Monday, January 28, 2013

To Grandmother’s house we go

“We forgot Memphis!” our son Evan yelled from his car seat, looking around in vain for our dog.

“We remembered her, didn’t we?” my wife Kara asked.

“Dude!  I knew I was forgetting something.  I was hoping it was just my toothbrush,” I said.

Kara looked to see if I was serious.  Whenever she thinks something bad might have happened, like we might have let our insurance expire, or we might have forgotten to buy the eggs that were the whole reason for the grocery trip, or we might have left our dog alone in the house for the weekend, I have a compulsion to make her think the worst has happened, even though it hasn’t.  It’s a form of humor that became popular in this country right around the time that it became socially unacceptable for wives to hit their husbands with frying pans.

“Memphis!” I said, and a furry head popped up behind the back seat.  Before our second son was born, Memphis lounged in the passenger area, sticking her snout out the window and snorting and sneezing with glee.  Now, in case she had any question about where she fit into the new family order, her little bed squished beside the suitcases in the very back should have made everything perfectly clear.

We were travelling to Kara’s parents for the weekend, a three-hour drive that often reaches its midway point at about the time Zack, our ten-month-old, decides that his fellow travelers would probably enjoy listening to the unbearable sounds of his loudest vocal stylings.

The regular reader(s) of this column will remember that last week, I claimed that each day you spend with your child is easier than the one before, that every milestone reached is one step closer to the ultimate goal: Getting your children to the age when you’re allowed to take a nap while they’re still awake.

Right after I submitted that column, Zack submitted his rebuttal by reaching the milestone in which little enamel daggers started jabbing through his gums.

“Okay, you have a valid point.  Each day isn’t necessarily easier than the one before,” I said to Zack that night, slumped over his crib as he screamed and drooled Infants’ Tylenol.

Back when Kara was teething, her parents, driven to desperation, had employed the old whiskey-on-the-gums trick, which seems like a very frontier-parent thing to do, perhaps the only parenting technique they shared with Daniel Boone.  Of course, I don’t know if Daniel Boone ever had any teething babies, but it would explain why he spent so much time out in the woods.

On this car trip, the hour that Zack had been sleeping was about the longest stretch he’d managed all week.

“Peace and quiet,” I said to Kara, and she nodded.  In the backseat, Evan sat with his headphones on, glued to the Word World episode playing on the iPad strapped to my seat back.

We flinched as the silence shattered.

“THE PIG’S EATIN’ PIE CRUMBS OFF THE FLOOR!” Evan yelled, pointing at the screen.

“Evan, quiet!  You don’t need to yell,” Kara said, holding a finger to her lips.

“WHAT?  I CAN’T HEAR YOU.  LOOK AT THE PIG!” Evan yelled.  He hadn’t quite mastered the whole headphone thing.

“You’re yelling, Evan.  We can hear you if you talk much quieter,” Kara said.


Zack grunted and shifted around in his car seat.  We froze, wincing, waiting for the screaming to begin.  He sighed and fell back asleep, saving the energy he’d need to keep us up all night.

We arrived quietly, something we hadn’t done in ages.  It felt good to travel as a family without any major calamities, even though I forgot my toothbrush.

You can open the tailgate to let Mike Todd out at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Coat the world in Kevlar

“Dude, that gun shop is causing this traffic jam,” is a sentence I'd never uttered before last Saturday afternoon, but then, just a few miles down the road from our house, our family got stuck behind a Wal-Mart-sized crowd trying to squeeze into the little gun shop with three parking spots out front.

I almost beeped at one of the cars in front of me as it crawled through the gauntlet of shoulder-parked vehicles, looking for the least illegal place to park, but then I remembered that cars don’t cause traffic jams.  People do.  Well, now that I think about it, people and cars, together, cause traffic jams.  You really need both of them.

My first thought was to jump out of our car and join the crowd, since the zombies were clearly going to be upon us any minute.  But then I realized that these people were not scared of zombies descending upon us.  It was worse.  The sensible gun regulations were coming.  Possibly.

Ever since the shootings that still make us cry if we think about them too much, guns have been everywhere, if not backing up traffic on our street, then dominating the discussion on Facebook.  The topic touched a nerve with me enough that I dabbled in a few Facebook arguments, something I’d never tried before, and never will again.  Arguing on Facebook is fun for a few minutes but ultimately unfulfilling, like eating caramel corn for lunch, and doing so while a high school acquaintance’s second cousin is calling you ignorant.

Nobody in a Facebook argument is ever going to say, “Wow, I see it differently now.  Thanks for changing my opinion.”

Your time would be much better spent sledding with your kid, or plucking nose hairs.

I understand that gun ownership is an important right, and that without guns, we’d have a national crisis of figuring out what the dads in country music lyrics should brandish to threaten their daughters’ suitors.  Pitchforks just don’t have the same cachet.

But I can’t understand why so many people think that anything we do to keep the most dangerous weapons away from the most dangerous people means that we’re sliding down the slippery slope towards government thugs coming in the night to confiscate Ralphie’s Red Ryder.

I don’t begrudge anyone their regular old house-protecting, deer-dropping firearms – really, nobody outside of the nearest drum circle does.  But if we can’t agree that it’s not a good idea for civilians to have access to military-style weapons, I may have to get my own Predator drone to follow me around all day, ready to rain down Hellfire missiles if things get out of hand.  That makes just as much sense, since Hellfire missiles don’t kill people.  People using Hellfire missiles for their intended purpose kill people.

Among the many illuminations I’ve received from Facebook, one recurring theme seems to be that a gun-toting populace helps to keep our government in check.  In theory, this sort of makes sense, but things get a little murkier when I think about what this would mean in practice.  Who, exactly, are we trying to intimidate?  If you’ve attracted the government to your house, say, in the form of a SWAT team, no offense, but there’s a 99.9% chance I’m rooting for the government.  I reserve the .1% in case you're Bruce Willis, in which case you're probably just a misunderstood good guy.

If you’re interested in doing pretty much anything that you’re legally allowed to do with a gun, seems like you could do it with a gun that shoots, say, six or ten bullets before requiring a little breather.

But that, somehow, is a controversial opinion, and one that sends mobs fleeing into the little gun shop down the street.  I hope those people feel safer now.  I don’t.

You can fire away (figuratively) at Mike Todd at

Monday, January 14, 2013

Crawl, then walk, then mow

“Babe, wake up!  You’re going to want to see this,” my wife Kara said, rousting me out of a slumber that had only just begun.

“I really think you’re wrong about that,” I mumbled.

I opened my eyes to see her standing there with our youngest son Zack wriggling in her arms.  He squealed and smiled when I lifted the blanket off my head, drafting me for my first-ever game of involuntary peek-a-boo.

“Dude, I just saw that guy like an hour ago,” I said, rolling back over.  I’d given Zack a bottle at 6am, plunked him in his crib and crawled back into bed, resting easy with the knowledge that the next time somebody cried, it was Kara’s problem.  These days, that’s the closest we can get to sleeping in on a Saturday.

“Well, check this out,” Kara said, placing Zack on the floor.  Off he went – one hand, other hand, one knee, other knee, creakily moving forward on his own for the first time in his life.  Well, the second time.  I slept through the first one, which would make me sad except that, dude, I was sleeping.

We clapped and cheered as drool leaked from his proud grin.

We have family friends who tried to delay their babies’ crawling as long as possible, handing everything to the child so that it wouldn’t feel the need to move.  This strategy, of course, failed.  They should have tried handing it a bag of Doritos and a remote control, which have been proven wildly successful at immobilizing adults.

When you tell people that your baby has become mobile, they say things like, “Oh, you’re in for it now!” as if things were so peachy before.  After having gone through this twice, it seems to me that parenting an infant is a gradual process of life getting easier every day.  Each milestone passed is something to be cheered, assuming you’ve put foam rubber on every corner in the house.  

I didn’t get enough sleep to lock in any memories from our sons’ earliest days, so it’s instructive to see what my sister Amy and her wife Jaime are going through with their daughter, born on Thanksgiving Day.

“She hasn’t taken a break from eating in like three weeks.  We don’t sleep anymore.  This is insane,” Amy reported.

“It gets so much easier.  Every day with your baby is the worst one you’ll ever have,” I told her.  It sounded more uplifting in my head.  

“Aww, I hope you’ll treasure every moment.  I wish my kids were still that size,” strangers will say to me, ogling Zack in his stroller.  They say this because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to spend time with a human whose sole method of communication is screaming until you figure out why.

Already, though, things are improving.  Zack has been crawling for all of two days now, and he’s instantly more pleasant to spend time with.  If he wants to yank on the dog’s tail, well, he just goes and gives it a yank.  The more he can do for himself, the happier we all are.  Except maybe the dog.

People wax nostalgic about infants because it’s fun to look back at pictures and see a beautiful little person beginning to emerge.  But I wonder if they remember what it’s like to hang out with an actual baby for more than an afternoon.  Fulfilling, sure.  Beautiful, meaningful, yes.  Fun, no.  And often stinky.

But we’ve crawled around a big corner at our house, and hopefully, things will just keep getting easier from here.

Keep on truckin’, Zack.  Grow!  Walk!  Talk!  Learn to pour your own cereal!  Then let’s talk about mowing the lawn.

You can open Mike Todd’s bag of Doritos at

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Moans over my hammy

“There’s nothing to eat,” my son Evan reported from the dinner table, moving his head to the side so that we could see him behind the gigantic ham.

“Evan, you’re the reason everyone is eating ham tonight.  You like ham.  We can’t have chicken nuggets for Christmas dinner,” I said.

Our extended family, having traveled from Anchorage, Virginia Beach, Philadelphia and Binghamton, surrounded the table, using vaguely familiar utensils to scoop copious amounts of food onto fancy plates that hadn’t known the touch of an entrĂ©e since exactly one year ago.  

The one plastic plate on the table scooched toward the centerpiece, propelled by the fingers of a finicky three-year-old.

“Please, Evan, eat your dinner.  You like everything on your plate,” my wife Kara said.  Weeks prior, she’d decided to base our Christmas dinner menu on Evan’s tastes, which meant we’d either be eating ham or gummy worms.

Just then, a serving plate passed into my hand, and I looked down to see the mushy asparagus casserole that everyone somehow loves.

“No room,” I smiled, passing it quickly on its way.  Someday, I’ll teach Evan how to arrange his zucchini bread side-by-side, rather than stacked, to fend off ambushes from the asparagus casserole.  He’s on his own, though, until he at least learns to take a few token bites of his meal to deflect attention.  Right now, he’d just blow my cover.

“Don’t want ham,” Evan moaned, deciding that he only liked ham on occasions when there wasn’t one the size of Santa’s sleigh parked in front of him.

“There’s homemade mac and cheese, too,” I offered, plopping a spoonful onto his plate.  When all else fails at dinnertime in our house, mac and cheese always comes through.

Evan glared at the steaming off-white heap of deliciousness that had been lovingly prepared from his grandmother’s special recipe.  It wasn’t glowing a Cheetoey orange like mac and cheese was supposed to.

“Don’t like it,” he said, making an uneducated guess.

“Dude, you love mac and cheese, too.  Is peanut butter and jelly the only thing you’ll eat anymore?” I asked.

“Don’t like that, either,” he replied.

“No, I’m sorry, you still like peanut butter and jelly.  It’s all you’ve eaten for the past year.  I do not accept that,” I said.  Denial is the first step toward bending reality to your will.

“Don’t like it anymore,” he shrugged.

After dinner, having surrendered to Evan’s stubbornness, I joined the clean-up crew, a rag-tag troop comprised of everyone who’d been useless during dinner preparation.  Cleanup after a fancy meal is tougher because fancy dishes can’t be put through the dishwasher.  Somehow, we’ve decided that fancy things must be less functional than their cheap counterparts.  By this logic, Porsches should not have steering wheels.

As we put away the last of the weird cheese knives and little plates with snowmen on them, I felt a little wistful that we were venturing into the New Year, preparing to leave behind a holiday season that, according to the mall, had begun two weeks before Halloween.

After we’d made it look as if the dinner had never happened, except for the leftovers bulging the rivets on the fridge, Evan went around the circle of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, hugging them goodnight in his new Buzz Lightyear jammies.

“To infinity and beyond!” he said as we went upstairs to tuck him in.

“It was a good Christmas, wasn’t it, buddy?” I asked.

“I’m hungry,” he replied.

You can send Mike Todd to bed without his dinner at