The kids' behavior has been great lately. By that I mean they went 24 hours without trying to kill each other. So, we decided to treat them to a fun afternoon. It almost worked.
There's a huge new gym in town with amazing equipment, like a rock climbing wall, wave pool and top-of-the line machines, plus a health-conscious restaurant, free Wi-Fi and all the stunningly fit people you can look at.
We ignore all of it and head to their Playland. It's kind of like Chuck E. Cheese minus the animatronic animals and pizza. We broke the news to the kids at breakfast.
"Hey kids, do you want to go to Willy's World this afternoon?"
"Yeahhh!" they say, erupting into rapturous joy. They fling their arms into the air and start running around the table. This was going to be great.
They eyed the clock all day. At 3:30, we called the gym. "Is your Playland open?" my wife asked. "Yep," the guy answered. Great. We got into the car and headed out.
About 20 minutes later, we arrived. My wife removed the kids' coats while they bounced around like pinballs and I went to the counter to pay our admission.
That's when it started. The woman in front of me was negotiating the terms of her membership like a trial lawyer. I waited patiently, anticipating the fun we'd all have once we were inside.
Finally, it was my turn. "Two kids and two adults for Playland," I said. "Oh," said the woman. "It's closed."
"What?" I asked.
"It closed at 4:00." I look at the clock. It's 4:10.
"What's the matter?" my wife asks. "It's closed," I tell her. The kids begin crying and we haul them back into the car.
Now, we live in the middle of nowhere so there isn't much else to do. "We can try Bonkerz," my wife suggests, which is a similar place about 30 minutes away. "All right," I say and start to drive.
Just then it started to snow so hard I couldn't see five feet in front of the car. We're going 40 m.p.h. on the highway. Finally, we arrive at Bonkerz an hour before they're scheduled to close. The kids play and have a nice time. Then my wife has another idea. "Let's go to Friendly's for dinner and ice cream."
Friendly's was almost empty; just four occupied tables. We ordered our food and waited for it to arrive. And waited. And waited. Two hours later (yes, two hours), we were finally eating. By then it was late, we still had a 30 minute drive home and the kids were fading fast.
"We'll have to get the ice cream to go," I said. Our waitress was not to be found, so I asked the manager where she had gone. "Oh, there she is," she said, pointing to a woman who was not our waitress.
"No, that's not her," I said. I poked my head into the kitchen, where our waitress was standing like a potted plant. "Hi," I said. "Could we get our check now?"
She saunters over to our table. "We'll just take two cups of ice cream – one vanilla, one Oreo -- with M&M's and whipped cream to go. Make sure they're M&M's, not Reese's Pieces, because our kids have a peanut allergy."
She returns with two cups of vanilla, covered in Reese's Pieces. "They can't eat these," my wife said. "Can we get M&M's instead?"
The waitress answered, "Well, M&M's have peanut oil in the candy shell."
"Well," I said, "Reese's Pieces are solid peanut butter. Which do you think is worse?" She swapped the cups for M&M's.
On the way home, I was complaining about this and that, grumbling under my breath about Friendly's, Willy's and so on.
Finally, we arrived at home and got the kids in bed. I flipped on the TV to relax with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition because I'm a sucker for sappy, feel-good type shows.
It's a story about a single father, a Marine, who lost his leg in Iraq. In fact, he bled to death on a helicopter and was brought back to life by his fellow Marines. Twice.
He was living in a ramshackle house with his four kids. They slept three to a bunk because the house was so small, and much of it was inaccessible to the dad's wheelchair.
Meanwhile, I'm upset because my kids got the wrong kind of ice cream.
Of course, the team built a stunning house for the family, every inch of it wheelchair accessible, with all kinds of cool equipment and memorabilia. The guy was kissing his kids while they ran around just bursting with joy and gratitude.
I'm crying on my bed like the sissy that I am, overjoyed for this family, ashamed at my own shallowness and grateful for the exceptionally wonderful things that are a part of my every day life. I go into each of my kids' bedrooms and wake them up just to kiss them and say, "Daddy loves you."
I believe the British call it "gobsmacked." I'd like to thank the universe at large for gobsmacking me right in the face. I needed it.