Deserae does not care for surprises.
One day when we first got married, I hid around a dark corner and jumped out to scare her because that’s what I’ve always assumed you do when you live with someone.
I timed the jump perfectly.
I learned her reflex when surprised is to whop the surpriser directly in the stomach.
And it’s not just bad surprises. When we were dating, I told her I had a surprise for her.
“What is it?!”
“I can’t tell you, it’s a surprise!”
“Tellme tellme tellme!”
I assumed the conversation would end there. It did not. Twenty minutes later: “Did you buy me something? It better not have been expensive. Just give me a hint! OK don’t. Wait, maybe a little one. I don’t know. Tellllllllll meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…”
I tell you all that to tell you this: I am currently a very out-of-practice surpriser.
In spite of this lack of experience, I came up with an idea a year ago to give my parents a giant surprise for their 30th anniversary. I am good at getting airline miles and hotel points for free, which has allowed me and Deserae to take many trips to the increasing hostility of friends and family. So, I thought, what if we used this ability for good by giving my parents a trip to Hawaii? They’d be able to relax after a busy year, spend time together in paradise and stop asking why we’re travelling all over the place instead of having kids.
I got my brothers and sisters on board and started working on* the trip and surprise party. I quickly discovered that surprises are a lot harder than they look.
*By “working on” I mostly mean spending eight months answering my brothers and sisters’ questions about the surprise with “I’m working on it.”
In August, I decided* it was time to call our church to book the hall for the December surprise party.
*By “decided” I mostly mean I received a text from Deserae saying, “CALL THE CHURCH TODAY OR ELSE!”
“Let me look at that date,” the receptionist said. “Ohhhhh, actually we have a wedding that day. How about the next week?”
“That is the only weekend in the next year that all my brothers and sisters will be home.”
“Well that’s not good.”
It wasn’t good. We called the hall we used for our wedding. Nope. We called several other churches. Nope. We considered trying to break up the wedding.
Finally, we got the church across the street from our house to let us use their tiny hall. The wedding was safe.
Then Deserae and I took a trip to Bermuda. When we came back and showed my parents pictures, they asked “Why are you travelling all over the place instead of having kids?” and then my dad said, “I think we should try to go to Bermuda next year for our 30th anniversary,” and my mom said, “Yeah,” and my dad said, “I’m serious, we should book it soon,” and then we left and Deserae said, “I’m going to kill them both.”
I researched ways to cancel someone else’s flight without them knowing just in case. Then I got to work on the invitations. I used the same design strategy I’ve used on every project for the last eight years by copying the one design that got me an “A” in my college graphic design class.
“I like it,” Deserae said. “Just not the colors.”
I did not agree with her. I asked my brothers and sisters.
“We like it,” they said. “Just not the colors.”
I went back and tried another color scheme. And then another and another. I worked on the invitation for days (I did significantly worse in the “colors” portion of my graphic design class.) Finally, I stumbled upon something everyone was happy with, printed the invitations and sent them out. The hard part was over.
Two days later, I got a text from my cousin, Leah. “Is the party on December 29th?”
“No. The 27th. The 29th is a Monday. That would be silly.”
She texted me a picture of the invitation she’d just received in the mail. It said the 29th.
In all the hours of agonizing over colors, it never occurred to me to maybe double check the part of the invitation that actually mattered. I had to break the news to Deserae, which I was not looking forward to because by that time (6 p.m.), she’d been stuck at work for 11 hours. She had not eaten anything since 10:30 a.m. She was a little fragile.
“Hey,” I texted her, “Call me whenever you get a chance.”
“It’s not a big deal, just a little thing.”
“YOU KNOW I HATE SURPRISES!!”
YOU KNOW I HATE SURPRISES
She did, in fact, hate the surprise.
We were eventually able to tell everyone that we did not expect them to come to our surprise party during their lunch hour on Monday. The next month was a movie montage of Deserae talking about Hawaiian party decorations she’d found on Pinterest, accumulating tropical-themed knick-knacks at an alarming rate and explaining “chafing dishes” to me.
The week of the party was the worst. My sister Amanda, The Human Plague, arrived and instantly gave everyone the flu. To someone watching all of us decorate the hall that Friday, we must have looked like a quarantine ward throwing a luau to cheer ourselves up.
The last step was getting my parents to the party. We had concocted a great story to get them to our house, but kind of neglected the last 200 feet to the church. At the last minute, we came up with a half-baked garage sale idea.
When they showed up to our house, we comeoncomeoncomeon’d them with us over to the church and my mom was having none of it. “Why is there no garage sale sign? Why are we not taking the car? Why are we running?”
Deserae nearly dragged her into the church.
It was all worth it. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!
LIFE LESSON #53
There may be a dozen bad surprises along the way, but a good surprise is surprisingly worthwhile.