by Mike Todd
“This isn’t going to be pretty,” my wife Kara said as we approached what would be our prison for the next several hours.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, but we both knew it wouldn’t be.

“More nuts,” our son Evan replied, scanning the lawn of the restaurant for anything vaguely nut-shaped.

A month ago, my sister Amy took Evan around my parents’ front yard, collecting walnuts. Since then, nuts have become Evan’s obsession, transforming him into an insane toddler-squirrel hybrid.

“More nuts,” he says anytime he’s outdoors or can see the outdoors, applying the phrase to anything from pinecones to crabapples. For Halloween this year, we’ll probably just throw a top hat and monocle on him so he can be the Planters peanut.

Incidentally, why are monocles associated with rich people? Seems like if they were really that rich, they could afford the other half of their glasses.

On this occasion, we were bringing our little squirrel into a fancy restaurant for dinner with extended family on our last night of vacation in Maine. Given certain family members’ proclivities for screaming loud enough to knock the signatures off the wall art, Kara and I had recently given up on sit-down restaurants, boycotting any establishment that didn’t stick a toy in Evan’s meal box.

We lifted the moratorium for this one night, though, completing a reservation for 18 people and figuring that Evan’s little cousins could help keep him entertained. Ninety minutes in, the appetizers hadn’t come yet. His cousins could have juggled flaming bowling pins while singing Elmo’s entire song catalog, and it wouldn’t have been enough to please my son/squirrel. Apparently, in the fine dining establishments of the Maine backcountry, people only move fast if a moose is chasing them.

If you’ve never sat through a long dinner with a toddler, for a rough approximation of what we were experiencing, try keeping a Tasmanian devil contained to a wooden stool with a waist strap. You can also bribe him with Goldfish crackers.

Fortunately, the restaurant was converted from an old farmhouse, so the grounds had been designed to corral wild creatures. Various gracious family members took turns running around with Evan outside as he continued his quest for nuts. Two hours in, though, the rain started.

Searching for something on the covered porch that might keep Evan entertained and dry for a moment, I pointed at the only thing I could find. “Look, Evan, a dead moth!” I said.

His cousin John came running over to check it out. Kids may have iPads and Nintendos these days, but it’s nice to see that a good dead bug hasn’t lost its kid-attracting power.

Just as Evan arrived, John attempted to pick up the moth. It broke into two large pieces.

“Eeeww!” John said as he ran off, leaving the two pieces on the floor.

“Apart!” Evan said, distressed, pointing at the pieces.

“Yeah; it came apart,” I replied.

“Apaaaart!” he said.

“It’s not alive anymore, buddy. I bet he had a good life, though,” I said, looking to see if Evan understood.

“Sad,” Evan replied. He’d never used that word before, and I didn’t know he knew it.  It’s always a shock to see the sensitive side of a person who, just moments earlier, had screamed you out of your share of the nachos.

I realized that Evan and I were having a very serious conversation, and I struggled with the correct words to explain such weighty things to a person who thought the world mainly consisted of brightly colored singing puppets.

“Well, buddy, life is complicated…” I said.

“More nuts!” Evan interrupted as he ran off the porch into the rain, concluding our discussion. I hope the birds and bees talk goes that easy, too.