Sunday, February 26, 2012

And sometimes why

Sometimes, all you want to do is hurl yourself down a flight of stairs, especially if you’re a toddler.  You’ll find that despite your best efforts, though, something often gets in your way.  In our house, that thing is a baby gate.

“Mommy and Daddy can open the gate.  Only Evan can’t open it,” our son Evan complained last week, dragging his tin cup back-and-forth against the bars while playing a mournful blues riff on the harmonica.  Evan likes to speak of himself in the third person, like former presidential candidate Herman Cain.  That’s pretty much where their similarities end.  Evan still has a shot at being president.

“Well, Memphis can’t open the gate, either,” I said, trying to make Evan feel better.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because she doesn’t have hands,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because she’s a dog,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  In computer programming, this type of situation is called an infinite loop.  We find ourselves looping quite often these days, ever since we plunged into the Age of Why, which began several months ago.  By the time you get three or four whys deep, the answers are no longer so obvious.  Why is our dog a dog?  I hadn’t pondered that one before.

After a moment, I figured out the answer.

“Because her parents were dogs,” I replied.

“Oh,” Evan said, nodding, the matter settled.

When you have a child who asks why you wear pants, why he should give you a hug and why it’s bad to smear strawberry jam in your hair, you have to resist the urge to try to exit the loop by saying “because” to end the interrogation.  Once you start answering questions with “because,” that’s the only answer you’ll ever get in return.

“Did you have fun at daycare today?” you’ll ask.

“Because,” he’ll reply.

So you do your best to answer the never-ending one-word questions, even though you slept through several relevant classes in high school that you wish you could have back.

“Buddy, don’t clutch that piece of chocolate for the entire ride home.  Either eat it or set it down beside you,” I said last week.  Evan has a habit of squeezing candy until it becomes welded to his hand, and then you need industrial solvent and a belt sander to clean him off.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s going to melt in your hand,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because your hand is warmer than the chocolate, so the heat, uh, moves from your hand into the chocolate.  That’s how it works, right?  Yes, the heat moves into the chocolate and turns it into a liquid.”


“Because the melting point of chocolate -- did my old physics teacher put you up to this?  The heat in your hand causes the chocolate to cross its melting point.”


“I think it’s one of the laws of thermodynamics, maybe?  Or diffusion?  Maybe it has something to do with the periodic table,” I said, brought to my knees by a debate with a toddler.

“Why?” he asked.  The questions never end.  This must be how Socrates’ parents felt.

“Because I said so,” I said, ashamed for ending the conversation that way, but seeing no other way out of the loop.  “Because I said so” is a phrase that would be organically invented millions of times a day by parents all over the world, if it didn’t already exist.  It’s like the self-drilling screws that I invented once, before I checked and saw that some jerk preemptively stole the idea I hadn’t had yet.

In the rearview mirror, Evan was staring at me, seeming to realize that once he hits the fifth grade, Daddy’s not going to be much help with his homework.

You can interrogate Mike Todd at

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poughkeepsie in B&W

I didn't get any great shots from this weekend's visit to the Walkway Over the Hudson, but I did see this one tree that looked like it should be in a picture.  The regular shot didn't do it much justice:

But stick it into Lightroom for a minute, slide some settings around and blammo!  A half-decent picture kinda emerges, maybe:

I like seeing before and after versions of pictures that people screwed around with in a photo editor, so forgive me for assuming that the reader(s) of this blog might, too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The knee bone’s connected to the wallet bone

The regular readers(s) of this column will probably attest that I’ve been in need of therapy for some time, and I finally got some this week.  Unfortunately for my brain, my knee was the recipient.  It would have been nice to have my brain looked at, but my knee takes precedence because I use it every day.

To diagnose the problem, the orthopedist felt my knee for thirty seconds, said, “Does this hurt?” a few times, then sent me off for an MRI.  The bill: Seventy-five bucks, or one dollar for every neuron fired during the consultation.

When I showed up for my MRI appointment, the receptionist looked as if she felt sorry for me.  “Did anyone call you about your insurance?” she asked.

That’s one of those questions that indicates something bad has either happened or is about to happen, like, “Want to take this outside?” or, “How many fingers am I holding up?” or, “You didn’t eat that, did you?”

“No, nobody called,” I said.

“Sorry about that.  We have a note here that says this MRI is going to cost you $850 out-of-pocket,” she replied.

“One moment,” I said as I hobbled off to see if anyone had dropped any prescription sedatives in the hallway.  Not having any luck, I decided to call my wife to get her opinion on whether she’d rather have a healthy husband or $850.

“What choice do we have?  You need to find out what’s wrong,” she said.

“I could just put it off until I can pick a better insurance plan next year,” I replied.

“Babe, it’s only February.  You can’t limp around for a whole year,” she said.

“Just watch me.  It’ll be easy, ‘cause I’ll be going really slow,” I said.

In the end, we decided that I really didn’t have a choice.  In the great roulette game of choosing an insurance plan for the year, I’d crapped out, which might be mixing gambling metaphors, but I’m not really sure because I don’t have the stomach for anything with higher stakes than the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

If you’ve never had an MRI taken, just imagine a giant white machine with a cylindrical hole in the middle, which you’re meant to go into feet-first.  The technician only inserted me up to my chest, but I can see why the panic button he handed me is standard issue.  People who go all the way into the machine must come out with a much greater appreciation for how a battery feels when you drop it into a flashlight.

After the technician leaves, you try to hold still for twenty minutes while the machine makes sounds as if it is a giant modem from 1997, and it is having trouble connecting to AOL.  During this time, a huge magnet is causing the protons in your body to realign so that $850 can be extracted from your wallet.  Also, it takes a picture.

That picture gets sent to the orthopedist, who charges you seventy-five dollars to tell you that he doesn’t see anything in it.  Then you limp back to your car, feeling a little lighter on your feet because you don’t have all that money weighing you down.

Afterwards, you’ll wait a few weeks to see if your knee will heal on its own, which it won’t, and you’ll realize that you should have just bought a new knee at the beginning of all this.

That’s when you’ll finally break down and visit the physical therapist, which the orthopedist had, in fairness, recommended when he said, “I’m recommending physical therapy,” which cost eighteen-and-a-half dollars per word.

The physical therapist will take your leg and bend it around your ears.  Fortunately, there will be nothing left to fall out of your pockets.

You can roll snake eyes with Mike Todd at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Photography for cheaters

Kara's Christmas present to me this year was a copy of Lightroom, the photo editing software from Adobe.  It was an awesome present, but kind of like giving a Rubik's Cube to a monkey.  He might have fun playing with it, but he probably won't be using it right.

I've been attempting to whip up some pictures into something we might want to hang on a wall somewhere.  Some of these might fit the bill, some won't, but I thought it'd be cool to post some before/after shots of my initial twiddling around with it.
















Before (my buddy Rob Kalmbach took this one):







Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dodging an early delivery

The regular reader(s) of this column might recall that last week, my pregnant wife Kara and I had a scare, wherein our unborn son showed some signs that he might attempt to procure a social security number three months before we’d intended.  Everything turned out fine, except that Kara’s doctor sentenced her to three months of soft time on the couch.

But then a few days ago, Kara once again sensed that something wasn’t quite right and dropped in for another doctor’s appointment.

“My doctor said I’m having contractions right now,” she said over the phone.  “Can you pick me up at his office and bring me to the hospital?”

Suddenly, what I was going to eat for lunch that day no longer seemed of consequence.  Modern cars should really come equipped with “I don’t normally drive like this” indicators, just so other drivers don’t get the wrong idea.

“It’s going to be okay.  Really, everything’s fine,” Kara said as she scooched into the passenger’s seat and our car’s tires became reacquainted with the pavement.  The assurances really should have been flowing the other way.  A pregnant lady having to settle down her husband is a bit like Tom Brady reassuring the water boy.

A hospital greeter met Kara with a wheelchair, and the three of us headed down the long hallway to the elevator, then the maternity ward.  In a few more minutes, Kara had a bed in the triage area, and the nurse had hooked her up to a seismometer-type device, complete with scribbling pens and graph paper.

“We’ll just monitor you for a few hours and give you some medication to stop the contractions.  You can relax,” the nurse said, though we were not feeling disposed to comply.

“I wonder if they’re going to put me on complete bedrest now,” Kara said, once we were as alone as you can be when your walls are made of sheets.

“If they do, would you mind living on the couch instead of our bedroom, so I don’t have to carry dishes up and down the stairs?” I asked.  

“Oh, don’t make me laugh,” she said, holding her side.  Just then, the nurse poked her head in and said, “You can go grab lunch down the hall if you’d like.”

I’d almost forgotten why visiting the maternity ward again, almost three years after the birth of our first son, had been such a powerful experience, putting a lump in my throat and bringing back a flood of fond memories: the buffet.  Seriously.  Modern medicine may have a long way to go in other areas, but it has conquered the maternity ward buffet.

As I walked down the hall to get us some lunch, I passed the room where Evan had been born two months ahead of schedule, so fragile and thin.  These days, it’s easy to forget about the time when he was just a tiny wisp, especially when he’s executing a flying knee drop onto your crotch.

After a couple of hours, the pens on the seismometer, which had been tracing the peaks and valleys of Kara’s contractions, flatlined.  Her test results came back negative, which was positive.  According to the doctor, she now had a 99.2% chance of not having a baby in the next two weeks.  They didn’t even put her on bedrest, so she will hopefully just go on thinking that I was kidding about the dishes.

We drove home that afternoon, exhausted and relieved.  This pregnancy is keeping Kara off her feet and on her toes.  Hopefully, the next time we’re back in the maternity ward will be in about ten weeks, right on schedule.  And if we’re extra lucky, perhaps it will be baked ziti day again.

You can nudge ahead of Mike Todd at the buffet line at 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

On early childbirth and zombies

The last thing you want on a Monday afternoon is to have your baby born three months prematurely, but as I sped to the doctor’s office last week to meet my pregnant wife, Kara, that possibility loomed.

“My doctor thought that I might need a steroid shot to help the baby’s lungs develop faster, just in case labor is imminent,” Kara told me over the phone, and I was out the door.

We met at the maternal fetal specialist for an impromptu appointment.  Two-and-a-half years ago, our son, Evan, caught us by surprise and insisted on being born two months early.  Nobody knows why that happened, so Kara is in the high-risk pregnancy category this time around, which means that she spends more time in waiting rooms than the receptionists.

This appointment had a special urgency, though, since neither of us knew if Kara’s aches and pains during the preceding day had actually been the start of an even earlier labor, as her regular doctor had suggested.  I started to get that same feeling I’d had when Evan was born, the feeling that this kind of life event should really be reserved for someone better equipped to handle it.

But then the fetal specialist entered the room, looked at the ultrasound and said, “Your cervix is beautiful.”
I was pretty sure he was talking to Kara.

“So everything’s okay?” she asked.

“Yes, you’re not going into labor now, and I don’t see any great reason to be concerned,” he said, and the examination room shuddered with our collective sigh of relief.

“But you do need to take it easy,” he continued, unfortunately still not talking to me.  “I won’t call it ‘bedrest,’ but you need to keep your activity to a minimum.”

Kara began inquiring about what exactly he meant.  Could she still go to work?  Go shopping?  Go to the mailbox?

“If it doesn’t involve sitting down, you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.  

“What about doing my own laundry or even putting my dishes away?” Kara asked.

“Nope, you can’t do any of that now,” the doctor replied.

“Aw, dude,” I said, in my head.

So for the past few days, we’ve started adjusting to our new reality, one in which Kara isn’t allowed to get up from the couch.  It’s not that I’ve ever been jealous of a woman in her third trimester, exactly, but I can’t help feeling that she’s squandering a golden opportunity.

“It’s a shame you don’t play video games.  All this quality couch time going to waste,” I said.

“The only thing I’m allowed to do for the next three months is go to the bathroom and gestate,” Kara said.  “I’m an incubator with feet.”

“We have Call of Duty in the Playstation right now.  I can show you how to throw grenades the right way and everything,” I offered.

“No thanks, babe.  I’ll just read,” she said.

“But you can play against zombies!” I said.  For reasons I still cannot fathom, she shook her head.

Sometimes, just when you think you’re beginning to understand women, they’ll refuse to throw a grenade at a zombie.

“Fine.  I guess the zombies win, then,” I muttered as I wandered off to cook dinner.  Okay, order dinner.

Kara might very well lose her mind sitting on the couch for the next three months, but at least it looks like the baby is staying put, for now.  It probably helps that I constantly remind Kara to “keep holding it in.”

For now, all is well.  And in just three months, if we keep going at this rate, we’ll have a beautiful baby boy and a memorial wing at our pizza place.

You can send Mike Todd a premature email at