Total lack of cruise control

My dad continued looking at the menu, unaware that the sea turtle floating above his shoulder was trying to get his attention.

“Hey, I’m looking at a dude with a black shell.  He has some silver fur on his head.  He’s looking at this, like, rectangular thing.  Hi there, dude!  What’s your name?” the turtle said.  The people at nearby tables turned to watch as they realized that dad’s polo shirt was the black shell in question.

“Dad, the turtle wants to know your name,” I said.

“Maurice.  Wait, what?” Dad said, turning to look at the giant TV screen behind him for the first time.  The turtle from Finding Nemo floated there, waving at him.

“Hi, Maurice.  Where are you from, dude?” the turtle asked.

“Up north,” Dad replied, laughing, but eyeing the turtle with suspicion.  Dad values his privacy.  No magical animated sea turtle is going to steal his identity.

We don’t normally dine with sentient celebrity reptiles, but on that night, we were on a Disney cruise, ten of us, celebrating my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  It’s starting to look like their relationship might have real staying power.  Those crazy kids just might make it.

Speaking of crazy kids, as it turns out, that’s what you get when you give children 24-hour access to a never-ending soft-serve machine and unlimited dessert after every meal.

“Can we get some ice cream?” my son, Zack, would ask, before the chocolate from his third dessert had even hardened on his face.

I’d never been on a cruise before.  This one was headed to the Bahamas, but from the way people talk about cruises, the boat’s destination never seems to be anybody’s primary concern.

“Enjoy all the food!” everyone would say.  Who cares where you’re going?  Eat lots of waffles!

To me, one of the biggest selling points of a cruise is that there’s no Wi-Fi.  Well, technically there is, but you have to pay for it, to the tune of about three dollars per byte.  It would be cheaper to train a dolphin to swim your messages back to shore.  So no work emails.  No casually thumbing through Facebook while ignoring the people in the room with you.  You have to truly disconnect.  It’s freeing.  Sure, you could get the same benefit by locking yourself in a concrete bunker, or switching to Sprint, but then you wouldn’t get all the unlimited ice cream.

Somehow, with all the hyped-up, overstimulated kids running around the ship, the hundreds of employees all maintain good cheer in front of the guests, to a person.  It’s amazing.

“Have a magical day!” a teenager will say to you, completely without visible irony.  That wouldn’t happen anywhere else on Earth.

Somewhere, deep in the bowels of the ship, there must be a brig filled with surly teenagers.  If you pressed your ear to the floor, you could probably hear their voices faintly wafting up through the decks: “Ugh, this is, like, so ANNOYING!”

We did miss out on the quintessential communal cruise experience of sharing a norovirus with our shipmates.  This is probably because employees stand around all day, jamming sanitizing wipes into everyone’s hands.  The kids’ areas even have these swirly automatic hand washers that make hand-washing fun.

“I washed my hands three times in a row,” my son Zack, who never voluntarily touches soap, reported.  Disney really does make magic happen.

For the most important magic, though, we successfully celebrated my parents’ golden anniversary.  I hope they know how much we all love them, and how lucky we feel to be a part of their happily ever after.

My family will probably will wait a little while before our next cruise, though.  I need to give my biceps a break from pulling the ice cream lever.

You can hit the buffet with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Advertisements

Statute of my many limitations

“It’s not your fault,” the plumber said, as a piece of soggy drywall swung loose from our ceiling and plopped into the carpeted puddle behind him.

“Can we go upstairs and have you say that again, in front of my wife?” I asked.  Her assessment of the situation hadn’t come out quite so clearly in my favor.

Of course, she had some recent precedent upon which to suspect some level of spousal culpability.  The regular reader(s) of this column may recall that I recently converted our house into a historical landmark, taking it back to a time before functional indoor plumbing existed, simply by taking a hacksaw to our pipes and (this part is important, in case you’re thinking of trying it in your own home) being totally unable to fix anything.  I’m still waiting for the blue historical marker to appear in front of our house.

“On this site in 2018, a homeowner did battle with a leaky water valve.  The valve employed a cunning strategy of cutting off the home’s access to potable water, setting the occupants back 200 years, while also sowing internal discord.  Victory for the valve seemed assured, until the homeowner called in professional reinforcements, who restored the home to the modern day.”

Those professional reinforcements ended up costing a few hundred dollars, which didn’t satisfy the cruel universe.  Our karmic debt had not been paid, probably because of that time I let a receipt blow across the parking lot instead of trying to stomp on it.

“I know it didn’t go well last time, but I can totally fix it THIS time,” I said a couple weeks later, when our kitchen sink clogged.

“Maybe we should just call a plumber before you start taking things apart,” my wife, Kara, suggested.

“Psssh, what a waste of money,” I said, in a statement that wouldn’t become ironic until later.

The next day, as our dishwasher ran, I pointed with pride to the kitchen sink, which was no longer filling up with water.

“See?  I just had to snake out the drain,” I said, triumphant.

That night, when I took my triumphant self downstairs to exercise, my triumphant foot splooshed into the carpet.  A carpet that goes “sploosh” is never a good thing.

“Oh, no,” I said, taking a deep breath before looking up.

These last few months have taught me that forays into amateur plumbing tend to achieve the same kind of results you might expect from forays into amateur neurosurgery.  Anyone can bust in there and give it a whirl, but you might not love the outcome.

Water dripped from our recessed lights into two puddles on the floor.  Across the ceiling, the drywall sagged under the weight of the water I’d successfully stopped from clogging up our kitchen sink.

“It’s not your fault.  I can hear the pipe whistling.  It must have a hole in it,” the plumber said the next day, exonerating me as he peered into the gaping hole he’d just ripped in the ceiling.

As it turns out, I most likely put that hole there back in 2009 with my trusty drill, when my dad and I were installing the garbage disposal.  But let’s not get hung up on minor details.  A professional said it wasn’t my fault before he had all the facts, so it clearly wasn’t my fault.  At least not in 2018, and the statute of limitations ran out long ago for anything I did back in 2009.

That hole wasn’t a problem until I pushed the clog past it with the drain snake.  Then, when the water backed up, it had nowhere else to go.  Physics and gravity took care of the rest.  So really, they are the true culprits, I think everyone can agree.  Well, everyone except Kara.

You can practice amateur neurosurgery with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

A doctor with patience

“I have something to tell you,” is not something you want to hear from your kids’ pediatrician, so I waited to hear what she’d say next.

We’d just established that I’d brought a perfectly healthy kid to see her for basically no reason.  Just making a doctor’s appointment seems to cure most of our kids’ ailments.  By the time we get them into the office, they’re just healthy little disease sponges, there to soak up whatever funk the rest of the days’ patients have left behind on the waiting room chairs.

“Can I play with the toys over there?” our kids always ask, pointing at the big plastic chest in a little alcove in the corner of the waiting room, filled with a rich, chunky stew of toys and pathogens.  Typhoid train tracks.  Measles marbles.  Roseola racecars.  Bronchitis building blocks.

“Here, play something on my phone instead,” I’ll reply.  “And try not to touch the armrests so much.”

I’d stayed home from work that day because Zack, our five-year-old, had woken up with some gunk in his eye, which might sound gross if you didn’t have kids.  For most parents, though, a little eye crust doesn’t even make the top ten list of grossest things you’ve seen by noon on an average day.

“Zack might have pinkeye,” I said to my wife, Kara, when she joined us in the kitchen.

“MY EYES ARE ITCHY!” Zack yelled, to reinforce the point.

Two hours later, as we prepared to go to the doctor’s office, I knelt in front of him.  His eyes looked perfect.

“How do your eyes feel?” I asked.

“Not itchy at all,” he replied.  Kara had already cured him with her phone, simply by calling the doctor’s office to make an appointment.  Those phone calls are more effective than penicillin.

“Sorry, I swear he was sick this morning,” I said to the doctor, over the sound of Zack constantly crinkling the paper on the examination table.

Dr. Nunez smiled and told me I’d done the right thing to bring him in.  A wellspring of patience and calm, the only doctor our kids have ever known, she’d talked us down off of many ledges over the years.

“Okay, now that everything’s squared away here, I have something to tell you,” she said.

I cocked my head just a bit, to make room in my brain for whatever information she wanted to put there.

“I’m retiring in two months, and moving to Chicago to marry my med school sweetheart,” she said.

“Oh, I’m really happy for you!  And really sad for us,” I said.

As she filled me in on the details, I started replaying our relationship in my mind.  The regular reader(s) of this column may recall that our oldest son, Evan, was born two months early, entering the world on a stormy night to two clueless, unprepared parents who weren’t scheduled to attend a birthing class for another three weeks.  He had to stay at the hospital for almost a month, after which he came home with two clueless, terrified parents who passed the time by watching his chest rise and fall, twitching every time there was a pause.

“You helped us through the most emotional time in our lives,” I told Dr. Nunez, but I started getting teary halfway through the sentence.  It’s hard to talk about the most emotional time in your life without getting emotional.

“Aw, come here, give me a hug,” she said, as Zack continued crinkling the paper.

We found out that night that Zack did indeed have pinkeye.  Fortunately, Dr. Nunez had called in a prescription for us, just in case.  And since we have doctor-patient confidentiality, nobody will ever find out that I got a little teary in there, too.

You can play measles marbles with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

A man’s home is his hassle

“We have a situation,” I said to my wife, Kara, after considering and reluctantly rejecting all possible alternatives to being honest.

It was Sunday night.  The kids were asleep.  Just around the corner, my new hacksaw sat on the bathroom floor, ashamed of what it had just done.

“Oh, no.  What happened?” Kara asked.

“I’m not exactly sure, but we don’t have running water anymore.  The hardware stores are all closed, and I need another part before I can fix it.  Well, try to fix it,” I replied.

Beneath our faucet, a copper pipe stuck out from the wall, making an O shape where my hacksaw had recently sliced through it.

“O why, O why, did you do that?” the pipe seemed to be asking.

If anyone turned our water back on, that pipe would become a sideways geyser, and I had no way to seal it off.

Coming into this project, I had great confidence in my abilities as a handyman.  Turns out, confidence is much like a car key: you need it to get to where you’re going, but it can easily be misplaced.

The project, replacing a leaky valve, was supposed to take about twenty minutes.  I’d carefully planned the timing, too, based on the recommendation of a colleague.

“Always do your plumbing on a Sunday.  That way, when you mess up and have to call a plumber, you can have them come out on Monday.  Then you don’t have to pay weekend rates,” he said.

A sound strategy, I’d thought.  The only problem is that when you don’t have functional plumbing on Monday morning, you realize that the importance of running water to modern civilization has not been overhyped.  Turns out, it’s not just for making coffee.

“I could pour a bottle of water over your head, but you’d have to be really fast with the shampoo,” I offered to Kara, when she inquired how the morning showers were going to work.

We weren’t worried about our two boys.  Kids are supposed to have a thin layer of grime.  It’s their natural state.  But Kara and I had to go to work in an office, where you’re not supposed to show up looking like you’re fresh off an Appalachian Trail through-hike.

The next morning, I was at the local hardware store when they clicked open the door at 7:30am.  Then I came back thirty minutes later.  And thirty minutes later, I was back again, this time to buy a blowtorch.  In plumbing, as in life, if at first you don’t succeed, try taking a blowtorch to it.

My results up until that moment hadn’t exactly been stellar, but at least my perfect streak of not-burning-down-the-house was still alive.  As I applied the flame to the pipe, though, my streak appeared to be in jeopardy.

A few minutes later, I realized that even the blowtorch wasn’t going to work.  I’d tried everything.

“What a nightmare!” I said, throwing my hands to the sky.

“Babe, someone you love getting cancer is a nightmare.  This is an inconvenience,” Kara replied.

She helps me keep things in perspective, even when I’ve forced her to work from home for the day.

That afternoon, when the plumber came out, he told me that if I’d spent another thirty minutes on it, I would have solved the problem.

“You’ve seen people do dumber things than this, right?” I asked, seeking more validation.

“Oh, this wasn’t dumb at all.  I admire that you tried,” he said.

It was worth every penny just to hear him say those words.  Of course, he didn’t want to dampen my enthusiasm for plumbing, since guys like me keep guys like him in business.  Still, at least we didn’t have to pay weekend rates.

You can pour bottled water on Mike Todd’s head at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Same mitt, different day

I held the ball in my hand, knowing that its trajectory over the next few moments could change the trajectory of my son’s life.

“Throw it, Daddy!” Evan yelled, standing in the muddy grass, holding out his new baseball mitt.

That mitt looked sharp, all black with red lacing.  We’d bought it last summer to replace his beloved first mitt, which, unlike Evan, wasn’t getting any bigger.  When he wore that old mitt, his hand looked small and webbed, like a platypus foot.  While platypuses might be good at many things (brokering peace deals between ducks and beavers?), they are not well-known for catching pop flies.

But Evan somehow managed to make that old mitt work.  When he switched to the new mitt at the end of the season, though, he couldn’t catch anything.  The ball would land in the mitt, then plop onto the ground like an ice cream scoop falling off the cone, and with a similar effect on the mood of the person attempting to hang onto it.

Shortly thereafter, Evan started talking about quitting baseball altogether.

“I don’t know.  Maybe just don’t sign me up again,” he said after the season ended.

So the new glove sat in the garage, slowly sinking deeper into the kids’ toy bin.  When the time came to sign-up for this coming spring, Evan reluctantly agreed to try one more season, on the condition that I practice with him in the yard, a condition that I accepted, because that’s the whole point of being a dad.

When this winter finally took pity on us and offered a Saturday that reached forty degrees, a temperature that would have sent us scurrying indoors in search of thermal underwear a few months ago, but which now feels like t-shirt weather, I talked Evan into joining me in our squishy, snow-melty front yard for a catch.

If the catch went badly, Evan would remember why he wanted to quit baseball, leaving him fearful and unsure of himself, beginning a downward spiral that would end with him becoming a junkie or a Congressman.  Or maybe it would have no impact on his life at all.  But it felt important.

As a parent, this was go time.  All the years leading up to this moment — the sleepless nights, the diaper blowouts, the constant sickness rampaging through the house, the lugging a twenty-pound car seat everywhere, the food splatter on the walls, the vomit on the shirts, the trying and failing to discern a reason why everyone was crying – all that stuff was great, but just having a simple catch with my son, helping to build his confidence, that’s the exact picture I had in mind when I signed up for this gig in the first place.  All that other stuff was just a bonus.

“I’m ready!” Evan said, holding out his glove.

“Okay, buddy, here it comes!” I said, tossing the ball gently toward him, willing it into his glove.

THOK!  The ball stuck in the glove, and for a moment, we all just stared at it, surprised.

“I caught it!” Evan said, convincing himself.

My wife, Kara, cracked the window from our living room.

“Great catch, Evan!” she yelled.

Evan beamed, hoisting the baseball in his glove like it was the Olympic torch.  It was a touching moment, so I didn’t even mention that Kara was letting the heat out.

“Can you throw a few bad ones, too?  I like to try to catch harder ones,” Evan said.

“You’re in luck!  I don’t even have to try to throw bad ones – they just happen!  It’s something of a specialty,” I said.

By the time we went back inside, Evan was excited for baseball season to start.  We may just keep him out of Congress after all.

You can pinch hit for Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

LEGO my living room

“NOOOOO!” came the death-or-mortal-injury-signifying scream from the kitchen, concurrent with a CRASH, and followed by the sound of a million little pieces skittering across the floor.

I ran to the kitchen to take stock of the pandemonium.  My five-year-old son, Zack, sat on the floor, holding what was left of the LEGO police boat he’d been constructing.  On the bright side, while it was a bad moment for Zack, it was a great moment for seafaring LEGO criminals.

“I was almost done, and now I have to start all over!” Zack screamed.

Somehow, a global toy empire has been created by selling little models that shatter if you look at them sideways.  The target audience for these toys is not well known for its sure-handedness.  Gravity weighs heavier on children than on regular people.  Whenever one of my children is carrying something of value, like a camera or a slice of pizza, I have to remind myself that kids need to build their confidence, that things are just things, and things can be replaced.  Unless they’re prohibitively expensive.  Or unique. Or it’s the last slice.  On second thought, why don’t you let me carry that.

The shattered LEGO boat could have been a good lesson to Zack that things aren’t that important.  It’s people that are truly irreplaceable, except for tollbooth operators.  Those guys probably should have been replaced by now.  Anybody who hasn’t gotten an EZ-Pass yet just shouldn’t be allowed to use bridges anymore.

But Zack’s police boat wasn’t just A thing.  It was THE thing.  The most important thing in the universe.  Except, at that moment, it was more like 257 things.

“It’s okay, buddy, we can put this back together.  Let’s just gather all the pieces and look back at the instructions to see where everything goes,” I said.

“That will take FOREVER,” he cried.  I glanced through the instruction manual and concluded that he was correct.  This thing wasn’t going back together without a fight.

When I was a kid, this never would have happened.  LEGOs didn’t have to be put together in a certain way, which was the whole reason they were fun.  We had rectangles, and squares, and we didn’t even know that we didn’t have WiFi, and we were fine.

Then one day, sometime between my childhood and my adulthood, someone in a board room somewhere said: “Sure, kids like LEGOs, but they keep reusing the same ones over and over.  They only buy them once!  We’ve got to do something about this.”

And LEGO model kits were born.  Then my sons were born.  While those events weren’t obviously related at first, there has been much interlock ever since.

My kids have never known a world in which LEGOs were stored in a denim bag hanging on a hook in the closet.  To them, LEGOs are to be put on display, never to be touched again for fear of breaking them, like the kid version of fancy dishes.

It’s actually a beautiful thing, watching the kids absorbed in the creation of their models.  Following instructions.  Sitting still.  Doing all the things their teachers swear they do on a regular basis in school, and we nod our heads as if we’re not surprised.

Xmas2017_275  Xmas2017_452  Xmas2017_456

Once we put the pile of pieces on the kitchen table, we found that it actually wouldn’t be so hard to get the police boat back in shipshape condition.  Zack’s face was still damp from the tears when he helped click the last piece back into place.

“You did it, buddy!” I said.

“Vroooom!” he replied as he motored the boat to the top of his toy chest in our living room, where it will stay dry docked for eternity.

You can sweep Mike Todd into a dustpan at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The bus stops here

“Just go!  I’ll catch up!” I yelled as my wife, Kara, shoved our two sons out the front door.

“You’re late,” I mouthed silently as Kara said the words out loud, because after thirteen years of marriage, we could be ventriloquists for each other.  I’m usually the dummy.

“You’re going to miss the bus,” I mouthed, just as the words appeared.

The kids were halfway down the driveway before I emerged from the front door, buttoning my shirt under my unzipped jacket, dog’s leash slung around my neck.  When the winter air hit my nostrils, they seized up, trying to protect my lungs from the shock of inhaling air that was not fit for human respiration.

My sister lives in San Diego.  In San Diego, they don’t have air like this.  Their air is soft and warm, carrying the scent or nearby limes and avocados that grow in people’s backyards like it’s no big deal.  I feel bad for my sister’s family sometimes, because they don’t get to experience our kind of air.  Hard, frigid air, carrying the scent of oil delivery truck exhaust.  The air in the Northeast in the wintertime really lets you know you’re alive.  Alive and miserable.

“Come on, Daddy!” my sons yelled from the mailbox as they turned up the street toward the bus stop.  They don’t even notice the cold.  Children of the North, they have to be cajoled into their jackets every day.  Every single day.

“I’m hot!  I’m hot!” they’ll yell, as if we invented seasonally appropriate clothing just to torture them.

Our dog, Memphis, sat at the end of the driveway, waiting for me to come put the magic leash on her, the one that makes it possible to walk into the street without getting shocked.  She hardly ever wears the shock collar anymore, and I suspect she knows it, but she has the good sense to play along anyway.

Memphis and I caught up to the kids beside our neighbor’s house.

“Let me see your face, Zack,” I said.

Without stopping, he looked up at me.  I licked my thumb and rubbed the Nutella off his chin, like I do every morning.  Perhaps I should feel some guilt that he eats toaster waffles with Nutella most mornings, and that we don’t make time to turn breakfast into a proper meal on weekdays, but on the other hand, if you have chocolate stuck to your face every day, and someone who removes it for you, then it sure seems like you are living a pretty charmed life.

Still several mailboxes from our destination, we heard the familiar rumble growing louder behind us.

“Hustle, kids, bus is coming!” I said.

The kids picked up the pace, their backpacks swishing back-and-forth against their jackets.

I knew all along that we’d make it in time, but there might be a part of my subconscious that craves the excitement of the near-miss.  Sometimes, as a parent, you have to take the circumstances you have, and wring the adrenaline out of them.

Moments later, when the bus rolled to a stop in front of us, the kids didn’t even break their stride as they jumped up the steps, like we’d choreographed the whole thing.

Memphis sat expectantly in front of the open doors, her tail cleaning the pavement.  John, the bus driver, handed a small dog treat to each kid as they got on, even the kids with responsible parents who’d been waiting at the bus stop for a few minutes.

The kids dutifully launched their treats out the door in succession, with Memphis inhaling each one before the next one could hit the ground.

The doors closed and the bus rolled away, another day successfully started.  Memphis probably thinks it awfully nice of everyone to go through all this trouble every day just to give her a few treats.

You can smell the limes and/or exhaust with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

 

An eye for an ear

“Ow, it stings!” my son, Zack, said as he blinked in the first round of what we assumed were eye drops.  We’d just come home from the urgent care center, where he had hit the adjective jackpot with a diagnosis of strep throat and pink eye.

“At least we’re getting our money’s worth out of this visit,” I’d thought to myself an hour earlier, as the doctor told us the test results.  When you’re paying 100% of the cost for an office visit because you haven’t hit your deductible for the year, it’s not that you necessarily WANT your kid to be sick, but you’d feel foolish if he wasn’t.  Otherwise, you could have made good money by staying at home, just like you’d gotten a job by calling the number on one of those flyers stapled to a phone pole.

Incidentally, where did all these urgent care centers come from?  We didn’t have them when I was a kid.  Maybe that’s because back then, we had the common courtesy to get sick during regular business hours.  In my experience, kids these days prefer to come down with acute illnesses at 5:05pm on a Friday.

On that Friday evening, we stopped at the pharmacy on the way home to pick up two prescriptions, one for Zack’s throat, one for his eyes.  We were keen to get the medicine in him as quickly as possible, to keep the plague from burning through the rest of the house.

“But I don’t like bubble gum flavor!” he cried when he saw that the throat medicine was the color of his eyes.

“Zack, antibiotics aren’t meant to be a broad spectrum of deliciousness.  They’re meant to make you better,” I replied.

By comparison, the (ostensible) eye drops took much less cajoling, because you can’t taste with your eyes.  He complained about the stinging for a moment, then got up to walk around the house, touching absolutely everything.

The excitement began when I decided to give Zack one more dose of eyedrops right before he went to sleep.  I turned the little bottle around in my fingers.  One snippet on the label jumped out: FOR USE IN EARS ONLY.

My brain, still fuzzy from the fact that it’s always that way, took a moment to catch on.

“That’s funny.  I wonder why they’d say ‘FOR USE IN EARS ONLY’ on eye drops.  That must confuse people,” I thought.

Slowly, the realization crept up, getting ready to pounce.

“They gave us the wrong medicine!” I said, handing the bottle to my wife, Kara, who almost spontaneously combusted.

Two seconds later, on the phone with the pharmacist, I explained that we’d accidentally been given ear drops.

“Don’t put those in his eyes!” she helpfully replied.

“I ALREADY DID,” I said.

“Oh.  It should be okay, but we need to call the doctor to make sure,” she said.

The doctor confirmed what we’d hoped to hear: the random ear medication we’d poured into our son’s eyes wouldn’t have any adverse medical effects, except on his parents’ blood pressure.

When I walked back into the pharmacy to get the correct medication a few minutes later, I wanted to let loose righteous indignation at somebody.  Whenever I’ve dabbled in treating other people badly, though, even when they deserved it, I’ve walked away from the encounter feeling worse.  Except when I honked at that pedestrian who littered right in front of me.  That felt pretty good.

They apologized and got me the correct stuff quickly.  The manager also called the next day to apologize.  Zack got better in about twenty-four hours.  Everything turned out fine, so there’s no point in even mentioning the name of the pharmacy.  (It rhymes with “BVS.”)

You can try some random medicine with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

A walk in the pitch-dark woods

“Gentlemen, we have a problem,” I said, rifling through my backpack for the flashlight that I distinctly remembered putting in there.  Across the valley, the sun dipped closer to the horizon.

In a normal month, we’d have had plenty of time to get back to the car before dark.  But in December, the sun barely gives us the common courtesy of waiting until the end of the afternoon before disappearing.  When you’re on the couch staring at your phone and ignoring the humans in the room like a normal person, this lack of light is not a problem.  But when you’re in the woods with your dog and your two kids, two miles from your car, you have no choice but to reckon with nature’s thoughtlessness.

KaaterInspirPt_041

KaaterInspirPt_046

KaaterInspirPt_136

KaaterInspirPt_148

KaaterInspirPt_173

“Did we forget to pack Cheez-Its?” my eight-year-old son, Evan, asked.

“NO CHEEZ-ITS?!” my five-year-old son, Zack, wailed.

“Guys, calm down.  We have plenty of Cheez-Its,” I said.  “We just don’t have a flashlight.”

“Phew,” they replied.

My wife, Kara, had gone into the city with some friends for the day, leaving me free to plan a non-age-appropriate adventure with our children.  Naturally, I decided to drag them out into the frigid December woods for the longest hike of Zack’s life, almost a five-mile roundtrip.  We’d gotten off to a later start than I’d intended, on account of some important video games we’d needed to play first.  Those bosses weren’t going to beat themselves.

“Guys, we need to head back toward the car.  It’s going to get dark very soon,” I said.

“But the Cheez-Its!” they said.

I quickly put Cheez-Its in their gloved hands as I packed back up for the return trip.  The sun disappeared behind the horizon, meaning that we were now playing on borrowed time, like when a soccer game ends but everyone keeps playing for some reason, waiting for the referee to decide randomly when the game is actually over.

KaaterInspirPt_176

KaaterInspirPt_199

KaaterInspirPt_202

KaaterInspirPt_213

KaaterInspirPt_243

KaaterInspirPt_303

KaaterInspirPt_323

KaaterInspirPt_341

Evan would almost certainly have no trouble with the return hike.  Earlier this year, he’d climbed a large, steep mountain, and he spent the entire second half asking if we could jog back to the car.

“No, we can’t do that,” I huffed.

“Why not?” he asked.

“The dog is tired,” I wheezed.

But Zack can’t walk across the parking lot at Target without asking to be carried.

“We’ve been walking for FOREVER!” he’ll say before we pass the first cart return.

But both kids trotted through the woods with no signs of tiring, their daily aerobic routines of arguing and chasing each other around the house finally paying off.

“Look, a little baby tree!” Evan said, stopping to point at the ground.

“That’s really cute.  Keep moving,” I said, gently nudging him forward.

The light faded around us as nighttime settled on the woods.  Just as the referee blew the whistle on the official end of daylight, we arrived at the final trail junction, where the trail widened into a gravel road for the last stretch before the car.  Even without almost no light, we could see exactly where to go.

“Gentlemen, we made it.  Smooth sailing from here.  Great job,” I said.

“Don’t bears come out at night?” Evan asked.

“No.  Well, yes.  But not around here.  Well, okay, there are bears in the woods around here, but not the kind that bother people,” I said, struggling to find the line between reassurance and honesty.

“Is anything going to eat us?” Zack asked.

“No, definitely not.  Maybe if you bathed more,” I replied.

In a few more minutes, we arrived at the car, safe and sound.

“Hey, found my flashlight!” I said, retrieving it from the trunk.

“That’s okay you didn’t have it.  This was my favorite hike ever,” Evan said.

“Yeah, me too!” Zack agreed.

KaaterInspirPt_427

KaaterInspirPt_447

KaaterInspirPt_496

KaaterInspirPt_510

I’d like to think that even with some self-administered adversity, we’re creating lasting memories together out there in the woods, but they’ll probably just remember the Cheez-Its.

You can shine this little light of yours on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Bubble, bubble, bald spot, and trouble

“What have we done?” I asked as six men grunted, heaved, and rolled my wife’s mid-life crisis onto our back deck.

“WHOA, WHOA, WHOA!” the ringleader yelled as they set the giant rectangle down on the deck with a WHUMP.

As the guys pulled the cardboard and foam padding off of our new monstrosity, I noticed a little label in the corner that read, without a hint of irony: “Portable spa.”

I might posit that if it takes six burly guys to move something, that thing is, by definition, not portable.  But despite its apparent portability, the one on our deck isn’t going anywhere, ‘cause those six guys went home.

The regular reader(s) of this column may recall that I recently turned forty, a milestone that I have decided to enthusiastically embrace because it justifies my bald spot.  A balding guy in his twenties or thirties?  Aw, that’s too bad.  A balding guy in his forties?  Yeah, that’s kind of the deal.  Our bodies just go through changes at this age.  It’s like the opposite of being in the seventh grade for guys my age.  We have hair disappearing from where it had always been before.

In any event, while I took the birthday in stride, I think I may have underestimated the psychological toll that it took on my wife, Kara.  You know what’s tougher than turning forty?  Being married to someone who’s turning forty.  Yeesh.  Gross, right?

Kara’s only thirty-seven, too, so I really robbed the yoga mat with her.  But I’m pretty sure that MY big round birthday triggered HER mid-life crisis.

“Wow, you’re forty.  That means I’m going to be forty soon.  Well, not THAT soon,” she said.  Still, you could see her grappling with the idea.

Generally, the realization that life is not unending manifests itself in the purchase of a car with no backseat.  In this instance, though, the ridiculous purchase was of the decidedly non-mobile variety, despite its clearly labeled protestations to the contrary.

Yes, we have a hot tub now, a veritable cauldron of youth, sitting just outside our back door.  Kara grew up with one, so she can now revisit her childhood by simply stepping onto our deck and parboiling herself.

The idea behind hot tubs is that they relax you.  I’ve found that they actually are quite relaxing, as long as you can stop thinking about how much electricity they’re using, which I will never be able to do.

I get most of my exercise from following family members around the house, shutting off the lights behind them.  It gives me great joy to hang wet clothes on a drying rack, so that I don’t have to run the clothes dryer.  Go ahead, sweatshirt, take two days to dry.  You’re welcome, Earth.

Sometimes, even though I know people are still drinking coffee, I’ll turn the coffeemaker off, just to save a little electricity.  The complaints of the people who pour a cold cup of coffee a little bit later?  Totally worth it.

But now we have a million pots of coffee on our deck, always hot, and I haven’t figured out how to unplug it yet.  I think I have to throw the breaker to the entire house.  Might be worth it.

When Kara takes the lid off and the steam wafts into the air, all I see is a visual metaphor for our money.

“Sorry, Earth,” I’ll whisper.  Cheapness and tree-huggerishness are so tightly interwoven that I can’t tell which impulse is motivating me sometimes.

The rest of the family seems to be enjoying soaking and splashing around in there, so I’ll try to lighten up about the whole thing.  At least we have a hot tub now to help relieve my hot-tub-related stress.

You can cool your jets with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.