Resist the pull of the pool

As I hurtled through the air, about to make contact with the water, my mind processed the thought that goes through the mind of most modern humans just before they escape underwater from the cruel heat of summer: “Did I take my phone out of my pocket?”

The phone was safely tucked away in a towel, but as I emerged from the water too late to do anything about it anyway, I still had to pat my pocket to be sure.  My son, Zack, took that moment of distraction to blast me in the face with a two-foot long, pump-action water gun, the kind you could use to power-wash the mildew off your deck.

“Zack, dude, not in the face aga…” I said as he blasted me if the face again.

“I have a surprise for you!” he yelled, waiting for me to move my hands so that he could hydro-exfoliate me one more time.  Instead, I swam underwater to join my wife, Kara, on the other side of the pool.  Kids buzzed around in all directions, the next generation of troublemakers gathered for a pool party at our friend’s house.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” Kara said, and I could tell that she was thinking about it again.  Pools.  She wants one.  I try to remind her that we already have one hanging on the wall in our garage, and that I would gladly take it down and spray out the spider webs whenever she’d like.  Then she could cool off by submerging four inches of any body part of her choosing.  For some reason, though, that doesn’t end the conversation.

Never mind the expense (though I do mind it), I feel like it might be helpful if Kara would recall that we had a pool once, at our previous house.  Because it sat under a dense leaf canopy, it saw less sunlight than Donald Trump’s tax returns.  For three seasons, its primary function was to serve as a convenient receptacle for our trees to store their leaves.  For the other season, it perpetually stayed an interesting shade of green, which might have made it suitable for hosting the Olympics, but since nobody was offering us any medals, we weren’t sufficiently motivated to risk going in.

To open the pool in the spring, I had to remove the cover that sat under two feet of rotting detritus.  After scooping bucket after bucket of tree sewage, I would spend an hour heaving and pulling and tugging and hugging this disgusting, Honda-Odyssey-sized bag of putrid leaves until I could finally wrangle the thing over the edge of the pool.

The experience wasn’t quite as traumatic for Kara, because she was inside watching Project Runway at the time.

A pool has the same work/fun ratio as a newborn baby.  Sure, you can have fun with it sometimes, but mostly it just takes lots of work and all of your money.  If you have friends with pools, though, the baby isn’t your responsibility.  You can be the cool uncle who comes over and whoops it up all day, then hits the road when the meltdown starts.

“Yeah, it sure is nice.  Seems like it’s working out pretty well for us to have a friend that has a pool, right?” I said.

“For now,” Kara replied, and a chill went up my spine.

Just then, our other son Evan leaped off the diving board with a huge smile on his face.  All around the pool, people actually talked to each other, in part because their phones were stashed safely away from the water, which is perhaps the most underrated feature of the swimming pool.

Behind me, a voice said, “I have a surprise for you.”  I turned around, slowly.

Even now, I bet you won’t find any mildew on my face.

You can do a cannonball next to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Let’s not do the twist

“Tornado warning in the area.  Take shelter,” my wife, Kara, read quietly from her phone as the color drained from her face.  Rain pummeled the windshield so hard that it felt like a spinning scrub brush should appear in front of us at any moment.  We were deep in the woods with no buildings around, making our way down the two-lane road as quickly as we could, but had we been going through an actual car wash, our speed and visibility would have been about the same.

“There’s no shelter out here.  How close is the tornado?” I asked.

“What?  Did you just say tornado?” our son, Evan, asked from the back seat.

“It’s rainin’ hard,” his brother, Zack, noted.

“We can’t see anything.  We could be driving right into it,” Kara said.

“Let’s just stay calm and try not to scare anybody,” I said quietly.

Just then, a screeching alarm came over our car’s audio system, blasting the punctuated squeals of the Emergency Broadcast System through the car, the same noises that had been drilled into my head during childhood, and which had interrupted many episodes of People’s Court just as Judge Wapner was getting ready to deliver his verdict.  “My judgement is for the…. This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.  This is only a test: SCREEEEEECH!  SQUAAAAAAAWK!”  You’d be lucky if you got back in time for Doug Llewelyn’s interview with the person who lost but, if we’re being honest, probably still had no intention of paying up anyway.

The noise came over our car’s audio system because my phone is connected to it via Bluetooth, which turns out not to be just a convenient technological feature, but also, if applied at exactly the right moment at the proper volume, a great cure for constipation.

“WHAT’S THAT!?” Evan screamed.  Zack put his hands over his ears like he does in public restrooms when the hand dryers come on, guilting the few men who actually practice good hygiene.  I slammed the power button on the dash to make the noise stop.

“Oh, that sound?  That’s you know, just a thing.  Just my phone acting funny,” I said.

We’d been out biking earlier that afternoon along a remote section of rail trail we’d never visited before.  Afterwards, just as we got back to the car, the thunder started rumbling.  We quickly hustled Kara and the kids into the car.  As the storm rolled in, I stayed outside to put the bikes on the rack, because I am the most expendable family member.

“Whew, okay, we’re good,” I said, hopping into the driver’s seat just as the rain started, feeling invincible in the safety of the car, assuming incorrectly that the sky wasn’t going to try to vacuum us up.

A few minutes later, the warnings started blasting onto our phones.

“Are we driving right into it?” Kara asked.  We had no way to know.  If you’re looking for a particular Pokemon, your phone can tell you within a two-foot area where you can find it.  There’s a Pikachu right there, on the toilet paper holder!  (I’m allowed to know this information because I have a seven-year-old.  Otherwise, I would welcome your ridicule.)

A tornado, on the other hand, you know.  It might be around somewhere.  Miles, feet, who can say?  The important thing to know is that a swirling cloud of death is nearby, heading in a direction of some sort, and you may or may not be driving right into it.  Here, listen to this horrible screeching noise while you ponder that.

As it turned out, the tornado was ten or fifteen miles away, and we never saw any cows flying across the road.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, though, we still got our undies in a twist.

You can do your best Emergency Broadcast System impression with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

 

Falling off the dock of the lake

Just moments before my son Zack sank below the surface of the lake, the water clapping together over his head like the jaws of a hungry creature snapping shut, my cousin Rachel had commented, “He’s sure getting close to the end of the dock.”

“Oh, he’s okay,” I said, confident that Zack’s respect for water and desire to continue feeding the ducks would render his complete inability to swim irrelevant.  Zack had fallen off that dock while wearing a lifejacket back when he was two years old, but since he’d turned into a sure-footed four-year-old, just keeping an eye on him felt like sufficient parenting.  Besides, as a parent, it’s my responsibility to allow my kids the freedom to make their own mistakes, otherwise they’d never learn for themselves the joy of mortal danger.

A few beats later, Zack slipped on the slick, water-worn wood at the end of the dock and wobbled in slow-motion, toppling over like a Jenga tower that collapses four seconds after the last block was pulled out of it.  SPLOOSH!

I’d been crouching about five feet away, taking pictures, so with a quick belly flop onto the end of the dock, I was right on top of him, grabbing his arm almost before his clothes had time to fully soak in the water.

When his face emerged from the lake, Zack took a couple of surprised breaths.

“You’re okay, buddy, you’re okay,” I said in that reassuring tone that people use with you when you’re not okay.

Once back on the dock, Zack started howling.

My wife, Kara, who’d been chatting back on dry land just a few feet away, came running to join us.  We were on vacation with our extended family, so she hurdled several cousins as she hustled out there, pausing briefly as she passed our other son, Evan.

“What happened?” she asked him.

“I caught a crayfish!” Evan replied.

We’ve often wondered how old Evan would have to be before he could babysit his little brother.  Apparently, seven is not quite there yet.

“Hey, Evan, remember that little brother you used to have?  Where is he?” we’d ask.

“Check out this awesome stick I found!” he’d reply.

As I cradled the waterlogged Zack against my soaked shoulder, Kara crouched down and put her hand on his head.

“What happened?” she repeated.

With water and tears streaming down his face, Zack looked at her as though it was pretty obvious what had just happened.

“I hurted my knee!” he wailed, pointing to a barely visible scrape that would be forever forgotten in about eight seconds.

“I think maybe she wanted to know more about the whole falling-in-the-lake part,” I suggested.

A minute later, Zack had settled down, and I carried him back up to the cabin to put on some dry clothes.  I squeezed him tight, wondering whether I should feel guilty, lucky, or just plain relieved.  Probably all three.  Did I take time to carefully set down my camera before grabbing him?  Could I have stopped it from happening at all?  What if I’d missed?

“Daddy got there fast, didn’t he?” I said, leading the witness.  I wasn’t going to put the word “hero” in his mouth, but if he wanted to put that title on the person who should have prevented this all from happening in the first place, I wouldn’t have objected.

“No.  It took a long time,” he replied.

“A long time?  I was there in like two seconds,” I said.

“But I still got wet,” he said.  Hard to argue with that.

For the rest of the week, we still gave him plenty of freedom to make his own mistakes.  While wearing a lifejacket.

You can pull Mike Todd out of the drink at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The constant loser

My son Evan lunged for me, and I stepped to the side just in time for his hand to whiff through the air.

“I’m gonna get you!” he yelled, whiffing again.

When my kids are trying to tag me, I just take one step to the side and they miss every time.  I’m like Keanu Reeves from The Matrix, their hands always hitting the air where I used to be.

“You’re too fast, Daddy!” they’ll yell as they wind up again, telegraphing their next move three seconds in advance.

Really, the whole point of having kids is so you can feel athletically superior for doing completely unremarkable things, because kids have no frame of reference.  Toss a yogurt cup into the gaping maw of the trash can from four feet away, and to them, you’re LeBron James.

Last week, though, one month after his seventh birthday, Evan didn’t give up.  He lunged again, I tried to move, and he connected.

“Got you!” he said as my world crumbled.  It was the first time he’d caught me fair-and-square.  I knew the day would come when he’d start beating me at things, I just thought maybe he’d lose a baby tooth first.

This turn of events was especially unexpected at Evan’s age because, back when I was a kid, my dad crushed me at every game we played well into my teens.  Some parents let their kids win.  Not my dad.  He could tell that life would give me plenty of opportunities to lose, and he wanted to make sure I was really good at it.  The game didn’t matter: tennis, basketball, soccer, Battleship – I was the Michael Phelps of losing.

“Why do I only remember losing all the time? Did you ever let me win?” I asked him recently.  I had only fond memories of the countless drubbings he’d given me, since they were quality-time drubbings, but he’s such a supportive parent, I wondered if he was at all conflicted about being the Harlem Globetrotters while I was the Washington Generals of our household.

“No, I never let you win, but I tried to keep it close enough so that you’d still want to play.  I didn’t want you to win, but I wanted you to think you could,” he said.

That’s an important life skill, thinking that you might be able to win, even though you can’t.  That’s probably why my favorite book as a kid was The Little Engine That Actually Couldn’t.

Regardless of the outcome, the most important thing is to get out there and play with your kids.  Spend as much quality time with them as you can when they’re young, because before you know it, the time will come when you can’t effortlessly defeat them.  You need to rack up as many victories as you can before they start putting up a real fight.

With my four-year-old son, Zack, I worry that I’ve already started losing to him, too, without even realizing that I’m competing.   Last week, as I was standing in front of the toilet, putting it to its intended use, Zack ran in beside me, pulled down his pants, and started peeing at the same time.  If you’re a parent of small children, this will not sound weird to you, because you also have no privacy and/or dignity left in your life.

“Hey there, buddy,” I said, finishing and taking a step back.

“I’m still going!  I win!” he said.

“There’s really no losing in peeing, buddy.  Everybody wins,” I said.

“No, you lose,” he replied, matter-of-factly.   Then he pulled up his pants and ran off to take his victory lap.  Pretty sure I can still beat him at Battleship, though.

You can let Mike Todd win for once at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Marriage can be taxing

“Maybe we should get a divorce,” my wife, Kara, said, letting that thought hang in the air for a moment.

“Nah.  I’m too old for Match.com.  I’d have to use a profile picture from the nineties, and then my date would show up expecting a cool guy with lots of hair, and then it would be all awkward when she realizes that I pulled a switcheroo on her with my younger self.  You’ve had a lot longer to get used to me like I am now,” I replied.

“Seriously, though, we COULD do it.  Nobody would even know the difference.  You can set it up legally so you get all the other benefits of marriage,” she said.

“Hey, you’ve done research.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were serious about this,” I replied.

I knew that Kara wasn’t actually considering a REAL divorce, partly because a stud muffin like me only comes along once in a lifetime, and partly because she’d been on a tear recently about the tax implications of being married.  Inspired by one of her friends, who lives life as a married person without sealing the deal in the eyes of the IRS, Kara started looking into the differences.

“Did you know we pay a marriage penalty every year?” she asked.

“Feels more like every day,” I said.  Ha, no, just kidding.  Marriage is a wonderful thing, and you do not get to twelve years of it by making jokes like that when your wife is within earshot.

Instead I replied, “Oh?” without looking up from my iPhone.  I try to save my righteous indignation to spend on things I might actually be able to change, like other people’s deeply held political beliefs.

“Did you know we wouldn’t pay the penalty if only one of us worked?  Because we both work, we pay a marriage penalty instead of getting a marriage bonus.  That’s totally sexist,” she said.

I put the iPhone down and looked up.  Usually, her eyes glaze over when the subject turns to taxes or finance, but this time, they were glazed over with fireballs and laser beams.

Still, this whole discussion seemed very unromantic.  You might pay more to be married, but what other option is there?  Just being roommates who make babies together?  That seems so unofficial.  No pomp.  No circumstance.  Plus, if I remember correctly from college, roommates hardly ever do their share of the shopping.  They’d just sit on the couch and starve if you didn’t fill the cabinets with Ramen noodles.

Fortunately, my friend Johnny is getting married soon, so I could count on him to bring a fresh, romantic perspective to the institution.

“Marriage is stupid,” Johnny said on our most recent phone call.

“Dude, you’re getting married next weekend,” I said.

“I know!  It’s such a waste of money.  As soon as you say ‘wedding,’ every vendor in the world just has their eyeballs turn into dollar signs.  To them, you’re just fresh meat,” he replied.

The moral of the story: Don’t discuss weddings with a dude who just spent a significant amount of money on taffeta.

After seeing Kara get so riled up, I came THIS CLOSE to doing our taxes again, out of curiosity, just to see what the exact difference would be.  I pulled all of our documents out again, logged into TurboTax, and then spent the next hour scrolling through Facebook.  Turns out, curiosity was nowhere near sufficient motivation.  The human brain, apparently, can only be forced to do taxes once a year, and only then under the threat of jail time.

Besides, I’m not sure I want Kara to know exactly how much I cost.  Just keeping me around, even when I don’t cost anything, is probably taxing enough.

You can take Mike Todd in sickness and in health at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Caught in the mouse trap

“You need a professional,” said the professional standing in my kitchen as he jotted notes on his clipboard.

I sighed.  The problem with professionals is that they always expect money.  Why can’t I ever need an amateur?

“You’ve seen worse, right?” I asked as a joke.  Clearly, if we indeed needed a professional, we baaaarely needed one.

“Yes,” he replied without looking up.  With one quick syllable, he let me know that he’d seen some pretty horrible stuff, and while my house probably wasn’t a story he’d tell his future grandchildren to illustrate just how bad things can get, it was up there.

He’d come to our house because, a few nights earlier, a mouse was skritch-a-skritching inside our living room wall.  Unfortunately, my wife, Kara, and I had recently reached the end of our Netflix queue, so we were sitting there in silence, staring at the walls and our iPhones, trying to think of a new story we could tell each other, when the scratching started.  Rather than getting drowned out by the usual sounds of the punches of a brooding superhero with a dark past but a good heart, the scratches reverberated across the otherwise silent living room.  It sounded like a wolverine was trying to claw his way through our drywall.

“That’s it.  I’m calling an exterminator,” Kara said.

“But I got a bunch a mouse traps at Home Depot,” I said.

“You bought them last year, and they’re still in the wrapper,” she said.

“That’s because when you use them, you end up with dead mice in your house.  Who wants to deal with that?” I asked.

I wandered into the bathroom, near the source of the scratching, and gave the wall a few knocks.

“Hey, be quiet!  You’re getting us both in trouble,” I whispered.

My ambivalence toward slaying the occasional cute little fluffy mouse has perhaps contributed to the increase in the issues on the other side of our drywall, hence the exterminator arriving in our kitchen.

“Here is our fee structure,” the professional said, turning the clipboard around.

“Wait, we pay you every month for a year?” I asked.

“Oh, we don’t come here quite every month, but we bill monthly.  It takes a year to get rid of them all.  You can go on a quarterly maintenance plan after that,” he said.

“Monthly fees give me hives,” I said.  Looking at the clipboard, I had a strong urge to go locate and unwrap our mouse traps.

I’d been expecting a one-time fee, but it makes sense that they’d sign people up as recurring customers.  Companies prefer to get paid that way, in the same way you’d prefer if lots of people sent you big bags of money on a regular basis indefinitely.

“I understand.  Why don’t we sign you up right now, and you can cancel in the next few days if you change your mind?” he suggested.  I got the feeling he’d spoken those words before.

“I’ll need some time to think about it,” I replied, and I heard several little sighs of relief behind the drywall.

“This really isn’t something you can tackle yourself.  You need a professional,” he repeated. He then pulled the papers forward on his clipboard to reveal a pink sticky note underneath, stuck to the board itself, that said: “YOU NEED A PROFESSIONAL.”

“My mentor told me to always mention it, so I put this here to remind myself,” he said.

Apparently, if you let that clipboard into your house, you need a professional.  If I set a few mousetraps in the attic, though, and seal all the tiny holes leading into our house, I bet I can keep any more clipboards from getting in.

You can send bags of money to Mike Todd indefinitely at mikectodd@gmail.com.

How to be a winner in Vegas

“I’m about to throw your whole life out of whack,” my friend Johnny said during one of our recent phone calls.

For the younger reader(s) of this column, “phone calls” are how people used to communicate, holding phones against our heads and vibrating our vocal chords like cave people, back before texting came along and society realized it really just wanted to get to the point already.  Because I walk the dog every night and can’t text without walking into mailboxes, I am one of the few remaining people who will call his friends, and Johnny happens to be one of the few remaining people who will still answer his phone.  I don’t know if society as a whole has stopped answering its phones, or if it’s just people who see that it’s me calling.  Assuming that it’s everyone, though, on the nights when Johnny and I chat, we most likely own the only voices being carried over the cellular network, except for the ones yelling, “Representative!  Customer service!  Zero!  Human!  Representative!” at automated menus.

“Oh man, my whole life?  What is it?” I asked, bracing for the worst.

“I’m going to have my bachelor party in Vegas,” he said apologetically.  Johnny knows that Las Vegas is my cup of tea, if I really hated tea.

“Dude, we’re thirty-eight.  Aren’t we too old for Vegas?” I asked, hoping to escape on a demographic technicality.

“You’re never too old for Vegas,” Johnny replied.

I could tell that his mind was already made up.  We’ve been friends since first grade, so I know when there’s no point in arguing, and it wouldn’t have been my place to, anyway.  He was the one getting married this summer, so he deserved to be the one to drag all of his friends, even the ones with bald spots the size of Liberace’s piano, to probably the most horrible place on the planet that’s not having a crisis of some sort.

Of course, I don’t mean to be unfair to a whole city.  I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful things about Vegas, it’s just hard to see them when all of the most awful parts are screaming, “LOOK AT ME!  LOOK AT ME!”

The next time Johnny and I talked, I confirmed that I’d spent the requisite number of spousal tokens to enable me to go.

“That’s great!  It’ll be good for you to live a little.  You’re going to gamble, right?  You know, slot machines pay back 83% of your money, on average,” Johnny said.

“What happens to the other 17%?” I asked.

“I’m not sure you’re approaching Vegas with the right attitude,” Johnny replied.

In fact, I’ve developed a foolproof method for being the most successful gambler in any group: Just stand there and watch your friends lose their money.  It always works.  According to posters hanging in school gymnasiums across the country, you miss 100% of the shots you never take.  In a casino, though, you win 50% of the hands you never play, and you break even every time.

When we finally made it to Vegas with six friends who’d known each other for over one hundred cumulative years, I quickly settled into my role, which was to be Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies: Stay close to the action, don’t be the main character, and every so often, say, “I’m too old for this #$%@.”

To make sure my wife knew that I was behaving in a way that compared favorably to my friends, I texted her to say, “If you were only going to marry one of us, you picked the right one.”  (I would have called her, but she doesn’t pick up.)

Otherwise, I won’t go into too much more detail.  From what I understand, what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay there, which is what most of my friends’ money did.

You can hit it big with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Lifestyles of the young and shameless

“Where do you keep the plates around here?” my son Evan asked while standing in our kitchen, and in that moment, I realized that I’d been living my life all wrong.

If you do things right, you can apparently live in a house for almost seven years without knowing where the dishes are kept.  Plates will just show up in front of you, loaded with chicken nuggets and unimportant other things that you have no intention of eating, and then the SAME PLATES will show up in front of you again, days later, clean but with different food on them (in our house, probably still nuggets), as if the previous meals never existed.

It is a wondrous system, and you don’t need to spend a moment worrying about the process of how those plates keep showing up, loaded with new nuggets.  They just do.  Looking any deeper than that would spoil the magic.

“Wow, do you really not know where the plates are?” I asked, hoping to learn from my new lifestyle guru.

“Maybe over there?” he pointed in the general direction of the cabinets.

“Close enough,” I said, opening one of the doors and handing him a plate.

Of course, not everything at his age comes so easy.  Evan has set a goal of learning to ride a bike with no training wheels before his seventh birthday in one month, which means that I have been spending my weekends running up and down the driveway, hunched over, using four fingers under the bike seat to keep the whole enterprise from crashing down in a screaming pile of metal and child.

“WHOA!  DON’T LET GO LIKE GRANDPA DID!” Evan screamed, handlebars wobbling back and forth as we traced a path like the stripe on Charlie Brown’s shirt.

Days before, I’d told him the story about when I was learning to ride a bike at his age.  I’d pedaled along for quite a while before noticing that my dad was no longer running behind me; I’d been biking down the driveway by myself without even realizing it.  The story was meant to be a triumphant, inspirational tale, but Evan saw it more as a parable of patriarchal betrayal.

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“I can’t do this!  Don’t do it like Grandpa.  DON’T LET GO!” he screamed.

“Dude, I won’t let go until you’re ready,” I wheezed.

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Physically, teaching your kid to ride a bike is exactly the same as running top-speed around somebody’s crawlspace while holding a sloshing five-gallon bucket of water out in front of you.  Seems like somebody should have invented a better way by now.  Quasimodo probably had great posture before he taught his kid to ride a bike.

“Did you let go at all?” Evan asked as we rolled to a stop by the garage.  Several times, it felt like I could have let go, that he would have just kept right on motoring without me, and I’d tried to relax my arm so that I wasn’t actually supporting him.  But I hadn’t betrayed his trust.

“No, buddy, I sure didn’t,” I replied.

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“Aw, why not?  I was doing it by myself.  You should have let go,” he said, completely without irony.

“Yeah, you really were.  We can try it next time.  Pretty soon, you won’t need me there at all,” I replied.

Just then, I looked up to notice that Zack, Evan’s four-year-old brother, was standing with his pants around his ankles, urinating in the middle of the driveway.

“Zack!” I yelled, and he flinched, like he was honestly surprised that anyone would have a problem with what he was doing.

At that moment, I realized: I actually live with two lifestyle gurus.  So much to learn from these guys.

You can pee in Mike Todd’s driveway at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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Big deal, little league

The ball plinked off his bat, rolling toward the pitcher’s mound, and my son, Evan, stood there, bat in hand, watching all the other team’s players chasing after the ball like it was made of Pokémon cards (which have replaced baseball cards as objects of desire for his demographic, because today’s kids have realized that baseball players, while interesting, cannot shoot lightning out of their eyeballs).

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“Run, Evan!” I yelled, and he stared in bewilderment at all the excitement he’d just created. All you have to do is transfer a little kinetic energy from a bat to a ball, and the world loses its mind.

“Does he know what to do?” my wife, Kara, whispered. In retrospect, before his first-ever at-bat, perhaps we could have spent a little more time going over the post-hit procedure.

“Drop the bat, then run to first base,” I willed from the bleachers. Still, he didn’t move.

Baseball may be our national pastime, but for the last twenty-three years, it has passed exactly none of my time. My baseball career ended when I aged out of our local rec league at fifteen, all old and washed-up.

I’d forgotten how much I used to enjoy baseball before we started preparing for Evan’s first season of little league. It just feels good, and sounds right, when that ball hits the webbing of the glove you just bought on Amazon. I can tell that Evan’s getting into it, too. When we’re out in the yard, there’s something about the look in his face when the ball sticks in his mitt that really makes up for the look on his face when the ball ricochets off his forearm.

Now that our family is getting into baseball, I’m feeling all nostalgic. I want to watch Field of Dreams, then get my dad to bring his glove to our house so that we can all play catch in the yard, then Shoeless Joe Jackson will wander out of my garage, blinking, looking around, and asking, “Is this hell? Because there’s no way heaven is this messy.”

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After Evan’s first week in the league, I’ve noticed that, at least for very young kids, baseball parents seem waaay more into sports than soccer parents, perhaps because you have to have a dogged dedication to the game to attempt explaining baseball to a six-year-old.

“Okay, you have to stop on each base, except for first base, which you can run right through, as long as you keep running straight, ‘cause if you turn towards second base even a little bit,” is as far as you’ll get before the kid’s hand is creeping toward his iPad.

Soccer is such a popular sport because parents don’t really have to explain anything at all.

“Here you go. Chase this around for a while, or whatever,” they say, rolling a soccer ball onto the field, and the kids know exactly what to do.

To Evan, though, right after the first successful swing of his budding baseball career, the path forward was not nearly so clear. As the fastest infielder reached the ball, Evan finally realized that he should be hurrying somewhere, so he took his helmet off and placed it gently on the ground.

“Leave the helmet on…” I started to call, but then he was off, barreling, thankfully, toward first base.

By the time Evan stepped onto the bag, then tapped it with his hand for good measure, the ball had visited several different players, rolled along the grass a few times, and, presently, sat at rest by the trash barrel on the way to the parking lot.

Evan looked over at us and smiled. At the end of the game, he beamed when the coach handed him the game ball. The league may be little, but some of the moments feel awfully big.

You can buy Mike Todd some peanuts and Cracker Jacks at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Ditching you, on a jet plane

“YOU’RE GOING TO ALASKA WITHOUT ME?” our son Evan shrieked. We’d been preparing him for weeks that he’d be getting ditched soon, and he was handling it well. We were quite pleased with how emotionally mature a six-year-old can be when he doesn’t understand what you’re telling him. That morning, though, Mommy’s suitcase in the hallway told him everything he didn’t want to know.

“Come on, buddy, it could be worse. You, Zack, and I get to hang out for five days. Bro time!” I said. Of course, we can have bro time even when Mommy’s home, so this wasn’t much of a selling point. It’s like how Subway creates a Spicy Italian sub by simply removing the ham from an Italian BMT sub. “Spicy Italian” sounds more exciting, but it’s really just the lack-of-ham sub. “Bro time” ran into the same problem – all Evan got out of it was no ham. Ham being his mother, in this analogy. (One thing I’ve learned in eleven years of marriage: Women love being compared to lunchmeat.)

“I want to go with you!” Evan wailed, hanging on Kara’s leg, and you could see her heart breaking, just a little. Our other son, Zack, wandered into the hallway and watched the drama unfolding before him. He also already knew that Mommy was going to Alaska for several days to meet her sister’s new baby. I watched as the reality dawned on him as well.

“I want pancakes!” he said. We all deal with our emotions differently.

“Please take me with you! I want to meet the baby!” Evan yelled, tears welling in his eyes.

Just then, Zack remembered something important.

“With Nutella!” he added. It’s possible that his sensitivity gene is recessive.

Once we said goodbye to Mommy, Evan settled down almost immediately. He just needed to maximize her anguish before she left.

We didn’t really have the opportunity to do much with our bro time until the weekend, because weekdays go like this: WAKE UP! DO THIS THING! DO THAT THING! DO THIS THING! GO TO SLEEP! WAKE UP! DO THIS THING!… And so on.

But on Saturday morning, we finally had a chance to take stock of our situation. Clearly, we were in survival mode. Nutrition and hygiene were out. As the kids ate their microwaved, Nutella-slathered pancakes, and I figured out how to work the coffee maker, I pondered whether their jammies could pass for casual wear.

Incidentally, I’m not sure daily coffee is the best tradition. Kara started making it every morning after Zack was born and decided not to sleep until his third birthday. I went along for the ride, but now, if I don’t drink a cup in the morning, I get a headache in the afternoon. I don’t appreciate being extorted by my breakfast beverage. Orange juice never threatens anybody.

“Cows have four teats. Goats only have two,” Evan said as I poured milk into the coffee.

“I don’t know whether I knew that or not. Where’d you learn that?” I replied.

“At the farm on our field trip this week. Can we go to the farm this weekend?” he asked.

“You know what? We sure can,” I said.

We went to the farm.

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We took a hike.

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We even found a playground with one of those Carousels of Death on them, where you run around to get it spinning and then jump on, the kind that every playground used to have, back when we didn’t mind mangling the occasional child in the service of the greater fun. The kids loved it, until I had to pick gravel out of their nostrils, but even then they kind of loved it.

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If we keep going like this, everyone should still be alive (if wearing the same underwear and sporting mild facial abrasions) when Mommy gets home. Bro time has been fun, but we’re all looking forward to having the ham back in our sub, too.

You can send Mike Todd the absence of ham at mikectodd@gmail.com.