Bit by the FitBit

“I need your arm!  Give me your arm!” my son Zack yelled from the backseat.

“Buddy, I also need my arm.  It’s working the steering wheel,” I said.

“Why does he want your arm?” my wife, Kara, asked.

“He wants to see if Daddy did his steps today.  Did you do them yet, Daddy?” our other son, Evan, replied, while Zack raised his eyebrows to see what the answer would be.

The kids have been very interested in my physical fitness (such as it is) ever since I started wearing a Fitbit, the device that allows you to quantify stuff you used to do for fun.  No longer do walking and sleeping have to be just regular, joyous activities.  The Fitbit allows you to hang metrics on them, track trends, and set goals, to help ensure that your regular life feels indistinguishable from work.

If you’ve never seen a Fitbit, the device looks like one of those old rubber Livestrong bracelets that people used to wear back when Lance Armstrong was a great champion that everyone just kind of assumed was probably cheating.  Those bracelets disappeared once everyone confirmed that everyone was right about that guy, but Fitbits have since arrived to fill the rubber-jewelry void.

When we stopped the car, I reached back to let Zack tap my FitBit twice.  For every 2,500 steps you take in a day, you earn a little LED light that flashes for a moment when you tap it.  If you make all four LEDs light up, that means you’ve walked 10,000 steps that day, and you’ve earned the right not to do anything else.  I’m not sure that’s the conclusion that the FitBit makers intended, but if not, they should have put more lights on the thing.

“Can you get me some pretzels?” my wife Kara will ask me.

“Sorry, babe, you’ll have to get them yourself.  I already spent all my steps today,” I’ll tell her.  Then I’ll have a hearty laugh at my insolence as I get her the pretzels anyway, because that is what’s best for my health.

Back in the car, I felt two little taps on my wrist.

“You got three lights!” Zack said.

“That means I’ve walked over 7,500 steps so far today,” I said.

“Steps” might be a misnomer, though, since I’ve noticed the FitBit counting movements that could be construed as something other than exercise.  For instance, when you’re eating a cider doughnut, the kind with cinnamon and sugar caked all over it (which really should be the only kind), and you dab the doughnut into the powder that’s fallen onto your napkin to make sure you don’t miss any of it – the Fitbit counts each dab as a step.

“You’re having another doughnut?” Kara will ask.

“Gotta get my reps in,” I’ll reply.

But no matter how ill-gotten the steps may be, the kids are always impressed.

“Wow!  7,500!  Is that more than a million?” Zack asked.

“Yes, it sure is,” I said, giving him the gift of a bionic dad.  Someday, when he realizes I’ve been answering his questions incorrectly for his whole life, he’ll probably get a good chuckle out of it, or put me in a home.

“No it isn’t!  Don’t listen to him, Zack!  A million is WAY more!” Evan yelled, trying to keep me out of the home.

Despite all of its (and my) flaws, the novelty hasn’t yet worn off of the FitBit.  The thing has a kind of charm, in that it makes you feel like you’re exercising for doing the things you were going to do anyway.  For now, I’ll stick with it, if only to make sure I keep getting credit for not wasting any of the sugar and cinnamon.

You can walk a million steps with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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Babysitting for vampires

“What’s going on over there?  Are you guys okay?” I asked over the din, trying to pick out my dad’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Zack!  I GOT YOUR LEG!  I GOT YOUR LEG!” our son Evan shouted in the background.

“It’s, uh, it’s going fine.  You know.  It’s going okay,” my dad replied.

“LET GO!  LET GO!” Zack screamed.  Then a great, clanging, extended crash happened in the background, like a dump truck had dropped a load of coffee tables and cowbells on our living room floor.  My iPhone crackled as the earpiece tried its best to faithfully relay the goings-on.

“Everything’s okay, everything’s fine,” Dad said, though it was unclear which of us he was trying to convince.

“Thank you so much for doing this.  Sorry about all the youthful exuberance,” I said.  “Youthful exuberance” is a euphemism to describe the behavior of children who would get kicked out of a family of baboons for being too wild.  As a parent, it’s your job to recognize the early stages of youthful exuberance, so that you can stamp it out before it’s too late.

At that moment, my parents were in the process of second-guessing their decision to volunteer for childcare duty.  They’d offered to help me and my wife Kara bridge the chasm between the end of summer camp and the start of school, a gaping two-week period designed to make working parents question their life decisions, annually.

We’d all thought this would be a great opportunity for my parents to spend some quality time alone with our two boys, aged five and eight.  We live four hours from my folks, so for them, getting to spend several full days with our kids is a rare treat, like fried Oreos.  Wonderful, but also bad for you.

“This will be great,” we all agreed, without knocking on wood.

After the first day, when Kara and I returned from work and walked into the house, my mom and dad were sunken into the couch, drained of color, and barely responsive, apparently the victims of a vampire attack.

Our children, the little creatures of the day, had stolen my parents’ life force, and used it to make themselves stronger.

“Mommy!  Daddy!  My puppy likes Grandpa!” Zack yelled, as he repeatedly bounced his stuffed animal on my dad’s head.

Upstairs, Evan was running laps up and down the hall, screaming something about Pokemon, and probably doing one-armed push-ups.

“We need a nap,” my mom mumbled.

Normally, Evan and Zack are sweet, well-behaved kids, but I have a new theory that children cannot handle a change in routine without testing every possible boundary, just to see what will give and what will hold, which is why substitute teachers should get hazard pay.  My parents held, but they very nearly overdosed on youthful exuberance.

The next day, when Kara and I came home, the kids were quietly reading books with my folks.  The day after that, they ran up to tell us how much fun they’d had at the playground.  The color had returned to my parents’ faces.  By the end of the week, everyone was in a groove, and all that quality time actually did happen.  It’s a special thing to see your kids and your parents together, bonding, especially when nobody is trying to grab anyone else’s legs.

“Maybe we can do it again next year,” Mom said as she packed up her suitcase on the last day.  Or at least she was probably thinking it.  I’m almost sure of it.

Next week, Kara’s parents are taking their turn.  On the first day, maybe they should wear riot gear.  Or turtlenecks.

You can steal Mike Todd’s life force at mikectodd@gmail.com.

 

Say it with toilet paper

“Not even Amazon can help me now.  I might be a dead man,” I said, realizing the depth of my predicament.

“People have survived worse,” my friend, Jered, replied, providing some true-yet-not-at-all-helpful perspective.

He’d called that evening to wish me a happy anniversary, the day before my actual anniversary, since he’d be traveling the next day.  Jered’s the kind of friend who prioritizes the life events of those who are important to him, calling on birthdays, sending Christmas cards with personalized, handwritten notes, and generally making me feel bad for never returning the favor.  I’m still friends with him anyway.

“My anniversary is tomorrow?  How did this happen?” I asked.

How it happened is that my family had just returned from vacation.  The whole point of vacation is to forget the responsibilities of your regular life.  My vacation motto: If you can forget the date, you’re doing great.

I knew that my wife Kara and I had our thirteenth anniversary approaching, mostly because our wedding date is etched on the inside of my ring.  The jeweler could tell I’d need the help.  If he really wanted to help, though, he would have given me a battery-powered wedding ring that jolts the wearer with electricity one week before the anniversary.  The shocks would become more frequent and painful until the wearer purchased a suitable present, with the final day of the Amazon Prime shipping window being one long, constant taze.

“Dude, just before I stepped out to talk to you, you know what I told her?  That I’d take the kids to Costco tomorrow night after work,” I said.

Nothing says “romance” like thirty toilet paper rolls wrapped in a giant rectangle.

My best hope was that Kara had forgotten, too.  Then we could handle our thirteenth anniversary the way that tall buildings handle thirteenth floors, skipping right from the twelfth to the fourteenth.

“Good luck!  Hope you live to see your next anniversary,” Jered said, and we said our goodbyes.

As I climbed the stairs to our room, where Kara was reading, I pondered rushing out to find something right then, but the stores would be closed.  Perhaps the 24-hour gas station on the corner would have something?

“Baby, I’m so lucky we snapped into this marriage thirteen years ago, just like you’re going to snap into this Slim Jim right now.”

No, I’d just have to go up there and confess.  Better to do it sooner than to wait and disappoint her on our actual anniversary.

“So, just out of curiosity, did you get me anything for our anniversary tomorrow?” I asked, sidling up to her.

“Oh, that’s right!  It’s almost here already!  No, I didn’t.  I’m sorry, things have been so hectic lately.  Can we just skip doing presents this year?” she said.

“That’s fine, babe.  If you didn’t get me anything, I guess I can just bring your awesome present back to the store,” I replied.  Then I left the room in a huff.  You don’t get to thirteen years of marriage without learning when to press your advantage.

No, not really.  We agreed to forego presents this time, to our mutual relief.  And Costco, in all its bulk glory, would have to wait for another night.  On our anniversary night, Kara and I came up with some big plans for a hot date, eating piping-hot pizza with our two sons, and teaming up to pry loose details about what they did at camp that day.  We never really got any good information out of them, but we both enjoyed trying.

Sometimes, not giving each other presents is the best present you can give each other.

You can forget to send an email to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Home alone, but with kids

Sometimes, when your wife is traveling for two weeks on business, it’s best for her not to know EVERY detail of what’s happening at home while she’s gone.  At least that was my thinking last week, as my five-year-old son, Zack, hurtled toward the curb on his bike, completely out-of-control.

“ZACK!” I yelled, which, in retrospect, was much less helpful than yelling something along the lines of, “BRAKES!  YOU HAVE BRAKES!”

Zack kept his balance while going over a low spot in the curb, even as his training wheels briefly lost contact with the earth, but the next stage of his adventure would present an even bigger challenge: careening down our neighbor’s grassy hill without hitting the large tree directly in his path.

Up until that moment, I’d been doing a fine job with solo parenting.  I’d created efficiencies in our evening routine by foregoing bath time.  I’d provided culinary variety by alternating between frozen chicken nuggets and Frosted Flakes for dinner.  I’d cultivated a sense of harmony between the two boys by turning up the music in the car too loud for them to argue with each other.

Years ago, taking care of them by myself would have been a feat of human endurance.  But now, with Evan being eight and Zack being five, we’re at this great moment when the kids can bring their own dishes to the kitchen after dinner, they enjoy sleep almost as much as us, and they are not yet embarrassed to be seen with us in public.  Ever since Kara left, the three of us have just been dudes, hanging out, with one of the dudes regularly disciplining the other two dudes, as needed.

The evening before our eventful bike ride, Zack curled up next to me on the couch and struck up a conversation, attempting to mine my fatherly wisdom to help him understand how the world works.

“Daddy?” Zack asked.

“What is it, buddy?” I replied.

“What if your face was your butt, and your butt was your face?” he asked, deadpan.  He really wanted to know the answer.  It was a timeless question, the kind that has given philosophers sleepless nights from Descartes (“I think, therefore I am… still perplexed about what would happen if your head and your butt were switched.”) to John Locke (“The mind is furnished with ideas by experience alone, but what if the mind is where the butt should be?”).

“You know, I really don’t know,” I replied.

“How would you breathe when you went swimming?” he asked.

So the next night, I decided that we should take the night off from dealing with weighty philosophical problems so that I could walk the dog while the kids practiced riding their bikes.  Just as Zack rounded the cul-de-sac, he started picking up the speed that would launch his bike over the curb, and my heart somewhere over the horizon.

I’d love to report that I heroically saved Zack from an arboreal collision, but he quite ably steered himself away from the tree.  By the time I got to him, panting and panicked, he was already rolling to a stop at the bottom of the hill.  Gravity was through having its fun with him, for now.

“You did a really great job of not running into that tree, Zack.  That was the best thing you could have done.  Well, besides using the brakes in the first place,” I said as we set him back up on his bike at the top of the hill.

“Oh yeah, the brakes.  I forgot about those,” he said.

Somewhere, over a business dinner, my wife, Kara, probably felt a slight twinge.

You can keep Mike Todd from careening into a tree at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Failure to eject

“You still owe me an apology,” I said to my son, Zack, committing a major tactical blunder just moments before we arrived at the morning dropoff for his summer day camp.

“Humph,” Zack replied, crossing his arms tighter.

“Just apologize, Zack,” his brother, Evan, suggested.

“Humph,” Zack reiterated.

Ten minutes earlier, with sweat dripping from my forehead, I’d flung three bags filled with the day’s necessities for each of us into the car, completing step 997 of the simple 1,000-step process it takes to get out the door with children every morning.

As the car backed out of the garage with zero seconds to spare, Zack yelped, “Wait!  I need my pin!  The green one I made yesterday!”

“There’s no time to go back inside, buddy.  Oh, okay, I’ll get it,” I said, throwing the car into park and sprinting back inside.  A moment later, I emerged victorious, handing the pin to Zack and throwing the car back into reverse, then drive, with two quick motions.

As we squealed out of the driveway, he yelped, “No!  I wanted my birthday pin, too!”

“What?  You never mentioned anything about a birthday pin.  There’s no time.  One pin will have to do,” I said.

“I WANTED MY BIRTHDAY PIN, TOO!” he yelled, suddenly obsessed with a pin that had been sitting on his dresser untouched since his fourth birthday, sixteen months prior.

“When someone does you a favor, Zack, you thank them.  You don’t yell at them for not guessing that you ALSO wanted another favor.  You should apologize to me,” I explained.

I went on like that for the next ten minutes, until we arrived at camp, where thirty evenly spaced counselors waved thirty cars into the single-lane, one-way, horseshoe-shaped driveway – you stop the car, a counselor grabs your child, then you leave immediately, so that the next thirty cars can enter.  In this way, they unload four hundred children in fifteen minutes each morning, a process that works with great precision, unless you have a disgruntled, birthday-pinless five-year-old gumming up the gears.

“Okay, guys, time to hop out!  Have a great day!” I said, and Evan hopped out.

I looked into the rearview mirror to see Zack, arms crossed, giving me his stinkiest stinky face.

In front of us, the cars all pulled away.  Behind us, traffic backed up onto the main road.

After a quick scan of the dashboard to make sure we didn’t have an EJECT button, I reached back with my right hand and unclicked his harness.

“I’m not goin’,” he said.

“You have three seconds to get out of this car, or you lose all screen time tonight,” I said.

A cheery camp counselor stuck her head into the open back door, not realizing that she was sticking her head into a hornet’s nest.

“Ready for a great day at camp?” she asked.

“I’m not goin’” Zack replied.  The counselor smiled at Zack, then at me, then a glaze of panic spread across her face.

“One…two…threeeeeeeeeeeee,” I said, watching as Zack stepped to the edge of the door and refused to go further.

My options at that point were limited, since parents aren’t allowed to get out of their cars at dropoff time, and wrestling with your children in the backseat is frowned upon.  I put my hand on his backside and gave a little push, but he held onto the door frame with his bendy kid arms.  It was like trying to push Stretch Armstrong out the door.

“You lost your screen time tonight,” I said.

When he turned to protest, the counselor whisked him out of the car, shutting the door, and I zoomed off.

Step 1,000 complete.  Back to step 1 in the morning.

 

You can take away Mike Todd’s screen time at mikectodd@gmail.com.

The grass isn’t greener

Piled in a heap in the corner of my garage, several 45-pound bags sit unopened, filled with chemical pellets and moral dilemmas.

I’d purchased the bags this spring in a fit of optimistic self-unawareness, with intent to spread them on our yard at intervals throughout the year, to help fill in the bare spots in my soul where purpose and meaning are supposed be.

No, actually, I bought them because I’m in danger of violating the prime directive of lawn care, which is to do no harm to your neighbors’ property values.  When balancing yardwork with actual enjoyable parts of life, you need to figure out the exact minimum amount of work you can do to keep your neighbors from getting angry with you, then spend maybe five more minutes pulling weeds before going inside to make sure you haven’t missed anything on Facebook or, failing that, real life.

The results of my ten-year experiment are clear, though: If you don’t do anything for your yard other than mow it whenever the grass gets tall enough to hide a groundhog, the grassy paradise you inherited from the previous owner will eventually disappear like the sane candidate in a primary election.

Everywhere else in our neighborhood, the grass is thick and lustrous, like my hair used to be.  At our house, though, we have a few sprigs of grass sprinkled in with a sprawling mix of chickweed, plantain, dandelion, wild strawberry, and clover.  Our yard has become the salad my wife orders at Panera.

So in a moment of weakness, I bought a year’s supply of chemical cocktails to reverse the slide toward entropy.

I realize that worrying about grass and weeds is a rather geriatric preoccupation, and that purchase was the second indication that week that I’d entered a new realm of dealing with old person problems.  The first one came at the barber shop.  At the end of the haircut, the barber said the word “brows” like it was a question.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Do you want me to trim your eyebrows?” he asked while snipping his scissors in the air.  It took a moment for the question to sink in.  For the first half of a man’s life, his only eyebrow-related concern is making sure that they don’t connect.

“Oh, no thanks,” I said.  In the parking lot afterward, I looked in the rearview mirror to see that a few eyebrow hairs had indeed grown longer, like dandelions proudly standing above the grass.  First the bald spot, next the eyebrows.  The indignities of old age seem to be slowly losing altitude.

Back in the garage, my five-year-old son, Zack, pointed at my newly purchased bag of Weed & Feed and asked, “Is that poison?”

“Poison?  No way, buddy.  It’s just a chemical that kills things.  Yeah, okay, it’s poison,” I replied.

“Isn’t poison bad?” he asked.

“No.  Yes.  Sometimes,” I replied, giving him the same answer I’ll give him in several years when he asks me the same question about sex.

It occurred to me then that the whole idea of spreading poison around the yard goes against the natural order.  Even if the contents of the bags are perfectly safe for my family and the world, aren’t we picking the wrong winners?  Grass is weak.  It needs water, sun, soil, fertilizer, attention.  Weeds just need an opportunity and some alone time.

One common argument for obsessive lawn care is that grass is better for kids to play on, but that problem can be easily solved by giving your kids iPads.

Besides, if it’s impossible to have a grassy lawn without regularly applying chemicals, maybe we should all just be happy with Panera-salad yards.  At the very least, that’s what I’ll tell myself while I ponder what to do with these bags in the garage.  Maybe we’d be better off with a nice vinaigrette. 

You can weed out Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

 

 

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.