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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

Skating on thin wood

“I’m going to be the only one there who can’t do it!” our son Evan said with fear in his eyes, holding the invitation to the roller-skating birthday party in his hands.

As parents, you try to prepare your kids for whatever life may throw their way, but we honestly didn’t realize that one of life’s projectiles would be a shoe with wheels attached to it.  Maybe we should have seen this coming and done more to prepare our kids, but we also haven’t taught them how to joust, or use a phone book, or engage in civil political discourse.  There are some things people just don’t do anymore.

When I was a kid, going to the roller rink was a pretty common activity, because iPads hadn’t been invented yet, and our parents didn’t know what else to do with us.

“Here, try to stand up with these things strapped to your feet.  That oughtta keep you occupied for a while,” they’d say.  Then the parents would stand around and talk to each other, because iPhones hadn’t been invented yet, either.

About a year ago, on a lark, we took our sons to a roller rink, but neither kid was too jazzed about it.  They did a couple of laps pushing around a training device that was basically a sawhorse on wheels, wearing expressions on their faces that said, “Is this activity meant to be fun?  I thought you guys said we were coming here to do something enjoyable.”

But this party was a rare opportunity for Evan to see his friend Katie, the skating birthday girl, who moved to another school earlier this year.

“Buddy, if it’s stressing you out, we can call Katie’s mom and cancel.  You don’t have to go,” I said, three days prior to the party.

“I never get to see her anymore!  I DO have to go!  But what am I going to do about not knowing how to skate?” Evan replied.

And so my wife Kara and I found ourselves at the mall (motto: “When You Waited So Long That Amazon Prime Isn’t Quick Enough, We’ll Probably Still Be Here”) over our lunchbreak the following day, purchasing the only pair of roller blades available in Evan’s size.

That evening, with less than forty-eight hours until the party, I blew the leaves off the driveway, and Evan buckled the skates to his feet.

“What do I do now?” he asked.

“Let’s watch that YouTube video again,” I replied.  There’s nothing you can’t learn to do on YouTube.  Carve a tree into a bear with a chainsaw.  Roll your own sushi.  Play the harpsichord.  We could all learn so many useful skills there, if we weren’t using it to watch the Despacito video instead.

“How do you stop?” Evan asked.  The video didn’t cover that.  Kara shrugged.

“You steer into a wall,” I said.

“Really?” Evan asked.

“Always worked for me,” I replied.

Evan spent the next hour finding creative ways to fall over in the driveway, and then hopping right back up, determined to learn.

“You got it, buddy, you got it!” Kara and I cheered as he figured out the motion to propel himself forward.  His smile couldn’t have been any bigger.

At the party, we hovered from the back, just a little, to make sure everything was going okay.  As Evan circled the rink with the other kids, all of them looking like fawns who were figuring out how to use their legs on a frozen pond, none of our smiles could have been any bigger.

Kara and I high-fived each other, feeling like we’d won at parenting, at least this round.  Gotta rack up our victories before we have teenagers in the house.

You can roll your own sushi with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The back forty

“How did we get so old?” my friends and I would often remark back in our early twenties, at a time in our lives when such a remark should have been met with the catapulting of guacamole into our beautiful young faces, preferably by an actual old person.

We knew then that we weren’t actually old, but we were handling responsibilities that had formerly only existed as vague notions of things that adults did.  Signing up for our own health insurance.  Starting a 401(k), after asking someone what a 401(k) was.  Finding dentists who most likely wouldn’t let us pick from the treasure chest afterwards.  Buying our own ferrets.  Cleaning the ferret poop off our landlords’ carpets in the hopes of getting our security deposits back someday.  Grown-up stuff.

At each stage of life thereafter, my peers and I have remarked on how old we were, not because we WERE old, but because we were the oldest we’d ever been.  Getting married?  Only old people do that.  Procreating?  Having kids on purpose is the exclusive domain of old people.  And maybe crazy people.

The funny thing about saying, “How did we get so old?”, though, is that if you do it for enough decades, all of a sudden, you actually ARE old.  Or at least middle-aged.  You turn forty, is my point.

The regular reader(s) of this column may have already noticed that I have become much wiser since the last column.  Distinguished.  Sagacious.  And perspicacious enough to use the dictionary to look up sagacious and perspicacious after the online thesaurus suggested them.

Actually, turning forty hasn’t been quite the bonanza of enlightenment I’d expected.  My whole life, I’d just assumed that people in their forties had things pretty well figured out.  I’m still new to the whole being-forty thing, though, so maybe it just takes a little while for all the wisdom to kick in, like when you eat a hot pepper and nothing happens for a few seconds.

“OH, WOW!  There it is.  All that knowledge and good judgement really sneak up on you,” I’ll say, probably tomorrow morning.

Until then, though, I can only marvel at how much I still don’t know.  Sometimes, my kids figure things out in life so early, maybe there’s more hope for them.

Just this morning, when I took the kids to the doctor’s office for their flu shots, my five-year-old son, Zack, taught me that you don’t have to quietly submit for a shot just because authority figures tell you to.  That idea had never occurred to me.

“I don’t want a shot!” he yelled.  He’d been brave all morning, right up until the point where bravery actually mattered.

“Zack, being loud isn’t going to change the outcome.  You need this shot every year, so let’s do it the nice, easy way,” I said.

He considered that for a moment, then decided he’d rather take his chances with the loud, hard way.

“Okay, can you do it now?” I asked the nurse as I bear-hugged Zack in my lap before he could make a break for it.

“Can you cross your leg over his legs?” she asked.  She’d done this before.

“Absolutely,” I said, turning myself into the human equivalent of that thing they had Hannibal Lecter strapped to.

“Can you count to five, sweetie?” the nurse asked Zack.  He finally relented.  It was done before he got to three.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Zack said in a moment, admiring his new Band-Aid, and preparing to regale his mother with tales of his bravery.

“Well, that was better than last year,” his older brother, Evan, said.

The nurse laughed, and I nodded agreement.  Much better than last year.  Just like me, what with all the wisdom on the way.  Any moment now.

You can help Mike Todd paint over the smoke damage from his birthday cake at mikectodd@gmail.com.

 

 

Newlyweds on the Block

“Wait, we’re IN the wedding?” my eight-year-old son Evan asked, as he realized with horror why he’d been invited to the rehearsal.

“Dude, don’t worry.  All you have to do is walk down the aisle with your brother and your cousin, and listen to everyone whisper about how cute you guys are.  That’s all there is to it,” I said.

“It’s scary,” he replied, demonstrating, for his age, a remarkably advanced fear of walking down the aisle, and a wisdom beyond his years.  (Of course, that joke was directed at people who didn’t have the good fortune to walk down the aisle with my wife, Kara, because she sometimes reads this column.)

For my sister-in-law, Sarah, and her fiancé, Sam, though, taking that stroll was not something to fear.  They knew exactly what they were getting into, mostly because they’ve been together longer than the Rolling Stones.  That is, of course, somewhat of an exaggeration, but Sarah and Sam have been together for nearly a decade, so, they’ve been around for at least as long as the Rolling Stones’ arthritis.

“Uncle Sam is legally going to be your uncle now,” we told Evan and his five-year-old brother, Zack, as we put them into their suspenders and bowties on the afternoon of the wedding.

“But he was already our uncle,” Evan replied.

“Good point, buddy,” Kara said.

“Fancy clothes are itchy,” Zack said, pulling at his collar.  Our kids usually dress like a gym class could break out at any moment.  To them, jeans are formalwear, so actual formalwear was a bit of a shock.

“Looking good is supposed to be a little painful sometimes.  It’s to make you appreciate how comfortable you are during the rest of your life,” I said.

Sarah and Sam had chosen to get married on Block Island, a beautiful island off the coast of Rhode Island, which, despite its aspirational nomenclature, is not an island.

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At the beginning of the ceremony, Evan and Zack walked down the aisle on either side of their nineteen-month-old cousin, Conrad, the three of them together creating a volatile mix of unpredictability that added a hint of danger to the proceedings, like the rusty chain on the Ferris wheel at a local carnival – it’ll probably be fine, but man, if something goes wrong, it’s going to go wrong big time.

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But from the weather to the vows to the kiss to the kids not ruining everything, the wedding went off without a hitch, except for the hitching that was supposed to happen.  And we all got to witness the next step in a relationship that makes this entire extended family bigger, better, and more fun, even if Uncle Sam was already Uncle Sam to begin with.

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“You guys did great!” Sarah said as she and Sam hugged the three boys.  Evan and Zack have been walking for many years, but their cousin was still pretty new to whole thing, so a successful outcome was not a foregone conclusion.

After experiencing their first wedding ceremony, the kids were understandably emotional.

“When’s the cake?” Zack asked.

“After dinner,” Kara replied.

“When’s dinner?” Evan asked.

“After the pictures.  You should really try to enjoy the non-cake aspects of the wedding, too.  It’s not just about the cake,” I said.

“Okay.  But how long until dinner starts, and then ends?” Evan replied.

Somehow, the kids managed to survive through all of the courses of dinner (“What?  There’s more stuff after the salad?  I thought everyone was just eating salad for dinner!”), and got to celebrate what this day was truly about: unlimited dessert.

They still had icing on their faces when we put them into bed that night, hours after their bedtimes, permanent smiles on their faces because they’d helped make our extended family that much more complete.  Or because they’d overdosed on sugar.

You can get to the cake already with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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