Sunday, July 29, 2012

An advice column, minus the advice

Some advice is timeless and universal.  Don't keep your toothpaste and your Preparation H in the same drawer, for instance, unless you're ambivalent about which one you apply orally.  Or you're open-minded about which parts of you are minty fresh.  But parenthood invites all sorts of advice that isn't so clear cut.

When my wife and I were expecting our first child, I asked my friend Josh for his advice, since he’d already taken the parental plunge a year earlier.

“The number one thing you should be prepared for is crazy, conflicting advice from everyone you’ve ever met,” he told me.  “Just ignore it all and figure out what works for you.”

Josh was right about the amount of advice new parents receive, even when they’re not seeking it out.  One time, I even got parenting advice while waiting in line at the grocery store deli.

“He’s so adorable.  What’s his name?” a friendly woman asked, insisting that I go ahead of her in line.

“Quarter-pound of turkey,” I replied, frantic to start the cart moving again before Evan started wailing at the lack of motion.

“Sorry, it’s Evan, and thank you,” I said.

“Well, he’s precious.  Are you getting him vaccinated?  You should really look into it before you do.  Vaccines can cause autism,” she said, repeating polio’s favorite rumor.  Suddenly, there seemed to be a dramatic increase in the amount of bologna in the vicinity.

I reached into the car seat, putting Evan’s binky back into his mouth to buy a moment.  I understand why people are suspicious of vaccines – there does seem to be a global conspiracy to keep us all alive longer, perhaps so that we can purchase more drugs, which will also keep us alive longer -- but I’m much more suspicious of whooping cough.  

“Oh, I read that the doctor behind that study lost his medical license.  He’s a quack,” I replied.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Nothing.  Thank you so much for letting us go first,” I said, taking my turkey and hitting the road.  She was nice, after all, and I got the distinct impression that neither of us was interested in having our minds changed by some small talk next to the pimento loaf.

Last weekend, I found myself in the odd position of being the dispenser of advice.

“What are we in for?” my sister Amy asked during her weekend visit.  Her wife Jaime is pregnant with a baby girl, ensuring not only that our two sons will have an awesome new cousin to play with soon, and that I’ll be getting a promotion to Uncle Mike, but also that Amy and Jaime’s household will be in very little danger of ever facing an estrogen shortage.

As she waited for an answer, my infant son, Zack, squirmed in my arms, wincing at the cold milk in the bottle.

“Don’t look at me, Mr. Brainfreeze.  You wouldn’t wait for the bottle to get warm,” I said.

With two young kids of my own, it seemed like I should have some advice for Amy more helpful than “go do everything you can’t do while toting a tiny screaming and possibly barfing human, because you won’t be able to do any of that stuff anymore.”

Otherwise, I’m not really sure what advice works universally for all parents.

“When they’re screaming, it means they want you to do something you probably don’t feel like doing.  Also, as long as you say it nicely, babies can’t tell the difference between regular words and cuss words.  That’s really useful for the first year,” I said.

Amy nodded, realizing that the Internet would be a much more valuable parenting resource than her brother.

You can get measles with Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A real piece of road work

“We’re doomed,” my wife, Kara, said as a pulse of brake lights started at the horizon and streaked down the highway toward us.  In a moment, our own brake lights illuminated, and our hopes dimmed.  Our worst nightmare was coming true: a traffic jam with a toddler and an infant in the backseat.  Oh, and a dog, our loyal and much-loved afterthought.

“No, no, no, this can’t happen,” I said.  Children on road trips are like sharks.  They must maintain forward momentum.  Also, they might eat you.

As soon as the speedometer hit zero, Zack, our three-month-old, began voicing his displeasure with quiet, distressed grunts.  Evan, our three-year-old, recognized the warning signs and cupped his hands over his ears.

“Zack gonna start cryin’,” he said.

“ROAD WORK AHEAD,” the orange sign said, so I assumed (as foolish as it now seems) that someone up ahead would be working on the road.

“Evan, there’ll be some big construction trucks up here,” I said, trying to make lemonade out of lemons, and also lying.

“Trucks?” Evan asked, straining against his shoulder straps to look through the windshield.

“Well, not yet, but they’ll be coming up soon,” Kara lied.  Meanwhile, Zack started mixing in some little squawks, like an opera singer saying, “Mi mi mi.”

I really wanted to see some big trucks, bulldozers and stream rollers to help smooth Evan out, since he was still angry at us for not inviting him to our wedding.

That weekend, Grandma had been showing him the album on her coffee table, full of pictures where Kara looked radiant (just like she still does, and I’d say that even if she wasn’t the first person to read this column) and I still had the ability to clench my bald spot shut.

“That was a great party,” Grandma said.  Then she flipped the page to the wedding-cake-cutting, and Evan became incensed.

“Why can’t I have cake, too?” he asked.

“Because you were born five years after the cake was eaten, buddy,” Kara said.

“But I wanted to go to the party!” he screeched.

“We would have loved to have you there.  But Grandma would have been mad if you’d happened before the party did,” I said.

“I wanted the cake yesterday,” he pouted.

Comprehending temporal relationships is not Evan’s strong suit.  Yesterday happened yesterday.  So did his first birthday, and that time we saw a moose last summer.  The War of 1812?  Yesterday.      

So we idled down the turnpike, hoping to brighten Evan’s day with some heavy machinery, admiring each cone that occupied the perfectly good lane to our right.  Every time the car stopped, Zack screeched.

After a couple of miles, it became clear that the “road work” was actually just an excuse for the    Department of Transportation to display its beautiful collection of cones.

You could picture a highway commissioner sitting in a swivel chair inside one of those roadside buildings that’s shaped like an enormous breast, stroking the cat on his lap and saying, “What’s the point of owning seven million cones if you’re just going to keep them in storage?  Put them out for everyone to see!  Throw a few blinky barrels in the mix, too.  What the heck.”

As we neared the end of the cone display and could see the jam breaking up, it became clear that nothing resembling construction was happening on that sunny weekday afternoon.  Fortunately, Zack’s screaming began to die down as we sped up.

“Sorry, Evan, there won’t be any trucks.  They just put down a bunch of cones and went home,” I said.

“Why?  Why would they put down buncha cones and go home?  Why?” he asked.

“That’s a fantastic question,” I said.

“There should be trucks if there’s cones,” he replied.  When he grows up, he’ll get my vote for highway commissioner.

You can share a cone with Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 15, 2012

See no baby, remember no baby

“How would you like to drive three hours to hold a dead possum that’s been rolled in broken glass?” I ask my out-of-town buddies whenever we catch up on the phone.

Actually, I invite them to stop by to meet my three-month-old son, but their collective responses would work for the possum question, too.

Their lack of enthusiasm for visiting the eardrum-stress-testing facility that is our house stands in stark contrast to my wife’s friends, who have given more bottles to our two children than we have, allowing my wife and I some glorious free moments to collapse on the nearest patch of open carpet.

A few weeks ago, my wife’s pregnant friend, Curry, and her husband, Bob, came to visit during the height of our son Zack’s dalliances with acid reflux, a period we refer to as the Dark and Screamy Times.  If you’re not familiar with acid reflux, it’s a medical condition that causes a baby’s esophagus to turn into one of those horns from the Ricola commercials, blasting a high-decibel wall of sound from here to the nearest alpine meadow.  Fortunately, this only happens when he’s feeding, which is always.

“Here, I’ll take him back.  Nobody deserves this,” I said to Curry as she paced around our living room with Zack, the Human Alpenhorn.

“I can’t be scared of a crying baby.  I’m going to have my own soon,” she said.  In a few minutes, Zack stopped crying.

Curry still had four months until her due date, which should give her ears time to stop ringing.

So I understand that visiting us isn’t the most relaxing way to spend a weekend, especially for my guy friends who would probably only pick up a baby if it was sitting on a six-pack.  Still, when I called my buddy Johnny to let him know that we’d be visiting my parents for a few days, just a short drive from his place, I didn’t expect the conversation to reveal just how deep the rabbit hole went.

“Okay, maybe I’ll drop by and meet your new kid,” Johnny said.

Something in the way he said “your new kid” reeked of evasion.

“Hey, quick question for you.  What’s my son’s name?” I asked.

A pause on the other end of the line.

“Come on, man.  You don’t ask your friend a question like that,” Johnny replied.

“Dude,” I said.

“Okay, fine.  I don’t know it.  Cut me some slack.  Once your friends start having multiple kids, everything becomes a blur,” he said.

The next day, I called our buddy Rob.

“Can you believe Johnny didn’t know my son’s name?  We’ve been friends since the first grade,” I said.

“That’s crazy.  I can’t believe he didn’t know the little guy’s name,” Rob replied.

“Dude, not you, too,” I said.

“I know it!  Seriously.  I just can’t think of it right now,” Rob replied.

These guys are not Facebook friends.  They are actual friends.  We’ve been groomsmen for each other.  I have pictures of these people hanging in our house.  We even talk on the phone at least once a month, like people used to do in the previous millennium.

“You guys were great as high school friends, but as adult friends, you’re not really cutting it,” I said.

“Agreed,” Rob replied.

“It’s Zack,” I said.

“I knew that!” he said.

I can’t complain too much, though.  Childless people have a lot on their minds without devoting precious mental capacity to the names of their friends’ children.  Deciding which movies to see, which countries to visit, how late to sleep in on weekends, which non-plastic-lids-on-the-cups restaurants to patronize, etc.

You can forget all about Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Hardware’s gone soft

Important note in bold font: In honor of the birth of our nation and the more recent birth of two very time-consuming children, I took last week off from the column.  Here's a column from 2005 that ran in the papers instead.  I have no idea what I wrote three weeks ago, so hopefully this will seem new to you, too.

My wife Kara recently tricked me into thinking we were going tool shopping. I know, I know, I should have smelled a trap. I’m like Wiley Coyote – she paints the tunnel on the rock face, and I run smack into it every time.

She fooled me by taking me to a store called Restoration Hardware, and I, for reasons that seemed obvious at the time, expected to find myself in a hardware store. Once we got there, though, I realized it was really a Pottery Barn in disguise. Talk about your dirty tricks. Someday, I’m going to open up a sports bar called “Pillows n’ Scented Candles.”

I actually can’t complain too much about getting tricked into furniture shopping with my wife -- furniture stores always have a place to sit. Shopping with Kara is much more fun for both of us when I can just sit and space out until it’s time to go home.

If it was socially acceptable for a grown man to play GameBoy in public, I’d be a regular furniture shop-a-holic. Nintendo needs to come out with a GameMan for the more mature nerd. It could double as an electric shaver.  (Note from 2012: In this paragraph from 2005, I'm pretty sure I invented the iPhone.  I need to see if there's an app for suing them over that.)

Anyway, that fake hardware store sure did have a nice place to sit. I found a couch there that was so comfy, it was obviously the result of celestial intervention.

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking, crafted a golden throne inside his volcano forge. He gave this throne to the goddess Hera, and when she sat upon it, invisible chains entrapped her. Many years later, that throne was re-upholstered, outfitted with a hide-a-bed, and set upon display at Restoration Hardware (which, by the way, does not sell hardware).

Hephaestus eventually returned to Mount Olympus and set Hera free. If I was trapped on that couch, and Hephaestus came to set me free, I’d say, “Thanks but no thanks, Heph. But hey, before you leave, would you mind using that volcano of yours to fire me up some Cheetos?”

Seriously, if this couch were in my living room, all I’d need to survive would be a remote control, an IV drip, a catheter, and some sort of water-wheel-and-pulley contraption to roll me over every couple of days.
I hung out on that couch until Kara finished looking at all the satiny, aromatic delights of the hardware store. When she came back to retrieve me, I rolled over and checked the price tag, which read $4,000.

“You like that couch?” Kara asked.

“Heck no!” I said. “It’s lumpy. No, no -- don’t sit down. Let’s get out of here.”

“It looks like a nice couch,” she said, eyeing it up.

“Depends on what kind of highway mileage it gets,” I replied. Clearly, nothing costs that much money that can’t be driven home.

Apparently, that couch is so expensive because it is upholstered with the woven chest hair of virgin leprechauns, and the pillows are all stuffed with $20 bills. At least that’s what I assume. We hustled out of there so quickly, I didn’t have time to find out anything else about it.

I didn’t need the temptation. The Couch of the Gods got trumped by the specter of the Unholy Credit Card Bill.

You can munch on celestial Cheetos with Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The delinquents of summer

I dashed into my son’s room a few moments after his normal bedtime fussing turned into yowling screams of pain.

“What is it?” I asked, sliding to my knees beside his bed.

“I hurt my finger!” Evan yelped, holding his pointer finger out.  My eyes focused in the dim light, expecting to see Tarantino-esque arcs of blood squirting through the air.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I bited it.  Can you kiss it?” he asked.  His skin didn’t even have a mark.

“You bit it?  Evan, you really shouldn’t bite your fingers.” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  I gave his finger a kiss as he intently stared at me, waiting for an answer.

“Why shouldn’t you bite your fingers?” I asked.  He nodded.  If you’re going to give crazy advice to a toddler, be prepared to explain yourself.

“Because it hurts.  I think you just found that out,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  Somehow, I’d stepped into an extra inning of bedtime stalling.  We’d already played a regulation game an hour earlier, with seventeen delays for water breaks.  Now we were looking to extend the injury timeout.

“Good night, Evan,” I said, leaving his door open a crack as the normal fussing resumed.

The next morning, I looked out the window to see that summer had officially begun.  The sun was shining.  The birds were probably chirping, though you couldn’t hear them over the air conditioning.  And the kids were off from school, looking for a way to keep entertained, as evidenced by our mailbox lying on the ground, its post snapped in half.

Just when you start to think that kids are sitting around all summer, barely able to suck the Devil Dog debris off their fingers before the next round of Call of Duty starts on their overworked PlayStations, you stumble across some evidence that there are still kids out there who appreciate the value of getting some fresh air while they’re defiling your property.

Evan padded up behind me and looked out the window.

“Why our mailbox broken?” he asked.

“Looks like somebody knocked it over, kiddo,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Good question,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  Then balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling to celebrate Evan’s millionth asking of that question.

I stared at the splintered post, trying to think of any teenagers around the neighborhood whom I might have offended enough to deserve this kind of postal retribution.  It’s been three years since I passed a teenager who wasn’t wearing earbuds while texting, though, so I can’t imagine any of them emerged from their sensory deprivation smartphones long enough to be offended by anything I might have done.

When I pried the door of the mailbox out of the dirt to extract the Netflix DVD that I’d failed to retrieve the day before, I noticed with some relief, and then some guilt for feeling relieved, that a string of other mailboxes down the street had also received the Marie Antoinette treatment during the night.  In fact, it looked like a small tornado had ripped through the neighborhood, treating our mailboxes like miniature mobile homes.

According to the cop who stopped by our house a few hours later, a roving band of teenagers had sown a path of minor destruction around the neighborhood, making several flower pots, garbage cans and mailboxes pay for their failure to be made of cast iron.  A homeowner had heard the racket and chased the kids off, perhaps recognizing one of them as he gave chase, which raised the sweet prospect of justice being delivered.

It’ll have to be delivered to the front door, though, since nobody around here has a mailbox anymore.

You can play mailbox baseball with Mike Todd at