We all have rituals that we go through in the morning; little rites of passage that help us wake up and get us ready for the day. My morning routine is simple. I wake up, hop in the shower, eat something for breakfast, engage the family in some small talk, brush my teeth and pull my belongings together before I head out the door to work. I give my wife Stephanie a kiss and walk to the front door of our house. I open the front door and turn around and say quite loudly, “Bye, guys!”
My children come running as soon as I make my announcement. Joshua is the first one to get to the door; he gives me a big hug good-bye and then heads back to the sofa to watch cartoons. Chloe always gets to the door last and then proceeds to make sure she kisses my right cheek, then my left cheek, then she gives me a kiss on the chin, we rub noses and then I give her butterfly kisses on her cheek before she laughs devilishly and gives me a “buzzer” on one of my cheeks.
“I love you, Papa,” she always says to me as I stand up to walk out the door. On days like today, she will watch me walk all the way out to the car while blowing me kisses. In between the blown kisses she will yell at the top of her lungs “I love you, Papa” over and over again through the storm door of our house until I respond.
I blew her one final kiss, jumped into my car and headed off to work feeling a little melancholy. They say that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. My wife gets to stay home with my cherubs and trust me; there have been many days when that “green-eyed monster” inside of me has reared its ugly head at the fact that I miss out on so much of their childhood when I am at work. There are days I actually wish I could trade places with Stephanie.
During the February school vacation week, a big snow storm was making its way up the east coast and heading right for the Metro Boston area. Stephanie and I had watched the weather reports before I headed out the door to work. Afraid that she might get caught in the storm if she were out and about during the day, Stephanie adjusted the schedule. She decided to run some errands with the kids in the morning and get home before the snow engulfed our area in severe conditions.
Stephanie started the day by packing the kids into the car and heading out to our local library. They have a great children’s section and we have always encouraged our kids to take out new books on a weekly basis. Our town library also has kids’ movies and so we allow each of the kids to pick out a video for the week. As Stephanie was rustling Joshua and Chloe up to the counter so they could check out their books and movies, Chloe decided she didn’t want the Elmo movie that she was holding in her hand. “Mommy, I want Wheels On The Bus.”
“Okay,” Stephanie said because she thought that Chloe had grabbed the Wheels On The Bus DVD on their way to the counter. But when she reached down to take the movie from Chloe; Chloe was not standing where she should have been. Chloe was walking away from the counter and on her way back to the children’s section to swap the Elmo movie for the Wheels On The Bus movie.
“Chloe, where are you going?” Stephanie asked nervously as her heart skipped a beat when she saw Chloe just walking off nonchalantly.
“To get Wheels On The Bus, Mommy.”
Stephanie held up her hand to the Librarian and said, “I’ll be right back.” And then she and Chloe went back to the movie section to find Wheels On The Bus.
Stephanie and Chloe looked through every shelf to find Wheels On The Bus but it wasn’t there. Stephanie tried to explain to Chloe that the movie had already been checked out of the library but Chloe wasn’t listening. She wanted the movie she had her heart set upon having for the week and no explanation was going to change her mind. As Stephanie tried to negotiate with Chloe, the “terrible twos” struck and Chloe went from a docile toddler to Freddy Krueger in 0.2 seconds.
“I want Wheels On The Bus!” she screamed as she started to throw a tantrum on the floor. “I want Wheels On The Bus!! I want Wheels On The Bus!!”
Stephanie was horrified as everybody in the library stopped and watched her as she bargained with Chloe to get the tantrum to stop. But the outburst only got worse. Chloe was not going to strike a deal with Stephanie. She was going to get Wheels On The Bus or she was going to sit on the floor and scream high pitched squeals that would irritate the ears of everyone who stood nearby.
Stephanie realized that the situation was only going to get worse, so she scooped up our screaming daughter, put our little banshee on her shoulder, grabbed the books that had been checked out by the Librarian and carried Chloe, kicking and screaming, all the way to the car. As Stephanie was getting Chloe into her car seat, Chloe decided to escalate her tantrum into a full kicking, flailing and punching attack. Chloe thrashed about in her car seat as Stephanie attempted to get Chloe buckled up and that is when Stephanie noticed that every eye in the parking lot was focused on the blood-curdling screams of our sweet, innocent daughter.
Meanwhile, Joshua climbed into his seat and buckled himself safely into his seat belt. Stephanie finally buckled Chloe into the car seat, shut the car door and took a number of deep breaths as she walked around the car and climbed into the driver’s seat. She drove to the bank while Chloe continued to scream in the back seat.
Stephanie parked the car and turned around to face Chloe who was still crying over the Wheels On The Bus movie. “Chloe, I need to go into the bank and get money for the grocery store, are we done crying?”
Chloe cranked up her tears and continued with her pleading, “I want Wheels On The Bus, Mommy.”
“Chloe, if you don’t stop crying, you’re not going to get a lollipop from the bank teller.”
“What?” Joshua asked in a shocked voice. “Chloe isn’t going to get a lollipop?”
“No, Josh. If she doesn’t stop crying and screaming, then she isn’t going to get one.”
“That’s not fair,” Josh replied. Josh is all about fairness. If one kid gets something, the other child should get it too. Altruistically, he is correct but at six years of age, Josh still had a lot to learn about actions and consequences. That didn’t stop Josh from getting into the fracas, though, and advocating for his sister. From out of nowhere, Josh started to cry and stated emphatically, “If Chloe isn’t going to get a lollipop then I don’t want one either!”
Josh and Chloe are as thick as thieves and although it can be hard to handle at times, I have always admired the relationship they have developed in their young lives. But this time, even though I wasn’t in the car, I can safely bet that Stephanie was not happy about the turn of events. I can only imagine her sitting in the front seat of the car staring at Chloe crying about the movie she didn’t get at the library because it was checked out already and Josh crying because Chloe wasn’t going to get a lollipop. And there in the middle of it all, I can almost envision my wife screaming into the nether reaches of the universe, ‘Calgon, take me away!’
“Josh, please stop crying. I need you to be her big brother and help me out right now,” Stephanie said in a quick attempt to end the onslaught of tears that had consumed her car.
“Okay, Mommy,” he whimpered as he put away his tears. “Can Chloe get a lollipop?”
“We’ll see, Josh, we’ll see.”
“Okay,” he replied as he tried to help calm Chloe down.
They spent the next ten minutes calming Chloe down before they all headed into the bank. Stephanie was able to peacefully get through her transaction at the window while the children talked to each other. The bank teller then held out a basket of yellow, green, blue and red lollipops for the kids.
“Root beer?” Chloe asked shyly.
“Sorry, honey, I don’t have any root beer lollipops today.”
“But I want root beer,” she said as she stuck out her lower lip in an impish pout intended to make the bank teller take pity upon her.
“I know you do honey. I’m sorry but I don’t have any root beer lollipops today.”
“I want root beer!! I want root beer!” Chloe screamed as the tears started to stream down her face. The bank teller was taken aback almost as if Linda Blair in the Exorcist had jumped in front of her and her head had started to turn three hundred and sixty degrees over a root beer lollipop! And this was how our two year old daughter must have appeared to the people in the bank.
But Chloe was taking a stand for what she wanted. Chloe was upset about not getting her movie; she wasn’t going to lose out on her lollipop as well. Stephanie turned beat red as she bent down to pick up Chloe. While Chloe just screamed, “I want root beer, I want root beer!”
As Stephanie picked up Chloe and was about to head out the door, the bank manager came over quickly to help quiet down the situation, “We have another basket under the counter. I am sure we have a root beer lollipop in it.”
The bank manager pulled another basket of lollipops from under the counter and handed a root beer lollipop to Chloe.
“Thank you,” Chloe said with a sweet Shirley Temple appeal about her; a left over tear glistened on her dimples and charm radiated from her aura as she opened her lollipop wrapper.
“Thank you,” Stephanie said as well. Normally Stephanie would have declined the offer of the lollipop because of Chloe’s outburst but she knew that she had to get a few things at the grocery store before the snow started. So she let Chloe have the lollipop in hopes that it would calm her down once and for all.
Then Stephanie loaded both kids back into the car and drove to the grocery store. She popped the kids into a shopping cart and made her way through each aisle as quickly as she could. She checked off the items on her list and as she made her way to the check-out counter, she walked right by the bakery. Now, the bakery at our local grocery store has free cookies for the kids and Chloe looked at her mother with her big, innocent brown eyes and said softly, “Chocolate chip cookie, Mommy?”
“Sure, why not? I think we all could use a cookie today,” replied my exasperated wife. Stephanie didn’t want another melt down and a little chocolate might go along way toward settling down her own nerves after the morning she had just had with the children. She had had enough of the meltdowns and frustrations. A chocolate chip cookie might be exactly what the doctor ordered for all of them. So she pulled her cart up in front of the bakery staff and asked, “Do you have any cookies for the kids today?”
“Yes, we do,” the staff member replied as she handed Joshua and Chloe each a cookie.
Joshua bit into his cookie and got a really weird look on his face. Chloe inspected her cookie closely and realized it was not a chocolate chip cookie and handed it back to the staff member and said oh so sweetly, “Chocolate chip cookie, please?”
“No, sweetie, not today. We only have oatmeal-raisin.”
“Chocolate chip cookie, please?!” Chloe asked a little louder. Stephanie knew this was not going to end well so she grabbed a bag of chocolate chip cookies from the shelf, opened it and gave one to both Josh and Chloe. Then she went to the register to pay for the cookies and the rest of the items as well.
As I lay in bed laughing hysterically as Stephanie recounted the events of the day, I did my best to console her over the horrible day that she had just had with our children. I reminded her that this was an isolated event and that Chloe was probably just tired. But Stephanie wasn’t buying my gestures of kindness or my feeble explanations. Chloe is a typical two year old in every sense of the word and tantrums are par for the course on a pretty regular basis and Stephanie knew this. So my attempts to appease Stephanie were thwarted at every twist and turn.
As I rolled over to go to bed that night, I realized one important lesson about my life; the grass was just fine on my side of the fence! Work was just fine with me!
Besides, I would miss both of my kids greeting me every afternoon when I come home from work and they drop whatever they are doing and run to the door excitedly pronouncing, “Papa’s home!” Then they run over and jump into my arms with big hugs and kisses that wipe away the frustrations of my work day. So, yes, the grass is definitely green enough on my side of the fence!