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.


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.


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.


“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.














Tornados of thirst

As I bent down to give my son, Zack, a squeeze goodnight, he gave me a stiff-arm to the chest.

“Wait.  I need to get hydrated for this hug,” he said, grabbing his water bottle and taking several noisy, deliberate chugs.

“Okay, ready now,” he said, holding out his arms.  The hug then proceeded without further interruption.

I chuckled to myself as I turned out his light and left the room, then realized that Zack might not have been joking.  My kids both sleep with water bottles at their sides.  They have water bottles in their car seats.  All the kids bring water bottles to school every day, as requested by the school.  Their water bottles are never out of arm’s reach, like adults with their cell phones.  Incidentally, that’s where the similarity between a water bottle and a cell phone ends.  One of them contains the essence of life, and an average adult would die in three days without it.  The other one just has water in it.

It’s good that we’re keeping our kids saturated with something other than ketchup, but I do wonder if perhaps they’ve gotten a little too dependent on constant access to water.

“You didn’t put my water bottle in my backpack today.  I was thirsty all day!” my son Evan reported last week.  An Appalachian Trail through-hiker needs fewer things in his backpack than your average third-grader needs each day, so there’s never a shortage of blame to share for the things we invariably forget.

“Doesn’t your classroom have a water fountain inside the actual room?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, staring at me with a questioning look, as if trying to determine the relevance of my question.

At home, Evan and Zack have both decided that they enjoy joining me for strolls around the neighborhood, which is wonderful family bonding time, as long as we don’t forget their bottles of personality lubricant.

“I’m thiiiiiiiiirsty.  So thiiiiiirsty,” Zack said, about a mile from the house.

“We’ll be home soon.  It’s okay to be a little thirsty,” I said.

“Daddy, I’m a tornado of thirst.  I need to hydrate,” he said, dragging his feet.

When I was a kid, “hydrate” wasn’t even a word.  You know what we’d do after running around in the dust all afternoon?  We’d wheeze the thirst away.

Back then, we didn’t even bring water bottles to our own sporting events.  At basketball practice, you’d have to wait in line behind three guys who were taking turns spitting loogies into the water fountain.  By the time you got to the front of the line, you decided that maybe there were worse things than being thirsty.

Perhaps kids these days are onto something, though.  I just Googled my way to the Mayo Clinic website to check how much water you’re supposed to drink in a day.  Eight cups, right?  Nope.  15.5 cups a day for men, 11.5 cups a day for women.  Women are encouraged to drink a little bit less, so that they don’t make us stop so often during road trips.  (Of course, that’s an unfair generalization, except in regards to my particular wife, who can’t make it past our mailbox without asking me to take the next exit.)

Eight cups was already an impossible goal.  To drink the recommended amount of water in a day, you’d need to fill a red five-gallon gas can with water and just guzzle it all day, stopping only to look at your phone occasionally, to keep your brain sufficiently Facebook-hydrated.

In any event, if you’re reading this column in the morning and you haven’t had four glasses of water yet, you’re already behind schedule.

You can hydrate with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com, since that’s a thing now.

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.

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.