Monday, January 12, 2015

Sometimes I like to scare strangers

“Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball,” I told the librarian, and she smiled faintly, nodding as she looked back down at the pile of books between us.

I waited for a moment, then realized that she was avoiding meeting my eyes, in the same way I might respond to a stranger on the sidewalk who asked, “Can I ask you a question?”

The correct response to that question/paradox is to pretend that the person who just said it is not a human, but an inanimate object meant to be ignored by passersby, like a fire hydrant, a mailbox, or the tip cup at Starbucks. 

The librarian seemed to be offering me the same regard she might have given to a street lamp.  After a few more beats, she glanced up and quietly asked, “Do you remember the name of the book?”

“Sometimes I Like to Curl up in a Ball,” I repeated.

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball

It’s the story of a wombat with complicated emotions, designed to teach small children that it’s okay to have lots of different feelings, as long as you’re a wombat.  If you’re a little boy, your dad will teach you how to bottle up your emotions so that they destroy you from the inside, but don’t embarrass you in public.

Actually, I’ve heard that small boys are taught not to express their emotions, but if our household is any indication, society can scratch that problem off the list.  Our two boys, ages 5 and 2, are roiling fireballs of constantly expressed emotions.  Sometimes, their skin melts off and all that is left in the place where a child used to be is a fiery, gaseous cloud of pure emotion, like a picture from the Hubble telescope, swirling and astonishing to behold, except in space there is no sound, and in our house, the emotion clouds emit deafening sounds that go something like this: “ZACK KICKED ME IN MY EYEBALL!  I’M MAD AT YOU, YOU LITTLE STINKYPANTS!”

Someday, our kids will be able to think of worse things to call a person than a little stinkypants.  We’ll enjoy our lives in the meantime.

Back out the checkout desk, the librarian looked relieved.  “Oh, oh, oh.  Of course, one moment,” she said.  I realized then that she’d thought I had been using for her a little impromptu therapy session.

“Oh, you thought I was telling you that I like to curl up in a ball?  Sorry for the confusion.  No, I don’t make a habit of that,” I lied.  If you have young kids and you don’t occasionally need to curl up in a ball, you must have a really good nanny.

“No, no, I should have known.  And yes, that book is due back today,” she said.

“I’ll keep hunting for it, then.  Hope it turns up soon,” I replied.  The boys liked the wombat book so much, they wandered off with it to flip through on their own, which means there’s not a single location in the house that can be ruled out.  That book could well be in the vegetable crisper.

Just then, Zack and Evan finally caught up with two more books to check out. 

“Two more?  Look at this pile of books.  How many are we bringing home today?” I asked.

Zack, the two-year-old, held out a finger and counted.  “One, two, five, two, five,” he said, nodding definitively.  It’s the answer he gives every time he counts.

“You got it, my man,” I said.  We’ll let his future math teachers sort it out.

Then Evan and Zack both bolted for the exit door just as she scanned the last book, so I grabbed the pile and whisper-yelled at them to wait for me.  Sometimes, I like to curl up in a ball.  After I catch them, so they can’t get away.

You can pretend you didn’t hear Mike Todd at


  1. This is as well night perfect as a humor column could be. Based on a single children's book, it touches many of the themes that parents deal with every day. It's both specific to your family and universal to all families. Well done!

    Mary O.

    1. This is well nigh as flattering a comment as a comment could be. Thanks!

  2. First sentence in my post above should be "well nigh" not well night, of course.
    Mary O.

  3. This is laugh-out-loud funny throughout and so much fun to picture in your mind. I absolutely loved it!

    1. Thanks! Sorry it took me a few days to respond - just got out of the fetal position and thought I'd see what was going on around here. What a nice surprise!