Smiley. That’s the word people use to describe my boys. Smiley. This is true – they are pretty cheerful. Especially when they’re in public. They grin, giggle, coo, blow kisses. Jonas’ style of blowing kisses is in reverse – he waves his hand out, and then makes a smacking noise. It’s like he’s sweeping kisses in toward himself. Sometimes, what with all this smiling and benevolent greeting of strangers, I wonder if they’re part of the world’s smallest parade, and I should get ready to throw candy and dodge horse poop.
One of our regular sitters talked with my friend (who referred the sitter to me) about how happy Axel and Jonas are – the first night, she thought it was a fluke but after night two, she decided that they just smile all the time. My dad likes to call them the happiest kids in the world. The lead teacher in Jonas’ room said that, when he had a fever, she felt bad even sending him home, because he was so cheerful and good-natured even with a temp of 102. A stranger at a restaurant asked us if Jonas is that cheerful every day. (This was after our most successful family lunch outing, in which no one even threatened to have a breakdown, and everyone actually ate a meal. It was an amazing event that happened because of an active morning, friendly and quick-moving waitsaff, delicious pumpkin pancakes, fresh coffee, hay bale seats to climb on out front, a never-ending supply of Sesame Street stickers, and a full moon.)
Each time, we say, “Yes! They are always happy! They always smile! Pretty much. Most of the time.”
Well, at least when other people are around.
But get them home, and oohhh boy.
Many mornings, Axel screams and won’t eat breakfast unless he’s sitting on my lap – and I’m reading Chicken Little to him.
Happy little Jos is the perfect coffee shop customer, playing with my wallet as we wait – and then loses it in the car, when the wallet is returned to my purse so he can’t eat fistfuls of pennies.
Axel’s current favorite pasttime is “borrowing” a toy from Jonas, and then running away with it at high speed while sobbing Jonas follows him chanting, “My-eeen! My-eeeen!” Then, when it is returned to Jonas, Axel takes over the sobbing where Jonas left off.
Whenever he’s thwarted – whether it’s a tissue that’s removed from his mouth before he meets his RDA of paper products or that I don’t let him wipe his boogers on my shoulder – Jonas runs off into the corner, throws his hands and head against the wall, and sobs.
The hysteria happens at night, too. Both kids let out those oh-dear-God-I’ve-been-stabbed shrieks at 3 am. Usually, Axel sleeps through his own screams, but Jonas just keeps on yelling until one of his parents comes in the room, and then he yells louder at us for mysterious baby reasons before collapsing in exhaustion.
And, of course, they engage in traditional trouble-making and tantrums – yanking on the dogs’ tale, pulling down their brother’s pants, throwing fits before bathtime, the occasional wooden block-to-brother’s-head.
Very rarely do these things happen in public. They’re future class presidents (and pranksters on the side) in public, then mad rabid Mr. Hyde’s at home. Their happy-go-lucky public selves are so distanced from their private woes and sorrows that I’ve seen them both stand around and stare at a kid having a tantrum with an expression that says, “What the hell is wrong with that kid?”
It is the exact same expression I’ve had many times before in our own kitchen, while looking at one of them. It’s as if, when someone enters our door or we exit it, they get bad behavior amnesia. There’s some sort of public cheerfullness switch that flips. Who me? Lose it over something like a bag of graham crackers that won’t open fast enough or not getting to lick frosting off the floor or sharing one of my 300 Legos? Never!
I wish I had a little Axel or Jonas tantrum recorded that I could pull out at these moments, just to remind them that they are not so innocent. But tantrums aren’t exactly the Kodak moments I want to capture, and I’m not about to pull out a camera while one of my kids is sobbing, even if it is over nothing more than the jelly not touching every space on the surface of the toast.
I’m clinging tightly to the explanation that they take it all out on the ones they love most (and it’s not just that the outside world is more interesting and exciting). They’re so comfortable and happy at home with their parents that for whatever crazy reason they smile less, and feel free to become little green hulks, destroying everything in their paths.
While I’m thankful that I don’t regularly have to leave grocery stores because of an epic meltdown in aisle 3, all of these public smiles worry me a little bit. What does this mean they’re going to be when they grow up? Politicians, door-to-door salesmen, or hawkers of teeth whitening products on late night TV?