Monday, November 25, 2013

Somebody puts baby in the corner

I paused in the doorway, deciding whether or not to make a scene.  The managers were on the far side of the restaurant, chatting to each other, not paying us any mind.

“Let’s just go,” my wife Kara said, ushering our two sons to the door.

Twenty minutes earlier, I’d asked one of the managers if they had a highchair for our 18-month-old son, Zack.

“No,” she said.

It was the way she said “no” that really stuck in my craw, assuming that a craw is a body part that can be mentioned in a family publication.  (Otherwise, it stuck in my clavicle.) 

It wasn’t an apologetic, “No, high chairs are on back order right now,” or “No, our high chair is off getting sanded and refinished after an especially zesty meatball-eating incident.”  It was just, “No, we don’t care what you do with your stinky kid, but it sure won’t be putting him in his own seat.”

Imagine eating a sandwich in an exotic outdoor café.  A hungry monkey jumps into your lap.  Every time you raise your sandwich to your mouth, the monkey screeches and bats at it, sending a shower of lettuce and cheese raining down upon its head.  This is what it’s like trying to eat with an 18-month-old in your lap, except you don’t have the luxury of shooing him away.  Also, you’re sitting in a Subway, not an exotic café, and you have to balance your child with one hand while trying to unhinge your jaw like a snake so that you can just cram the entire six inches of sandwich art into your mouth in one shot.  While chewing, you will try to fork some meatball pieces into your offspring’s mouth, which he will smack onto your lap.

One could argue that perhaps this restaurant preferred not to have children dine there, a perfectly fine stance for a restaurant to take.  Some establishments would rather cater to patrons who are less likely to leave their lunch as a pile of drooly wreckage on the floor.  I get that.  But the kids’ menu and accompanying trinket display seemed to suggest that this Subway welcomed children and their parents’ wallets, it just didn’t want them to stay there.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have said anything.  I’ve spent my life avoiding confrontation with strangers.  As I get older and more crotchety, though, I’m starting to warm up to the idea.  A few months ago, I yelled at an old lady, and it felt great.

This lady wildly gesticulated and shook her head as I rolled through an intersection in a strip mall.  She had a stop sign, I didn’t.  (I have since verified, and I hope she has, too.)

“I don’t have a stop sign!” I yelled out my open window.

“Yes, you do!” she yelled back.

I stopped the car, turned and pointed to the spot where a stop sign would have been, had there been one.

“No, I don’t!” I replied.

“Yes, you do!” she said.

“Babe,” my wife Kara said, putting her hand on my knee.  But I’d already thought of the perfect comeback, and I couldn’t refrain from using it.

“No, I don’t!” I yelled, wittily.  Kara and I continued on to the grocery store, the adrenaline and righteous indignation coursing through my veins.  I can see how people get hooked on being unpleasant.  It gives you way more of a rush than being a good person.

Still holding Zack’s hand as he headed for the door, I turned back toward the managers of the Subway.

“It would be really helpful for people with children if you guys got a high chair,” I called.   

“Excuse me?” he asked, looking either shocked or annoyed, or both.

“We’d be more likely to come back if you guys got a high chair,” I said, shrugging, as we exited.

Then I turned my attention to the parking lot, to see if anyone else needed a good talking to.
You can chew out Mike Todd at

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Nest instinct

“Can I open it?  Can I open it?” my son Evan asked, boxing me out to make sure I couldn’t touch the birthday present that my wife Kara had ostensibly just given me.

“Sure, buddy, you can…” I said, but he was already elbows-deep in the gift bag, shredding through the tissue paper. 

He pulled out a little white box that contained a shiny new device.  

“What is it?” he asked, sensing impending boredom.  This gift did not have googly eyes, a drawbridge or photon torpedoes.  Even so, he had no idea how boring the conversation was about to get.

“Aw, dude,” I said, joining the very small club of people who have ever uttered this phrase with genuine excitement: “It’s a thermostat!”

Kara had just given me a Nest: a sleek, Internet-enabled thermostat designed by former Apple engineers, so it should be obsolete by the time you read this.  Unlike normal thermostats (and most congressmen), this one learns.  The Nest is basically an iPhone, except instead of using it to play Candy Crush during your kids’ soccer games, you use it to turn your furnace off and on.  You know, kind of like a thermostat.

The Nest enables you to do many things that normal thermostats don’t do, though, like spending $250 on a thermostat.  Try getting a normal thermostat to do that, and you’ll be disappointed to find that you still have at least $200 left over, which you’ll probably just waste on forty mocha Frappucinos.

The reason people drop this kind of money on the Nest is that it’s supposed to apply intelligence to your heating, learning your routine and automatically turning down your heat when it’s not needed, along with other energy-saving techniques.

“Let’s turn the heat up to 72,” you’ll say, twisting the dial.

The Nest display will then read: “PUT ON A SWEATER.”

A fancy thermostat is an odd mix of gaudy and utilitarian, like a jewel-encrusted shovel.  Kara knew I was interested but would never buy one, so she pulled the trigger for me.  Excited to let the savings begin, I yanked our old thermostat off the wall to expose a mess of wires that didn’t match a single earthly wiring diagram.

“Huh,” said the guy from Nest technical support, after I sent him a picture of the wires.  “I’ve never seen that before.”

“That’s what the last guy said,” I replied.

“I’m afraid you’ll need to call an HVAC technician to come out and install it.  Would you like a list of Nest-certified installers in your area?”

“No, thanks,” I replied.  The whole “saving money” thing was not getting off to a great start. 

I couldn’t bring myself to call a technician.  If you pay someone to come to your house and replace your thermostat, by law, he’s allowed to assume your life from that point forward.  It makes sense, since you obviously can’t handle it.   

So I did what any self-respecting person with a lack of relevant skills would do: I called my dad for advice, then took a guess. 

“Just what do you think you are doing, Dave?” Nest asked as I fiddled with the wires.

“Who’s Dave?” I asked.

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it,” Nest replied.

Actually, after that initial confusion, the Nest appears to be working properly now, and it seems to be much friendlier than HAL from Space Odyssey.  Still, though I’m hopeful that this experiment will produce good results, I wonder about the wisdom of installing thinking appliances all over the house.  Where does it end? 

“I’m cold,” the fridge will think.

“I’m dizzy,” the dryer will think.

“I don’t want to hear anyone else complaining,” the toilet will think.
You can turn Mike Todd down a few degrees at

Monday, November 11, 2013

Back in the maternity ward

“You know the way to the maternity ward?” the hospital volunteer asked.

“I could get there with my eyes closed,” my wife Kara responded.  She thanked the volunteer for our guest pass, and we headed for the elevators.

It’s so much calmer visiting the maternity ward as a spectator instead of as a player.  When you’re in the game, it’s all doctors scurrying around and your wife screaming for the anesthesiologist who apparently just stepped out to enjoy a five-course lunch.  A nurse will put your screaming wife’s leg in your arms and say, “Hold this right here,” and your brain will not quite be able to keep up with the processing it should be doing, what with all the responsibility and screaming and goo everywhere.
“You might want to look away,” the doctor will advise, as if anything he could do would shock you at this point.  Then out comes the scalpel, and any childhood innocence you still had becomes but a memory.

“I can’t believe this is happening right now.  Is that his face?” you will think as you decide maybe you’ll break your rule about not crying in public (the last time being the first time you saw “Field of Dreams”), as your brand new son opens his mouth and also begins to cry, out of an orifice located on what you’d formerly assumed was the back of his head.  Then the new life is in your hands, eyelids shining with goop the nurse slathered on, wrapped in the same white sheet with teal and maroon stripes that every hospital in the world seems to use, and your life will also be new, because the old one is gone forever.  Then, when you look back on the terrible and beautiful events of the day, and think about all the insane life experiences you’ve had in the meantime, you will have no choice but to smile.  

I understand it was a memorable experience for Kara, too.

The elevator dinged on the third floor, and we stepped into the hallway.  It would have been surreal visiting that place again if we hadn’t just been a couple of weeks before.  We’ve entered the stage of our mid-thirties where our friends have begun firing babies into the world with rabbit-like efficiency.   

A nurse buzzed us into the maternity ward, and we turned right to head towards room 308.  If we’d turned left, we would have ended up at the maternity ward buffet, which was the main reason, nineteen months ago, that we were most upset to leave the hospital. 

“Dudes, try to have your baby on chicken parm day.  You won’t regret it,” was the best advice I could offer our pregnant friends as their due dates loomed. 

Beyond that, what advice could we really give?  Everyone does their own research and arrives at their own conclusions.  Many of our friends hired doulas to assist with childbirth, which is especially interesting because “doula” isn’t a real word.  If it was a real word, surely I would have heard it mentioned once in my first three decades of life.  I’m putting “doula” up there with “ramekin” and “filbert” as words that somebody made up during a 2009 Scrabble game and everyone else just started using to keep up the ruse.

We knocked and pushed open the door to find our friends exhausted and smiling, their little one in a rolling cart beside the hospital bed.  Little clucking, cooing noises came out of the cart.  I forgot that newborns make that sound.  I thought I’d remembered everything.

“He’s been so quiet,” they said.

“He’ll get over that,” we thought.

They asked us questions, and we gave responses, but they’ll figure out their own answers.  Not much to do now but to buckle up and enjoy the spit up.  And check down the hall for chicken parm.
You can swaddle Mike Todd at

Monday, November 04, 2013

Getting pumpk’ed

If your family is anything like ours, you will be sitting around your toy room (formerly known as your living room) one Saturday afternoon, watching your children bounce hard, colorful objects off each other’s heads, when one of you will think, “You know, it’s been a while since we, as a family, have huffed tractor exhaust.”

This is when you will decide to go on a hayride.

The word “hayride” always evokes memories of bouncing along rough farm roads on chilly afternoons, holding gloved hands with loved ones as you pull up beside a bountiful pumpkin patch.  I never remember the part about the bountiful, suffocating cloud of tractor exhaust, probably on account of my reduced brain function from inhaling all that tractor exhaust. 

Last weekend, with some out-of-town friends visiting, we decided that we should visit the farm one more time before we hit that period in November that the calendar still calls fall, but we all know is really winter.

“We’re CSA,” Kara told the teenager who’d been waving us toward the nosebleed parking spots in the back of the hayfield.

“Oh, okay,” he replied, directing us toward an open spot close to the barn.  When you’re a member of a CSA, visiting the farm on a mobbed weekend fall afternoon is the closest you’ll ever come to knowing what it feels like to visit a nightclub when you’re Kanye West.

“Go ahead and pick all the parsley you’d like,” they’ll tell you, and you’ll start to consider wearing sunglasses that look like venetian blinds.     

If you’re not familiar with a CSA (Can’t Stop the Arugula), it’s a form of community-supported farming wherein you pay up front for a whole summer’s worth of fruits and vegetables.  The has been our first year as CSA members, and while we’ve generally found it to be a great experience that forces us to figure out dinner plans that don’t involve Mama Celeste, it has resulted in some mealtime difficulties.

“What do you want to do for dinner tonight?” I’ll ask.

“I found a new recipe for our beets and sweet potatoes.  It’s called ‘beets and sweets,’” Kara will reply.

“You lost me at beets.  And then again at sweet potatoes,” I’ll reply.

“There's another recipe for caramelized turnips,” Kara will say.

“You lost me after caramel,” I’ll reply.  As the conversation goes on like that, I’ll start toasting a bagel.

After parking in our VIP spots and hiding our faces from the paparazzi, we hopped on the hayride with the intention of visiting the pumpkin patch.  The tractor did drop us off at a dirt plot with hundreds of loose pumpkins sitting on it, but I’m not sure this was actually a pumpkin patch by any standard definition. 

Huge cardboard boxes of pumpkins sat on wooden palettes beside the field, which seemed to suggest that, deep in the night, when the agri-tourists weren’t looking, they just rolled a bunch of pumpkins into a field and waited for the rubes to come buy them. 

I understand that this is probably much more efficient for everyone than having a bunch of morons trying to wrench pumpkins straight off the vine, and that pumpkins themselves serve no actual useful purpose other than to be temporary candle receptacles or a little extra flavor for our spiced lattes, but the whole point of buying them at the farm is that you’re having a more authentic experience.  Somehow, doing it this way just seems phony, like they’re playing fetch with us.

“Go get the pumpkin, boy!  Get it!  Oh, you’re such a good pumpkin retriever,” they seem to be saying.

I don’t think you’re really supposed to think about it that way, which is probably why they dose you with tractor exhaust on the way there.

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