Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting the call at 3am

A friend of mine recently awoke in the middle of the night to the terrifying sound of a voice speaking to him from beside his bed. The voice was saying the last thing you’d ever want to hear said at 3am.

“I want pancakes,” said the voice.

Commercials for home security systems regularly feature scenes that would be preferable to the one facing my friend Josh that night. Instead, he had facing him a three-year-old boy who thought Josh should be open for breakfast 24 hours a day, like Denny’s.

“Man, what did you do?” I asked. Josh was telling this story around a table at our friend Derek’s bachelor party, where we were sipping tea and playing bridge, according to the phone calls most of the other guys were making home.

A couple of the other dads turned to listen to Josh’s answer.

“I made him pancakes,” Josh said, and the table erupted with so many guys yelling, “Aw, dude!” at once that I almost spilled my chamomile. Fortunately, my pinkie was out, which helped me maintain my balance, much like how a lemur’s tail works when it’s hopping from tree to tree. That’s why you should always drink tea with your pinkie out, in case things get rowdy.

“They were the microwave kind,” Josh explained, and while that didn’t seem to win too many people over, at least he wasn’t whipping up nocturnal delicacies from scratch.

As much as I’d criticize Josh for giving in and making on-demand pancakes in the middle of the night, I’ve never had to walk a mile in his bunny slippers. My own son doesn’t have the ability to place bedside orders in our house because he’s still young enough that he sleeps in a crib, which is what parents call cages so that people don’t look at us funny. The primary difference between cages and cribs is that cages have doors, because the idea of a ferocious animal escaping is less worrisome than a toddler on the loose.

“Go fish,” our friend Kellerhouse said, or something like that. I’m not sure what people say when they’re playing bridge, but rest assured, Kellerhouse said one of those things right then.

“Listen, I can take ten minutes to make him pancakes, then I can go back to sleep. Or, I can take a stand, listen to him scream from 3am to 6am, then go to work on three hours’ sleep,” Josh said. “It’s not really a tough decision.”

“Dude, you need to give that kid a timeout,” one of the guys said. I nodded. The timeout has been the primary defense against the forces of chaos in our house for several months now. With timeouts, our son is about as well-behaved as we could expect for a two-year-old. Without timeouts, there would probably be a smoking crater where our house used to be.

Some people are against timeouts, and they’ll tell you that it’s important not to say “no” to children too often. You can tell these people by the bags under their eyes and the scribbly crayon murals in their living rooms.

Whether Josh decides to implement timeouts in his house or not, the fact that we were having this conversation at a bachelor party illustrated one plain truth: it’s so hard to be cool once you’re a parent. Someone either goes out like James Dean, or they live long enough to procreate and have to tell a little human not to rub applesauce on the plasma screen 20,000 times. From there, it’s just a short jump to socks with sandals.

In any event, we managed to throw Derek a proper bachelor party, even though we aren’t cool anymore. The next day, I swore off chamomile forever.

You can lock Mike Todd in his crib at

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Parenthood is a slippery slide

Staring into the void before us, fear overtook my son.

“No, no, NOOOOO!” Evan shrieked, clutching my arms.

“Okay, okay, we’ll go back down the stairs,” I said, pulling him out of the maw of giant tubular sliding board.

“NOOOOO!” he screamed louder, pulling me back toward the void. Nobody ever got into parenthood because they wanted more rationality in their lives.

When I was a kid, sliding boards were sheets of tin that cooked in the summer sun until they got so hot that when they weren’t blistering your rear end, they could be used for smelting iron ore. They also launched you into the ground at about 40mph, so that you could pass the time waiting for your next turn by picking the mulch out of your various orifices.

These days, though, most sliding boards have turned into giant plastic tubes, because we’ve collectively decided that hamsters shouldn’t be having all the fun. The tubular design no longer bakes the backsides of America’s youth, but at least for Evan, the new slides seem to have added an element of sheer terror, a development that I wasn’t aware of until Evan tricked me into bringing him to the entrance of the slide at a nearby playground.

“Slide! Slide! Slide!” he said, and I obliged like the rube that I am, bringing him up the stairs to the little platform.

Before having a baby, I always thought that being a parent would provide the perfect socially acceptable excuse to play with Legos and Transformers again (Megatron and Bumblebee still have some unfinished business from my ninth birthday). I didn’t realize that it also meant I’d have to master using playground equipment as an adult, which would make me feel a little bit like Gulliver stomping around Lilliput, if I understood that reference. On the plus side, monkey bars are much less taxing to navigate when your feet touch the ground.

As Evan sat in my lap, staring into the great tube whose twists and turns made it impossible to see beyond the first few feet, he had a change of heart. That’s when the screaming began; a toddler’s changes of heart are rarely quiet.

“Nooooo!” he screamed as he scanned the area for a non-terrifying route down. When he understood my intention to bring him back down the way we came, the screams intensified as he scanned the area for a non-boring route down.

In the end, I decided to follow the advice of the scream-o-meter, which functions like an applause-o-meter, except that the quieter side wins.

“Here we go, buddy,” I said, putting him back in my lap.

If I’d been trying to stuff my child down a laundry chute, it would have sounded exactly the same. His little fingers reached out for the edges of the tube to keep us from moving forward, but he was too late. We were already on our way.

Halfway around the first corner, his screams turned to laughter. By the time we popped out of the tube to see my wife Kara standing there, shaking her head, Evan was squealing with delight.

“That went well,” I said.

Evan agreed. “Slide! Slide! Slide!” he yelled as he ran back to the stairs.

“It sounded like you were torturing him up there,” Kara said.

“Only psychologically. Your turn now,” I said.

Kara brought Evan back up the stairs to the platform as he whispered, “Slide, slide, slide,” to himself.

When they got to the platform and he looked into the abyss, the screaming started again. It says good things about Kara’s maternal instincts that she didn’t enjoy stuffing her screaming child down a giant pipe, but I think Evan probably won’t see that playground again until he can drive there himself.

You can stuff Mike Todd down your laundry chute at

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The great indoors

“Use the Razor Wind, not the Zen Headbutt!” my little cousin John yelled, looking over the shoulder of our cousin Ryan.

Ryan held a Nintendo DS in his hands, a device that has a similar effect on my little cousins that the One Ring had on Gollum.

“My turn! It’s my turn now!” one of my cousins will yell.

“My precioussssss,” the other will hiss, diving into a nearby pond.

No, they actually behaved quite well as they coached each other through various battles with their Pokemon characters. For those who aren’t familiar, a Pokemon is apparently a small Japanese creature with the power to trap children indoors on perfectly beautiful days.

“Anyone want to throw sticks into the pond with me? Memphis is itching to play fetch,” I said last weekend, during the small family reunion that my parents were hosting at their house.

A couple of heads turned my way as the kids decided who would be their spokesperson. Finally, an indeterminate voice from the other side of the couch said, “We’re good.”

At that moment, I had a flashback to me sitting on that very same couch twenty years ago, back when it had upholstery the color of Snuffaluffagus.

“Michael, you’ve been playing Nintendo all day. Go outside,” Mom said as the birds chirped in the afternoon sunlight.

“I’m almost done this level,” I’d reply, guiding my superspy down elevator after elevator. I’d continue being almost done that level until dusk, when the comedies came on, keeping me entertained while, just outside, the lightning bugs probably danced and twinkled against the night sky.

There I stood, twenty years later, the roles reversed. You know you’ve gotten old when you have the urge to tell someone younger than you to go outside for no reason.

“Hey, kid, go outside,” you say, not exactly sure what you expect to happen on the off chance that the kid complies.

The idea seems to be that kids are guaranteed to have magical experiences just because they’re on the other side of the sliding glass door, but they’ll probably just end up back on the couch in a few hours with sunburn and Lyme disease.

To their credit, my cousins actually did fend off the lure of the Pokemon for a much bigger chunk of the weekend than I would have done at their age, and the dog spent each evening slumped on the floor, recovering from a full day of fetching sticks. With five kids standing on the shore winging sticks over her head, Memphis was like Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyor belt. As the unfetched sticks piled up in the water, the kids came very close to building their own beaver dam out there.

While I felt like one of the kids standing at the edge of the pond, cheering on the dog while holding my toddler Evan in my arms, I found myself proving even more that I’d become an old person.

As a rain of sticks splashed down in the distance, I looked down at Evan and noticed a fleck of dried yogurt on his cheek. I held Evan tight, licked my thumb and started squeegeeing his face. Evan squirmed, determined not to lose the yogurt he’d rightfully accessorized, but I persisted, working my thumb up-and-down like I was challenging him to a thumb wrestling match.

The point I’m trying to make here is that old people love licking their fingers and scraping things off of kids’ faces. We don’t really know why we do it, but it passes the time if we can’t find any kids to force outside. Until we learn how to land a Comet Punch in Pokemon, it’ll have to do.

You can dodge Mike Todd’s Zen Headbutt at

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Terrible Thirty-Threes

“Can we get some pabbas for dinner tonight?” I asked my wife Kara on our drive home from daycare.

“Pabbas!” our son Evan yelled from the backseat. Pabbas is a foreign delicacy made of dough, cheese, sauce and your choice of toppings. Many people who aren’t our toddler refer to it as pizza.

“Pabbas!” Evan reiterated, making sure his pro-pabbas vote had been counted.

“Mmmmm, pabbas,” I agreed.

“Babe, don’t call it that,” Kara said to me. She’s worried that repeating his baby-talk back to him will encourage him to keep using the wrong words forever, like how he’ll probably show up to his first job interview wearing Buzz Lightyear shoes that light up when he walks into the conference room.

“Dat! Dat!” Evan yelled. I have a vague memory of a line from an old movie about how the only thing psychiatrists do to earn their money is repeat the last two words their patients said, but make them sound like a question: “Kill somebody?” “Parents’ fault?” “Pickled peppers?”

If that’s true, Evan’s already halfway to getting his psychiatric license, except he usually prefers to shout the last word back.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up in front of him,” I said. “We can just distract him by driving past this truck.”

“Dutch!” Evan yelled, pointing at the delivery truck as we drove past, doing his best to repeat the last word I said and keeping alive his chances of pointing out a million consecutive trucks.

“It’s like having our own parrot in the backseat,” Kara said.

“Polly want a cracker?” I asked.

“Cwackoo,” Evan replied, then he lifted his sippy cup over his head and spiked it onto the floorboard, screaming, “No milk! No!”

He’s not happy that we graduated him to sippy cups from bottles of milk. Evan has been drinking water out of sippy cups for a year, but for some reason, he can’t stand having his milk served in anything other than a bottle. I guess I’d be a little miffed, too, if all of a sudden people started serving me coffee in margarita glasses.

We had to be the cruel parents and take his bottles away because he turned two years old a few weeks ago. The other two-year-olds at daycare are already using sippy cups and reading Proust. We feel bad taking away something he likes just because he’s too old for it, but he’ll get us back in fifty years when he takes our car keys.

When people find out we have a two-year-old, they always bring up the Terrible Twos, which must be a phrase invented by someone who didn’t have kids, but occasionally had to suffer their tantrums in the grocery store. Infants are infinitely more difficult than two-year-olds, plus their necks don’t even work.

The other day, when I came to pick Evan up after work, he ran across the playground yelling, “Dadda! Dadda! Dadda!” and threw his arms around my knees. Even just a few short months ago, when Kara and I would walk into daycare, he’d glance in our direction, then ignore us and start playing faster. You could see his little mind thinking, “Oh man, I gotta bake this one last pretend muffin before they take me back to Boringville.” And a few months before that, we’d be lucky to get a belch hello. If two is terrible, then I hope three is even worse.

As we continued our discussion about dinner on our way home, Kara said, “I don’t know, we just had pizza.”

“Pabbas!” Evan yelled. I like the voting record our new dinner swing voter is compiling. I just have to remember to never end a sentence with the word “asparagus” around him.

You can hit Mike Todd’s eye like a big pabbas pie at

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

When it rains, indoors

Being a homeowner warps your mind in unexpected ways. For instance, when you step into a puddle of unknown origin in the center of your toddler’s bedroom, you’ll find yourself hoping that maybe your dog isn’t as housebroken as you thought.

“Please, let it be the dog,” you’ll say to yourself before you look down at your soggy sock, because you know that if the liquid originated from anywhere other than an organic life form, you might as well start using twenty-dollar bills to sop up the mess.

This happened to me a few weeks ago, and it was the only time in my life I can remember hoping that I’d just stepped in a puddle of anything the dog might have created.

No such luck. It was water.

“Babe, nobody’s been in here all day, but there’s water on the floor in Evan’s room,” I called down the hall.

“You sure it’s water?” my wife Kara asked, coming into the room with Evan padding close behind. Life was so simple before the dog and the baby, back when indoor puddles would make Kara bat an eyelash.

Just then, the thermostat clicked and the air conditioning turned on.

“Aythee, aythee!” Evan said, pointing up at the vent.

“Yup, that’s the AC, buddy,” I said.

If you’re a bus, a tractor, a cow, an airplane or an AC unit turning on, you will not get past our son undetected.

We stood in a small huddle around the towels that were now sopping up the puddle, trying to determine why Evan’s room was slowly transforming into a rice paddy.

That’s when I noticed the water dripping down the wall. I tensed, wincing, too scared to look up, like a henchman who just realized that Batman is probably hanging from the gargoyle overhead. As if to confirm that we were getting closer to solving the mystery, a drop landed on top of the towels.

Kara looked up.

“It’s raining from the ceiling, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Oh, man,” I said, looking up to see the puddle on the ceiling, and the blistered paint that I’d applied two short years ago.

“Aw, maaaan,” Evan agreed.

I’ve lived in two houses over the past decade, and I can think of at least six occasions when rain has fallen from our various ceilings. I’m starting to think that water hates me, and the feeling is becoming mutual. Ever since that day in Evan’s room, I’ve been boycotting the stuff, getting my hydration by inhaling steam and swallowing ice cubes whole.

The rain in Evan’s room was especially mystifying since it was a beautiful day outside, and there’s no plumbing above his room, just attic space.

I pulled down the ladder and stuck my head into the great pink cavern. Each time I’m in the attic, for whatever reason, my primary goal is always the same: to no longer be in the attic. It’s either 107 or -15 degrees up there, and you can taste the scratchy insulation like you’re breathing in a wool sweater.

It only took a minute to locate the culprit. There, just above Evan’s room, lay a smashed PVC pipe, its shards resting on the soaked insulation underneath. Apparently, the small drainage pipe that transported water from our air conditioning unit to the outside world, like so many things, worked better when it wasn’t obliterated.

In a distant part of my brain, I could hear a replay of the plastic crunching sound I heard last time I was in the attic flinging heavy things around, getting our Christmas decorations properly stored before the 4th of July. At the time, not spending another five seconds up there seemed way more important than investigating what just got smashed.

I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, we’re leaving the Christmas stuff out year-round.

You can boil Mike Todd a drink at