Sunday, June 23, 2013

Turning four, ice cream no more

“This is our last time saying good-night to a three-year-old Evan,” I told my son on the eve of his fourth birthday, holding him out toward his mommy for a good-night kiss.

Evan dodged the kiss, looking distraught.

“Are you still going to do my bedtime routine when I’m four?” he squealed, worried that his impending graduation out of the totally-cool-if-you-go-to-the-bathroom-in-your-pants demographic might somehow derail the nightly carnival of stalling and misdirection that passes for a bedtime routine in our house. 

“Aw, buddy, of course we’re still going to do your routine.  Nothing’s going to change when you turn four tomorrow,” Kara replied, stroking his hair.

“Except four-year-olds aren’t allowed to have ice cream,” I said.

Before Kara could say, “No, that’s not true,” Evan’s face scrunched into a look of agony.  He buried his face in Kara’s shoulder and began to cry.

“Aw, buddy, I was just kidding.  You can still have ice cream,” I said over his wails.  Daddy’s sense of humor is an acquired taste, one that apparently takes longer than four years to acquire.
The next day, with some trepidation, we arrived at the gym we’d rented for Evan’s birthday party.  We’d tried to steer him toward the place in the mall that lets kids bring teddy bears to life by performing Civil-War-era surgery on the poor beasts, but Evan had his heart set on the gym.  The vast indoor basketball court must have seemed the perfect canvas upon which to paint chaos.   

“You need a minimum of ten kids for a birthday party to really work here,” the gym’s scheduler had explained to us.

This was the first party we’d attempted to host with Evan’s friends from daycare, rather than our own family friends and relatives.  We knew the other parents only as the other harried adults who staggered around the daycare parking lot under the weight of children, diaper bags and coolers.  Communicating with the other parents primarily via messages left in our kids’ cubbies, like spies afraid of using a compromised network, we received the bare minimum of responses to not cancel the party.

Ten minutes into the event, only Evan and his friend De’nae were there.  They sat at a folding table, coloring.

“We have four pizzas coming.  I hope De’nae’s hungry,” I whispered.

”I know it’s pathetic, but this is my worst nightmare,” Kara replied.

I knew what she meant.  If you are going to be the kind of person who can’t cobble together enough friends to have a birthday party, you shouldn’t have to face this cruel reality at the tender age of four.  You should find out in the seventh grade, like the rest of us.

The problem is that we were depending on people with small children, who are the most unreliable people in the world.  Even if they have the best of intentions, and the family is eating breakfast together, talking about how much fun they’re going to have at your party, there’s still an 80% chance that one of them will come down with an ear infection before noon.

“I’m done coloring!” De’nae reported.

“Why don’t you sign your name?” her mom suggested, buying us another minute.

The silence swelled and filled the room, pushing me into the hallway, which is where I saw another family from daycare headed towards us.  And then another.  And another.  I would have leapt into their arms, if I’d known their names.

“That was stressful,” Kara sighed ten minutes later, as beautiful pandemonium ensued in the gym.

On the drive home, Evan was all sweat and smiles, cake crumbs still embedded in his face.  He looked so content, I decided not to ruin it by explaining the rules about five-year-olds and cake.  That can wait for next year.
You can pin the tail on Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What? I write a weekly column? Get out.

"Weekly" is such a relative term, right?  This week,"weekly" means "you know, like, every week or two."  While having kids regularly makes the column impossible to write, they also provide pretty much all my material, so I can't get too mad at them.  Except when they pee on me, which is pretty often.

I submitted a slightly revamped version of this old column to the papers this week.  And I'll toss some pictures out here to make up for my degeneracy, including some shots of Evan's big rock-climbing adventure with Aunt Jill and Uncle Kris.

'Til next week!


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Typhoid Mary keep on burnin’

“Whoa,” my wife Kara said, flinching as she opened the door to find a tiny zombie on the other side.

“Gaaaahk,” said the tiny zombie, reaching out one hand toward Kara, presumably to see if she had any spare brains.  Lucky for us, the zombie was restrained by the walls of a play yard. 

“Oh, little Ava is sick this morning.  I called her parents, they’re coming to get her,” said our son Zack’s daycare provider. 

“Gaaaahk,’ Ava agreed, fluid spewing from every cranial orifice. 

This child did not have a little cold.  She appeared to be melting.

Kara turned her back to Ava as she shuffled past, putting her hand over Zack’s face to shield him from the germs.  At that moment, she probably would have preferred to drop Zack off to play with an actual zombie for the day.  

“Fantastic.  Zack is going to catch whatever she has,” Kara said as we walked out of the daycare center.

“He still has antibiotics in his system from his last ear infection.  He’ll be fine,” I said. 

Four days later, on Memorial Day, I retrieved Zack after his long nap and held him up for Kara to behold.

“Oh, that’s not good,” she said.   

“Yeah, pretty sure his eyes are supposed to open,” I replied.  Zack looked like one of those creepy dolls whose eyes open when you stand them upright, except, like most of those dolls, his eyes were broken.  He couldn’t open them, on account of the crust binding his eyelashes together.

By a not-all-that-striking coincidence, Zack had a double case of pinkeye, just like his friend Ava.  It’s tough to be angry with Ava’s parents, who probably had some pressing concerns at work that day, but I’m managing.  If you wake up in the morning and your kid looks like an extra from The Walking Dead, even if you can’t miss a day of work, it’s time to miss a day of work.  As parents, that’s the kind of dynamic scheduling we’ve signed up for.  For some reason. 

Rather than spending our Memorial Day lounging outside by the grill, I spent it in the urgent care clinic, the only non-hospital medical facility open on Memorial Day.  Ever since Kara got charged $500 for a five-minute emergency room visit in which the doctor told her to take some Benadryl, we don’t go to the ER anymore, unless someone has self-amputated something.

By the next evening, after Kara and I juggled our schedules to take turns missing work, Zack was feeling much better.  Three days later, Kara woke up with one eye fused shut.   

After living with wildly contagious people for the past couple of weeks, I’ve become very good at not touching my face for any reason, because that is my medieval understanding of how these things work.  If I don’t touch my face, the bad juju can’t get in.  If a buzzard were to land on my forehead, I would stick out my lower lip and try to blow it off.

In any event, our family is heading back towards good health now, as fleeting as that condition seems to be for us lately.  Back at daycare, the pinkeye storm seems to have passed.  Little Ava is once again the picture of health.

“Typhoid Mary is looking good today,” I’ll whisper, and Kara will elbow me.

Of course, none of our troubles were Ava’s fault.  She doesn’t deserve to be compared with Typhoid Mary, whom you may recall as the person who gained fame in the early 20th century for infecting a minimum of fifty people with typhoid fever, killing at least three of them, probably because her parents had an important meeting that day.

You can hang out in the waiting room with Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Dinnertime at the asylum

“My ice cream has bunny ears growing out of it,” my son Evan reported from the dinner table.  His little brother Zack smiled, then scrunched up his face and shrieked, executing a perfect mood U-turn, his specialty.

“That’s false,” I said, and Evan nodded. 

“Can you tell me something false now?” he asked.

“There’s a T-Rex riding a scooter across the yard,” I replied.

“Now something that’s true,” he said.

“You’re a cute kid,” I replied.

Evan just learned the words “true” and “false” from his Ranger Rick Jr. magazine, which taught him that it’s false that sea otters eat cheeseburgers (the buns get too soggy).  For the past few weeks, we’ve been encouraging his ensuing fascination with true and false.  We figure it’s good preparation for school, especially since he recently bombed his first exam on purpose. 

“What do you see now?” the nurse had asked him, holding up the eye chart.

“House,” Evan replied.  He’d already done his other eye perfectly and was starting to fidget.

“Good.  How about now?” the nurse said, pointing at the next symbol.

Evan paused.  The choices were house, heart, circle and square.

“Circle-heart,” he said, laughing. 

“Evan, be serious,” I said, holding a spoon over his left eye.  His jokes were going to get us sent to the optometrist’s office.

“Square-house!” he replied, cracking himself up.  The nurse continued pointing.

“Can you point at the bigger ones?” he asked.  She shook her head. 

He relented briefly, dashing off a few correct answers before resuming his comedy routine. 

“He sees fine,” the nurse said, surrendering.  As she walked down the hall, Evan called out after her: “Circle-square!”

Back in the dining room, I took another bite of ice cream as Zack squawked.  We try to eat together as family when we can, but coordinating the effort requires its own control tower.

“Babe, can you concentrate on feeding the baby?” my wife Kara asked.  She’d just started eating her own dinner.  We eat in overlapping shifts, each person starting at a different time as the other person runs around the kitchen getting things for the kids, like culinary rounds of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. 

“On an airplane, when those masks fall down, you’re supposed to put your own mask on before assisting the child,” I said.  “Pretty sure ice cream is the same way.”

Kara looked unconvinced.  I started wielding two spoons, one with cookies n’ cream, one with strained sweet potatoes.  Zack swallowed and smacked the tray on his high chair in approval. 

“Did Anna’s baby come out yet?” Evan asked, inquiring about our pregnant family friend.

 “No, not yet.  Her tummy’s getting bigger, though,” I said.

“How does the baby get in there?” Evan asked.  For the first time in four years, our house went silent.

“Well, babies happen when the mommy and the daddy decide they want to have a baby,” I said, getting no help from Kara.

“But how does the baby get in her tummy?” Evan asked.

“It starts out in her tummy after the mommy and daddy, you know, decide they want a baby,” I repeated, hoping the same words in a different order might trick him.  Kara nodded, assuring Evan that he just received a really good answer.

“But how does the baby get in – CEMENT TRUCK!” Evan yelled as a construction truck rumbled down the street.  Just when the situation looked hopeless for our hero, the reinforcements arrived.   

Two seconds later, Evan turned back to us and said, “What’s something that’s true?”   

That’s too bad he got distracted.  I was really looking forward to explaining where babies come from.  (That’s false.)

You can mark Mike Todd with a red pen at