Sunday, November 27, 2011

It’s a male pronoun!

“I can’t get him to turn the right way,” the nurse said as she slid the wand across my wife Kara’s gooped-up belly.

I glanced at Kara to see if she’d picked up on what the nurse had just told us.

Three years ago, when I accompanied Kara to the ultrasound for her first pregnancy, the nurse made a big deal out of telling us the baby’s gender.

“Are you sure you want to know?” she asked.  We both nodded, leaning in.

“It’s a boy!” she said with a big smile.  Balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling, and Kelly Clarkson walked slowly into the room singing, “A Moment Like This.”

For the second pregnancy, though, the nurse didn’t bother with the big reveal.  If I’d understood correctly, she had just informed us via pronoun choice.

“Everything checks out!  You have a healthy baby,” she said as she put the wand away and snapped off her gloves.

I raised my hand.  A dude in a gyno’s office needs to be careful not to speak out of turn.

“You’ve said ‘him’ several times.  How sure are you that it’s a boy?” I asked, after she called on me.

“It’s still early to tell, but I’m 90 percent sure,” the nurse replied.

Kara and I had been careful not to have a preference about the gender, since our preferences would have little influence over the outcome, kind of like watching an Eagles game this season.

Still, now that we knew we were having another boy, I started to get nervous.  Our debut boy had been such a success, had we set ourselves up for a sophomore slump?

“We’re good parents.  We’ll be fine,” Kara said.

But already, by the time we got home, the slacking off began.  With Evan’s ultrasound three years ago, we scanned it immediately and emailed the grainy images to our parents, plus anyone else who would look at them and probably several more who wouldn’t.  You couldn’t tell whether you were looking at an image of a baby or a satellite map of the Eastern Seaboard, but during those first few weeks, we were second only to Ken Burns in making people look at black-and-white photos.

This time, though, a couple weeks after the appointment, Kara said, “Oh, we never scanned the ultrasound pictures.”

“Meh, the scanner’s not plugged in.  Too much hassle,” I replied.

This is how it begins.  The firstborn gets a hand-embroidered birth announcement, a scrapbook detailing
every moment of their first year and enough photos to create an animated flipbook that would take a year to flip through.  The next child has to search through newspaper archives to find proof that they were born.

We’ve heard from many parents who say they simply didn’t have time to focus on taking pictures or doing arts and crafts once they had more than one child.  The historical record stops upon the second child’s birth, leaving future archaeologists scrambling to piece together the events that led to the choice of a rubber ducky theme on the second child’s first birthday.

Kara and I have vowed not to let this happen to us, but it’s already happening.  Last time, we painted Evan’s nursery several months in advance, agonizing over the color choices, straining our eyes to see the difference between Polar Sky, Morning Glory and Cloudy Day.  Paint companies could spare us all a lot of hassle by just having four colors to choose from, calling them: Kitchen, Living Room, Bedroom and Apartment/Ceiling.

To get the second nursery ready, we’re just arranging a pile of old clothes into a nest in the corner of the garage.

No, actually, we’re already looking at swatches again.  And hoping that his older brother will help our next son prepare for the parent paparazzi.

You can make a nest in your garage for Mike Todd at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turning over some old leaves

I snuck around the corner with my camera, unaware that I was about to get blindsided.  Photographers often get attacked by their subjects, but I’d been lulled into a false sense of safety, perhaps due to the lack of grizzly bears in the area, or perhaps because I was in my living room.

My son Evan yelped as he scrambled around his little inflatable ball pit with his older cousin Jordyn.  “I’m going to get you, Evan!” Jordyn said, and Evan squealed with delight.

I crept into the room slowly, as to not alert my quarry.  As the camera came up to my eye, Evan spotted me.  He stopped playing and looked distressed.

“Aw, he’d rather I joined in the fun,” I thought.

“Go ‘way, Daddy,” Evan said.  My heart, and then my camera, dropped.  I thought he wasn't supposed to
talk to me like that until he was a teenager.  My demotion from Hero of the Universe to Embarrassing Loser Who Follows Me Around happened about a decade sooner than I’d expected.

“Evan, that's not very nice,” I replied.

He looked away, and I could tell he felt bad about hurting my feelings.  He didn’t want to be not very nice.  Fortunately, I’d just taught him an important lesson about being polite.

After a few more beats, Evan looked back at me and said, “Pwease go ‘way, Daddy.”

It was an improvement of sorts, like putting fresh-grated parmesan on moldy pizza.

I couldn’t really blame him for wanting some uninterrupted time with his cousins, though.  Our house, which is normally the most boring place without CSPAN cameras, was buzzing with cousins last weekend for a family get-together.  Or beeping with cousins, rather than buzzing, since most of them spent a good deal of time gazing into various electronic devices.

“Do you have an iPod Touch?  An iPad?  A Wii?  A laptop?  What’s the password on the computer?” my little cousins asked as they scoured the house for entertainment.  Even the old Playstation2 in our basement, a relic of the Great Nerd Era of my early twenties, was unearthed.  If the microwave had a bigger digital display, the kids probably would have played that, too.

I’m pretty sure the kids all realized that I was part of the family, but it’s entirely possible they thought I was live-in tech support.

Of course, when I was a kid, I was equally entranced with video games, and back then, games consisted of four rectangles of various sizes moving around the screen, set to rhythmic monotone beeping.  If I was ten years old right now, I’d probably see less sunlight than your average slot machine.

Actually, the kids did break away from the video games for long enough to scrape together a leaf pile in the front yard.

“Weaf piyoh!  Weaf piyoh!” Evan yelled.  As far as I know, he’d never seen a leaf pile before, but it seems to be one of those things that come pre-loaded in the human brain under Things That Are Awesome, which consists mainly of the subfolder: Things I Can Jump In/On.

Before our guests arrived, I’d spent several hours blowing a Shenandoah’s worth of leaves off of our yard.  To assemble a decent leaf pile, the kids dragged the leaves back out, creating large trails as they walked their armloads across our property.  You have to respect the initiative of children who are willing to unrake a yard by hand.  Too bad I couldn’t figure out a way to harness that energy to get them to do my chores.

In the end, I was glad they did it.  Leaf fights are good for the soul.

When they were done, for the first time in at least a decade, I got to enjoy jumping around in a leaf pile, too.

Until Evan kicked me out.

You can rake Mike Todd off your yard at

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trying to change the Chanel

“Babe, please don’t make a scene,” I begged.

Kara coughed and waved a napkin in front of her face.    

“I can barely breathe.  It’s so strong I can smell it with my eyes,” she wheezed. 

I smiled at the waitress as she walked past, glad that she didn’t stop to ask any questions.

Usually, when an aromatic offense has been committed, I’m willing to claim whatever culpability can’t be pinned on the dog, but in this case, my innocence was never in doubt.  The perpetrators had just been seated in the booth directly behind us, three women who must have applied their perfume in the parking lot, using sponges borrowed from a softball team’s carwash.  When I turned around to sneak a glance at the cause of the assault on our nostrils, I swear I actually saw shimmering plumes of perfume rising off of the women like heat off a desert highway.

Our friend Jim, sitting across the table from us, smiled and waited to see what entertainment might ensue.
On a normal day, Kara wouldn’t have made a fuss.  But she’s four months pregnant now, so normal days don’t happen anymore.

If you’ve never spent time with a pregnant woman, you might not realize that they aren’t like regular people.  Their noses have evolved to give them Super Scent Sensitivity and Enhanced Revulsion, perhaps the most useless superpowers of all.

The last time Kara was pregnant, we ventured out for a nice birthday dinner, and I made the mistake of applying a single squirt of cologne first.

“What’s that awful smell?” she said as we drove to the restaurant.

“I’m wearing the cologne you got me, the stuff you said I should wear more often,” I said.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she said, hanging her head out the window.     

At lunch with me and Jim, though, she didn’t have the luxury of not keeping her head and arms within the vehicle at all times.  She scanned the restaurant, looking for an escape.  To protect the anonymity of the perfume-bathers, it’s probably best not to mention which restaurant we were dining in, except that when we there, we were family.  Paying family.

Our drinks, salads and breadsticks had already been delivered, so moving to another table discreetly would have been impossible, and might have required a U-Haul.  The tables around us were packed, anyway.

“Seriously, I think might be sick.  I have to move,” Kara said, waving the air in front of her nose.  I glanced behind me again, checking to see if the women had noticed the commotion.  Fortunately, it didn’t seem that they had.  We benefitted from the cover provided by the hairdo of the woman sitting closest to us, a perfect globe that would not have fit through a regulation basketball hoop.

All of a sudden, Kara had a brilliant idea, one that would just about solve the problem.

“Jim, will you switch sides with us?” she asked.

Jim, being a good sport who also happened to not be pregnant, agreed. 

We slid our plates and drinks around and surreptitiously reseated ourselves. 

“Ah, it’s better over here,” Kara said, and I agreed.  The women, still involved in their own conversation, seemed none the wiser.  Almost everyone was happy. 

Jim’s eyes started to water.  He seemed to be having difficulty breathing.

“I think this might be Chanel Number Infinity,” he whispered.  We decided that a simple mathematical error might have caused a regular bottle of Chanel #5 to become Chanel^5.  Whether this was Chanel to the Fifth Power or not, this was not a fragrance that was meant to be worn in any venue smaller than the Superdome.
In the end, we all survived, even Jim.  And Kara and I won’t be surprised if our next baby is born smelling like Marilyn Monroe.
You can fail Mike Todd on his sniff test at

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bull Hill

Here are some pics from Monday, when the pooch and I took a hike up Bull Hill in the Hudson Highlands. Decision to burn a half-day of vacation: validated.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Strip mining in the morning

I could no longer sit idle and watch the desecration continue.  Evan’s plastic spoon moved deftly through his Lucky Charms, strip mining out all the marshmallows and leaving nothing but oat rubble behind.

“No strip mining,” I said, pointing to his bowl.

He stared back at me from his high chair, his ability to comply hindered by his limited knowledge of mineral extraction techniques.

When I was a kid, my favorite cereal (that I was allowed to eat) was Raisin Nut Bran, which consisted of delicious, nut-rolled raisins surrounded by flakes made of 100% fancy recycled resume paper.  I’d noticed that General Mills had stopped putting enough raisin nuts into the cereal, and, in desperation, considered switching to my parents’ fiber fests. 

Then one day, I saw my big sister Amy pour a dry bowl of Raisin Nut Bran, pick out all the good stuff one-by-one, then pour the flakes back into the box. 

“What?  The flakes are gross,” she said to my protestations, which is where the conversation ended, since she could beat me up.   

“Eat the other stuff, too, not just the marshmallows,” I explained to Evan, lest he follow in the path of his wayward relatives.

“Marshmallows,” Evan agreed as he fished a purple horseshoe out of the bowl.

I shook my head as Evan popped the marshmallow into his mouth and started digging for more.  While he was distracted, I snuck another sip of orange juice and quickly set the cup back down behind the cereal box.

He glanced up, sensing that something sneaky was going on.  I played it cool.  In a moment, he returned to digging.  The coast was clear, and I took another sip.  Letting your child catch you with juice is like letting your prison guard catch you with a file.  It will be confiscated.

“Juice!  Juice!” your child will yell, pointing at the cup.  After you hand it over, you’ll be forced to watch, powerless, as your child pours half of the juice into his mouth while the other half cascades down the shirt you put on him ten minutes ago.

There was a time when fathers didn’t hide their orange juice from their children, but all those dads died of scurvy, so now my kind is all that’s left.

Having a child who can talk is fantastic in many ways.  “I can’t wait to hear what this little person has to say,” is a common sentiment expressed by parents whose child is not yet of talking age. 

Assuming that Evan is a representative sample, though, I can tell you that the children of America would like you to know that they want more juice, Daddy.  Also, you just drove past a tractor.  Tractor!  Did you see the tractor?  Tractor!

I’m not wild about Evan eating sugary cereal, mostly because I never got to eat any when I was a kid, so he should suffer, too.  If he wants Cinnamon Toast Crunch, he should spend the night at Johnny Poole’s house, like I did.

Incidentally, does anyone make regular cinnamon toast anymore?  I don’t think I’ve seen a slice of it in fifteen years.  If the world was a fair place, we’d have kept the cinnamon toast and ditched the Funyuns.
“He shouldn’t be eating this.  I never got to eat anything sweeter than Cheerios,” I said to my wife, Kara, as she joined us in the kitchen.         

“It’s only on weekends.  Besides, you grew up dumping spoonfuls of sugar on everything,” she said.

I keep forgetting what she knows and doesn’t know about my upbringing. 

She sat down at the table and picked up the cereal box before I had time to react.

“Juice!” Evan yelled.
You can strip mine the good stuff and leave Mike Todd behind at