Monday, February 25, 2013

San Fran-pic-so

I didn't have time to write a column for this week.  We were too busy whooping it up in San Francisco with my sister Amy, her wife Jaime and their awesome new daughter, Anjali.  I realize posting pictures from this trip might be redundant, since my mom has already seen them, but I'll put them out here anyway, just in case the Russian comment-spammers who visit this blog want to see some cute kids.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dumbo vs. Diego

“Five!  A new high score!” I yelled.  I was playing a game we invented in our house called “See How High You Can Build a Block Tower Before One of Your Kids Knocks It Down”, the rules of which are fairly self-explanatory.  The game is so difficult that the bar for success is very low, like how cowboys only have to stay on the bull for eight seconds.

“Again!” my son Evan squealed as he surveyed the wreckage he’d just created.

“This game is tough.  You’re quite the demolition man,” I said.

“No, I’m Diego.  I’m an animal rescuer,” he said.  Then, in case I wasn’t familiar with the scope of his professional obligations, he said, “I rescue animals.”

He learned about the exciting and vibrant field of animal rescuing from his favorite show, “Go, Diego, Go!” which teaches kids that you can keep the food chain from happening if you have a positive attitude, apparently unlimited funding and a backpack that turns into a hang glider.

Just as I started to build another tower, Evan danced a little jig and groaned, throwing himself doubled-over onto the couch.

“Need to go potty?” I asked.

“No, I don’t have tooooooo,” he said, straining as if he was bench-pressing a mini-fridge.  I’ve heard that in kids’ minds, once you make the urge to go to the bathroom subside for a moment, you think you’ve vanquished it forever, even though you’ve only forestalled the inevitable, which will only be worse when it comes back.  This thought process seems insane, but then Congress does the same thing every few months with the debt ceiling.

“Come on, bud.  Let’s go the bathroom,” I said.

“Nooooo,” he replied.

“We can watch cartoons in there,” I said, pulling the iPhone out of my pocket.

“Okay,” Evan said, waddling towards the bathroom.

Bribing him with cartoons has been way more effective than prunes.  But I worry that the cartoons I’ve hooked him on, cherished Bugs Bunny cartoons from my childhood, aren’t teaching the best messages.
Evan’s cartoons are about teamwork, exercising to be healthy and rescuing animals.  When I was a kid, cartoons were about pushing adversaries off cliffs, dropping anvils on their heads and shooting them in the face at very close range.

In the bathroom, Evan laughed as Elmer Fudd got his barely deserved comeuppance.  

“It’s not nice to put a stick of dynamite down someone’s pants, right?” I explained, just in case he ever has the opportunity.  To be safe, I’ll probably put another padlock on the TNT shed in our backyard.

I can’t even bring myself to show him my old favorite Tom & Jerry cartoons, which regularly featured the main characters drinking, smoking and hitting each other.  It’s what we watched before “Jersey Shore” taught us that this kind of entertainment could be achieved without animation.

Even old family favorites aren’t always safe.

“Look, Evan, it’s Dumbo!  You’re gonna love this movie,” I said when the title became available to stream on Netflix.  My wife Kara sat on the couch with Evan, excited to relive a classic with him.

A few minutes in, we started to rethink our enthusiasm.

“I don’t remember this movie being such a downer,” Kara whispered.

Evan squirmed as Dumbo was torn from his mom and tormented by clowns.  Do you remember how Dumbo flies for the first time?  He gets wasted on the clowns’ discarded booze, hallucinates, blacks out and wakes up in a tree.  When my friends in college discovered magical abilities that way, they often ended up needing stitches afterwards.

Dumbo doesn’t even fly non-wasted until the final few minutes of the movie, which he mostly spends exacting vengeance on the clowns.

Too bad Diego wasn’t around to rescue him sooner.

You can smoke dynamite with Mike Todd at

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Home alone, with Daddy

“I’m so sorry to do this to you,” my wife Kara said last week, right before she left me.

Her bags were already in the trunk of her car, and there was no talking her out of it.  Once she walked out that door, she’d be gone forever.

Well, for three days, but when you’re taking care of two small kids without any help, three days and forever are pretty much the same thing.

“Mommy, where are you going?” our son Evan asked.

“I have to take a trip for work, but I’ll be back on Thursday,” she said.

“Sunday-Monday, Tuesday-Wednesday, Thursday, Friiii-day, Saturday,” Evan sang, repeating the no-frills mnemonic jingle he’d learned at daycare.  Singling a list makes it easier to remember, apparently, which is why I’ve started setting our grocery list to Ride of the Valkyries.

“Get some CREAM CHEESE and some BROCC-LI and sliced TUR-KEY, da da da DEEEEE!”

If the list gets longer than three things, though, I have to resort to the tried-and-true method of writing down a list and then forgetting to bring it with me.

As we packed up our two cars that morning, mine headed for daycare and work, Kara’s headed for the wild paved yonder, Evan started bawling.

“Aw, hey, buddy, what’s wrong?” I asked, but I already knew.  Any kid would be distressed at the prospect of getting ditched for even a few minutes, let alone a few days.

Kara got out of her car and walked over, her lower lip pushed out in sympathy.

“My banana has stringy things on it!” Evan wailed.

“Dude, seriously?  That’s part of the banana.  You can eat those things.  Maybe you’re really upset about Mommy leaving?  She’ll be back in a few days,” I said.

“No, the banana,” he said, sniffling.

On the drive to daycare, Evan stopped projecting his separation anxiety onto his breakfast produce.

“How much time ‘til Thursday now?” he asked every five minutes, reacting with genuine surprise when he got the same answer each time.

After work, I took Evan and his baby brother Zack to the grocery store, which might sound ambitious, but grocery carts are like cages on wheels, perfect for containing children and killing time.

“Cheez Its!  We need Cheez Its!” Evan said, lunging from his perch by the cart’s handle.  He whiffed.  One of the first skills you learn as a parent is to never push the cart too close to the merchandise, lest you spend all your time wrenching Fruit Roll-Ups out of little fingers.

“Sorry, no room in the cart,” I said, which was true.  With a kid sitting by the handle and a car seat filling up the cart, you can’t actually buy anything.  You can try to balance a loaf of bread on the baby, but he’ll either chew on it through the plastic bag or mash it into matzo.  But even though you can’t purchase any food, you can kill a solid four minutes standing next to the poor man’s Camden Aquarium, also known as the lobster tank.

The next morning, for the first time in over three years, I awoke to the sound of an alarm clock, rather than to a baby screeching.  Most things can be done while wearing a baby on your back and having Dora the Explorer babysit your three-year-old, but showering is not one of those things.    If you don’t get up before the kids, I’m not sure how single parents bathe themselves without wheeling a shopping cart or other child-trapping device into the bathroom.

On Thursday afternoon, Kara texted: “Tell Evan not to brush his teeth until I get home.  I’m bringing something for him.”

Empowered by my success at handling the kids on my own, I replied, “Don’t worry – he hasn’t brushed them in three days.  A couple more hours won’t hurt.”

You can snatch some Cheez Its with Mike Todd at

Sunday, February 03, 2013

There’s no “me” in “vasectomy”

“So maybe you’d like to make an appointment to come see me?” the urologist said, and from the twinkle in his eye, I could tell that our conversation had gone dangerously off track.  I replayed the previous few moments in my mind.

“Evan looks great.  This should be his last follow-up,” the doctor had said after checking the healed incisions on my son’s abdomen, Evan’s minor surgery now a distant memory.

“That’s great.  You did awesome, bud,” I’d said to Evan, thinking it was time to head for the front desk to check on the lollipop situation.

“Does he have any siblings?” the urologist asked.

“Just a younger brother,” I’d replied.

“Planning to have more?” the doctor asked.  Right there, alarm bells should have been ringing in my pants.

“Nope, we’re two and through,” I’d said, proud at the insanely high number of children Kara and I had produced.  Two children is also one child below the mandatory minivan threshold, which seems like a good place to stop.

As soon as I’d confessed that we were out of the procreation business, the urologist asked me that question about making an appointment.  With terror, I realized that he was already giving me a vasectomy with his eyes.

“Whoa, you know, my wife and I haven’t really talked about that yet.  Maybe we’ll be 100% sure in a few years,” I said, buying enough time to get me far, far away from that office.

Last year, the contractor doing work on our house for the better part of the summer nonchalantly mentioned that he’d had a vasectomy.

“How bad was it?” I asked.

“It’s really not a big deal,” he said, then he went on to describe, in vivid detail, what sounded like the opposite of a not big deal.  He told me about the scalpel, and something about a hook going into the (small!) incision and pulling some duct work (briefly!) out to be snipped.  After that, all I really remember is the smelling salts helping me come to.

“Do you have kids?” I asked the urologist, attempting to turn the conversation away from neutering me.

Nein,” he said, switching to German and nodding.

Then he continued, “The youngest is six months old.  I’m forty-six.  Man, I’m getting too old for this.”

Wait, nine kids, not nein kids?  That was English?  Physician, snip thyself!

Someday, a date with that scalpel awaits me.  But there’s no way that the person wielding it will have nine kids.  First off, he clearly has no first-hand knowledge of being a patient for this procedure.  Sure, by that logic, I’d also have to refuse brain surgery from anyone who hasn’t been lobotomized, but whenever someone starts waving sharp objects at my groin, logic isn’t my top priority.  It just seems like having this guy do the procedure would be like asking a vegan to cook my filet mignon.

Second, it’s not that you necessarily have to be crazy to have nine kids, but all else being equal, someone with nine cats is much more likely to be sane, and the odds aren’t great for either of them.  At least if you have nine cats, you can still leave the house for a family outing without renting a school bus.

When I got home, I told Kara, “You’ll never believe what that guy wanted to do to me.”

I told her a harrowing tale of adventure, appointments avoided and scalpels dodged.

She rolled her eyes.  Trying to get sympathy from someone who’s delivered two children is really difficult.

“You know, one of these days, you’re really going to need to make an app…” she started to say, but I missed the rest.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to hear what your spouse is saying when you’re fleeing down the driveway.

You can try to fix Mike Todd at