Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Cape crusaders

“We have to leave right now,” my wife Kara said as I nodded and shoved the final three bites of breakfast sandwich into my mouth.

I scooped up as many pieces of crayon shrapnel as I could find on the floor, plunked them on the table and grabbed our son Evan out of his highchair, which he had converted into a podium for addressing our fellow patrons with his high-decibel State of the Toddler address. The state of the toddler at that moment was strong, red-faced and extraordinarily loud.

Fortunately, we always pay our checks as soon as the food comes, in preparation for the likely eventuality that we’ll have to flee the premises.

“Uppie!” Evan yelped as he pushed off my chest. To him, “uppie” can mean either pick me up or put me down, and when he means the latter, he usually says it in the same way Mel Gibson said “Freedom!” at the end of Braveheart.

Evan struggled and squirmed, turning so that I ended up carrying him like a surfboard under one arm. I pondered if anyone had ever carried their toddler like a surfboard toward a restaurant exit after a pleasant dining experience, and decided it was unlikely.

As I turned to check on Kara, who was just finishing stuffing all of our failed distraction paraphernalia into the diaper bag, Evan saw one last opportunity to reach out to his constituents. “Bye bye!” he called out from under my armpit, waving to the assembled audience. Several people turned and smiled, probably because we were leaving.

In his defense, Evan couldn’t really be expected to be on his best behavior. We’d been visiting Cape Cod for three rainy days at that point, and our poor meteorological luck was taking its toll on all of us.

We’d been trying to make the best of it, riding bikes in the rain, walking down the beach in the rain, complaining about the rain in the rain, etc., but it’s tough to maintain your cheerfulness when Dracula has seen the sun more recently than you.

Rainy weather on vacation used to be relaxing, an excuse to read a book, see a few movies or spend some long meals lounging at new restaurants. After having a baby, though, you can forget about all of that, at least until the child reaches Gameboy-playing age. At that point, your kid becomes like a newborn without diapers, and you can just stick him in a corner and do whatever you want while he drools and stares blankly for hours on end.

The biggest challenge we faced during the week was deflecting the puddle-emitted tractor beams that latched on to Evan in every parking lot, pulling him helplessly into their watery maw. Actually, I’m pretty sure he went voluntarily. Amateur puddle jumpers experience puddles with only their feet, and Evan turned pro long ago. He doesn’t jump in puddles so much as sop them up.

By the end of the week, though, the clouds parted long enough for us to verify the sun’s continued existence, and the puddles dried up enough for Evan to turn his attention to the ocean, where he taught us that no matter how persistent you are, or how graciously you offer, seagulls won’t eat a pile of sand out of your hand.

Even though we might not have visited during the ideal week, in the end, our trip gave us the kind of family bonding you just can’t get at home. If we’d stayed home, we never would have stood at the edge of the sea, introducing our toddler to this amazing, infinite puddle, which he did his best to sop up.

Also, Kara probably wouldn’t have eaten that bad clam, which kept her entertained for at least two days.

You can carry Mike Todd like a surfboard at

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Schunemunkin' around

Here are some pics from a hike the Wee Man, the pooch and I took a few weeks back to Schunemunk Mountain, just south of Newburgh, NY. I hadn't been there in several years, but man, I'll be back again soon. What a nice spot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Partly dreary with a chance of insanity

“I’m trying not to be filled with rage about it,” my wife Kara reported after checking the ten-day forecast, which resembled a flip book for a short animation about a really sad cloud that had no intention of going anywhere. Not a single orange pixel had been spent on the entire forecast.

Incidentally, does anyone else find it somewhat presumptuous of the weather-predicting industry that the 10-day forecast has become the standard?

“Man, we’re really nailing all these 5-day forecasts,” they must have said a few years ago. “What’s it going to take for us to be ridiculously unreliable again?”

I understand that trashing weather people is unfair, and that their jobs are not easy, but if they’re really going to pretend that they know what’s going to happen in ten days, they might as well go the full Spinal Tap and turn it up to eleven days.

Kara and I have been watching the forecasts closely because we just booked a last-minute vacation in a little cottage on Cape Cod, trying to get out for an adventure before some looming job responsibilities pinned us at home. But from the looks of the forecast, we just put down a deposit on a 600-square-foot screened-in cage, in which we’ll be trapped with a bored toddler for a week.

“I almost want to cry. I can’t believe we’re going to the beach and it’s going to rain the entire time,” Kara said.

Bad weather on vacation somehow manages to be at least 75% more depressing than bad weather when you’re home, probably because bad weather when you’re home only really affects you on the walk from your car to the Applebee’s entrance. Then your gloom gets drowned in Mexi-ranch dressing.

After spending a week obsessively checking the ever-worsening 10-day forecast, we began to discuss the idea of forfeiting our deposit and staying home. The idea had its appeal, but staying home and being severely disappointed would only be fun if it was free. Once you start throwing around phrases like “forfeiting our deposit,” much of the luster of eating Special K for dinner on the couch begins to rub off.

Of course, bad weather on vacation is a problem on par with crabgrass in your lawn. If that’s what you’re worried about, you’re officially out of real problems. Seeing news stories about terrible flooding in other parts of the country makes me feel especially shallow for getting depressed about our own situation. But as much as I recognize and appreciate our relative good fortune on an intellectual level, other people’s suffering never seems to cheer me up like it’s supposed to.

In any event, we’ve decided to go ahead and make the best of it. Kara ordered a toddler’s raincoat for our son Evan from, since we couldn’t find any in his size locally.

“Raincoats are out of season,” a cashier told me, without irony, as it poured outside.

I’d just read a news story that said Zappos is one of the first major online retailers to begin editing its users’ reviews and comments, automatically correcting spelling and grammatical errors. Apparently, people are more willing to purchase items when the user reviews are well-written, regardless of whether the comment is positive or negative.

So if you try to leave a comment like this: “this ranecote rox!!!11!!”, you could probably come back the next day to find that it has been changed to something like this: “Forsooth! I declare this precipitation-defying attire to be of exquisite quality!”

Smart people are always saying “forsooth.” That’s how you can pick them out of a crowd. Unless that crowd is on Cape Cod on the rainiest week in history, because then all the smart people will probably be back home on their own couches, having forfeited their deposits.

You can rain on Mike Todd’s parade, and his vacation, at

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bedtime stories, pyromania and audiotape

“In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of, yes, that’s a fire,” I said.

Evan sat in my lap, pointing at the roaring fireplace on the page. The fire plays no part in the story of Goodnight Moon, but it is pictured on several of the pages, which always seems to generate an alarming amount of interest from our toddler.

“Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mitt…okay, yeah, that’s the fire again,” I said.

Perhaps his interest in fire is genetic. I spent many years as a member of the Young Pyromaniacs Club. Excuse me, I’m being told that the official name is actually the Boy Scouts of America. In any event, we set a lot of stuff on fire.

I prefer reading Goodnight Moon over his other favorite story, Green Eggs and Ham, which is the War and Peace of kids’ books. You might have good intentions of reading every word to your child, but when the pages are made out of paper instead of cardboard, that’s a solid indication that you’re going to be there all night.

“Yeah, on a box, with a fox, yadda yadda,” I find myself saying.

When Evan points at the fire in Goodnight Moon, I try to get us back on the script of saying goodnight to everything in the great green room with the creepy bunnies in it. I need to be careful not to stray too far from the script when reading bedtime stories, since my family has a troubled history with children’s stories and improvisation.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” my sister Amy asked my dad thirty-five years ago, pointing at the bear on the page and initiating an exchange that would be recounted at family gatherings a million times over.

“He’s standing on top of the mountain,” Dad replied, repeating what he’d just read.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” Amy asked again.

“He’s standing on top of the mountain,” Dad replied, trying unsuccessfully to turn the page.

In the interests of brevity, I’ll cut out several iterations of their Q&A session, but you aren’t missing out on much. The Qs and As remained identical, until the final A.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” Amy asked again, her hand on the page preventing the story from moving forward until this important plot point was resolved to her satisfaction.

Neither of them knew that moments earlier, Mom had placed a tape recorder under their chair with the intention of capturing a precious family moment to mail to our grandparents. Our sweet, sweet grandparents, who never uttered an indecent word in their entire lives.

When Dad realized that giving the answer, “He’s standing on top of the mountain,” was his contribution to trapping them both in an infinite loop, he decided to try something different.

“He’s scratching his back,” Dad replied matter-of-factly, except he didn’t say “back.” He used another word which probably isn’t fit to print in a family publication, at least not in this context. It would be appropriate in plenty of other contexts, though, like the ones in which the singular form of this noun is used to denote the piece of equipment that is central to many different sports, including basketball, baseball and football. If you guessed “athletic supporter,” you’re wrong, but very close, geographically speaking.

Amy was too young to understand the full meaning of the words that had just entered her ears, and we’ll never know whether that answer would have finally allowed them to move on to the next page.

“Maurice!” Mom yelled as she charged into the room, and that’s where the tape cuts off. Oddly enough, I don’t think Grandma and Grandpa ever got that package.

You can tuck Mike Todd in at

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Into the especially wild

It would have been a quiet afternoon in the woods, if not for all the screaming.

“Sarah, what do you want? Are you hungry? Or thirsty?” asked her father.

“Or cold? Or hot?” asked her mother.

Sarah sat neatly perched in her daddy’s backpack, snapping live branches off nearby trees with her screams.

We’d entered the woods for a three-mile hike with some friends, including Mike, Heidi and their toddling daughter Sarah. Even as we climbed up a fairly steep slope, things were going downhill fast. What had originally begun as an exercise in getting some peace, quiet and friendly conversation was devolving into a full meltdown. The three-mile hike was becoming Three Mile Island.

“Let us know if there’s anything we can do,” my wife Kara said.

“I think she’s mad at us because we’re switching her to cold milk from warm milk. She’s been grumpy all day,” Mike replied.

How liberating it would be to have the epicurean sensibilities of a toddler.

“I ordered this filet mignon medium rare. It’s not pink enough!” you’d yell, spiking your steak on the floor like you’d just run it in for a 40-yard touchdown. Then you’d watch the dog eat it before screaming, “Wait, I just decided I want that!”

Spiking food on the floor is the toddler way of returning it to the kitchen. The closest we can get to that satisfaction as adults is going to a restaurant that lets you throw peanut shells on the floor, which isn’t as much fun because it doesn’t torment anyone.

As we strolled along, Mike and Heidi tried every combination of variables to set Sarah at ease, to no avail. She didn’t want to be set down or picked up, fed or not fed, and she didn’t want her shoes on or off.

I once heard a childcare professional say, “A crying baby is like a puzzle. You keep trying things until you solve it. I always thought it was fun.”

That must be the least fun puzzle in the universe. I’d rather have to solve a Rubik’s cube that you couldn’t beat by peeling off all the stickers and re-applying them to the correct sides.

When your child is screaming, every non-essential brain function shuts down except the part that’s trying to fix the problem, and also the part that creates headaches. I could see this happening to Mike and Heidi as their shoulders tensed and their brows furrowed. Incidentally, do brows ever do anything besides furrow? Seems like they should learn to do something else.

As the hills came alive with the sounds of wailing, I felt some guilt about how I was still enjoying the hike.

“If it’s any consolation, she’s not bothering us,” I offered, though it didn’t seem to be much consolation at all.

Still, I was reminded of a scene from the old movie “The Right Stuff,” where two potential astronauts were subjected to a series of intense physical and psychological exams that caused one of candidates to lose his mind, while the other one whistled and read a magazine. Apparently, if it’s not your kid doing the screaming, you can just keep flipping through the latest issue of Newsweek, until it goes out of print in a few weeks.

After a few more harried minutes, Sarah suddenly recovered and started chattering and giggling. Nobody does a mood swing like a toddler. Smiles replaced grimaces as everyone enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.

Sarah must have come to recognize the inherent awesomeness of getting a free ride in a backpack, which might be one of the coolest aspects of toddlerhood. I wish I could ride around all day in a giant’s backpack, as long as he wasn’t taking me back to his cave to devour me.

You can send this column back to Mike Todd at

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The reluctant lords of discipline

“Don’t you dare,” my wife Kara said. “This is your warning.”

Our son Evan stared at her, not breaking eye contact as he slowly pushed his plastic Sesame Street guitar off the coffee table. It landed with a thud on the dog, who scrambled across the room to find an area less likely to play host to a toddler’s experiments with boundaries and gravity.

You have to feel for the dog that lives in a house before the baby comes along. Two years ago, nobody gouged Memphis’ eyes or bounced toys off her back, and I can’t recall ever using her fur as a handhold to pull myself up to a standing position.

“Ahhh, what a sweet gig,” the dog thinks, quietly chewing her Nylabone, blissfully unaware of the tail-pulling maelstrom to come.

Then again, two years ago, nobody dumped full bowls of macaroni on the floor, so from the dog’s point of view, this whole thing is probably a wash.

“Okay, you’re going to the Naughty Step,” Kara said, taking a newly penitent Evan by the hand and leading him to the Staircase of Discipline.

“I’m putting you on the Naughty Step because you didn’t listen to Mommy and you kept pushing your toys off the coffee table,” she said.

Evan looked at her with giant eyes as Kara walked away and gave me the signal to put one minute on the timer. To my amazement, Evan sat there on the step, tapping his feet against the riser to pass the time.

Viewers of the show Supernanny might recognize Kara’s techniques, since we lifted them directly from the eponymous British taker-of-no-guff. We thought it seemed like a good idea to try the Supernanny’s methods, mainly because she’s British, and everyone knows that British people are awesome at discipline, probably from all those years of forcing kids to eat British food.

So far, it seems to be working. Evan knows the routine, and threatening a timeout is all it takes to end the current game of whack-a-dog. Still, I can see why some parents are scared to discipline their kids. The first time I gave Evan a timeout, I felt reluctant, worried that someday he’d end up complaining to his therapist about his tyrant of a father who never let him smear toothpaste on the couch.

But then I remembered the pushover parents of some of my friends in high school. There always seemed to be an inverse relationship between the amount of discipline in a house and the likelihood of having an infestation of drunken teenagers in that house’s basement. I mean, until we came over and kicked out the bad kids so that we could play chess.

Before Supernanny, back when Kara and I didn’t have any canine or human minions but were toying with the idea of both, we’d watch Dog Whisperer to get ideas on handling pooches. I’m realizing now that a listing of our DVR queue over the past few years would serve as a comprehensive history of our anxieties.

But then Memphis turned out to be a well-adjusted dog with no obvious psychoses, so Dog Whisperer became less fun to watch. Plus, the Dog Whisperer’s methods didn’t translate well to parenthood. Making a “tsssst” sound and poking Evan in the chest never really turned him into a more submissive pack member.

When his minute was up, Kara knelt in front of Evan. “Can you say ‘sorry’ to Mommy for not listening to her?” she asked.

“Dawy,” Evan said, and they hugged. Then he was back to his toys, lesson learned and incident forgotten.

After Evan went to bed, we watched an episode of Jersey Shore, and I really hope we didn’t learn anything that might ever apply to real life.

You can put Mike Todd on the Naughty Step at