Sunday, April 29, 2012

No column this week

I took last week off from the column.  If you'd like to read the beautiful tribute my sister Amy wrote for our cousin Dana, or the wonderful eulogy she delivered at her funeral last week, please follow those links to Amy's blog.  We love you and miss you, Dana.  Catch you all again next week.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shear ineptitude

“Don't worry, it'll just be a little tickle,” I promised my son Evan as he suspiciously eyed the buzzing implement of doom that orbited his ear.

He gripped the steering wheel of the Barbie Jeep and braced himself.  He might have looked tougher if he’d chosen to have his haircut one seat over, in the little red airplane, but at that moment, he was the toughest person I’d ever seen driving a pink car with purple wheels.

“You're doing great,” the hairstylist said as the trimmer began removing the traces of the proto-mullet that had been forming on the back of his neck.

I wandered into the mall for a moment and wondered briefly how the pizza parlor across the way went out of business while Radio Shack, the cockroach of the retail world, had somehow survived the recession.  They must be coasting by on the profits from the VCR cable I bought there twelve years ago.  

When I came back into the salon, pandemonium, as it has a habit of doing, ensued.  Evan was wailing while my wife Kara was holding a tissue to stop the bleeding behind his ear.  The hairstylist was running toward the back of the salon, perhaps to make her getaway out by the dumpsters.  

“What happened?” I asked.

“She nicked him with the trimmer,” Kara said.  Just a little tickle had turned into just a little trickle.

That’s when we noticed blood behind his other ear, too.  In the ten seconds I’d been gone, the Barbie Jeep had turned into a triage station.  Turns out, Evan had been right about the doom aspect of the trimmers all along.

“I’m so sorry.  That’s never happened before,” the hairstylist said as she returned with more tissues.  And it never will again, at least not with us.  This hairstylist must have graduated from the same barber school as my Great-Grandpa Sweeney.

The nicks really weren’t that bad, and after the initial surprise and commotion, Evan’s crying, and the bleeding, stopped.  The next day, you could barely tell there’d been a scratch.  Evan even sat still for the rest of the haircut, but I think that’s just because he was trying to figure out how to throw the Barbie Jeep into gear so he could peel out of there.

As we went to pay, I cringed to see how Kara would handle the tip.  Her cranial orifices were still billowing rage-smoke.  Still, I get squeamish about giving bad tips, no matter how atrocious the service.  I winced as Kara handed over the cash, sure that she’d stiffed the hairstylist.  Then I did the math and realized she’d just tipped 25%.

“We sure showed her,” I said as we left, with Evan happily noshing on his post-trauma lollipop.

“Well, I felt bad for her,” Kara said.

Fortunately for truly awful service-sector employees, if they do a bad enough job, they generate the requisite sympathy to ensure that they don’t get Darwinned out of their jobs like they should.  In fact, if they’re awful enough, they’ll make out better than if they were good.  Being a little bit slow won’t do the trick, since that will just result in a pared-down tip.  They have to go the full monty, dumping coffee on people’s laps or shearing their children’s ears to make sure they get their sympathy bonus.

As a busboy in high school, I benefited from this phenomenon, noticing that people seemed to leave better tips when you dumped glasses of ice water on them.  That’s why we always gave our customers towels on the way in.

“Don’t worry, it’ll make sense later,” we’d tell them.

Of course, this is all just a long way of explaining Evan’s eventual ponytail to his grandparents.

You can take a little off Mike Todd’s top at

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Simply the breast

“You’re going to drop the baby.  Stop multitasking,” my wife Kara gently suggested last week.

I glanced up from Facebook to notice that, indeed, there was a baby in my lap.  I had a vague recollection of stumbling into his room a few minutes earlier, prompted by his near-hourly hunger shrieks, but then my brain went into standby mode so that it could properly navigate the Internet.  

It’s just as well that Kara prompted me to start paying more attention to giving our son a bottle and less to Facebook, since half of all Facebook posts these days talk about races that people are running for some reason, even though nobody is chasing them.  There’s also a Nike app that keeps me abreast of the athletic activities of people I kind of knew in high school, saying, “I just finished my run!  Distance: 3.17 miles.  Pace: 9’16”/mi.”

 I know these posts are meant to elicit supportive comments and keep people enthused about being healthy, but I think attacking the problem from the shame end of the spectrum might be more effective.  What about a Krispy Kreme app that would announce to all your friends and acquaintances: “Mike just ingested 2,400 calories and 144 grams of fat.  Dude, he ate the entire box!”

Giving my old tormentors from high school the chance to comment “Boom-babba!  Boom-babba!” on my Facebook status would be a fantastic motivator, and I wouldn’t even need to buy running shoes.

“Sorry, I’ll pay more attention,” I said to Kara, putting my iPod back in my pocket and taking a swig of water.  The great thing about having a newborn is that you can drink a gallon of water right before bed and there's a zero-percent chance that the urge to urinate will be the thing that wakes you up.  Parenthood means you can hydrate with impunity.

The three of us sat in Zack’s room at 3:30am with the sound of Kara’s breast pump pulsating in the background: WHACK-o.  WHACK-o.  WHACK-o.  You may have visited the Great Pyramids, or gone snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef, but if you have never seen your wife hooked up to a breast pump, then you have NOT seen it all.

After a glorious week in which I could sleep through Zack’s middle-of-the-night feedings, I’ve been drafted back into service.  He wasn’t gaining enough weight through breastfeeding, so we’re giving him bottles in the hopes that he’ll be strong enough to breastfeed on his own soon.  The danger of giving him bottles is that Zack might never take up breastfeeding again, due to something called nipple confusion, which sounds like a condition your congressman might suffer from while visiting a gentlemen’s club.

"I'm so sorry, I thought you were someone else.  Must be the nipple confusion.  I hope I haven't lost your vote!"

The regular reader(s) of this column might have noticed that I haven’t been dispensing much breastfeeding advice lately, instead devoting space to topics I’m more qualified to discuss, like nuclear proliferation, string theory and various manifestations of household vomit.  If you know anyone who might be more of an expert on that last topic, please offer them my sincere condolences.  Something I’ve learned over the past several years is that, of all the adjectives that pop into mind when you think of your dog, perhaps the least desirable is “queasy.”  

Until our first child was born, I thought a lactation consultant was the guy at Ben and Jerry’s who helps you decide whether to order Chunky Monkey or Chubby Hubby.  But after watching Kara go through tough times with both of our children, and hearing from family and friends who have had similar or worse experiences, we’ve both learned more about breastfeeding than we thought possible.  Hopefully, Zack will get the hang of it soon.  If not, I look forward to much nocturnal reading about everyone’s jogging exploits for the next several months.

You can share a box of Krispy Kremes with Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Sleep Deprivation Games

“There will be twenty-four of us.  Odds are someone else will kill him before I do,” I read aloud to my little listener last week, who stared at me with crossed blue eyes.  At four days old, he might have been a little young for The Hunger Games, and I might have been a little old, but if you average my thirty-four years and his zero years, we’re right in the target demographic.

I wasn’t sure what else to do with him at four in the morning, as he gazed at a point about six inches in front of my nose, expecting entertainment.  I grabbed my wife’s Kindle and started reading the only book that wouldn’t have featured a shirtless Highlander on the cover.

Actually, I’d heard good things about both The Hunger Games movie and the books, so I thought my night shifts with our new son, Zack, would be a good time to get caught up on my cultural literacy, which is currently at an all-time low, in large part because I’ve never seen any of the “Real Housewives” shows.

Since Kara had already read the books, I wanted to get through them, too, so we’d be in good shape to see the movie during our next free evening, which should be in about three presidential administrations, or thirty-seven iPhone models.

“…and for a brief time we grapple for it and then he coughs, splattering my face with blood,” I read to Zack in a soothing voice as he, captivated by my narrative skills, tried to breastfeed on my sweatshirt.

Just then, a scream pierced the stillness of our house, which happens with enough frequency that it’s more surprising that there’s any stillness in the first place.

Our older son, Evan, began crying from his bed upstairs, threatening to ruin the hard-earned nap that Kara was trying to enjoy.  On cue, Zack started screaming for milk, an hour before his schedule called for it.  Our sons were like loons calling to each other across a mountain lake, if loons sounded like hyenas fighting over a vulture carcass.

It was my first experience with dueling screaming children.  I knew this moment would come, and actually felt somewhat prepared to handle it, though it might have flustered me just a few years ago.  Kara and I are both more confident caregivers now.  Over the past couple of years, we’ve successfully raised both a baby and a dog, and only one of them has eaten a box of crayons.

“Shhhh, quiet, quiet,” I said to Zack as I ripped off the tangle of baby blankets and pillows that pinned me to the couch, trying to quiet him down and get to Evan before the cacophony woke up Kara.  The teenagers killing each other with medieval weaponry in our quiet bedtime book would have to wait.

I cradled Zack like a powder-blue, screaming football and headed up the stairs.  The dog, always loyal and wanting to be helpful, trotted alongside, looking for a way to alleviate the situation and deciding that, in the end, she could be of most use by vomiting at my feet.

“Seriously, dog?” I whispered.  By that point, I might as well have dispensed with the whispering.  A New Orleans jazz quartet marching down the hallway festooned with cowbells would have been quieter than Zack and Evan’s a cappella performance.

Kara stumbled into the hallway, trying to figure out if someone pulled a fire alarm.

“Everything’s under control,” I said, though I’m not sure she could hear me over the racket.

“Well, I’m up.  We can start my shift once we settle them down, and you can go back to sleep,” she said.

Then she went into Evan’s room, and I gave Zack his first high-five.

You can tuck Mike Todd in at

Sunday, April 01, 2012

One more Todd joins the world

"You're doing great.  Is there anything you need right now?" the nurse asked my wife Kara last Tuesday.

"An epidural, please," Kara replied.

“We're still waiting for your lab results to come back before we can do that.  Should be here any minute," the nurse said.

“I have ice chips!" I offered.

Kara’s request was the same thing as someone running into a fire station and yelling, "My house is on fire!  I need a fire truck!" and getting the response, “How about a Diet Coke instead?"

When your wife is in labor, they hand you a cup of ice chips and a plastic spoon to make you feel useful.  It's like when you want a toddler to feel like he helped bake a cake, so you give him a ladle and a piece of Tupperware to play drums while you do the actual cooking.

Kara did eat a couple of ice chips, but part of me can't help but wonder if she'd rather have had anesthesia instead.

Dave Barry once wrote: “Childbirth, as a strictly physical phenomenon, is comparable to driving a United Parcel truck through an inner tube.”

As the epidural continued not to materialize, we began to worry that Kara might deliver our own little UPS truck in the absence of modern medicine.  We have friends who decided on natural childbirth, delivering their children without the aid of pharmaceuticals, except perhaps for the psychotropic drugs that caused them to arrive at that decision in the first place.

The nurse left the room, leaving Kara alone with me and my ice chips.

“What can I do to help?” I asked.  I wondered if I might employ my spoon in catapulting ice chips at medical people until one of them gave my wife some anesthesia.

“Why did she leave?  I need an epidural!” Kara yelled.

I stepped into the hallway and looked left and right, seeing no one.  You’d think the maternity ward would have epidural vendors roaming the hallways like watered-down-beer vendors at a ballgame.  I began to worry that I was going to have to put down my ice chips and catch the baby myself, which would make a great story, but a terrible thing to actually happen.

A few minutes later, the nurse reappeared and said, "Can I get you anything?"

"An epidural!" Kara replied.  She had been pretty consistent on that point all along.

The nurse checked her computer and said, “Your lab results are back!  The anesthesiologist will be here in a moment.”

I'm not 100% sure what being "nine centimeters dilated" means, but apparently, if that phrase applies to you, you wouldn't mind at all if someone gave you enough drugs to incapacitate a bull moose.

Finally, a new doctor pushed a cart into the room.

“I’m the anesthesiologist,” were the sweetest words I’d ever heard, pretty much canceling out the obscenities coming from the other side of the room.

A few moments later, thankfully, they were able to give Kara some relief.  Given our family’s brief, involuntary flirtations with natural childbirth, I finally understand why so many people prefer it.  It is because they are insane.

About thirty minutes after the anesthesiologist brought Kara back from her exciting exploration of the pain scale, Zachary Mason Todd, our second son, landed headfirst in the world.

“Welcome to Planet Earth,” the nurse said.  They wrapped him up as his tiny cries filled the room.  When they handed him to Kara, her face turned to a teary smile as if the preceding ordeal had never happened.

And just like that, our little family became six pounds and thirteen ounces bigger.

You can tie an “It’s a boy!” balloon to Mike Todd’s mailbox at