Sunday, October 30, 2011

Over the railing and through the roof

“I think I’m going to be sick.  I can’t stand this worrying,” my wife Kara said.

“Mmmph,” I replied. 

“Did you really just fall asleep?” she asked.

“Maybe a little.  We all deal with stress in different ways,” I replied.

Kara was tossing and turning because a few hours earlier, our son Evan had taken some big steps towards becoming a big boy.  Unfortunately, those steps sent him over the railing of his crib headfirst.

We were standing just outside his door when we heard the whump and hollering, and we already knew what had happened before we pushed his door open, holding our breath that he’d be okay.  And he was, not counting a bloody nose that stopped after a moment, though Evan seemed to think that counted.

“Climb over the bed and fall on the head!” he proclaimed after he’d settled down, perhaps inventing a new slogan for a public service announcement. 

The conventional wisdom is to leave your child in a crib until they won’t stay in it anymore.  Of course, toddlers don’t really have a great way to communicate that they’re not so keen on staying in their crib anymore, except to fling themselves over the railing, which does get the point across, but something a bit less dramatic might be nice.
Most parenting advice is insanely cautious, sometimes bordering on paranoid.  Let your child eat popcorn?   Don’t be ridiculous.  That’s a choking hazard.  Push him around on a Big Wheels without a helmet?  No, a child must be encapsulated in plastic if moving faster than 1.5 mph.  Let him trick-or-treat without SPF 50 rubbed onto his eyelids to keep him from getting a twilight sunburn through his Elmo mask?  That’s a trick question.  He’s not allowed to wear a mask.

But letting your toddler plummet headfirst from a height that would make Greg Louganis flinch?  Oh, that’s just your child’s way of telling you that it’s time for a big boy bed.

The next day, Kara ordered a toddler railing for the crib.  Basically, it’s the same as the railing that’s already there, except that it’s topped with coils of barbed wire.  We’re told that this should keep him safe, as long as he doesn’t have access to a spoon and a poster of Rita Hayworth.

While we’re waiting for the rail to get here, we’ve piled enough pillows and down comforters around the crib that Jackie Chan could fall off a scaffolding and enjoy a fluffy landing there.   

Of course, once Evan’s crib is converted into a bed, we’ll be thrust headlong into yet another new phase of parenthood, the phase where the child is no longer caged for half of his life.  The idea is frightening.  If given the choice between having a toddler or a hyena roaming our house at night unattended, I’m not sure which we’d pick.           

The first round of baby-proofing we’d performed over a year ago assumed that a parent would be in the room with the child.  Now, we have to assume that Evan will have access to some areas of the house while we’re asleep, a prospect that is keeping us both up at night, some directly, some indirectly.

“Our room is a deathtrap!” Kara declared last night in the darkness, picturing Evan scaling every unsecured piece of furniture.

“Mmmph,” I replied. 

“Really?  How can you sleep?” she asked.

“I guess I can’t,” I said.

Round 2 of baby-proofing the house has already begun.  I’ll be spending the next several days bolting and strapping every loose item in the house to our walls.  By the time I’m done, you’ll be able to open all of our doors and windows, pick our house up and shake it, and nothing will come out. 

You won’t really be able to do that, of course.  The doors and windows will be nailed shut.
You can drop Mike Todd on his head at

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hike the Hudson Valley

For the past year, Evan's been dragging me along on tons of hikes around the Hudson Valley.  We decided it would be a fun project to build a website documenting those hikes, and creating online trail guides so that other people could get out and enjoy these cool places.

The result,, just went online last week.  I know 50% of the people who read this blog are my mom, and the other 50% might never visit the Hudson Valley, but I sure wouldn't complain if anyone wanted to like the Facebook page for the site, or click the "Like" button at the top of the homepage.

Whether anyone uses the site or not, it's been a fun project.  Here are some shots from some of our adventures:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Evan's big announcement

“Should we just tell her?” my wife Kara whispered.

 “Give her a minute,” I said.

Our dog raced in giant circles around the yard, stretching her legs after the four-hour drive.  Our son Evan did the same, running through the waist-deep pachysandra, giggling.  When we arrive at a destination these days, we fling open the car doors and things come flying out like we’re driving Pandora’s Box.

When my mom came out to greet us, we thought she’d immediately notice the “I’M GOING TO BE A BIG BROTHER” T-shirt that Evan was wearing, since we hadn’t yet told her the news.  But after many anticlimactic minutes, we were about to give up.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Kara said, and she headed down the walkway.

Just as I went to grab another duffel bag out of the car, my mom bent over and started reading Evan’s shirt out loud.

“I’m going to be a…..” she said, then her eyes did this thing like she was a rubber frog and someone just stomped on her butt.

She looked at me, mouth agape, and I nodded. 

“Oh!  OH!  OOOOOH!” she yelled, and she clapped her hands over her head as she ran to hug each of us.  Evan seemed excited, too, and he’ll probably remain that way until he learns what the word “share” means.

We had expected my dad to be home on that Friday afternoon as well, but he was still at work.  Dad actually retired several years ago, and he stayed that way for about a week.  Then he went back to work for the same company as a contractor, working a few days a week, which now means the days from Monday to Friday.  To the untrained eye, retirement looks a lot like work.  Somebody needs to give that man a ukulele and a hammock.

“I can’t wait to see how long it takes your dad to notice Evan’s shirt when he gets home,” Mom said.
I didn’t hold out much hope for Dad.  He’s a wonderful person in every imaginable way, but he wouldn’t notice if Don King got a crew cut.  He’s just not the kind of guy to pay attention to a thing like a toddler’s T-shirt.  To be fair, toddler’s T-shirts don’t usually have much important to say, beyond letting you know that the wearer is a fan of dinosaurs and/or the Gap.

When Dad finally got home, he gave Evan a giant hug, said hello to everybody, then went back to his room to get changed.

 “He didn’t notice,” Mom said.

A few minutes later, down in the basement, we kept giving Evan excuses to face his grandpa.

“Bring this puzzle to Grandpa,” we’d say.

“Oh, why thank you,” Grandpa would reply, helping Evan put the puzzle together without passing a glance at his shirt.

Mom frowned at me, and I could tell the clue-giving was about to begin.  Subtlety, not practiced very often in my family, wasn’t doing the trick.

“What nice T-shirts you both have on,” Mom said, deciding to go the Big Bad Wolf route.

“Thanks,” Dad replied.  He looked down at his Modesto Nuts minor-league baseball shirt that my sister had given him, and agreed that it was a fine shirt indeed.

Mom frowned again.

“Evan’s shirt is nice, too,” she said.  Dad nodded, in complete agreement that navy blue looked nice on Evan.

“It’s a really nice shirt he has on,” Mom said.

Dad’s radar finally picked up something out of the ordinary, and he squared Evan’s shoulders so that he could get a good look.

I snapped a picture of Dad’s face in the exact moment that the words registered.  

All the better to remember it with.    

You can wish Mike Todd the best of luck at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Things that go insane in the night

“Shut up!” I yelled, flinging a pillow into the darkness.  The pillow hit the wall without finding its mark.
“I’m not sure that’s the most constructive way to handle it,” my wife Kara mumbled.

“Woof!” our dog Memphis said for the twentieth time, refusing to be cowed by my downy projectiles.  She kept barking and running around our bedroom, making it nearly impossible to lock on to her.  Being high-strung might be a nice trait for some things, like phone poles, but it’s not the best quality for a dog in the middle of the night.

“It’s five-thirty in the morning and you’re going to wake the baby.  Let us sleep, animal, please!” I pleaded.

“You’re being louder than the dog,” Kara said as I retrieved my pillow from the floor.  “And while you’re up, could you grab me some string cheese from the fridge?  I’m hungry.”

I grumbled down the stairs with Memphis close behind.  Rain streaked down the windows and pounded the roof in the darkness.  If not for the piercing sound that shattered the relative silence, I never would have noticed the bearded face pressed against the glass beside our front door, peering in at me.

“DING DONG!” the doorbell called out, and I jumped out of my masculine pajama pants.  Memphis went berserk, skidding across the floor, her Scooby-Doo legs churning before her feet had traction, her barks echoing off the walls and gaining strength from each other.

If someone had transcribed her barks and typed them into Google Translate, selecting to translate from Dog to English, the resulting text would have read: “I was right!  I was right!  I was right! I was right!”

I ran to the front door and opened it.  Kara’s sister Jill, her husband Kris and their dog Luna were huddled under our small overhang.  We’d said our goodbyes the night before, since they were leaving our house at an insanely early hour to join some of their friends for a day of rock climbing, after the showers passed.  We’d heard them clunking around while they were leaving in the wee hours, but the house had been quiet for quite a while.

“We locked our car keys on your kitchen counter,” Kris said.

“How long have you guys been out here?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Fifteen minutes or so.  You weren’t answering your cell phones,” he said. 

“You could have rung the doorbell earlier,” I said.

“We didn’t want to wake anyone up at first, but I’ve rung it about fifteen times,” he replied.  I didn’t realize that we couldn’t hear the doorbell from our bedroom, since nobody’s ever tried it while we were sleeping.  Or maybe they have, and we’ve missed out on countless late-night opportunities to order magazine subscriptions or change our religion.

Memphis, meanwhile, was slapping her tail against the front door, taking a victory lap for actually being right for once.  For the past four years, if Kara or I set a book down on a table, or hit our elbows against the wall, or tapped our fingers on a countertop, Memphis would fly into a barking frenzy, convinced that someone was at the front door. 

But when an actual person showed up, I’d listen to the rumble of their engine in the driveway, their car doors slam, and their footsteps coming up the walkway while Memphis would sit there silently, wondering if there was anything important she’d forgotten to lick.

This time, though, Memphis was right, and if not for her willingness to drive us all insane, and Kara’s willingness to make me get stuff out of the fridge for her in the middle of the night, Jill and Kris might still be huddled by our front door, waiting for someone selling magazine subscriptions to come rescue them.

You can launch projectiles at Mike Todd at

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Attack of the flying syringes

“Don’t get bug bites all over his face,” my wife Kara said as I took our son Evan out the door for an adventure.

“We’ll be moving too fast for the bugs to catch us, right buddy?” I said.

“Seriously, though.  School pictures are on Monday at daycare.  Don’t bring him back with bug bites,” Kara said. 

I waited until the door shut behind us to roll my eyes.

“Ready for an adventure?” I asked Evan.

“Benture,” he agreed.  Kids are game for pretty much anything, because they have no idea what’s going on.

As we started our hike, I forgot all about the bug spray in my backpack.  Even if I’d remembered, I probably wouldn’t have put any on Evan.  Getting a few bug bites builds character, just like every other bad thing that happens to you.  If you get introduced to someone with a lot of character, you’ve probably just met someone who’s had a rotten life.  Also, when I was twelve, I got some bug spray on my rain jacket, and it melted the sleeve, so I worry that putting too much of that stuff on Evan, especially around his face, might turn him into The Joker. 

About fifteen minutes into the hike, I noticed a buzzing in the woods, the hum of a million tiny helicopters.  I wanted to stop and dig out the bug spray, but with Evan comfortable on my back, I decided to just keep plowing ahead, like a cow swimming through piranha-infested waters. 

Something about the wet weather this year has created insane swarms of radioactive mosquitoes.  Regular mosquitoes are one thing, but these were X-Men mosquitoes, flying syringes, mutated to extract more blood than the Red Cross, without even giving us free pretzels afterwards.

By the time I got to a stopping point to put some bug spray on Evan, it was too late.  You couldn’t really tell that anything was awry when we got home, but the next morning, when Evan woke up, he looked like he had chicken pox.  Somehow, the mosquitoes knew to zero in on his face, which had blazing red bumps taking up more surface area than Mike Tyson’s tattoos. 

“His school pictures are tomorrow!” Kara said as I slathered Cortaid on Evan’s face. 

“He’s resilient.  It’ll look much better tomorrow,” I said.

A few minutes later, as Kara showered, I lay on the floor playing blocks with Evan, contemplating what a terrible father I was.

“Push the wagon,” Evan said as he pushed his plastic wagon around the corner, out of my line of sight.
I could hear him emptying his wagon by the front door.

“Don’t leave your toys by the door, buddy,” I said, then I heard a WHAM! followed by much screaming.
By the time I rounded the corner, Evan had a goose egg on his forehead that made him look Cro-Magnon, with three small scrapes on his chin.  It was the worst his face had looked in his entire life, possibly excluding his zeroeth birthday. 

“What happened?” Kara asked, running down the stairs.

The truth was, I wasn’t exactly sure.  Evan’s face had made contact with his wagon at high velocity, but the details weren’t clear.  He could have been riding the wagon like a skateboard for all I knew.

“I might skip applying for Father of the Year this year,” I said after his crying had subsided.

In the end, Kara didn’t have a thing to worry about.  Evan might have been a little banged up after our weekend adventures, but those photography companies airbrush school pictures like they’re going on the cover of Vogue.  Besides, I’m pretty sure that if you looked in-between all the bumps, scrapes and mosquito bites on Evan’s face, you could see lots of brand-new character.

You can swarm Mike Todd at

Monday, October 03, 2011

A basement over troubled water

“Could we live at your house for a few days, or maybe a week?” our distraught friend Anna asked early on a recent Saturday morning.

“Let me just check with Kara,” I said, but Kara was already nodding her head.  She’d heard the entire conversation, since I had it on speakerphone, my office-worker arms too weak to hold the phone to my ear for any extended period. 

The decision to open our house to Anna, her husband Allen and their two cats was an easy one.  Once you get into your thirties, you don’t have as many opportunities to be a good friend.  It was easier in college, when any given evening might require you to scrape a friend off the sidewalk and fireman-carry them home, where you could safely draw on their face.

We needed to bank some friendship tokens anyway, since we’d missed the party where some of our other friends had assisted Anna and Allen in fortifying the perimeter of their house with sandbags.  Having a toddler might prevent us from taking cool vacations with our friends, and we haven’t seen a movie in the theater since the original Home Alone came out, but at least parenthood also occasionally gets us out of dragging 100-lb burlap sacks through the muck.

In the end, even with sandbags piled around their house, the encroaching drainage pond behind their property was not to be denied its quarry.  The constant rain, which seemed to have begun sometime during the Nagano Olympics, refused to relent, and the rising water poured into their newly finished basement. 

“I think I can, I think I can,” their sump pump said, but it couldn’t. 

Anna and Allen decided that continued battle with the elements was futile.  They cut the power to their house and came to stay with us until the world dried out. 

Benjamin Franklin said that fish and visitors stink after three days, but his visitors probably didn’t bring awesome kitty-cats that could entertain his toddler for hours on end, allowing him to sit peacefully on the couch, playing Tower Defense: Lost Earth on his iPod, only glancing up every few minutes to thwart his toddler’s stated intention to “sit on kitty.” 

For their part, Anna and Allen spent much of their time trying to figure out how to get their lives back to normal.  If you’ve spent any part of your day trying to get ahold of FEMA, you’ve probably had a pretty rough week.

A few days into their stay, Allen parked his motorcycle in the garage we weren’t using while Kara’s car was in the shop.  When someone parks a Harley-Davidson in your garage, and you have to walk past it to take out the trash, did you know that it’s impossible to resist the urge to sit on it, grab the handlebars and go “Vroom, vroom, screeeeee!”?  The strange thing is, you’ll feel a little bit cooler afterwards, even if you’d have died if anyone had caught you doing it, kind of like spray tanning.

About a week after they moved in, just as we’d gotten used to having dinner conversations that didn’t revolve around horsies and tractors, Anna announced, “It’s safe to move back to our place now.  We’re going to go home and start tearing the place apart and putting it back together.”

We’d never had guests stay for that long, and after they left, the house felt just a little bit empty, the same feeling I remember having as a kid when the slumber party was over.  The next morning, our son walked around our basement, searching in vain for a cat to sit upon.     

“No kitties,” he reported through his tears.

With their own basement gutted and dried out, Anna and Allen have started reclaiming some sanity in their lives.  Everyone in their house is breathing a little easier now.  Especially their cats.

 You can sandbag Mike Todd at