Dear Baby Sestak,
Welcome to the world! When you’re old enough to read, and becoming interested in your parents as people–as Jon & Annie–here you’ll find one version of the day on which they were married, December 14, 3013.
How I met your dad, and why I think he is awesome: 2003. Co-Choir. The story began. On a scale of one to ten, Jon gives hugs that go to eleven. He enjoys nothing more than seeing people happy, except perhaps disappearing for six months at a time to go on hikes and commune with nature. On choir tour, we combined these two loves of his into a segment called, “Happy Trees,” where Jon read us reflections on nature he’d recorded in his journal and taught us all how to survive plane crashes and mountain lion attacks. Jon also has the honor of being the guy who explained to me that beer is not Beer, as a singular thing, but rather a whole universe of micro-brews, each more delicious than the last. He is one of my closest friends from undergrad, and every time he calls, conversations pick up like they never ended.
How I met your mom and why I think she is awesome: I met Annie shortly after I started at UIC, so sometime in 2010. Annie loves animals of all kinds, open space, and Jon. I liked her pretty much immediately, which is rare for me–it takes a special person to exude such warmth that I am instantly drawn in. But seeing how much she loved Jon just kind of made me love her. Then, over the next couple of years, I discovered she has a wicked sense of humor, superb story-telling abilities, a shared love of cooking, and Opinions. She informed me, at her wedding, that she had been going for an “equestrian dominatrix” look, and then we split a piece of flatbread like the dogs from Lady and the Tramp. It was magical.
* * *
Sometime near the end of November 2013, my phone rang, and the caller ID showed that it was Jon. I picked up the receiver. “Jon. Hi. Is everything alright?”
“What? Yes. Everything is fine. Why does everyone ask me that?”
“Well, because you spend more time in proximity to bears than anyone else we know.”
“Ah, right. Hey! What are you doing on December 14th this year?”
“That’s oddly specific, let me check my calendar.” I padded out to the study and located my calendar. “You going to be back in Chicago then? For Christmas?”
“I’m going to be back in Chicago, yeah. I’m getting married. You should come.”
There is a pause on my end of the conversation. “Wait. Was I suppose to get a save the date or something?”
“Nah, we’re just doing this thing. It’s going to be at the Lincoln Park Zoo.”
“Oh, did you book the venue and stuff? Is there a reception?”
“I just kind of figured we’d all wander into the zoo and set up shop somewhere. And then we can go to a bar or something.”
“So…this is…not really a planned thing?”
“We’ve planned the wedding like six times. Annie just wants to get married, and told me this was how it was going to happen, and I was like, OK that sounds fantastic. So you can make it?”
I looked under my finger at the December 14th panel on the calendar and discovered, to my relief, that I was free. “Yeah, I can be there. This is kind of awesome.”
“I know. So, can you also be in my wedding choir? I mean, I have to find out if we have enough voices but if we can get a choir to work, do you want to sing?”
“Hell yes I want to sing. What are we singing?”
“Some stuff. Maybe something Russian. Is everything good for you? Life is good?”
“Yeah, life is good.”
“That’s great. That’s so great. Hey! I have to go! I’ll see you soon!”
Sometime after I hung up, I realized that I was going to be a part of a flashmob wedding, and I was struck with a shiver of both excitement and anxiety. I’m the kind of person who watches videos of flashmobs and thinks, “well that’s cool, but I wonder if it’s illegal to obstruct pathways like that?” And I wasn’t sure if we could pull off the choir portion of the event in less than three weeks.
But I was willing to try on both counts, because Jon has always gently and enthusiastically pushed me out of my comfort zone, much to my personal benefit. Past excursions with him had led me about 60 feet up in the interior wall of a silo outfitted for rock-climbing (conquering my fear of heights) and deep into the belly of our university music building after hours (challenging my strictly law-abiding sensibilities.) A future excursion would even lead to a surprise encounter with the fire department.
If you don’t know that story yet, Baby Sestak, make sure you ask to see the pictures…
…because it happened at your shower.
Anyway, the point of this is to say that I knew I was heading into an adventure.
At choir the next week I asked our director Mark if he had also heard from Jon.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “I thought he’d been mauled by a bear or something, but he actually just asked if I could coordinate his wedding choir.”
After some conversation we determined that we did, indeed, have enough people. Mark scheduled one rehearsal at the home of a co-choir friend and one for the day of the wedding, figuring we could all meet at the zoo and go over our pieces in the food court.
The first rehearsal was fine. Chill, lots of beer, killer view of Lake Michigan. The second rehearsal? Anxious, no beer, killer view of screaming children. We did not know the food court had a self-playing piano–Mark gave it the evil eye but then decided against unplugging it. We also didn’t know that the quieter portions of the court would be marked off for a private event. We should have expected the children losing their minds over animals and Christmas though…our bad.
This is how flashmobs go, you see.
Anyway, after about an hour of makeshift rehearsal, we bundled up and toted our folders over to the part of the zoo where we had been told the wedding would take place.
Here’s how it worked:
There is a portion of sidewalk in the children’s interactive part of the zoo that is both cloistered and wide enough for a small gathering of people. The wedding attendees had already collected into two groups along the sidewalk, creating a narrow central aisle for the wedding party to walk up. There were a few of those white umbrella things set up to facilitate picture taking, and the mother-of-the-bride informed us that we were to be the back wall of the wedding space, effectively forming the altar/”no-you-can’t-come-through-people-are-getting-married-come-on-just-humor-us” blockade.
We spent about ten minutes or so getting situated and then the wedding began.
It was a short and sweet service performed by a mutual friend of the bride and groom. We sang three pieces, which did, in fact, include some Russian. And Jon and Annie read their vows to each other, professing both love and best-friendships, desiring quiet home-building and further adventuring.
After the ceremony was over–maybe twenty minutes if that–we closed our folders and the zoo went back almost immediately to normal zoo functions. I stepped off to the side and watched the parents, not even knowing that two lives had just been joined together on that very spot, begin to wind their strollers through the wedding guests. And somehow the transcendental, ephemeral nature of the thing made perfect sense for Jon and Annie, as Jon doesn’t like to tread too heavily on the world around him and Annie is constantly in motion, either riding her horse or chasing her dogs or fluttering around her kitchen testing new recipes.
We all carpooled over to a wine bar and warmed up with excellent food and wine and beer and conversation. I always enjoy wedding receptions where the two families and their friends mill about seamlessly, enjoying their newly connected lives, and that’s what this space allowed–that’s what Jon and Annie created through sheer force of personality.
* * *
So, Baby Sestak, that’s one version of the wedding day, from the perspective of someone who is lucky enough to be a friend to your parents.
It’s true! Parents have friends!
They are not just shadowy figures who loom above you and laugh about jokes you don’t yet understand. (But do remind me to tell you the wonderfully inappropriate octopus/bagpipe joke when you’re older–I learned it at your parent’s wedding reception.)
Rather they are vibrant caretakers who are working hard to not only love and raise you, but also to include in their lives the sorts of friends who want to love you and, peripherally, help raise you, too. You have been extraordinarily lucky to have been born not only to excellent parents, but also to excellent people–the sort of people who fill others with light and can call up an astonishingly tight-knit network of friends three weeks out from their wedding and find support, song, and love at a moment’s notice.
So, Jon and Annie, as you head out on this next adventure in your marriage, please know that you have my absolute best. That I am honored to have been a part of your wedding day, and to be a part of your lives moving forward.
And don’t hesitate to call again at a moment’s notice, any time, any place.
That goes for you, too, Baby Sestak.