle Evan in bubble wrap,” I suggested, and she paused for a moment, considering.
“What about a giant hamster ball?” she asked.
Part of having a kid is learning to manage his risks without denying him the opportunity to explore and learn, but doesn’t anybody else worry that with all this foam everywhere, we might be raising the first generation of kids who think there are no consequences to slamming their heads into inanimate objects? Back when I was a kid, a concussion was considered a great learning tool. Parents seemed to want their kids to have them, like the chicken pox.
Anyway, if you decide to visit our house now, please feel free at any time to just close your eyes, spin in a few circles and start running. You’re pretty much guaranteed a feathery-soft landing, but watch you don’t stub a toe on Evan in his new suit of armor.
You can put safety corners on Mike Todd at
Sunday, May 09, 2010
It would have been handy to have one last week, when I walked across the parking lot to say hello to a co-worker. The lone goose standing between us eyed me with a little too much interest, so I gave it a nice wide berth as I walked around. Not content with the deference I’d conferred, the goose lowered its head, opened its surprisingly large, pink and scary mouth, hissed and charged at me.
At work, most people try to at least maintain some semblance of decorum, but it’s really difficult to flee from an attacking animal with any degree of dignity. The goose just missed nipping my heels as I high-stepped around it.
“Nice dodge,” my colleague said, laughing, after I’d gotten a safe distance away from my new fine feathered enemy.
We stood outside chatting for a moment as the goose patrolled the parking lot, issuing the occasional warning honk. After a minute, a man carrying a duffel bag strolled towards the building, a solid forty feet from the goose, which would have seemed like plenty of buffer zone to any reasonable creature, but the goose just used that space as extra runway.
For a blissful moment, the man remained ignorant of the downy missile headed his way. Once he noticed the honking harbinger of hurt whizzing across the parking lot, the man started to run, then realized he had no chance of outrunning his predator, which was now flying in a beam pointed right at his chest.
At the moment just before impact, the man lifted his duffel bag, which the goose rammed at full speed. Its momentum gone, the goose flopped to the ground and remained disoriented just long enough for its prey to escape indoors.
If there’s one thing I learned from that encounter, it’s that when it comes to protecting yourself from flying attackers, what’s good for the goose is an overstuffed duffle bag.
This attack followed a disturbing pattern of recent avian mischief. Last week, a wren flew into our house when I opened the door to take the dog for a stroll. The longtime reader(s) of this column might remember that this exact same scenario played out about a year ago, when the bird living in the wreath on our front door decided to invade our home. We eventually captured that bird in a Honey Nut Cheerios box and released into the yard with an irresistible touch of golden honey.
“Did you move the wreath after that?” a smart person would ask.
“Hey, Iron Man 2 is coming out!” I’d reply.
This time, the bird was not to be cajoled into any manner of breakfast food packaging, probably because it was the same bird from last year. As it fluttered about the house, my wife Kara and I whiffed through the air ineffectually with various cardboard boxes. We needed a net, pronto.
It might be a little grand to say that I sprung into action at that point, but as a new father, the opportunity to spring into non-vomit-related action happens so rarely that I have to take credit when I can. After a few minutes in the garage, I emerged back into the battle zone with a perfectly functional net, crafted from a trash bag, a wire coat hanger, electrical tape and an upside-down leaf rake. A few wild swings later, the bird was in the bag. And a medium-sized chunk had been taken out of the kitchen wall by the rake end of the rake, which is of course the only part of the story Kara cares to talk about anymore.
If you’re anything like me, birds invading our home and attacking innocent passersby will probably remind you of an old Alfred Hitchcock classic. Especially that goose. What a psycho.
You can hit Mike Todd with your duffel bag at
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Sunday, May 02, 2010
“Oh, cute, a lemonade stand,” my wife Kara said.
Four kids stood beside a card table at the end of a driveway eyeing us thirstily, rubbing their hands together and probably muttering something about “rubes” and how people like us are born every minute.
As we got closer to them, I broke the bad news.
“Sorry, guys, we didn’t bring any money with us,” I said, patting my shorts to give the International Sign of Empty Pockets.
The oldest kid, probably about nine, said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to pay,” as he poured two plastic cups from his pitcher.
The other three looked at him as if he’d just stomped on an iPhone. The motion to hand out free lemonade to random old people had clearly not been discussed in committee.
“You can’t just give it away for freeeee,” one of them said in the kind of little-kid whisper that’s louder than an adult’s speaking voice.
The ringleader brushed them off and held out two cups for us, not at all bothered by the flaw in his business model.
“That’s really sweet,” Kara said. “We’ll come back and put a dollar in your mailbox tonight.”
As we strolled off drinking the first lemonade-stand purchase we’d ever made on credit, I was impressed that the kids were at least selling a decent product. When I was their age, my neighbor Louie and I went around the neighborhood selling dogwood flowers we’d picked from a tree in the backyard, a product so useless that Brookstone might consider selling it if the flowers vibrated or cleaned your golf tees. Our business folded after making twelve cents more than it would have without Mrs. Yacoe’s pity.
Louie and I brought the same acumen to mechanical engineering that we did to the business world. Our prototype model for a zip line out of my tree house consisted of a rope running from the tree house to the bottom of a pine tree fifty feet away, with a log of my parents’ firewood serving as a seat. We tied a rope to one end of the log, ran that rope over the zipline, then tied off the other end of the log.
“This is going to be awesome,” Louie said, positioning himself onto the firewood, his feet dangling.
He pushed off of the tree house and hung in the air for a moment, stationary. I remember the look of surprise on his face as he looked back at me, amazed that he wasn’t zipping anywhere. In slow motion, the log began to tilt, and in a moment, Louie was plummeting eight feet into the vegetation below.
“Eww, I landed in the pee bush!” he screamed.
Technically, it was a rhododendron, but Louie’s taxonomy was more apt. Before Nintendo had been invented, little boys could only entertain themselves by peeing from the highest points they could find, a fact that my dad failed to appreciate that time he was building the lower deck when the highest point Louie and I could find was the upper deck.
In any event, back in our neighborhood, Kara settled our debts in the ringleader’s mailbox that night. The following day, he was out there peddling his citrusy wares by himself, clearly the member of the group with the most staying power, the Justin to their ‘N SYNC. This time, he wore a navy blue sport coat with big brass buttons, as if maybe he was considering opening franchises in adjacent driveways, or perhaps selling insurance. Which would probably be much more lucrative than the dogwood flower business.
You can make lemonade out of Mike Todd at