Sunday, April 28, 2013

How to set a Burmese wife trap

“Could you please not leave your slippers there?  I always trip over them when I’m going to the bathroom in the middle of the night,” my wife Kara said, pointing at the floor as if I was a dog who’d done a bad thing and needed to reminded again about what is acceptable behavior inside the house.  In fairness to her, it must be difficult to mentally separate me from our dog Memphis, since the pooch and I both devote what some might describe as a disproportionate level of zeal to the pastime of scratching our respective selves.

The dog and I also both hide upstairs when we get caught trying to steal the kids’ Easter candy, the bulk of which is STILL sitting on the kitchen table, taunting us.  If the apocalypse came tomorrow, our family could probably subsist through the summer on our stash of stale Peeps alone.

As I paused, considering a response, I realized that this was the beginning of the most geriatric argument Kara and I had ever taken part in.  It had everything: Nagging, slippers, nocturnal lavatory breaks.  Just thinking about that conversation, even now, makes my mouth taste of Metamucil, and I can hear a few more hairs from the periphery of my bald spot gently landing on my shoulder.

Of course, it’s unfair to characterize what Kara was doing as “nagging.”

As she explains: “It starts out as asking.  It only becomes nagging when you don’t do it.”

She’d asked many times for me to stop setting Burmese wife traps in the bathroom, but I’d had more important things to do, like Googling “how to avoid repetitive motion injuries from staring at your iPhone too much” on my iPhone.

With Kara waiting for me to respond, I peered in at our bathroom, the site of the infraction, to see just how bad it really was.  She’d actually been kind to me.  I hadn’t just left my slippers there.  It was much worse.  There, at the base of the toilet, were my slippers, facing out, with my crumpled underwear and pajama pants resting on top, an undershirt tossed nearby.  That morning, I’d jumped straight from the toilet to the shower, leaving all my worldly trappings behind.

If an archaeologist from the future had wandered into our bathroom, preserved at that moment, the only logical conclusion he could possibly have drawn is that some sort of flannel-based creature had molted right there.

“Looks like this specimen was in too much of a hurry to clean up after himself.  Probably fleeing a flannel-eating predator, like a giant moth,” he would guess.

Nine years ago, on our honeymoon, Kara and I went bungy jumping in New Zealand.  We weren’t the coolest people in the world, but we had some decent cool-person credentials.  We even used to be able to watch MTV reality shows and say, “I can understand why people would act like that.”

Since then, it’s been a long, downward spiral into complete uncoolness.  Looking at that pile of clothes in front of the toilet, I realized that I’d reached a new nadir of not being cool, and that I was likely to keep reaching new nadirs until my mid-life sports-car purchase.

I felt a deep shame, similar to the shame I felt that time I looked at my reflection in the microwave as I gnawed the melted cheese off a Mama Celeste pizza box.  If you prefer to think of yourself as more-evolved than a baboon, don’t look at your reflection when you’re licking food off of something that most people would agree is garbage.

“Sorry, babe.  I’ll try not to do that anymore,” I said.  She patted me on the head, and I knew that I’d been a good boy.

You can ask Mike Todd, then nag him when he ignores you, at

Monday, April 22, 2013

You’ve lost a friend in Pennsylvania

*** Note to reader(s): I turned in an old column again this week.  These days, I feel like I'm doing pretty good if I can keep my fingernails clipped - getting a column done is extra credit.  But that's the benefit of writing a weekly column for eight years - after a while, you can start plagiarizing yourself and nobody will notice.  The column below is from 2009.  I barely recognize it, and I wrote the thing, so hopefully it'll be like new to you, too.***

Getting my mom to join Facebook seemed like such a good idea at the time. In retrospect, it was an innovation on par with New Coke, the Hindenburg and The Matrix sequels.

“Oh, that’s for you kids. You don’t want me lurking around on Facebook, seeing what you all are up to,” she said a few weeks ago. Up to that point, Mom’s favorite social networking site had been her living room.

But my wife Kara and I insisted, thinking that Mom would enjoy using Facebook, catching up with some old friends and keeping up with current ones. So during a weekend visit to our house, while my dad and I huddled around the kitchen sink, trying to figure out the right combination of expletives and wrenches to get the new faucet installed, Kara and Mom huddled around the laptop, working on installing Mom into the world of online social networking.

Initially, the installation looked very promising. “Ooh, hey, I haven’t talked to her since high school!” Mom said, high-fiving Kara as they trolled through Facebook’s oceans of people, chumming friend requests overboard along the way. By the end of the weekend, Mom had connected with a couple dozen friends and family members. Your Facebook account isn’t fully mature until it gathers more friends than the number of people you’ve actually met in your life, but it was a good start.

The troubles began later in the week, when Mom changed her relationship status to “Married” to reflect her forty-one years of marriage to my dad.

Immediately, some family friends from my generation posted comments like: “Congratulations on finally getting him to tie the knot!” and “Hubba hubba -- who’s the new beau?”

“They’re making fun of me,” Mom said over the phone. “What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing, Mom. They were just joking around,” I said.

“Well, okay, but I don’t really understand the point of all this. Your cousin just told the whole world what he ate for breakfast,” she said.

“You don’t have to read everybody’s status updates,” I replied.

“I had Special K with fresh blueberries this morning. Do you think I should tell everyone?” she asked.

Clearly, her generation lacks the healthy narcissism of mine. Mom’s enthusiasm for Facebook gradually waned over the next few days as waves of shallow communications washed across her screen. Then a family friend uploaded a picture of Mom in which she’d been caught mid-sentence, clearly not ready for the flash to go off. It was the upload that broke the camel’s back.

“I’ve been trying for three hours to delete this photo of me,” she said, sounding exhausted. “How do I get rid of it?”

Unfortunately, pictures from your past, uploaded by your friends, are an indignity one must suffer as a Facebook user. A friend of mine from college recently uploaded pictures of me from the regrettable period several months after I’d decided to grow my hair out. Growing your hair long isn’t something you just do. It takes lots of dedication and baseball caps.

The first comment read like this: “Hey, Mike looks like a mushroom. Look out, Mike! Super Mario’s going to jump on you!”

I tried to explain to Mom that she couldn’t delete pictures that she hadn’t uploaded. The best she could do was to remove the tag that contained her name.

“Well, I don’t think Facebook was meant for my generation. I’m going to leave,” she said.

“Leave? I don’t think you can leave,” I said. “It’s like the mafia.”

Somehow, though, Mom left. I picture her dropping from the ceiling at Facebook headquarters, suspended from the small of her back by a cable like Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible.

If you’d like to issue a friend request to my mom these days, the best place to start would probably be her living room.

You can de-friend Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Notes from a padded room

Over the top of my iPhone, I sort of witnessed our three-year-old son Evan bowling into his one-year-old brother Zack, knocking him to the floor.  

“It’s okay Zack,” Evan said before anyone could yell at him, picking Zack back up to a crawling position.  Zack continued motoring along as if nothing had happened, like a turtle who’d been flipped back onto his feet.

I flicked past another few Facebook updates, looking at pictures of children begat by people I hadn’t seen in real life since high school and probably would never see again.  Somehow, at that moment, this was more interesting than looking at my own kids, who were trolling around the toy room (formerly known as the living room) looking for things to crack their heads upon.

I have the luxury of being able to half-watch our children in that room because every inch of it is covered in so much padding that you could play dodgeball with uninsured Faberge eggs in there.  We’ve also installed a baby gate that most adults can’t figure out how to operate, leading our more agile guests to decide it’s easier to hurdle their way out.

When you’re child-proofing a room, you have to think, “This coffee table looks harmless enough, but what happens when you smash your face into it?”

Because that is what your children will do, methodically going around the room, smashing their heads into things until they find something hard or sharp enough to require an emergency room visit, which is the only way to escape from the toy room.

Even if they can’t possibly hurt themselves without finding inventive ways to collide into each other, it’s really not cool to ignore your kids while you’re fiddling around on your gadget of the moment.  You need to give your kids lots of attention, because if you don’t, while you’re looking the other way, in the blink of an eye, they’ll stomp right on your crotch.  Oh, and also they grow up so fast.  But mostly the crotch-stomping thing.  Children have no regard for crotches as stomp-free zones.  When you’re on the floor with them, your crotch is just one more obstacle between them and their Hess trucks.

These days, though, it can be hard to muster the energy to get down on the floor and crawl after them.  Zack is still not sleeping through the night, and the dog has taken up snoring at the foot of our bed.  A good night’s sleep, like vacuuming and eating dinner sitting down, is something that only happens in other people’s houses.

When you have one kid, you can nap when they nap.  With two kids, you’re trapped by this terrible Venn diagram, and you can only nap in the tiny little sliver where the two circles of your kids’ naps intersect, which is when the mail truck will come and your dog will attack the windows.

I yawned and rubbed my eyes, sitting on the floor, flicking past another seven Facebook updates from acquaintances who wanted me to know how far they jogged that morning.  “Do everyone else’s friends jog this much?” I thought as Zack continued across the carpet, searching in vain for a good, hard object to knock his head against.

Just then, Evan’s face popped up over my phone.

“Daddy, Zack fell down on the floor.  I helped him up,” he said, neglecting to mention why Zack fell down.

“Wow, you sound like a hero in that story,” I said.

“Yeah,” Evan replied.

Then he disappeared again.  In a moment, he popped back up and handed me a little helmet that had fallen off one of his action figures.

“Choking hazard,” he said.  Good thing somebody’s paying attention in there.

Then, as I glanced back at the screen, Evan ran over to his wooden trains, stomping on my crotch en route.

You can multitask with Mike Todd at

Monday, April 08, 2013

Going viral, the old-fashioned way

“Love u…Gunfight,” my wife Kara texted me last week, her phone’s spellchecker taking some second-amendment liberties with her attempt to wish me a good night.

“Gunfight to you too, babe,” I replied, clicking off the lamp in the hotel room.

I don’t have to travel for work very often, but that week had me scheduled for two trips, abandoning Kara to juggle our two kids with her own work schedule.  Every time one of us gets ditched, we develop an appreciation for single parents that borders on incredulity.

“How do single parents do this?” I will ask, unshowered and starving, cradling a screaming baby while a screaming three-year-old demands pancakes.

But Kara was doing just fine without me.  She’d picked the kids up from daycare and gotten them through the evening routine without an issue.

Then some issues happened.

The stomach bug that had been making the rounds at daycare finally paid our house a visit.

“Knock, knock!  Who wants some violent gastrointestinal distress?” it said.

You don’t need all the details, but if your washing machine is running at 3am, as ours was, nothing good is happening in your house.

Just before my big presentation the next morning, I received this text: “Both kids up barfing all night.  Had to stay home from work.  Great timing!”

“Whew!  Dodged that bullet!” I texted back.  No, that is not what I said, which is why I am still alive.
“I need you to come home.  Can you get on another plane?  How long is the drive?” Kara asked later that day, sounding frazzled and worn-out.

I stood on the sidewalk in Greensboro, NC, trying to think of a way to get home sooner than my 5:55am flight the next morning.  There wasn’t one.  Even driving would have only gotten me home a few hours sooner, and I didn’t have unlimited miles on the rental car.  It would have been cheaper to hire a private jet.

The next day, the kids were feeling better.  I got home just in time to take them so that Kara could finally have a few moments to herself, moments that she spent in the bathroom, barfing.

That was Thursday.  On Friday, I was scheduled to go to New York City early, getting home in time to pick up the kids from daycare.  On Saturday, we were having Zack’s first birthday party at our house.  We knew the week would be crazy, but manageable.  That was before our family went viral.

At 5am on Friday morning, Kara moaned in bed as I got out of the shower.

“Babe, I have to be on the 6:30 train to New York.  Daycare doesn’t open until 7:30.  Can you take them?” I asked.

“UUuuuugh,” she replied.

“I already made their food.  Maybe you could just drop them off and come back to rest?  That could work,” I said.

“HWAAAARF!” she replied, in rebuttal.

It’s really hard to negotiate with someone when their head is in a trash can.  Unable to foist the kids on Kara again, I took the kids to daycare myself and caught a later train, sliding headfirst into my lunchtime meeting.  
That night, sanity returned to our house, as much as it ever does.  Everyone was feeling 100% again.

“Okay, let’s have a party!” I said, relieved that the weeks of preparation, including the cauldrons of food that  our moms had prepared, wouldn’t be wasted.  

“I really hope you don’t get sick, too,” Kara said.

“Don’t worry about me.  I have the immune system of a water buffalo,” I replied.

After napalming every surface of the house with disinfectant, Kara set about putting the finishing touches on the cake masterpiece she’d been creating.

The cake was a big hit.  People really enjoyed it.  At least from what I could hear from the bathroom.

You can go viral with Mike Todd at