At the end of the daycare

I jumped around the gravel parking lot of the daycare center, standing on one foot and waving with both hands while shaking the other foot in the air.

From the second-floor window, my son Zack switched to waggling his behind at me, checking over his shoulder to make sure I was doing it, too.  I waggled right back at him, being careful not to look across the street into the credit union parking lot, for fear of seeing the reactions of normal people to a grown man proto-twerking in an otherwise deserted daycare parking lot.

Zack turned back around and blew two kisses at me.  I blew two kisses back at him, gave a final wave, and hopped into the car to go to work.  He disappeared from the window to begin his long day of playing, snacking, napping, and gluing pom-poms to paper plates.  As far as morning routines go, this parking-lot-and-window dance with Zack is my all-time favorite, though that distinction is somewhat bittersweet, since tomorrow is the last day we’ll ever do it.

After tomorrow, Zack will go to summer camp, then kindergarten in the fall, then college a few blinks after that.  At least during those blinks, we can enjoy some years of not paying for daycare or college.  For the amount we’ve invested in daycare for our two children so far, we could have probably bought a nice little cottage on a lake.  Or a sweet boat, the kind with stairs that go to different floors.  But no, no boat.  After eight years, all we have to show for our investment is well-adjusted children.  They’re barely even seaworthy.

Eight years ago, when we started sending Evan, our oldest son, to this same daycare center, I thought our last day at daycare would be a big celebration.

“This is horrible.  I feel like we’re abandoning him,” my wife, Kara, said through her tears as we left Evan behind those doors for the first time when he was just six months old.

We were still new parents then, soft, not forged by the fires (and barfs) of parenthood like we are now.

“He’ll be fine.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know who we are yet,” I said.

As it turned out, Evan was just fine that day, thanks to the wonderful women at that center, who have given so much care and love to both of our sons over the past eight years that we feel like we’re losing a part of our family tomorrow.

When Zack walks out that door for the last time, he’ll be bringing much more with him than just the construction-paper caterpillar with his name on it.  He’ll also be bringing his ability to share, to be respectful of others, to make friends, to listen occasionally, and to make antennae out of pipe cleaners.

His immune system has also had quite the learning experience at daycare.  He’s caught so many colds and stomach bugs over the years that he may never get sick again.  You’d have to go deep into the Amazonian rainforest to find something he hasn’t already had.

So it is with mixed emotions that we greet this new phase in our lives.  While we may not be getting a boat anytime soon, from what I understand, the happiest days of boat ownership are the day you buy your boat, and the day you sell it.  Likewise, I think the worst days of daycare are the day you drop your kid off for the first time, and the day you pick him up for the last time.

At least we still have one more morning routine to go.  I really hope there’s nobody in the credit union parking lot for this one.

You can proto-twerk with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The creature in the can

“WHOA! There’s an animal in there!” I said, slamming the lid shut before the creature had a chance to attach itself to my face.

“WHAT IS IT?  WHAT IS IT?” the kids yelled, running up behind me to join the burgeoning adventure, but staying far enough back to make sure that I’d still be the first one devoured if things went south.

A creature skittered around inside the trash can, bouncing off the plastic walls, making it boom like a kettle drum.  The kids gasped.  In their minds, absolutely anything could have been in that can.  A raccoon.  A monkey.  A velociraptor.

A few moments earlier, we’d arrived back home from a weekend at my wife’s folks’ house.  When I stepped out of the garage to throw some gum wrappers in the outside trash can, I noticed green plastic shavings all over the driveway.

“Not again,” I said, as I looked to the top corner of the can.  A gaping hole had been gnawed through the lid and body of the can, leaving the container looking like it had barely made it back to shore after a shark attack.

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Our previous trash can had lasted for ten years, until a squirrel gnawed a hole in the exact same spot.  The garbage company replaced the can with a shiny new one, which now had a fresh hole in its lid and side, its defenses breached after a mere two weeks.

I used a hiking stick from the garage to flip the lid open.  The kids took another step back.  Silence.  After a few moments passed without anything furry and/or carnivorous launching itself into the air, I peered over the edge, down into the can.  A squirrel had wedged itself between a trash bag and the side of the can, too fat to squeeze any further out of view, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

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“Remember when you threw me away?  I totally belong in here,” was the look he was going for.

After the kids took a look at the rotund little miscreant, they went upstairs to join my wife, Kara, leaving me to figure out what an adult is supposed to do in a situation like this.  Clearly, if I let him go, he would come back to destroy an infinite number of trash cans.

“What am I going to do with you?” I asked him.  He still hadn’t moved, like I was the T-rex from Jurassic Park.  Maybe if he just sat still long enough, I’d lumber off into the brush.

In another moment, I knew what I had to do.  I lumbered off into the brush, grabbing a sturdy stick.  Then I put the stick into the can, leaning it out of the open top.

“Be free, my furry little arch nemesis,” I said.

To be the kind of guy who could kill a squirrel, guilty as that squirrel may be, I’d have to rearrange my whole concept of self.  Didn’t seem nearly worth it.

“Too bad we couldn’t just take him somewhere else,” Kara said when I came back inside.

“That’s a great idea!” I said, running back outside.  The squirrel still hadn’t moved.

“Never mind about being free.  We’re taking a road trip!” I said, removing the stick and shutting the lid.

I stuffed some rags into the hole, clamped the lid shut with a ratchet strap, and crammed the entire trash can into the back of our Highlander.  If life was a sitcom, he would definitely have escaped into the car.  Reality can be mercifully boring.

Ten miles up the road, at a state park, with the can on its side, I slowly lifted the lid.  The squirrel hit the bushes going about sixty miles per hour.

At that rate, he probably beat me home.

You can root around in Mike Todd’s trash at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The sound of nuisance

As we approached the overlook, I could tell something wasn’t quite right.

“What’s that sound?” my seven-year-old son, Evan, asked, stopping in the middle of the trail.  I heard the noise coming from straight ahead, but I couldn’t quite place it.  Was the sound coming from a bear, scratching rhythmically against a tree in the underbrush?  Twigs cracking underneath a deer’s hooves?

As we edged closer, the sound took a recognizable form, the form of a top 40 hit, spraying into the woods from a speaker attached to a teenager.

“Dude,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” Evan asked.

“This is nature.  It’s not supposed to have Katy Perry in it.  Unless Katy Perry goes for a hike,” I said.

When I was a kid, you had to work really hard to annoy other people with your music.   Boom boxes needed eight D batteries and weighed thirty-five pounds.  Nature was safe, because nobody was going to drag a machine the size of a crib mattress into the woods just to shatter everyone else’s Zen.

These days, no such restrictions exist.  A two-ounce Bluetooth speaker, paired with a lack of respect for social norms, can send any fauna within a three-mile radius bounding away to find peace.  The flora would probably go, too, if it could.

“This is a good exercise in patience, Evan.  Just ignore them and focus on the beautiful view,” I said as we walked up to the overlook, about thirty feet from the teenaged couple sitting on a second ledge, their music still blasting even after they noticed us.

“Okay, Daddy,” Evan said, enjoying the view.

“I’m super-annoyed right now,” I replied.

If nature is taken from us, there’s absolutely no place left where you can disconnect.  You can’t even pump gas anymore without having ads screaming for your attention.  Our local gas station just installed TV screens on all the pumps.  You think you’re going to have three peaceful minutes while you help destroy the planet, but the pump has other plans.

“Here are the five stories you need to know about RIGHT NOW!” it shouted at me last week, making me jump.

“No, I don’t need to know about them,” I replied, facing my car.

“Here comes the entertainment airplane, into your brain hangar,” said the pump, using its rubbery arms to fly the screen in front of my face.

“Nuh-uh.  Mm mmm,” I said, scrunching up my eyes and turning my face away.

“Loooooook at it.  Loooooook.  Buy things… Want stuff….  Looooook….,” it whispered, the numbers on its face turning into hypnotic spinning spirals.  Looooooooooook.  Thiiiings.

Anyway, I just wanted some peace out there with Evan.  He had a half-day off from school and I’d taken off from work, giving us a precious, rare weekday afternoon together.

Five minutes earlier, he’d cried out: “I ate a bug!”

“Oh, that’s part of the deal with hiking.  Gives you protein,” I said.

“It landed on my tongue.  My tongue is the thing that killed it!” he wailed.

THAT is the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen out in the woods: miserable experiences that you’ll back on fondly later.

As the music continued blaring, I looked over at the teenagers.  The girl had packed up, indicating that they would mercifully be leaving us soon.

The boy had his back to the view and was sticking out his tongue, mugging for the selfie stick that he was waving around.  He tried several different poses with modified tongue angles.

The next day, the headline in our paper read: LOCAL HIKER FOUND IMPALED BY SELFIE STICK.  In my imagination, anyway.

Actually, they wandered off, leaving me and Evan to enjoy the view in peace, finally.

“Thanks for taking me here,” Evan said.

And with that, everything was quite right again.

StormKingwEvan

You can rock out with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Daddy’s down for the count

“Did you sleep on my floor last night, Daddy?” my son Evan asked, his face sticking over the edge of his bed.  He was confused about what I was doing down there, like I was a stuffed animal that had rolled out of his bed in the night.

“I sure did, buddy,” I said.  My camping mattress crinkled as I rolled over to face him.  Behind his head, a giant Death Star decal loomed on the ceiling.  Two orbs floated in my field of vision: the one with the giant laser cannon, a destroyer of planets, and the one with the bedhead, a destroyer of my night’s sleep.

“Why?” Evan asked.

“You don’t remember?” I asked in return.

He’d spent the previous ten hours fussing from his bed, tossing and turning through varying levels of consciousness, calling out for us and complaining about his upset stomach.  I’d given him some Children’s Pepto, which tastes just bad enough that you can verify something’s actually wrong when a kid takes it without arguing.  Not like Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops, which taste delicious, but have never suppressed a single actual cough.

“Never mind, I’m all better!” I’d say as a kid, when my parents tried to switch me from Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops to something with actual medicinal properties.

After the Pepto, all I could do was pat Evan on the head and suggest that perhaps sleep would make all of us feel better.  Sometimes, when you’re a kid, you know your parents can’t really do anything to make you feel better, but it still brings you some measure of comfort to know that they are miserable, too.

He’d settle back down for a few minutes, I’d crawl back into bed, then he’d call out again, activating my wife Kara’s ejection foot.

“My tummy huuuuurts!” came the wail from the other room.

“SPROING!” went Kara’s ejection foot.  She wasn’t quite awake enough to know what was going on, or what the problem was, but she was pretty sure that whoever she’d just dumped onto the floor would fix it.

After this process repeated throughout the night, I remembered an old trick from the days when we had babies in the house.  If you’re constantly returning to a crying baby’s room, walking back-and-forth between your bed and the crib, you can cut your commute time in half by simply collapsing in the hallway.

Many a morning, I’d wake up drooling on the hallway carpet, with the dog standing there, head askew, wondering if she was supposed to go for help.

Now that I’ve gotten older and wiser, though, I’ve improved my technique.  Don’t just stop, drop, and drool.  First, stop by the closet to grab a camping mattress, which you fully intend to actually take camping once you conquer indoor parenting.  The expletives you’re muttering under your breath will help to inflate the camping mattress even quicker, trapping all the obscenity and desperation in there.  Just don’t deflate the mattress in front of the kids the next day, or they’ll learn a lot of words that they shouldn’t really be learning from you.  They should be learning them the way nature intended: on the bus, from kids who don’t really know what they mean, either.

A few minutes after I’d settled onto Evan’s floor, he called out, “Oooooh.  My tummy hurts!”

“SPROING!” went Kara’s foot in the other room, hitting nothing but air.

“I’m right here, bud,” I said, listening as he settled back to sleep.

The next morning, he felt fine, and didn’t remember much of the night’s goings-on.

As kids get older and easier to care for, you forget what it’s like to experience the sleepless nights that used to be so common.  Which reminds me: I really should get that vasectomy scheduled.

You can collapse in Mike Todd’s hallway at mikectodd@gmail.com.

On pests and pastimes

“Get away from me!” my son Evan screamed, wildly swinging his baseball bat over his head.

“Buddy, I’m not sure that’s helping,” I said.

“It is!  I’m getting a few of them!” he replied, his bat whizzing back-and-forth through the swarming springtime air.

Some would argue that mosquitoes are nature’s most annoying creatures, but at least mosquitos make sense.  You have blood.  They want it.  While you may not appreciate their attempts to sign you up for an impromptu blood donation, you can still understand where they’re coming from.

Gnats, on the other hand, don’t get any benefit out of pestering you, except for whatever joy they may take from interrupting an otherwise lovely father-son baseball practice.

“Hello there!  I’m going to bounce off your forehead for a while,” they say.

“Would you just sting me or suck my blood or try to live inside me or something USEFUL already!” you scream back.

“How about I fly into your eye and drown in your tears, while you stagger around trying to get me out?” they ask.  Compromise is important.

I waited to see if Evan would use the gnats as an excuse to go back inside.  HE’D invited ME to come play baseball in the backyard, an unprecedented event.  I’d have understood if the bugs had convinced him to end our session, but a scorpion stampede wouldn’t have caused me to suggest it.

Playing baseball with your kid is the thing you imagine doing when that kid is a baby, screaming in your face at 3am and inventing new ways to make things come UP over the diaper waistband from the inside, something you’d never before considered as being possible.

“Someday, this screaming life-usurper will play catch with me,” you tell yourself as you curl up next to the crib and fall asleep on the floor.

With Evan, that promise has been realized.  After all the millions of decibels that his little lungs have projected into our house over the past seven-going-on-eight years, perhaps the sweetest have been the ones that carried these words: “Want to practice baseball with me?”

Evan has some new motivation for practicing.  Last year, his first year in little league, they took it easy on the kids: infinite strikes, you can keep running the bases even if you get out, everyone gets a trophy, the works.

The motto for the second year of little league: Welcome to the cruel world, kids.

Three strikes and you’re out.  When you’re out, you’re really out.  And instead of a friendly adult human throwing the ball, it’s a pitching machine, a trebuchet-like device that flings the balls across home plate at about three times the velocity that the kids are used to.

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The Character Builder 3000

Last year, when the coaches were lobbing balls across home plate from their knees, they would slow it down when the kids were having trouble, or offer some words of encouragement.  The pitching machine is more like the Terminator.  It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.  And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you strike out.  Or hit the ball, which is unlikely.

That evening with the gnats, Evan stopped swinging his bat at the bugs, and got back into a batter’s stance.

“Ready,” he said.

“Elbow up, buddy,” I said.  I don’t really know how to help him too much, but I do know that you’re supposed to say “elbow up” for some reason.

Watching him standing there, waiting for the pitch, I thought that nothing, not even swarms of pests, could make this moment less than perfect.  Someday, he might tire of practicing with his old man.  But for now, every pitch is a ball.

You can’t bargain or reason with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

It’s all downhill from here

“The brakes!  Do you remember how to use the BRAKES?!” I yelled at my seven-year-old son, Evan, as gravity swept him away.

“YYYYYEEEEeeeeaaaah!” he called over his shoulder as he wobbled, righted himself, and wobbled again, picking up momentum and heading straight for our neighbor’s mailbox.

If he truly remembered how to use the brakes, that knowledge didn’t seem to be manifesting itself in any obvious way.  He’d picked up enough speed that his shirt began flapping against his back, which is nature’s way of tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Dude, don’t fall right now, or gravel is going to end up in some really undesirable places.”

Up to that moment, he’d never gone faster than a walking pace on his bike.  Despite years of constant parental cajoling, his bike had sat in our garage serving as a spider habitat, like one of those ships they sink offshore to create an artificial reef.

As much as I wanted him to enjoy riding his bike, I couldn’t really blame Evan for not seeing the upside before that day.  It’s not like we were all of a sudden going to let him go tooling off into the world by himself, like I was allowed to do when I was a kid, back before we put all of our dogs and our kids behind invisible fences.

When I was a kid, a bike meant freedom.  I’d hop on my bike and ride around with the neighborhood kids, trespassing without a care, getting poison ivy in the woods, and doing lots of other things that make me nostalgic, but that I will never let my kids do.

When it was time to come home, my parents would stand on the front porch and – I swear, this seemed perfectly normal at the time — blow into a gigantic conch shell.

“aaaaWOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” the sound of the conch would reverberate across the neighborhood.  Whatever we were doing, I’d hop back on my bike and pedal home like mad, because conch-blowers, in general, do not take kindly to being ignored.

Sometimes, I think that childhood now isn’t so different from childhood in the 80s.  Then I remember that my parents’ primary instrument for long-distance communication with me was the shell of a large mollusk.  These days, kids wouldn’t understand that concept at all.  Their parents’ conch shells are much smaller and sleeker.

In any event, after years of ignoring it, one day Evan just dragged his bike out of the garage, evicted the spiders, and started riding the thing around the driveway in circles, yelling, “This is actually FUN!”

Wanting to encourage his newfound appreciation for being a bipedaling biped, I took Evan and his five-year-old brother, Zack, out for an expedition around the neighborhood.  (Zack’s bike still has training wheels and a handle in the back that lets me steer for him, so it’s more of a socially acceptable stroller.)

“Don’t let go, Daddy!” Zack said as we headed down a large hill.  I grasped the handle on the back of his bike a little tighter.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, buddy,” I said.

“Bye!” Evan said, pulling up his feet and bombing down the hill, prompting my shouted reminder about the existence of brakes.

I watched, helpless to do anything but spectate.  Evan was truly on his own, approaching a curve in the road at a speed he’d never attempted before, with only that mailbox there to catch him if he failed.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your kids is to let go.  Or hold on.  Or both.  Or neither.  Actually, I have no idea what you’re supposed to do.

I winced, then exhaled deeply as Evan sailed around the curve, hitting his brakes at the bottom of the hill.

“I did it!” he yelled, proud of either his accomplishment, or the embolism he’d just given his father.  Both were quite large.

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The little daredevil in flatter times (two weeks after this story), halfway through a 4-mile ride on our local rail trail. 

You can communicate with Mike Todd via the mollusk of your choice at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The winter is our discontent

“Never mind,” I said, shutting the front door as the dog skidded to a stop at my feet.  A plume of arctic air shot across the living room and the wind howled against the door, delivering a clear warning message to anyone foolish enough to consider stepping outdoors.

“Stay in! STAY IIIIIINNNNNNN!” it said, like a reverse poltergeist.

My phone confirmed that it was indeed nineteen degrees out there, heading down to thirteen overnight, well below my twenty-degree, sane-person cutoff for walking the dog.

“Sorry, animal, I’m going to do us both a favor and skip the walk tonight,” I told Memphis, and she headed back to the couch to settle into her Memphis-shaped cushion-crater for the evening.

A friend recently shared an inspirational quote on Facebook that read: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

This quote is attributed to John Ruskin, a famous art critic who died in the year 1900, after being swept away in a tornado.  Just kidding.  He actually died of non-tornado natural causes at the age of eighty, after losing his mind, which might explain the “no such thing as bad weather” idea.

Living in the northeast and having a sister who lives in San Diego, I would take no small measure of comfort in the thought of “no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather,” a theory that might exclusively apply to San Diego, but doesn’t seem at all to reflect reality around here.  Where I live, for four months of the year, the weather is actively trying to kill us all.

“Sure, it gets chilly out there, but it’s not trying to KILL us,” you might be thinking.

When you’re walking around in thirteen-degree weather, the only reason it doesn’t kill you is because, at some point, you come back inside.  It’s not that the weather isn’t trying to kill you, it’s just that you don’t give it quite enough time to succeed.

“Wait, come back!  Aw, shoot.  The one that got away,” winter mutters as you walk back into your house.

In San Diego, for twelve months out of the year, the weather just pats you on the head and tells you how good-looking you are.  They’re not even having a drought there anymore.  Couldn’t they at least give us that?

That frigid night with the dog happened a few weeks ago, after we’d already had some nice spring weather teasing us.  Winter likes to pretend it’s gone, tricking the daffodils into poking their little heads out of the soil, then WAM!  Winter comes back again like a giant, felt-wrapped hammer, whapping anything green back into submission.  It’s nature’s version of whack-a-mole.

But now, finally, we’re leaving all of that behind.  After several feints, winter has finally faded away, for real this time probably, and we emerge, blinking, from our homes that kept us safe from the air that has been attacking us since November, inhaling air that does not inflict pain on our lungs, as long as you do not count the allergens.

And then we notice that our decks could really use some staining.  And our mailboxes are listing off to the left.  And there’s mud where the grass used to be.  Without winter, we no longer have an excuse to hide indoors, shirking our responsibilities.  For the brief time we have while our weather pats us on the head and tells us how good-looking we are, we have work to do.

It’s almost enough to make you wish for winter again.  When you’re hiding from the murderous weather, at least the yard work can’t find you, either.

You can get some spring in your step with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Where a grownup can go insane

“We’re going to get through this thing together,” I said to my wife, Kara, as I took her hand.  We followed our children through the double doors, into our local Chuck E. Cheese’s, the place where a kid can be a kid, and a grownup can go insane.

“Can I please have my birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese?” our nearly five-year-old son Zack began asking about a month before his birthday, usually as his first waking words on any given day, thereby dispelling any notion that we’d be able to skate by for one more year without him noticing that we didn’t really throw him an actual party.

“That was your party!” we’ve been able to convince him every other year, and he never seemed to notice that, with the exception of his brother, he was descended from every other person in attendance.

At some point, though, you have to let your kid have a birthday party at their favorite rodent-themed arcade.  It’s a rite of passage.  In some cultures, you tie vines to your ankles and jump off bamboo towers.  In other cultures, where there’s a higher tolerance for pain, you invite all the kids from your son’s daycare to run around an establishment that is packed with enough children on a Saturday afternoon that there would surely be a fire code violation if kids didn’t only count as half a person.

“This is stressing me out,” Kara said as we advanced into the flashing, clanging, beeping, screaming cacophony of Chuck E. Cheese’s, which is essentially a training casino for children.  Kids put money into machines, push a button or two repeatedly, and occasionally get a little reward for their efforts.  The reward comes in the form of tickets that can be redeemed for prizes that you wouldn’t bend down to pick up off the sidewalk.  At this little casino, the mouse always wins.

“That’s my favorite game!” Zack said, pointing across the room.  When their grandparents are babysitting, our kids always con them into Chuck E. Cheese trips.  Zack’s such a regular there, I half expected a pit boss to comp him some pizza.

Zack strode into the arcade area, master of his domain, high-fiving the person dressed up like the eponymous mouse.  If you’re not familiar with Chuck E. Cheese, he’s kind of like what Mickey Mouse would be, if Mickey had made worse life decisions.  You just get the sense that Chuck E. is probably a good guy, but he’s living with some regrets.

Zack’s buddies all showed up shortly thereafter, and the kids orbited around each other as they bounced from machine to machine.  A while later, after the pizza and cake, Kara grimaced when she realized what was coming next.

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“Dude, they’re going to put him in the barf chamber,” she said.

She was referring to the Ticket Blaster, which is like a phone booth that serves as the grand finale for the birthday child.  The child stands in the booth and catches as many tickets as they can in thirty seconds while tickets cyclone around.  Years ago, we watched a little girl get into that very same booth and perform what could best be described as an upchuck-E. Cheese.

“It’s been three years since that little girl threw up in there.  I’m sure they dumped plenty of sawdust on it,” I said.

Zack just laughed as the machine blew tickets, and who knows what else, into his face.

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On the way home, Zack was still beaming, triumphant.

“What was your favorite part?” we asked him.

“The whole thing,” Zack said.

And really, what else matters?  Still, it’s nice to be back in the regular world, where an adult can be an adult.

You can comp Mike Todd some pizza at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The greatest ambulation

“Somebody’s there,” my seven-year-old son Evan said as we rounded the top of the hill.  Indeed, the bench at the overlook was occupied by an old man, enjoying the peace and quiet that he would soon find in short supply.

“HI!” Evan and his four-year-old brother, Zack, yelled at the man as they dashed past him, looking near the edge of the woods for the old geocache box that they knew was hidden under a pile of rocks nearby.  (If you’re not familiar with the hobby of geocaching, it’s like a give-a-penny, take-a-penny for household junk, stashed in millions of little boxes hidden by hobbyists all over the world.  You can locate the geocaches by using the GPS in your phone, or by listening for your kids to start hollering louder than usual.)

“Hello!  That’s a beautiful dog you have there,” the man said, pointing at Memphis, our black-lab-esque mutt, the final member of my entourage for the day.

While my wife was at work, I’d taken a vacation day to celebrate our complete lack of other childcare options on Presidents’ Day.  Since the kids were bouncing off the walls all morning, I ricocheted them out the door to take a two-mile hike in the unseasonably warm afternoon, which is how we happened upon the old man on the bench.

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After we chatted for a few moments, the man, who had introduced himself as Al, turned to me and said, “I’m ninety-three years old.”

“Wow, I hope I’m still hiking when I’m your age,” I said, and he gave me a sort of “good luck with that” look, the same look you’d expect Michael Jordan to give if you told him, “I hope my tomahawk dunk from the foul line looks as good as yours someday.”

Just then, the kids finished rifling through the geocache box, not finding anything worthy of exchanging their Happy Meal toys for, and came over to rifle through my backpack.  I always bring plenty of junk-food bribes to help my kids enjoy the outdoors, just like Daniel Boone’s dad must have done.

“Here y’go,” Zack said, putting an Oreo into Al’s hand.

“Thank you,” Al said, taking a tiny bite to be polite, then giving the rest to Memphis.

“HE’S GIVIN’ CHOCOLATE TO THE DOG!” Zack yelled, pulling on my shirt sleeve.

“Shhh, buddy, Oreos don’t really have chocolate in them,” I said.  The man was a member of the Greatest Generation, and was wearing a hat that suggested he’d fought in World War II.  If he wanted to give my dog diarrhea, he’d earned the right.

“Can you take a picture of me at the overlook, and can Memphis be in it with me?  And can you send me a copy of the picture?  My friends won’t believe I made it up here,” Al asked.

“Sure, I’d be glad to.  Do you have an email address?” I asked hopefully, handing him a dog treat so that Memphis would pose with him.

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“I’ve never had a computer, but I can give you my mailing address and pay you for the picture,” he replied.

If someone under ninety years old had made that same request, I would have been annoyed, but I agreed to do it for Al, even if we can never be Facebook friends.

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“Want to walk back down the hill together?” Al suggested after the photo shoot, and we all agreed.

On the way down, I learned that he had indeed fought in World War II.  When he returned from the war, he’d taken a job mopping floors at an insurance company at night, eventually working his way into an office job.  He’d been married for sixty-six years.  And he walked faster than us.

Someday, I hope I can dunk like Al.

You can bribe Mike Todd with junk food at mikectodd@gmail.com.

A tough conversation, period

“What’s this?” my seven-year-old son Evan asked, holding up a tampon.

“Can I have some crackers?” my four-year-old son Zack asked at the same time.  Like a politician at a press conference, I chose the easier question.

“No, no snacks.  We’re just about to eat dinner,” I said.

“What’s this?” Evan repeated, pointing the tampon wrapper at me like he was Harry Potter casting a spell with his absorbent, unscented wand.  Expectum answeris!

Of course, their mother was out-of-town for work, so I couldn’t pawn off the question on her.  Before she left, though, she’d apparently skipped around the house, tossing feminine hygiene products onto various household surfaces from her woman basket.

Something in the way Evan stood there, pointing the tampon at me in an almost accusatory way, like he knew he was on the verge of discovery and I was stonewalling him, gave me a flashback to when I was a teenager, standing in my parents’ kitchen.

“What’s this?” my mom asked, holding up a tube of K-Y Jelly.  I recognized the tube from the glove compartment of my car.  As far as I knew, the tube came with the car, like an owner’s manual.  I hadn’t put it there, and I’d never really given its origins or intended applications too much thought.

“Oh, that’s the tube from my glove box.  I don’t know who put that there.  I assumed it had some kind of automotive purpose,” I said.  I didn’t know exactly what went on inside a Jiffy Lube, but it seemed plausible they might need some personal lubricant in there somewhere.

“It doesn’t have an automotive purpose,” Dad said, looking at me sideways, with an “I wasn’t born yesterday” look.  I think my parents thought I was much better at being a teenager than I actually was.

I never did get to the bottom of what was going on with that K-Y Jelly, but I’m pretty sure my parents never entirely believed me, and I still got tainted with a squirt of suspicion by the whole thing.  Stonehenge, what happened to D.B. Cooper, how that K-Y Jelly got in my glove compartment: the great mysteries of our time.

Over twenty years later, another member of my family eyed me suspiciously, sensing that I was weaseling out of giving a straight answer.  In retrospect, he might have thought that the tampon was candy, which would explain why he cared so much.  The wrapper looked a lot like the wrapper of the good kind of after-dinner mint.  He may have thought he’d just hit the jackpot.

“It’s, uh, it’s a thing that women use,” I said, pausing to take a bite of my Oreo, waiting to see if the conversation was over.

“Hey!  You said no snacks!  You’re eatin’ Oreos!” Zack yelled.

“I’m about to make you dinner, it’s been a long day, and I need the energy.  I’m doing you a favor by eating Oreos.  The energy from this Oreo is going right back into caring for you.  You’re welcome,” I said.

“What do women use them for?” Evan asked.

My brain ran through several possible responses, and it couldn’t come up with a single one that wouldn’t make his head explode.

“It’s a hygiene thing, like soap,” I said, trying to say the most boring possible thing so that the conversation could end, to be resumed in a few years, whenever his health teacher got around to resuming it.  That’s why I pay taxes.

“How much time until dinner?” he asked, setting the tampon down and walking toward his Legos.  Success!

“It’s not fair that you get to eat Oreos before dinner,” Zack correctly noted.

“You’re right.  I shouldn’t have done that.  We’ll all have cookies after dinner,” I replied.

As a parent, it’s important to be forthright and fair.  But it’s also important to try obfuscating and sneaking cookies first.

You can cast a spell at Mike Todd with the feminine hygiene product of your choice at mikectodd@gmail.com.