I got to see Chicago for the first time a few weeks back. It is a beautiful city -- full of old trees and old buildings. Right up my alley.
It was a journey of almost 1,000 miles. Nine hundred, actually. From Texas to Illinois. We drove. We survived. Wanna know our secret?
Prior to our spring trip to Iowa (800 miles), Aquaman had a stroke of genius. He went to the bank and withdrew $60.00 in $1.00 bills. He divided them up among three little bank envelopes. Twenty dollars in each envelope. One for the Redhead, one for Thing 1 and one for Thing 2. As we settled into the car, he announced:
"Look at this, boys!" He whipped out the money and dragged it across his face and chest. He fanned it out for effect. "See all this?" Three sets of eyes were riveted. "This...is yours." Three sets of jaws dropped.
"What?" they all shrieked. "Give it to us!"
Aquaman held fast to the money. "Now here's the deal," he explained. "You each get $20.00 now, at the start of the trip, but I will hold it. Every time there is an argument, a fight, a 'Shut up!' or a 'Stop touching me!' you lose one dollar." He pulled one crisp dollar dramatically out of the fanned deck. "No fights? No money lost. You decide if you end up with $20.00 at the end of the trip. Or with nothing. Fair enough?"
"Awesome!" Thing 1 screamed. "Can I hold it?" Thing 2 asked.
"You're not even going to know I'm here," The Redhead declared. He meant it.
It worked like a charm. There were no conflicts all the way there. Eight hundred miles.
So Aquaman again prepared this bribe (ahem!) reward for our three well-behaved sons as we embarked on this trip to Chicago.
I am happy to report that it worked again. I think we're on to something. Of course, it might also be the fact that we leave in the evening and drive all night long, so the boys eventually pass out and sleep most of the way. And the iPad. And the iPod touch. And the iPhone. But really, even when we had all of those things, they still fought. Hard, cold cash is what motivates our crew.
What would make us drive 900 miles?
Not just any wedding, Aquaman's little brother's wedding.
Uncle is pretty much the boys' most favorite uncle in the world ever. He is brave. He was our nanny in Alaska the summer after he graduated from college. He lived with us and took care of the boys -- all of whom were still in diapers. Thing 1 and Thing 2 greeted him on his first day on the job (I was at work, Aquaman was commercial fishing) by removing said diapers and smearing the contents all over the walls, then holding out both arms wide for hugs from their respective cribs.
I told you he was brave.
So it was without hesitation that we made this journey. We were thrilled when he announced his engagement and tickled to be part of the long-distance planning. The man he married is now officially the boys' second favorite uncle. He is a kind and charming soul that adds something wonderful to our extended family dynamic. What can I say? Favorite Uncle has good taste.
I am not sure how it transpired, but somewhere in the planning Thing 2 was enlisted for his origami expertise. Favorite Uncle must have seen one of his creations. Words were exchanged between the menfolk. Next thing I knew, packages of beautiful origami paper were arriving in the mail for Thing 2. And he was busy folding.
The plan was to manufacture 1,000 cranes to be displayed at the wedding reception. In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and said to live for 1,000 years. It is believed that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted one wish by a crane. Other legend says that it guarantees long life and happiness for the giver and receiver.
So Thing 2 folded. He folded while he watched TV. He folded and listened to music. He folded in church on Sundays. He spent most of the summer folding. As the countdown to the wedding approached, he calculated that he needed to make 30 cranes per day to get them all done. Then he missed a few days. He needed to make 60 per day to catch up.
My bed became an origami sweatshop of one. He would hunker down in front of the TV and fold. When a buddy from school called to invite him over for a sleepover he explained, "I'm making cranes for my Uncle's wedding in Chicago. I've got 30 more to go for the day. I can come when I'm done."
Wow. Such dedication.
When he completed 100, they were mailed off to Favorite Uncle. With one month of summer left, 400 more were tucked into a box and mailed. The rest we hand delivered.
Truth be told, Aquaman and Thing 2 were still folding in the back seat of the car on the drive to Chicago.
Then the real work began. All those folded cranes had to be fluffed. And hung from the ceiling of the reception area. This is how we spent the morning of the wedding. Sisters and brothers, mothers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, old friends and roommates -- everyone was enlisted.
If that's not a group effort, I don't know what is.
Actually, I think all couples should have an activity like this that brings together the guests so that they know each other a little better before the ceremony. By the time the wedding and reception rolled around that night, we all felt like old friends.
And that was another great thing about Favorite Uncle and Second Favorite Uncle's wedding: all of their friends and family from so many different parts of their lives came together and they fit. Like a jigsaw puzzle. We all got along. We were all brimming over with happiness for them. No one argued. No drama. Just fun. And love. There was lots of love.
And cranes. Lots and lots of cranes.