Mike Todd’s son Zack celebrated his third birthday by putting out the candles on his birthday cake with his face. His goal was to start a new, more exciting birthday tradition, but it is not likely to catch on.

Mike Todd’s son Zack celebrated his third birthday by putting out the candles on his birthday cake with his face. His goal was to start a new, more exciting birthday tradition, but it is not likely to catch on.

by Mike Todd

If your family is anything like ours, sometimes everything will go according to plan, and other times, your three-year-old will put out his birthday candles with his face.

When my wife Kara put the cupcake in front of Zack with the three lit candles, she held his hands to make sure he didn’t try to fiddle with the flames. We’d assumed that Zack would use the breath coming out of his face, rather than his face itself, to extinguish the candles, but, in retrospect, we failed to get the buy-in from a key stakeholder on that plan.

You know how fights in movies always have that moment where one of the combatants breaks an armlock with a head butt? I’m not sure how Zack co-opted that maneuver, since he’s only ever seen Dora the Explorer, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the episode where Dora uses her massive noggin to give Swiper the Fox a concussion.

“I said ‘Swiper, no swiping,’” Dora would say, arms crossed, standing over Swiper’s limp body.

“I’m the map!” the map would agree. (If you’ve never seen Dora, allow me to share the lyrics to the map’s theme song, which plays in every episode: “…I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the MAP!”

Every time my kids listen to this song, I worry that their future SAT scores will drop by 10 points. But it’s also possible that people learn better through repetition, and it’s also possible that people learn better through repetition.

In any event, here’s how Zack’s birthday song ended this year: “Hap-pppy biiirthday, dear Zaaaaa-aaaack. Dude! His face! HIS FACE!”

I guess what I’m saying is: Perhaps it’s time to rethink the tradition of putting flaming baked goods in front of small children once a year. Even under normal circumstances, they do not live by the same rules as the rest of us. Kids might take your keys and make an etching in the coffee table, or turn on all your flashlights and stick them in the spice drawer.

They might cram Play-Doh into your sub-woofer or pour a brand-new bottle of bubble stuff onto the walkway, then cry that there’s no more bubble stuff. Children do not operate in the realm of reason. Rationality does not apply. Open flames just might not be their thing.

I’m not suggesting that three-year-olds don’t have their own kind of wisdom to share with us. In three short years, I’ve learned so much from Zack. That apples can be dipped in ketchup, for instance, and pancakes in ranch dressing, and pizza crust in fruit punch, all to delicious effect, for a certain subset of people. Along with his older brother, he has also taught me about the infinite nature of unconditional love between a parent and child and how it gets put on hold at bedtime.

But I’ve got some things to teach him, too, especially in the realm of fire safety. Rule one: When you see a fire, consider if you have any options other than putting your face in it.

“Is he okay? Why isn’t he screaming?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I don’t know!” Kara said as she put her face right in front of his, looking for the burns that surely must have been there. Zack leaned to one side, since Kara was blocking his view of the cupcake.

“Cupcake!” Zack said. He’d managed to put out two of the candles with his chin, somehow avoiding injury in the process. He blew out the third without incident.

He didn’t say what he wished for, but hopefully it was to have a better survival instinct than a moth.

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