Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The ten that got away

“Son, I’m going to teach you to be an idiot,” I said to my son Evan, in effect, as we came upon a ten-dollar bill in the grocery store parking lot last week.

We were lions that had just happened upon a wounded gazelle, but no, we would not pounce.

“Look, buddy, there’s money on the ground.  It’s not ours, though.  We’ll leave it there in case whoever dropped it comes back looking for it,” I said, a bluebird lighting on my shoulder.

“Leave it?” Evan asked. 

“That’s right, we’ll leave it right there,” I said, picturing the sweet old lady who would drive back into the parking lot any moment now, so glad to find the money she needed for her prescriptions right where she hoped it would be.  Then she’d pat us on the head, call us Sonny and give us each a Werther’s Original.

Evan watched from the cart as I loaded the groceries into the car.  Somehow, I’d just spent $100, even though I’d only gone there to get toilet paper.  Groceries seem to breed in the cart.  You can’t leave Mr. Clean and Mrs. Butterworth alone for a minute.

As I worked my way through the unending bags, I glanced over at the ten spot on the pavement just a few feet behind me.  I thought about walking over and snatching it up, but this seemed like a good opportunity to teach my son something.  What exactly the lesson was, I hadn’t sorted out yet, but surely, he would learn something important.

A woman in her early twenties strolled past us, carrying a single bag of groceries.  After about ten feet, she stopped, looking back toward the store.  She seemed to be trying to read the denomination on the bill using only her peripheral vision, like how guys check out women when their date is sitting across the table.

She hesitated, then circled back toward the store, walking straight past the bill.  Then she stopped again, and you could almost see a visible beam coming from the money, pulling her back.  She was Gollum, and the ring was calling. 

The woman looked in her grocery bag and pretended to remember that she didn’t need to go back into the store.  When she was standing directly over the money, she dropped a package of marshmallows on the bill, knelt down and scooped everything up in one swift motion.  Then she beelined back to her car, probably caressing the money and muttering, “My precious!  My precioussss!” to herself.

Evan and I watched her from under our tailgate, a lion and his cub doing nothing while a hyena dragged their gazelle into the bushes.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.  No head pat.  No Werther’s Originals.  The whole show with the marshmallows was only necessary because the woman must have assumed there was a decent chance that the money had fallen out of my pocket, and she was quite happy to take it anyway.

Hopefully, she’ll use that money to buy a case of Ramen noodles for the orphanage she runs.      

As I closed the tailgate, I wondered: what did I just teach Evan, anyway?  It would have been far better to have him deposit the money in a charity bucket in the store, a game plan I didn’t develop until about three hours too late.  Anything would have been better than letting the marshmallow ninja run off with it. 

While I latched Evan into his car seat, I thought about how the bill was folded in half, exactly the same way I stuff wads of cash into my pockets. 

“You’re a moron,” said the bluebird on my shoulder.

You can drop a bag of marshmallows on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In the home, ears are ringing

“I’m going as fast as I can.  If anything, you’re just slowing me down,” I said, but my two-month-old son Zack remained defiant, pouring every ounce of his energy into making sure I had sufficient motivation to hurry.

“Rinnnnnnnnnng,” he said, or at least that’s what registered in my ears, as Zack explored the upper ranges of what an adult eardrum can handle before it explodes like Greek debt.

“That is totally unnecessary, bro.  I’m already getting your food together.  Okay, okay, take your bottle, you ingrate,” I said, corking his screamhole with the nipple.

As he noshed on the bottle and peace settled over the room, the ruckus upstairs became audible.

“I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to pick you up and put you in bed,” my wife Kara said.  Tiny footsteps galloped down the hallway as our son Evan shrieked and ran into his bedroom.

The chaos of raising two children often overshadows the tender moments, but they do happen.  

Earlier that evening, Evan stood on a kitchen chair beside me as I prepared scrambled eggs, the only meal I can cook without Mama Celeste’s help.

“That’s juuuust right,” Evan said, shaking pepper into the mixing bowl.  Then we both took out forks and whisked the ingredients together.  I stopped and watched my little sous chef plopping his fork into the mixture, his tongue sticking out with concentration, and the moment caught me just right.  That was my son standing there, wanting nothing more than to help his dad cook dinner.  My son.  Sometimes, I can’t believe that phrase applies to anyone at all, much less someone so insanely adorable when he’s not screaming.

I looked away for a second, feeling a little misty, and when I turned back, Evan was holding out his hand to me, signaling for me to take something.  I offered my hand, and Evan swiped his finger across my palm.

He stared at me, waiting for a reaction, and I realized what had just happened.

“You just wiped a boogie on me, didn’t you?” I asked.

He smiled and nodded.  That’s why they’re called tender moments, not tender hours.

Later that night, I could hear Kara upstairs, trying to extract herself from the bedtime routine.

“Mommy!  Mommy!  Mommy!” Evan yelled.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Zack will like red and blue when he gets bigger,” Evan said.

“Yes, those are good colors,” Kara replied, sighing.

She was caught in the Evan Vortex, the place where logic and reason go at bedtime to be crushed beyond all recognition.  The process takes a while, which is why it exists.  The only way to escape the pull of the Evan Vortex is to put a door between you and the source, and even that isn't always enough.

“Need to go potty,” Evan said, sensing that the door was about to close.

“You just went four minutes ago,” Kara replied.

“Need to go again!” he said.

Evan knows how badly we want him to start using the potty, so at bedtime he becomes more prolific than an incontinent racehorse.

When he returned to bed a few minutes later, I could hear Kara start to swing the door shut.

“Where’s Lamby?” Evan yelled, and Kara sighed again.  Evan spends the day stuffing his sheep-blanket Lamby into obscure crevices of the house, so that by the time you find Lamby and return him to bed, Jimmy Kimmel is already asleep.

But it’s kind of cute that Evan can’t go to bed without snuggling Lamby every night.  It’s like how Kara and I used to be, before we had kids.  Now we just collapse wherever we happen to be standing once the last kid stops screaming.

You can wipe stuff on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The days of snore

I reached through the darkness to pull my slumbering wife, Kara, closer, putting my hand on her shoulder and running my fingers through her downy soft fur.  She shifted toward me before sitting up, cocking her head and scratching her neck with her foot.

Then I snapped awake, remembering that the dog and I had been banished to the guest room.

“Can you wake up the dog?  She’s snoring again,” Kara had said an hour earlier, back when I was still a resident of my bedroom.

“Mmmph,” I replied, flopping my arm over the bed and nudging the dog before drifting back to sleep.

“Now you’re both snoring,” Kara said a moment later.  After a ten-year hiatus, I’m back on the snoring circuit.  I had stopped snoring right after college, leading Kara and I to conclude that the root of the problem had been some combination of pizza, beer and research papers.  For no discernable reason, though, my uvula has decided that it can no longer hang quietly by when, just inches away, there’s a perfectly good wife to annoy.

“The two of you are driving me insane.  Can you please go to the other room?” she asked.

“Let’s put it to a vote,” I suggested, but I was already gathering my pillow and my blankie.  I mean my blanket.  No self-respecting man still sleeps with a blankie, and he certainly doesn’t admit to it in a newspaper.  

Snorers are the permanent underclass of any household, relegated to the fringes of sleeping society, tucked out of earshot in guest rooms and on futons.  As the dog and I headed down the hallway to our exile, we knew that we had only ourselves and our respiratory structures to blame.

Really, though, it was small punishment for us, since the newborn baby across the hall makes sure that we experience plenty of family togetherness twenty-four hours a day.

“Too late for birth control now!” he screams throughout the night.  At least that’s how my brain processes the screams it hears between the hours of two and five a.m.

Zack is actually a very easy baby, and we’re thankful every day for our blessings, but taking care of an easy baby is still a little bit like running an easy marathon.

Shortly after I awoke to find the dog beside me in the guest bed, Zack piped up from his room, requesting another nocturnal audience with his food-givers.  Someday, he’ll come to appreciate that his parents have so much else to give besides food, such as timeouts.  I stumbled into his room, scooped him up and took him to the couch for his bottle.

I recently discovered the show “Walking Dead” on Netflix, and while it’s not the most relaxing show to watch while feeding your baby in the middle of the night, it does help keep you awake.  Also, when you live in a house that gives you at most three hours of sleep at a time, you really start to identify with the zombies.

“Yeah, that’s what I looked like last night,” you’ll say as a zombie drags itself across the floor, groaning incomprehensibly, covered in goo.  Then the zombie will pull itself to its feet and walk straight into a wall.

“Been there,” you’ll say.

“Are you sure this is the best show to watch with the baby?” Kara asked as she stocked the fridge with more milk.

“It’s never too early to teach your baby about the post-apocalypse.  No, really, he can’t see the screen, and I turn the volume down whenever someone’s getting devoured,” I said.

“Okay, if you say so.  Do you need anything before I head up?” she asked.

“BRAINS!” I replied.

“Yes, that might be helpful,” she said.

You can show Mike Todd to his futon at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Between a rock and a high place

When the cops show up at your family outing, it becomes tougher to argue that you’ve planned it well. 

Last week, due to the corrosive effects of pollen on our brains, we decided that it would be a good idea to pack up our toddler, our baby and our dog and take them to climb a fire tower at sunset.

You might be thinking that a fire tower sounds like the perfect place to take a bunch of creatures who, if left to their own devices, lack the balance to keep from falling off the couch.  If you don’t think that way, I bet you rarely have law enforcement show up at your outings.

The seed for this adventure got planted a few weeks ago, when I took my son Evan for a walk in the woods that started next to a large communications tower. 

“Wanna climb the tower,” Evan said, pointing into the sky.  His ambition was especially impressive given that the tallest object he’d climbed to that point had been the stepstool beside the potty.

“Sorry bud, you can’t climb that one,” I replied.

“Why I can’t?” he asked, incensed.

“Nobody’s allowed to climb that tower.  It’s not for climbing.  It’s for cell phone signals, or maybe radio
transmissions,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

I tried to think of a better answer than, “That tower magically shoots sounds into things,” but I couldn’t, so I said, “I’ll find us another tower we can climb soon.”

When you make a promise to a toddler, you won’t be able to forget about it for long.  Contracts made with Lucifer are easier to break.

“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked Evan the next day.

“Wanna climb a tower,” he replied.

So I found a fire tower that was just a thirty-minute drive away, accessible via a short hike up a gravel road, and figured we could all head up there after work one day.  My wife Kara agreed that our entire herd would go, then one of us would climb the tower with Evan while the other remained earthbound with the dog and baby.

Of course, to pack our family for a two-hour excursion takes longer than the excursion itself.  By the time we were all in the car, the sun was already setting.

“We’re too late for the sunset,” Kara said.

“Nah, we’re good,” I said, rolling through another stop sign.

We parked and headed up the gravel road in the dwindling light, with Evan on my back, Zack on Kara’s front and the dog trotting ahead.  By the time we got to the tower, the sun was down. 

Evan climbed halfway up, felt the swaying structure and the chilly breeze, then immediately started his descent.  As soon as Kara and Evan reached the ground, Zack started screaming for food. 

“I guess I need to breastfeed him,” Kara said.

“Oh man, I’m so glad you brought those things,” I replied.

So Kara sat on the bottom step of the tower with Zack while darkness fell upon us.  When we finally rounded the corner to the parking lot, a cop was shining a flashlight into our car.

“I’m finally going to get a ticket for being an idiot,” I whispered.

“We’ve had some vandals out here recently.  You guys don’t look like vandals,” the cop said, and I felt a little insulted, like maybe I needed a tattoo on my neck.  You’d think he’d at least give us the benefit of assuming we had some screws loose.

The cop was quite friendly, chatting us up and even posing with Evan for a picture, which for Evan was the tween-girl equivalent of getting a picture with Justin Bieber.

So Evan didn’t get to see a sunset, but he did get to see a policeman.  The cop saved the trip for us, and maybe someday I'll plan a family outing that won’t require emergency personnel.    

You can plan a family fiasco with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.