Ikea is 300 miles north of our house.
I realize this was a little bit crazy. To embark on a four and a half hour drive with my four sons just so I can shop at one store and drive home again is pretty far out of the norm. But freedom don't come free, people, and there is nothing that beats a long drive on the open road for making me feel like I am untethered. So the boys and I loaded the car with DS games, iPads, YuGiOh cards, the entire genetic future of the Holm Family name, and some snacks and we hit the road.
Somewhere around Funks Grove I realized my mistake.
There was a minor scuffle between brothers which required correction.
Nancy:"Maybe if you need your brother's attention you should tap him gently instead of slapping him in the face?"
Donny starts to rap:"Tap-gent-e-ly. Tap-tap-tap-gent-e-ly. Tappy-tappy-tappy-tappy-tap-gent-e-ly..."
This continued until Henry demanded silence.
Another half hour went by with pleasant discussion. I realized what a treat it is to have these four boys in my immediate control. They are contained in the car and forced to communicate with me. They can try to escape into a video game but ultimately we are intimately connected via close physical proximity for the duration of the drive. We joked and reminisced.
Donny:"Remember the time you were pretending to be a werewolf and you turned around and bit me in the butt?"
Henry:"I don't think it happened like that..."
Donny starts to rap again:"Bit-me-in-the-butt. Bit-bit-bit-me-in-the-butt. Bitty-bitty-bitty-bitty-bit-me-in-the-butt."
I am, of course, laughing my ass off at the rapping. Whatever Henry says, Donny riffs on it.
Henry:"Latitude lines run horizontally."
Henry:"MAKE HIM STOP!"
But Donny is in full swing now...
Donny:"Hor-i-zon-tal-ee. Tap-gent-e-ly. Bit-me-bit-me-bit-me. Bit-me-in-the-butt. Mix-it-up. Mix-it-up. Mix-it-mix-it-mix-it-up."
But like the Hawthorne Effect at work in a research project, Donny's rap has devolved into something inauthentic. He is doing it just to make Henry mad and to make me laugh. Regrettably, I had to rein him in.
A few more hours passed in pleasant conversation. When we drove through Grundy County I was able to share a historical fact about my own childhood: in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s and 80s, "grundy" was the preferred word for "wedgie". This was widely appreciated throughout the car.
But then someone farted. After the usual interrogation, Donny confessed.
Henry:"You need to control your god damn bowels!"
Donny:"They can't be controlled! They are like a wild wildebeest! My wildebeest is roaring!"
Nancy:"You are seriously out of control."
Donny:"Like my bowels!"
I would be remiss if I failed to mention how sweetly Oscar and Louie played throughout the drive. They were as quiet as mice... mice that are obsessively focused on video games and shouting out video game successes and conundrums to whoever will listen.
Louie:"I got a strawberry!"
Oscar:"How do I catch an orange?"
Louie:"I have the kingsley beast!"
Oscar:"How do I get a piece of the magic heart?"
Louie:"I have two elements!"
However sweet and mouse-like, Oscar was involved in a conflict somewhere north of Dwight. It started when he touched Henry's iPad.
Henry:"Don't touch my iPad."
Oscar:"I can do whatever I want."
Henry:"Not without getting punched in the face!"
There followed a long discussion about doing "whatever one wants". For instance, what if you wanted to hold your breath for 5 days? Could you do that? Not without dying! And what if you wanted to fly through the air for 20 minutes without any special flying devices? Huh?! What about that?!!
You get the drift of the conversation.
This was around this time I started romanticizing the Golden Cage and its many rooms, each with its own walls and doors, some with locks.
As for the actual Ikea experience, it was fine. I spent $30 on creatively designed, flat-packed merchandise and $35 on a meatball feast for five.
I had to remind the fellas a few times that their natural volume and activity levels need to be halved when in a public place.
Also, Henry almost put a flip-flop through the ceiling of the elevator. Almost.
Oscar bought a stuffed ball from the kids' department and attempted Jordan-esque moves throughout the breakable housewares department. We paused to ask ourselves why Ikea stuffed animals have so many very long tags on them.
Thanks to his one year of high school Spanish, Louie figured it out. "They have to tell you in 31 languages that the fabric is 100% polyester and the filling is polyester fibers."
Donny's Ikea must-have was a hand towel. He's reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the main character asserts that a towel is the most valuable item in the whole universe. This one was only 49 cents which struck Donny as really really awesome.
Then it was back in the car.
They were well-fed and maybe a little burned out, so we had about an hour of peace. I got to listen to radio music in that long-drive sort of way in which you hear the words like you've never heard them before. For instance, I now can report with confidence that the 80s classic "Little Red Corvette" is really an extended musical-metaphor and Madonna's "Like a Virgin" is, obviously, a simile.
We zipped along the highway, reading all the same signs we had read two hours prior, but in reverse order. Donny misread one to our delight: "Why is that town called Joilet?! It sounds like 'toilet'!"
But somewhere just south of Morris, Donny's Swedish fish stuck to one of his molars and pulled it loose.
Donny:"Oh, God! My tooth is so loose!"
Nancy:"Pull it out! The tooth fairy will bring you five bucks!"
In just a few seconds the tooth was out, but there was a lot of blood. So much blood that he was sort of drooling like a vampire. He sucked down some water and spit it out the window, splattering bloody spit all over Henry's window in the back seat. The water-suck-window-spit technique wasn't enough to quell the flow of dental bleeding.
Oh, whatever could we do to stop the bleeding?!!
Oh, whatever could we do to stop the bleeding?!!
Readers. Do you remember the hand towel?!!
Seriously. I could not make this shit up. Donny used his new Ikea hand towel to squelch the seepage from his enormous molar gap.
With the immediate blood loss crisis under control, Donny started to clean up his area. He threw the Swedish fish, which had caused the mess in the first place, out the window. It flew by Henry's rear window.
Henry:"What the hell was that?!"
Henry:"Why did you throw it out the window?!"
Donny:"It was bloody. Wait... here's another one on the floor. It's bloody and it has dog hair on it. Do you want it?"
Readers, I swear he was serious when he offered it to Henry. To his credit, Henry declined. And to his credit, Donny cleaned the bloody spit off the car at our next pit stop.
It was all down-hill (rather, down-state) from there. Louie and Oscar played YuGiOh in the back seat. Louie even allowed me to photograph him in the act of playing. Henry and I agreed that he will attempt to be more respectful of adults during his eighth grade year. Donny agreed to pulling out those last few baby teeth.
And as I pulled into the driveway after nine hours in the car with these characters, I knew I had done a good thing. Sometimes you have to mix-it-mix-it-mix-it-up in order to see the happiness that is in front of you every-every-every-day.
*The Golden Cage is a concept I learned last week from Conrad. He lives in a Golden Cage in Mexico: a beautiful house in a place that offers nothing to do and which he can rarely leave.