Monday, December 31, 2012

A man’s home becomes his bouncy castle

“Sorry, bud, there’s not time to go see the Christmas lights tonight,” I told my son Evan, breaking a promise I’d made earlier in the day and bracing myself for the consequences.

The three-year-old brain does many things well.  Playing hide-and-seek with somebody sitting on the same couch, for instance, or detecting and rejecting any food that doesn’t come in nugget form.  Or, if any food does slip past the nugget detector, making sure that it gets dunked in ketchup, even if that food is a strawberry.

But disappointment is not something it handles well, or quietly.

I winced as Evan processed the information.  We wouldn’t be visiting the house with the seven million Christmas lights tonight, the one that, for the month of December, requires its own dedicated nuclear reactor.  We wouldn’t be idling in our car, playing Christmas music, watching the lights twinkle and dance around their yard, while those of us in the backseat wondered where the daddy was at that house, and why wasn’t he walking around unplugging everything, grumbling that light switches go in two directions?

As Evan’s mouth opened, I felt my ear holes clench shut, even as my brain raced, and failed, to come up with a better term for ear holes.

“It’s okay.  Wanna jump in my bouncy castle,” Evan replied.

For his third birthday back in June, we gave Evan an indoor bouncy castle, and I fear that we may have ruined him.  He doesn’t care about anything else.

“What do you want to do this weekend?” you’ll ask him.

“Jump in my bouncy castle,” he’ll say.

“The whole time?” you’ll ask.

“Can we?” he’ll reply.

We thought the bouncy castle would live in a closet, and only get pulled out for rainy days or special occasions.  As it turns out, when your only responsibility in life is to make it to the potty in time, every day is a special occasion.

I worry that maybe Evan’s flying a little too close to the sun.  The grown-up equivalent of being three years old with your own bouncy castle is probably owning a convertible and having a full head of hair, which does not occur in nature.  We might be throwing the universe out of balance.

Growing up, the kid down the street had his own full-size pinball machine, and he turned out kind of messed up.  As a parent, it’s your job to make sure your kid’s life is kind of awesome, but not too awesome.  If yours is the kid who has everything, he’s probably also the kid who’s pulling the legs off of grasshoppers.

Bouncing is now part of our nightly routine.  Basically, we are a family of Tiggers.  Except that Evan is the only one bouncing, since his parents have to lie in the center of the bouncy castle, limbs outstretched like we’re worried about falling through the ice on a frozen pond, trying not to calculate how far over the 100-lb weight limit we are.

While Evan squeals and hops around, I like to pass the time by looking around the basement at all the things we can’t use anymore.  The ping-pong table.  The dartboard.  The video games.  It used to be such a good man cave down there.  Then a benevolent but capricious tyrant built his castle in the center of the room, banishing the original occupants to the outer reaches of the realm, never to be seen from again.

On the plus side, we can break promises to Evan about all the awesome places we’re going to take him, since he has no interest in leaving the house anyway.  We’ll still try to get him to the house with the seven million Christmas lights before it powers down for the year, though.  Assuming their dad hasn’t already gotten home and unplugged everything.

You can storm Mike Todd’s bouncy castle at

Monday, December 24, 2012

Some fiddles are fitter than others

I took this week off from the column.  Here's a seasonally appropriate rerun from 2008.  Happy holidays!  Now, back to the cookies.

This Christmas season, my wife Kara and I decided to be socially conscious and do our best to buy locally, so we headed over to do some shopping at a nearby bookseller, Barnes and Noble, one of our local corporate behemoths.

To our surprise, there was a good deal of very local activity going on in there; our next-door neighbors’ teenage son, Brian, was playing in a concert with his fiddle group in a roped-off area next to the cafĂ©, where currency is converted into coffee mixed with sundae toppings. The young musicians had clearly not been paying attention in math class; they seemed to have been playing their instruments for longer than they had been alive.

“This is a song that I composed last summer,” Brian announced into the microphone, before heading into a performance that Mr. Holland would have gladly traded for his opus. During the song, three teenage kids played musical chairs with their musical instruments, switching between a piano, an electric guitar, acoustic guitars and fiddles (you could tell they were fiddles, not violins, because the people playing them were not wearing tuxedos). I half-expected Bugs Bunny to march across the stage wearing his one-man-band outfit, playing a trombone while swinging mallets into a bass drum with his ears.

I don’t come anywhere close to matching Brian’s success when I compose my own songs, which are generally improvisational message songs intended for much smaller audiences, with titles like, “The Itsy-Bitsy Husband Doesn’t Feel Like Emptying the Dishwasher.”

Regardless, standing among the toe-tapping, head-bobbing audience there beside the biscotti jars, I felt a certain camaraderie with those talented kids because -- and I don’t mean to brag, but -- in certain musical circles, I’m very highly regarded, especially and exclusively in the circles that are familiar with the high scores on our copy of Guitar Hero II.

For those unfamiliar with the Guitar Hero franchise, it’s a series of video games that makes players feel like Jimi Hendrix for the intrinsically nerdy act of being able to punch large plastic buttons on a guitar-shaped controller. I once overheard a guy at a party who, in the saddest boast I’ve ever heard, claimed to be the 24th-best Guitar Hero player in the world, which might be slightly more impressive to women than having the 24th-hairiest shoulders. A true Guitar Hero aficionado will do well not to spend too much time thinking about the real instruments they could have learned in the same amount of time.

We never upgraded to Guitar Hero III in our house, mainly because the pursuit of musical excellence on a pretend guitar began to seem somewhat counterproductive, especially when a very real guitar sat biodegrading in its case twenty feet away, gently weeping from neglect.

A couple of weeks ago, spurred by post-Grand-Theft-Auto-conquering boredom, I pulled my old acoustic guitar out of the corner it had been occupying since before Tom Cruise was crazy.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that it doesn’t do the best things for your musical confidence when the first chords you strum on your chosen instrument send your dog into a barking frenzy, the same way the trash truck’s brakes do.

Her musical criticism aside, I realized that our dog Memphis was barking because she’d never heard me play the guitar. After watching Brian and his fellow musicians calm and delight the harried crowd that had assembled mainly to throw elbows at its fellow shoppers, it became clear that all those days I heard Brian practicing through the windows, creating a disproportionately beautiful soundtrack for walking the dog, were paying great dividends.

In any event, Memphis is really going to freak out when she hears what our vacuum cleaner sounds like.

You can locate the exit door before Mike Todd’s encore begins at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I saw Daddy hitting Santa Claus

“Why’s Daddy hitting the Christmas tree?” my son Evan asked from the kitchen.  He could only see my legs sticking out from under the tree as it jostled and swayed in the living room, so he could be forgiven for thinking that the tree was trying to devour me, and I was doing my best to fend it off.

“He’s just frustrated right now,” my wife Kara replied.

“Because the stupid tree stand is stupid and we should have bought a normal one,” I answered, slapping the stupid broken pedal on the dumb thing.

“AAAAHHHH!” Evan screamed as the tree fell down again.

Last year, Kara bought a fancy tree stand that’s supposed to let you position the tree while you press the foot pedal, then it holds the tree in place when you step off.  We should have paid a few bucks more for the deluxe model that shouts “TIM-ber!” every time the tree falls down.

“Oh, #&$@%,” I said, looking at the fallen tree.  Evan’s eyes widened.  I knew he was within earshot, so I actually said, “Oh, hash-ampersand-dollar-sign-at-symbol-percentage-thing.”  It takes a long time to cuss when your kids are listening.

With the foot pedal hopelessly jammed, I pulled the tree back up and got it to stay put, but gravity wouldn’t be denied for long.  The tree would easily have been felled by a single creature stirring, even a mouse, and definitely a three-year-old.

Fortunately, it was easy to lock everyone out of the living room.  Our house has enough baby gates to qualify as a Supermax facility.  And our inmates aren’t allowed to use pointy silverware, either.

The next day, I called the tree stand company, which had printed its phone number (how quaint!) on the stand.  The operator bounced me to another operator, who bounced me to Matt, who advised me how to fix the stand with a butter knife.

“Nothing sharp,” he added, as if he’d known me my whole life.  I thanked him and hung up, skeptical.

“If this works, I’ll eat an ornament,” I said as I approached the tree with a dull knife, doing nothing to allay Evan’s concerns that I was engaging in mortal battle with our holiday decorations.

That Matt’s butter knife trick fixed our tree stand in two seconds was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.  Too bad the skirmish that started the next day couldn’t be solved that easily.  All else being equal, though, it’s best to solve family disputes without involving cutlery.  Even dull cutlery, if you can help it.  

“Aunt Sister and Uncle Charles sent you your first present.  We’ll put it here until Christmas,” I told Evan, sliding the box under the tree.

“But I want to open it now,” Evan said, sliding it back into the room.

“Waiting to open Christmas presents is part of the fun.  Then you get to open your presents all at once on Christmas morning.  Won’t that be awesome?” Kara said.

“Actually,” Evan said, pausing to feign consideration of Mommy’s wisdom, “I want to open it now.”

It’s almost as if three-year-olds have no appreciation for the joys of personal discipline and delayed gratification.

“Evan, we call them Christmas presents because we open them on Christmas,” I told him.

“WANNA OPEN IT NOW!” he responded. Clearly, Mommy and Daddy were not getting it.

“Well, you have to wait until Christmas.  It’ll be good for you to practice some patience,” I said.

“WANNA OPEN IT NOW!” he responded, throwing himself on the floor and writhing around, experiencing the severe growing pains of his rapidly building character.

A week prior, Aunt Sister had sent an email saying that Evan could open his present whenever he’d like, but his tantrum had ensured that he’d be waiting another couple of weeks.  Sometimes, it’s good to take a break from punching your Christmas decorations to teach your kid some self-control.

You can fix Mike Todd with a butter knife at

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sometimes say never again

The first rule of Date Day is: Don’t talk about Date Day, at least not in front of your kids, unless you want Date Day to begin with the peeling of inconsolable children off your shins.

“Hey, there’s a matinee for the new James Bond movie tomorrow at…” my wife Kara started to say, then she looked at our son Evan, who was staring at her while dancing in place.

“Do you have to go potty?” she asked him.

“No, I don’t,” he said, hopping from one foot to the other.  Fortunately, he was too busy holding it in to ask what “matinee” meant (the correct answer in that situation: “It’s a large underwater mammal that serves as a speed bump for motorboats.”) and the issue dropped.

When you have two kids, a day of romantic spontaneity doesn’t happen without some serious planning.  Several weeks prior, Kara and I had both scheduled a vacation day on an upcoming Friday so that – and here’s where the plan gets ingenious – we could still drop the kids off at daycare.  It’d be like having a weekend day from five years ago, back when free time was the default and we were allowed to lounge around, accomplishing nothing for the good of anyone.  It was awesome.

On the big morning, Kara and I played it cool.  When I dropped the kids off at daycare, as far as they knew, Daddy was headed to work.  Then I zipped back home, where Kara and I enjoyed a lazy morning, which might not sound like much, but on a normal day, our living room is more likely to host a motorcross rally.

“This is weird,” Kara said from the couch, coffee in one hand, book in the other.

“Want me to ask you for a waffle and then scream and refuse to eat it when you cut it in half?” I offered.

After a couple of hours, we headed over to a new tapas restaurant that we wanted to try, but that didn’t appear to be the kind of place with buckets of crayons behind the podium.  I’d never been to a tapas restaurant before, and would soon come to understand that “tapas” is the Spanish word for “still hungry.”

“Here you are,” our waitress said, putting four silver-dollar-sized plates in front of us.  I thought we’d placed an extravagant order, but that was back before I realized that lobster ravioli, in this context, was not plural.  They’d taken one lobster ravioili, cut it in half and stacked it on itself to make it seem taller, like a short guy putting lifts in his shoes.

After both delicious bites, we asked the waitress for our check, explaining that we were trying to make it to the Bond movie.

“My brother saw it.  He said it was AMAZING,” she said, getting so enthusiastic that she didn’t notice I’d eaten the plates.

At the theater, I ran to the ticket machine, credit card in hand, no time to spare.  That’s when I noticed that the showtime we’d been trying to make didn’t exist anymore.

“Dude, there’s no 1:10 showing,” I said.

“I just checked it last night,” Kara said, looking up at the marquee to verify my mistake.  But the showtimes had indeed changed since we’d checked, and there were no movies left that would get us to daycare in time to pick up the kids.  The marquee might as well have read: James Bond Skyfall:  NEVER.

We stood by the ticket vending machine, hugging, and I could feel that Kara was crying.

“I don’t care about the movie, we just don’t get to do this kind of thing anymore,” she said.

“Aw, babe, look at the bright side,” I said as we headed to the car, working out another plan for the afternoon.  “The next time we have a chance to see a movie, we’ll be able to legally pay for it out of our 401(k)s.”  

You can paint the town red with Mike Todd at

Monday, December 03, 2012

Nailing that deadline, retroactively

Due to a scheduling error last week (namely the scheduling of the print deadline a few hours before the column was finished), there's no column this week.  I feel a little guilty about missing a week every now and then, but with two small kids in the house, I'm proud of myself for finding time to keep my personal hygiene to a reasonable standard.  Finishing the column is extra credit.

Anyway, let's wheel in some cute kids to fill the dead air!  It's all their fault, after all.

I like to do this, too, except figuratively

'Til next week!  Probably!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

When you wait upon a line

“He’ll see you in just a minute,” the woman with the clipboard said, giving us another moment to gather our nerves before heading deeper backstage.

“Is he gonna sign my book?” my son Evan asked.

“I hear he’s nice about signing autographs,” my wife Kara replied, and Evan gripped his pen a little tighter.
The door opened, and we were ushered through.  It seemed so surreal that we were about to come face-to-face with one of the most famous actors in the world, instantly recognizable by his voice, his iconic fashion choices and his big round ears.

“Mickey!” Evan said as the final bouncer waved us in to see the great rodent.

It was our family’s first visit to Disney World, the place where dreams come true, especially if it’s your dream to pay five dollars for a hot dog.

We’d come to Orlando for a wedding, and found that it’s impossible to stand that close to the center of the children’s entertainment universe without being caught in its pull.  Once we landed in Florida with car seats stacked on our luggage then stacked on our strollers, we could almost feel the little four-fingered, white-gloved hands reaching out to grab our children, who were presumably under that pile of luggage somewhere.
Which isn’t to say that our trip to the Magic Kingdom happened spontaneously.  Lunar landings have been conducted with less planning.

“Once we hit Small World, we should grab a FastPass to Peter Pan before heading to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” Kara said in the months leading up to the trip, laptop open, guide book propped on the keyboard, crazy handwritten scribblings falling onto the floor.    

I would nod in agreement as if I understood, because that hardly ever gets me in trouble.  But if I ever took her plan-every-moment style of vacation organizing for granted, I stopped once I saw how much she should be charging for that service.

“Our team of vacation planning professionals customizes your vacation so you can spend your time playing, not planning,” the Disney website says.  All for the low, low (did we mention low?) nominal fee of $300 per hour, plus park admission, minimum six hours.

Whatever line of business you might be in, it is the wrong one.  The world has people in it that will pay $300 an hour for someone to tell them which rides to sit on at an amusement park.  How this is true, I have no idea.  For that kind of dough, you should really be having the kind of fun that would cost you your Senate seat.

But knowing that you have the option to pay $300 an hour to not stand in line sure made me feel a whole lot better about standing in line.  Oh, and we stood in line.

During one part of the trip, we waited in a serpentine line to meet “the real” Buzz Lightyear, with our seventh-month-old wriggling in my arms and yanking the hair of nearby women, while his older brother slalomed between the legs of weary parents.

I looked at my watch and smiled.  “We just saved $300,” I said.

I’d arrived in Orlando with my cynicism firmly in place, thinking of Disney solely as a place where families go to be parted from their money.  And it is that, but it is also a highly efficient fun-delivering, memory-making machine.  That place knows what it’s doing.

After Evan smiled for some starstruck pictures and high-fived a silent Mickey, he walked out of the room staring at the mouse’s signature in his notepad, his new greatest treasure.

“I met Mickey Mouse,” he said, awed.  Suddenly, all the money we’d spent seemed like a bargain.
As it turns out, the fastest way to a parent’s wallet is through their heart.

You can email Mike Todd at  Makes no difference who you are.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

There might be blood

“Aw, no,” I said, averting my eyes, but it was too late.  Because of what I’d just seen, blood would most likely be spilled.  Or rather, extracted.

There, in the middle of the hallway, sat the sandwich board that reminded me of an unfulfilled promise I’d made to a friend.  I make unfulfilled promises all the time, but this one stuck in my head because it wasn’t to my dental hygienist, who must know by now that I’m never going to start flossing, despite my biannual protestations to the contrary.

This promise was to my friend and co-worker Don, who instant-messaged me one day with this: “There’s a blood drive today, and I always give, but I can’t this time because we’ve been to Africa recently (you can’t give if you might have been exposed to malaria during the past year).  Can you give for me?”

The request would have seemed strange coming from anyone else, but Don is the kind of person who thinks you can make the world a better place by doing things to make it better.  It’s an interesting theory, but one that’s really hard to test when you have so many awesome shows in your Netflix queue.  Sorry, world, I’d like to help make you better, but Sons of Anarchy season 4 just came out.

Don doesn’t make excuses, though.  He was probably in Africa digging wells with his bare hands and teaching lions how to read.  One time, he actually talked me into buying a carbon offset for my car, which invests your fee in enough clean energy to erase your vehicular carbon footprint.  It’s a nice idea, but after a year I found an even worthier cause to invest in: our cable bill.

For donating blood, I hadn’t given since senior year of high school, when I gave two pints to get out of a couple of calculus classes.  I’d gladly have sacrificed at least one toe to get out of calculating another double integral, so an occasional offering of blood seemed like a steal.

“I have a presentation to give today, and I’m going to need all my blood for it, but yes, I will donate very soon,” I promised Don.

Two years later (still “very soon” geologically), on a trip to the cafeteria, I happened across the sandwich board announcing “Blood Drive Here Today,” and I couldn’t think of an excuse (though I tried mightily) for not settling my long-unpaid debt.  

The experience was even more memorable than I’d anticipated.

“Why are you putting pink gauze on him?” the guy from the registration table asked a nurse as she wrapped the arm of the guy next to me.

“We’re putting pink gauze on everyone.  It’s for breast awareness,” she replied.  The guy cocked his head and just looked at her for a beat.

If there’s one issue that doesn’t need its own campaign, it’s breast awareness.  For most guys, if there’s a breast within a hundred-yard radius, they’re aware of it.

“Really?” the registration guy asked, smiling.

“Oh, you know what I meant,” the nurse said.

Then she glanced at the bag of blood hanging from my arm and said, “Whoa, that shouldn’t be full yet.  Guess you needed an oil change.”

And with that, it was over.  Two years of pent-up guilt, gone in less than thirty minutes.  The actual donation part took less than five.  Short of mugging a five-year-old, it’s hard to think of an easier way to score free juice and cookies.

In any event, it’s nice to know that there’s someone like Don out there who cares enough to encourage others to be decent, giving members of society.  Which is why I’ve blocked him from instant-messaging me.

You can remind Mike Todd about breasts at 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The ears of the hurricane

“The trees are dancin’” my son Evan said, looking out the window from his air mattress in our foyer.

The wind from Hurricane Sandy had the trees violently dancing and swaying, turning our yard into an arboreal mosh pit.  Some of the trees seemed to be bending in decidedly untreelike fashion, like the inflatable dancing stick figures that must somehow lure people into buying used cars.

“Yeah, they’re getting down out there,” I said.  We hadn’t mentioned that we’d chosen to sleep downstairs in case one of the trees decided to dance its way through our roof.  Evan had just recently gotten over his intense phobia of falling trees after witnessing a tree collapse in our backyard last summer, so if a tree falls in our forest, we don’t make any noise about it.  As far as Evan was concerned, we were having an impromptu slumber party, and he was stoked.

“You asleep yet?” he asked as he bucked like a rodeo bull on his mattress.  Zack, our seven-month-old, tossed and turned in his travel crib.

“Oddly enough, no,” my wife Kara responded.  

Just then, the nightlight, which had been flickering, went dark, and the hum of the fridge went quiet.  Kara and I had been preparing for this moment for the past several months, as any safety-conscious parent would, by watching the first two seasons of the post-apocalyptic zombie show “Walking Dead” from our Netflix queue.    

Survival in a world without electricity is one of the show’s main themes, along with how to properly puncture a zombie’s head so that it will stop trying to feast upon you.  We haven’t really picked up too many practical tips yet, at least none that we might be able to apply without investing in a crossbow, but we’re still watching, just to be safe.  At the very least, the show does give some helpful perspective: no matter how long the power is out, at least you don’t have hordes of undead attempting to devour you.

After confirming that we’d lost power for good, I headed downstairs to start the ritual, with some guilt, of unhooking the garage door from the electric opener and dragging the generator into the driveway.

When I was a kid, part of the fun of a power outage was the silence.  It was one of the rare times when everything went perfectly quiet, except for the sounds of nature, if just for a while.  Nobody had exhaust-spewing, cacophonous gas-powered generators.  We just quietly let all the food in our fridge spoil, and we liked it that way.

Now, as soon the lights flicker out, you can almost hear the pull cords on the generators in our neighborhood being yanked simultaneously, and then the surround-sound roar begins.  Our own generator is just a little 3500-watt unit, but when the engine revs up, it sounds like Satan’s lawnmower.

My decibel-induced guilt isn’t quite as strong as my preference to keep our barbecue sauce in the fridge that expired in 2009 from getting worse, though, so I found myself out in the hurricane adding to the racket.  
On my way back in, I noticed a huge, dead oak tree that had fallen parallel to the house, twenty feet off to the side.  It had dropped a gigantic branch that came within three feet of landing on, or through, our roof.  Somehow, though it must have sounded like a stegosaurus stomping through, nobody heard it fall, including, thankfully, Evan.  Probably because he was too busy stress-testing his air mattress.

We got lucky all around.  Many people affected by the storm and its devastation would probably have chosen a zombie apocalypse instead.  Within a couple of days, though, our lives were back to as normal as they get, and our trees, thankfully, were back to being wallflowers.
You can pop Mike Todd’s air mattress at

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hurricane delay

Last week's weather, as you may have heard or experienced, was not conducive to concentrating on a column.  All is well here now, and I hope it is wherever you are, too.

So, pictures!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Take a little trip with me

In my experience, if you’re going to fall down a flight of stairs while carrying a baby, it’s best to do it at around 3am, when the sleep deprivation will have you all woozy and shock-absorbent.

Of course, some might argue that if you’re carrying a baby, it might be better to avoid falling down the stairs altogether.  This is a compelling argument, but one that is easy to ignore when you’re stumbling around the house in the middle of the night with your brain running in standby mode.

It all happened, as these things do, so fast.  One second, I’m walking down the stairs with Zack in my arms, quietly suggesting to him that maybe, after seven months, it would be okay if he decided to see what sleeping through the night felt like.  The next moment would cause me to seriously reevaluate my nocturnal footwear decisions.  From here on out, whenever I purchase white gym socks, I am basing my decision entirely on which socks have the highest coefficient of static friction.

See, Dr. Rowe!  I was too paying attention in physics class.

My heel slipped off the front of the (thankfully) final step, and I went down like a sack of potatoes, taking my tater tot along for the ride.  As two generations of Todd men sailed through the air, I hope Zack appreciated that Daddy’s reflex was to clutch him tight and take one for Team Todd.

The thud echoed through the house, followed immediately by Zack’s cries.

There’s nothing scarier than causing harm to your offspring.  Most parents, if given the choice between losing their own pinky finger in a table saw accident or having their kid get a little paper cut would, without hesitation, choose the paper cut.  But they’d feel really bad about it afterwards.

The timing seemed strange for this to happen, since I’d just added “tripping while carrying Zack” to my mental catalog of things to fear.  I’d filed it alongside the fear of having my cell phone fall out of my breast pocket and land in a toilet, and the fear of drinking a wasp that crawled into a Coke can while I wasn’t paying attention.  About a week before it happened, I’d realized that it COULD happen, which is why I’m never drinking a Coke outdoors again, or going to the bathroom.

It also seemed an odd coincidence that this wipeout happened so close to Halloween, the time of year when we celebrate our deepest fears, and also festoon our department stores with Christmas decorations.

“What was that?” my wife Kara called down the stairs, alarmed.

“Nothing, it’s fine,” I gasped, not sure if that was true.

I’d landed hard on my backside and elbows, and was only somewhat comforted that I could tell the difference between the two.  The important thing, though, was that I didn’t fumble our child.

I limped around the room apologizing to Zack, who settled down almost immediately.  He’d been frightened by the fall, but hadn’t been hurt.

I wanted to explain to Kara that I was a hero, but it’s hard to be the hero when you’re also the idiot who caused the problem in the first place.

“He’s fine, everything’s good,” I said, looking up at Kara as I placed Zack into his swing, clonking his head on the plastic mobile on the way in.

“Dude, seriously?” his wide eyes said.

That happened about a week ago, and we’ve navigated the stairs successfully many times since, perhaps because of the crampons I’ve strapped over my socks.  Undeterred by the incident, Zack still insists upon an audience around 3am every night.  If this keeps up, it might be worth a shot to try from a few steps higher next time.

You can crawl into Mike Todd’s Coke while he’s not looking at

Monday, October 22, 2012

Showering in expletives

“What can I pinch with this?” my son Evan asked, holding up the pair of channel locks I’d left on the bathroom counter.

When it comes to which tools our three-year-old is allowed to play with, my wife Kara and I draw very different lines, as I discovered the first time I let Evan wield a Phillips-head screwdriver.  Kara acted like I’d handed him an anthropomorphic chainsaw that taught bad grammar.

“Tell them you don’t want no more dinner!” the chainsaw would yell as Evan sliced it through our dining room table.

“I’m not sure that’s the safest thing,” I started to say, but then this huge smile spread across Evan’s face as he scissored the air with the channel locks like he was trimming hedges, and I realized that there was still hope for one of us to be a decent do-it-yourselfer.

I surveyed the landscape for something suitable.

"There, my underwear on the floor," I said.

Evan picked up my underwear with the channel locks and ran around the bathroom, waving my undies back-and-forth like he was in the color guard at a halftime show.

“Pinch, pinch, pinch!” he yelled.

For all the parents out there who are struggling to find ways to keep your kids entertained, forget the iPad.  All you need is some channel locks and a pair of striped boxer shorts.  Plaid might also work, but I have yet to test it.

I turned my attention back to our leaky showerhead.  A good showerhead should be leaky by design, but this one was leaking out the wrong end, against the wall.

“Hey, this could be the perfect time to switch to a water-saving showerhead,” I’d said to my wife, Kara.

She carefully considered the idea by immediately saying, “No way.”

“But think about how much less you’d be getting,” I said. My persuasion tactics could use some honing.

“I really enjoy showers.  Don’t take that away from me,” she said.

Point taken.  The shower is the only place we can escape from our children.  We should probably install a
TV in there, and perhaps a can opener and some shelves of emergency rations.

For some reason, I offered to fix the shower while entertaining both of our kids.  After the first minute, I’d lost the first member of my audience to the siren call of my crumpled-up underwear, but his little brother Zack watched me from his bassinette in rapt attention.

“Now watch Super Dad fix the plumbing while taking care of two kids!” I said.  Then, with a flourish, I snapped the pipe in half.    

“Aw, dude, that wasn’t supposed to happen,” I said, the presence of my offspring making it impossible to apply the proper expletives to the situation, at least out loud.

Evan became bored with the channel locks and set them down, then put his nose an inch from Zack’s face and yelled, “BLAGOO BLAGOO BLAGOO!"

“Hey, Evan, don’t do that,” I said, pulling him back by the shoulders to reveal Zack’s huge smile. To Zack, Evan is David Letterman, the Cirque du Soleil, Coldplay, Six Flags Great Adventure and HBO original programming all rolled into one.  Being manhandled and shouted at by his big brother is Zack’s greatest joy.  Something tells me that this will serve him well in life.

“Well, show’s over, folks, until I can get to the hardware store,” I said.  We left the bathroom and prepared to shatter the silence elsewhere in the house.

In some respects, the operation had been a great success.  Since nobody could use the shower anymore, it was saving a ton of water.

You can plumb the depths with Mike Todd at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy birthday to me

For my thirty-fifth birthday, I decided to give myself a week off from writing the column.  It's also a gift to you: the gift of two minutes back.  Enjoy, and spend them wisely!

Here are a few pics while you think about what you're going to do instead:

Only 110 seconds left!  Quick, to Facebook!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Be prepared (for homophobia)

“Hey, this popcorn is pretty good.  How much did it cost?” my wife Kara asked, standing outside our pantry about a year ago.

“Eighteen bucks,” I replied, and she coughed so hard a kernel lodged in her cerebellum.

“It’s not an eighteen-dollar bag of popcorn.  I made an eighteen-dollar donation to the Boy Scouts, and look!  Now we have a bag of caramel corn, too,” I said.

That’s what she gets for sending me to the grocery store.  It’s impossible to walk past a table of earnest kids selling overpriced goods by the exit, especially if those goods are slathered in caramel.

Besides, I was glad to support the Boy Scouts.  Getting my Eagle Scout in high school was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life, and I hope that someday, my two sons might learn the same things that I learned from Scouts: camping, fishing, homophobia, canoeing, etc.

Of course, some people might take issue with at least one item on that list, but I can assure you: we always treated the fish humanely, except the ones that we dragged out of the water by their lips.
As for homophobia, of course we didn’t really learn that.  I actually can’t remember gayness being an issue in my Scouting days.  Some of my fellow Scouts were probably in the closet (or, in Scouting terms, “in the vestibule”).  I joined Scouts when I was twelve, and I knew I was straight by that time, but a depressing number of years would pass before I got to do anything about it.

You know what they say about girls liking men in uniform?  In my experience, that doesn’t apply to the Boy Scout uniform.  I blame the kerchief.

But these days, it’s hard for me to separate the Boy Scouts from its headline-making turn as an organization that actively excludes gay people.  It seems completely backwards to me that an organization that requires teenage boys to wear hiked-up knee socks would be in a position to turn anyone away.

“I heard some Eagle Scouts were sending their badges back to the national office in protest.  Maybe I should do that, too,” I told my sister Amy on the phone.  Amy’s older than 18, female and gay.  They’d let a three-toed sloth be a Boy Scout before her.

“You worked hard for that.  Don’t do it for me,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d say that.  I have no idea where it is,” I replied.  A good protest should involve picketing or self-immolation, not rummaging through your parents’ storage room.

I’m sure the Boy Scouts would rather not deal with this issue at all.  Like most adults, they’d probably prefer that teenagers were neither straight nor gay, but asexual, like coral.  That would make the world a much easier place to deal with, but it would also ruin our American Pie movies.  

The whole thing just makes me sad.  Some of the best experiences of my life, the closest bonding times with my dad and the sharpest things I ever whittled happened because of the Boy Scouts.

But if my two sons wanted to join, I’d hesitate.  Keeping them out of Boy Scouts seems like boycotting apple pie, but then apple pie doesn’t discriminate against people for being who they are.  It’s delicious for everyone.

Fortunately for us, my oldest son is only three years old, and I can’t imagine that this kind of thinking (such as it is) will survive for the nine years until he’s eligible to join.  That doesn’t do much good for kids in the meantime, though, who have to either hide who they are or make their s’mores somewhere else.

I passed some Boy Scouts in the mall yesterday, selling their delicious wares.  I’m rooting for them and their troop, and wish them all the best.  The Girl Scout organization doesn’t similarly exclude, though, so for the time being, it looks like I’ll be taking my caramel in Samoa cookie form instead.

You can do a good turn daily with Mike Todd at

Monday, October 01, 2012

The deck chairs on a sinking relationship

“I can’t believe she dumped me for a LAWYER!” my friend Johnny said last week.

“What does it matter that he’s a lawyer?” I asked.

“It just makes it worse,” he replied.

Johnny is my connection to the dating world, a strange and fascinating place where complete strangers meet online, then come together over sushi to discover that they don’t like each other.

“Didn’t we spend our last three conversations going into great detail about how insane this girl was?” I asked.    

“Yeah, but I still thought I had a chance,” he said.  When you reach your mid-thirties and you’re looking for a life partner, insanity is no longer a disqualifying personality trait.

A few weeks earlier, I talked to Johnny after he’d just gotten back from his first date with her.  While we were talking, he received a text that read: “I think we can both agree that didn’t go so well.”

From that inauspicious beginning, things somehow got even less auspicious, with their brief relationship degenerating into multiple text battles, ugly words exchanged and, most bafflingly, more dates.

The rules must have changed since I was on the dating scene.  My wife Kara and I have been together since the year 2000.  Back then, cell phones were still used for making phone calls, and the Internet was still primarily used for circulating naked pictures of Jenny McCarthy.

Technology and dating seemed to purposefully have very little overlap.  Dinners, for example, were often served by candlelight, even though light bulbs had recently been invented.  

Back then, text and friend weren’t verbs, and “getting to second base” didn’t mean telling everyone on Facebook that you were “in a relationship.”  That’s still not what “getting to second base” means, incidentally, but one could argue that tagging someone as your significant other on Facebook should at least count as a ground rule double.

After listening to Johnny’s stories from the front lines, it’s clear that I wouldn’t survive long in today’s dating world, especially if Kara found out.  I don’t even have unlimited texting on my phone, so it would be especially disheartening to receive insulting messages from my dates afterwards.  I’d have to pay twenty cents for that salt in my wound.  Please break my heart via email, so that I can save the twenty cents to apply toward my next ill-fated spicy tuna roll.

“When we were in college, nobody had a real job, so that wasn’t even a factor.  Now, if you’re not a lawyer or a CEO, you’re starting out with one strike against you.  Why did that guy have to be a lawyer?  Why?” he asked.

“I’m not sure being a lawyer is as awesome as you think it is.  There are plenty of miserable lawyers.  I suspect there’s one more in the world right now,” I said.  Never mind that Johnny only knew this guy’s profession because he received a text stating: “I’m dating a lawyer now.  I’d say good luck, but I’m not sure you deserve it.”

 There are plenty more fish in the sea besides jellyfish that sting with their text messages.  And Johnny’s back to trolling for them, hopefully in saner waters this time.

Meanwhile, the biggest drama in my life is that our three-year-old might be starting to figure out what’s happening when Kara and I look at him and say, “Maybe it’s time for him to take an ennaypee.”  He might not know that we’re spelling N-A-P, but I think he’s starting to catch on, and it’s only a matter of time before ennaypee and bee-ay-tee-aytch lose their clandestine power altogether.

How do parents communicate with each other after their kids learn to spell?  Successful parenting is all about love, and also subterfuge.  Maybe I need unlimited texting after all.  

After reading this column over again, I can see why Johnny and I spend more time talking about his problems.

You can stand up Mike Todd at

Monday, September 24, 2012

The impression that I don’t get

“I’m Miss Lisa,” my three-year-old son Evan said a few nights ago.  Then he just stood there, staring at me.

“Are you being Miss Lisa right now?” I asked.  Miss Lisa is one of the teachers at his daycare, a woman who somehow manages to care for four infants at the same time, which seems a lot like juggling four chainsaws all day, except chainsaws would demand less attention.  And be much quieter.

Evan nodded and continued standing in silence.  This was his version of an impression.  I’d never really noticed Miss Lisa just standing there like that before, but Evan seemed to think he was nailing it.

“Now do Richard Nixon,” I said.  More silence.  Somewhere, Rich Little was breathing a little easier, confident that this young upstart wouldn’t be stealing his gigs anytime soon.

“You be Mommy,” Evan said, breaking character.  It took me a moment to respond -- I’d been so entranced by Evan’s deft mimicry, I’d almost forgotten who I was talking to.

In the next room, my wife Kara had our infant son Zack in his high chair, feeding him a bowl of oatmeal.  In a minute, the oatmeal would run out, then the screaming would begin, growing louder until someone corked the screamhole with a bottle.

For the moment though, it was quiet.  I thought about how to do an impression of Kara that would resonate with Evan.

“I’m Mommy.  Stop doing that dangerous thing you’re doing,” I said.

Evan just blinked.  It was my first impression since the brief period in college that I’d decided I could do a decent “Sling Blade” guy (“Some folks call it a sling blade.  I call it a kaiser blade, pass me another beer, mmmm hmmm.”), and I’d bombed.

Without missing a beat, Kara’s voice came from the other room: “I’m Daddy.  Do whatever you want.”
I had to admit, she’d really gotten to the essence of my parenting style.  Kara and I both laughed, and the variety hour might have continued if the oatmeal hadn’t run out right then.

No matter how much food you give Zack, when it runs out, he will scream.  This happens because babies, as it turns out, are really horrible people.  They’re quite unconcerned with your feelings, or whether you have a preference for the decibel level at which information is conveyed to you.

“Oh, you rearranged your entire life to care for me?  And now you’re suppressing your gag reflex while you shovel odd-colored mush into my mouth, when you should be watching the movie in the Netflix envelope that’s gathering dust on the kitchen counter?  Well, as soon as I see the bottom of that bowl, I’m going to show you my gratitude.  Oh, yes, the entire neighborhood will know of my gratitude,” they say, with their eyes.

Zack is actually a wonderful baby, and we couldn’t be more fortunate.  Which is exactly the point.  Even a wonderful baby loves nothing more than to scream in your face, preferably after waking you up.

Eventually, babies learn to talk and things greatly improve, but until then, they are pleasant about 20% of the time, which is the window during which their parents take pictures to post to Facebook.  Babies have excellent PR people.

As Zack screamed from his chair, Evan ran over to dance around and entertain him.

“Look at me, Zack, look at me!” he said, running around in circles and waving his arms in the air.

Zack stopped screaming and smiled at his big brother.  With each day, the ratio of pleasantness improves.  By the time they turn three, kids are fun more like 80% of the time.  I imagine that this improvement continues until the child becomes embarrassed to be seen with you in public.

You can do your best Mike Todd at

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting on his low horse

The ranch owner approached us, towing a reluctant Smart Car of a horse behind her.

“Here's your pony,” she said, handing the lead rope to my wife, Kara.

Kara clenched the rope as if the pony might make a dash for freedom, though as the animal stood there, head down, it appeared that it hadn’t dashed anywhere since Roy Rogers was in training spurs.

“You can go ahead and put him on,” the woman said, motioning toward our son, Evan.

“Doesn't he need a helmet first?” Kara asked.

The ranch lady was old school.  She didn’t realize that parents these days like to put helmets on their kids if they're doing anything more dangerous than consuming McNuggets.

“We’ll get a helmet at the barn.  You’ll have to put him on the pony yourself.  I broke my ribs a few weeks ago,” she said.  She didn’t go into further detail, and I wasn’t going to pry.  Fortunately, the pony didn’t seem to have been involved in the rib mishap.  We would have wanted details if the woman had broken a shin.

I plunked Evan into the saddle and he gripped the horn tightly.  Joy spread across his face as he realized his lifelong (and also relatively recent) dream of riding a horsie.

Nitpickers might point out that a pony is not a horsie.  Horses and ponies are members of the equine family, but they’re not the same thing.  To these people, I say: Give me some credit for understanding that a pony is not just a baby horse.  It took me at least twenty-five years to get that.

“What’s the pony’s name?” Kara asked, hoping to help Evan strengthen his bond with Buttercup or Moonbeam or Elmer.  

“Oh, you would ask me that,” the lady replied, as if Kara had just asked her something totally off-the-wall, like how to calculate the volume of a triangular prism, or why the light bulbs at Outback Steakhouse are pink.

Another moment passed as she stared at the pony and tried to call up a name.  Then she said exactly what you want to hear from the person to whom you’ve just entrusted the safety of your three-year-old: “Honestly, I took so many codeine this morning, I couldn’t tell you my grandkids’ names.”

We didn’t speak again until Evan had his helmet on.

“You can go wherever you want,” the woman said, motioning toward the barn and pastures.  Then she walked away, and we never saw her again.  Wherever she is, I hope she found what she was looking for.  Probably more codeine.

So Evan rode through the pasture on a horse with no name.  Kara and I took turns leading the pony, and Grandma and Grandpa would cheer every time Evan rode past.  His huge smiles more than paid for our afternoon trip to the country.

“Are you having fun, Evan?” I asked.  

“Daddy, you just stepped in it!” he answered.  I’d been trying to steer the conversation away from manure, but Evan wasn’t having any of it.  With so many horses wandering around the farm, Evan never ran out of conversation material.

“Look, we can go ride around those barrels over there,” I said.

“The horsie just stepped in it, too!” he replied.

For its part, the pony seemed rather indifferent to the whole affair -- Evan’s enthusiasm was only contagious to humans.  Every time we circled past the barn without going in, the pony let out a little sigh and trudged on.

After about thirty minutes in the saddle, our little cowpoke got tired.  We unsuccessfully scanned the horizon for our doped-up guide, then returned the pony to the nearest farmhand and headed home.

It was a special day, and we’ll always carry some of that farm with us.  Mostly on the bottom of my shoes.

You can lead Mike Todd to water at  

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Week two of two-week hiatus

Back with original programming next week.  Until then, pictures of my offspring!