Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunbathing in a winter wonderland

“What that guy doin’?” my son Evan asked as the flight attendant put on a yellow life vest and pretended to inflate it.

“He just has to show us a few things before we can go fly in the sky,” I explained. 

“Want that guy done so airplane take off,” Evan said.  A keen student of the human condition, Evan had quickly picked up on the importance of griping about the minor inconveniences of air travel.

Thirty minutes later, as Evan played peek-a-boo with his mom across the aisle, I pointed out the window and said, “Look, Evan, we’re above the clouds now!”

I couldn’t wait to see his little eyes take in this brand new sight, his sense of wonder taking flight as the heavens spread out before him.  Evan looked out the window for a moment, saw the sun glinting off the countless miles of puffy clouds beyond the airplane’s wing, then pointed at the little TV on the seat back in front of him and said, “Wanna watch Dora.”

If he’d cared to look, Evan could have had a perfect view out the window.  He sat perched in the car seat that I’d lugged from the airport parking lot to his seat on the plane, which was as easy as dragging a recliner for about two miles, stopping once to wedge it through an X-ray machine.

When we left our house that morning, it was 40 degrees and drizzly, perhaps the least pleasant type of weather that doesn’t require FEMA to assist afterwards.  When we landed in Fort Myers, Florida, it was 72 degrees and sunny.  Sometimes, it’s tough to remember why living in the Northeast seemed like such a good idea.

We were travelling to Florida for the wedding of Kara’s cousin, Lori, at the beach.  Before we left, as I packed my sandals and bathing suit, I realized that the Northeast did have at least one major thing going for it: The promise that you’ll never have to take your shirt off in public for at least five months after Thanksgiving.  This is quite a benefit, since vast swaths of my body have recently become indistinguishable in many important ways from pecan pie filling.

I’m not the only person to recognize this benefit.  When he could pick anywhere in the world to live, why would Santa choose the North Pole over Naples?  So he’d never have to take off his big red suit in front of anyone, that’s why.  Around Christmastime, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get to keep your bowl full of jelly under wraps unless you live in a frozen wasteland.

“Kwissmas lights!” Evan said as we drove around Naples in the evening with the windows down, admiring the palm trees wrapped in lights.  The scene was beautiful, but not right.  Christmas is supposed to be a holiday that distracts you from the misery of winter.  When a warm breeze is caressing your skin, good tidings and cheer just feel like overkill. 

Also, what do you get your dad for Christmas when the weather never gets cold enough for him to need a sweater?  No thanks.  You can keep your seventy-degree Decembers, Florida.  I’ll be whistling as I chip the ice off my windshield at the mall, Dad’s sweater in my shopping bag, the evidence of my Thanksgiving indiscretions safely tucked beneath seventeen layers of down and Gore-Tex.

We’re hopping back on a plane tomorrow to come home, and as much as we enjoyed the perfect weather and the beautiful wedding, we’ll be glad to get back to our little piece of frozen wasteland.  If we stayed here any longer, we just might start to think that the most wonderful time of the year doesn’t have to involve bodily fluids frozen to our faces. 

You can put Mike Todd into his upright and locked position at

Monday, December 19, 2011

An unlikely vehicle for good news

My wife Kara and I stood on either side of the front door, watching the red beams of light streaking across our yard from the ambulance in our neighbor’s driveway.

“Should we see if there’s anything we can do?” I asked, already knowing that of course there wasn’t.

“I can see that your house is full of emergency medical personnel, but I just wanted to let you know that I got my lifesaving merit badge in tenth grade, in case you need me.”

So we watched for a few more moments, long enough to see a cop car roll into Jimmy’s driveway, then decided that we were inching towards crossing the line from concerned neighbors to gawkers, so we went back to the living room.

“I guess we could wait and see if he needs anything later,” Kara said.

I tried to picture a circumstance under which our checking in with Jimmy would be more helpful than intrusive.

“Anything I can do for you, Jimmy?” I’d ask.

“Oh, yeah, this devastating life event just reminded me – we need milk.  Think you could pick some up for us?” he’d reply.

In the end, we decided that the most neighborly thing to do would be to let Jimmy and his wife Christina have their privacy, then check in with them later.

A few nights after that, I took our dog out for a stroll and saw Jimmy in his garage, banging things around.  It seemed a good sign that he wasn’t wearing a full body cast, though we hadn’t seen Christina since that night.

“Hey, Jimmy!” I called out from halfway down his driveway.

“Whoa!  You scared me,” he said.  Someone should invent a wristwatch with one of those friendly little “I’m sneaking up behind you” bells that little girls and Dutch people have on their bikes.

“I saw the ambulance here the other night.  Just wanted to make sure you guys were okay,” I said.

“It was nothing.  I just had a little heart attack,” Jimmy replied, in the same way he might have said that he just had a little snack to tide him over ‘til dinner.

“Oh my god, Jimmy, are you serious?” I asked.

“No, no, no,” he said, laughing.  “I don’t think I’ve told you, but Christina’s pregnant.  She was having some pain, and we’re both worrywarts, so I called 911.  As soon as I dialed, I thought maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  They took her to the hospital, and we were back home in two hours.  She’s totally fine.”

This is their first pregnancy, so they’re understandably jumpy.  Kara is entering the sixth month of her second pregnancy, and after enduring all-day morning sickness, stretched ligaments and pinched nerves, we continue to be amazed that there are so many humans everywhere.  Seems like more people would have decided that they’d rather just get a pug instead.

“Christina has been sick for five months straight,” Jimmy said.  “She says, ‘I thought this was supposed to be a magical experience.  Except for the fact that there’s a baby at the end of this, there’s nothing magical about it.’”

Then he paused and said, “It’s good to be a guy sometimes, isn’t it?”

So instead of having a calamity next door, it turns out that we’re getting a new little neighbor.  As a nice coincidence, Christina and Kara are both due in April, so we won’t be the only ones in the neighborhood with our lights on at 3am this spring.

Misery might love company, but so does crazy baby-induced exhaustion.  And joy.

You can sneak up on Mike Todd at

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It’s beginning to look a lot like bedlam

“What do you think you’re doing?” my wife Kara asked.  I froze. Once that question has been asked, it’s a safe bet that it’s already too late to provide a satisfactory answer.

“Eating a candy cane?” I asked.

“Right, you’re eating a candy cane ten minutes after we hung them on the tree.  Candy canes are ornaments,” she said.

“Delicious ornaments,” I agreed.

This is our first year with a Christmas tree that came from the ground rather than Home Depot, so we’re still getting our traditions in order.  Kara grew up in a candy-caneless household, so she can be forgiven for not knowing standard consumption practices.  

“Each person is allowed to eat two candy canes per day,” I explained.

“Two a day?  The tree would be barren in a week.  Let’s just buy some extras, and you can eat them out of the box,” she suggested.

She’s so funny sometimes.  Eating a candy cane out of the box when free-range candy canes are hanging in their natural habitat in the next room would be like strolling through a ripe orange grove while drinking a glass of Tang.

Kara and I never bothered with making too much of a fuss over Christmas decorations in the past because we were never home for Christmas, always turning our menagerie into a roadshow.  We want our son Evan and his forthcoming sibling to grow up having Christmas at home, though, so this year, the grandparents are trekking to us, and our old plastic tree is keeping the squirrels company in the attic.

“This one’s all scraggly,” Kara said as we wandered around the tree farm last weekend.

“This one’s too short,” I said.

“Dis one!” Evan said, pointing to a sprout that would have been better qualified to serve as a garnish at Christmas dinner.

Eventually, we found a winner, though I’m not 100% sure that the tree viewed it that way.

When we decided to get a real tree, we didn’t quite understand the responsibility we were taking on.  Getting a real tree is like having a new pet in the house.  You have to constantly give it water and clean up after it.  You wouldn’t think that a dead tree would require that much care, what with it already being dead, but nobody seems to have told the tree, which is drinking like a former child star.

I’m not sure the trees in our front yard appreciate the Christmas treatment, either.  As I wrapped lights around our weeping cherry tree, occasionally snapping off twigs and apologizing, I got the sense that the tree viewed this experience the same way a pug might view being dressed up in doll clothing.

“Oh, we’re doing this again?  Fantastic.  Yes, please, make me beautiful.  Oh, I look so much better now.  Clearly, you have a better aesthetic sense than nature does,” the tree would say.

But all the hubbub does seem to be working its magic on Evan, who gets more jazzed about Christmas every day, which is really the point.  Last year, he understood that wrapping paper was fun to wave around, and that was about the extent of it.  This year, you can already see the Christmas spirit taking hold.

“Luvoo, Wemphis,” Evan said after he helped hang some candy canes on the tree, expressing his love for our dog, Memphis.  He walked over and wrapped his arms around her.   When he noticed that Memphis was just standing there, not returning his hug, Evan looked up at us and explained, “Wemphis no have arms.”

Which will significantly reduce her chances of getting in trouble for plucking candy canes off the tree.

You can dress Mike Todd in doll clothing at

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Heeding the call of duty, and nature

“No, Evan, those aren't yours,” I said, proud of myself for being a good parent.  If Bernie Madoff’s dad had taken similar corrective action many years ago, the world might still think that a Ponzi scheme is a mischievous but harmless plan hatched by Potsie and Fonzi, perhaps to steal some of Mrs. Cunningham’s meatloaf.

“Wahpops!” Evan protested, holding out his ill-gotten Dum Dums.  Just moments earlier, I’d watched Evan root around in the back of the cubby next to his, pulling out two small lollipops.  He knew exactly where they were, so he must have watched his mark stash them there earlier in the day.

We were the last people leaving daycare, so nobody else had witnessed Evan’s first attempt at grand theft sucrose.

“Those aren’t your lollipops, Evan.  Please put them back, right now,” I said.

“Wahpops!  Wahpops!” he cried as he put them back into his friend Logan’s cubby.

The tears continued well into the ride home.

“I’m sorry you’re so upset, buddy, but it’s not nice to take other people’s things,” I said.

The hollering was tough to listen to, but I was glad that Evan’s first experience with stealing was unpleasant.  A little shame goes a long way.  My parents caught me stealing a pack of gum from Wawa when I was four, and the experience so traumatized me that I never stole anything again while they were looking.

At Evan’s daycare, the kids earn lollipops in return for successful visits to the potty.  Ordinarily, I hate to miss out on Evan’s learning experiences during the day, but this is one activity I’m happy to farm out.

Before I’d ever changed a diaper, I assumed that any sane person would want their kid potty-trained within about the first week home from the hospital.  You’d just prop your kid on the john until things started clicking, then you could spend all the time you would have spent at the changing table on the couch playing Call of Duty.

Now that Evan’s two-and-a-half, though, he’s having to drag me into the bathroom, demanding to be potty trained.

“Go potty, Daddy,” he’ll say, tugging on my hand, and I’ll sigh.

“Okay, okay,” I’ll reply.

We’ll spend the next two minutes getting him ready, peeling off clothing and arranging his seat and stepstool.  Then he’ll sit down, kick the bowl with his heels three times and say, “I’m done.”

“You didn’t do anything, Evan,” I’ll say.

“Done!” he’ll reply.

Then we’ll spend the next five minutes putting his clothes back on and washing his hands, getting ready to repeat the process again in half an hour.  After some initial signs of progress, we've gone 0 for our last fifty attempts.  We're in danger of becoming less productive than Congress.

As much as changing diapers isn’t the most fun thing to do, there are scarier things to contemplate.  When a dog has accidents, you’re pretty much guaranteed that they’ll happen on the floor.  With a kid, there’s a decent chance you’ll have to burn some furniture in the backyard.  When I look at our couch and how it fits perfectly in the room, I think I’ll be fine with changing Evan's diaper until sometime just before his prom.

The morning after the Great Lollipop Caper, his teacher met us outside her classroom as I dropped Evan off.

“Oh, did you see that Evan got two lollipops yesterday for going to the potty?  He was so proud, he ran over and stashed them in his cubby to show you later,” she said.

This time, the shame was mine.  Evan had stashed his rewards one cubby to the left by accident, and was too upset by my reaction to explain what had happened.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the Dum Dum turns out to be you.

It's easy to take candy from Mike Todd at