Surprise! -- almost

Posted: Sunday, March 07, 2010

We almost pulled it off.

My wife is one of those people who are never surprised by anything. Ever.

She knows what she's getting for Christmas usually by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. Birthdays? Forget about it. Her birthday is at the end of February, and she's got that figured out before the Christmas tree goes up.

But this year, I wanted to surprise her. For the first time in a while, she has a nice group of friends. What better present than to have them stop by for some well wishing?

Planning a surprise for someone who is never surprised definitely is easier said than done. My first task was sending out invitations, which meant compiling a guest list -- one that wasn't too big so as to draw suspicion.

Then there was getting invitations out. One of my wife's friends commented on the simplicity of the invitation -- a single e-mail. Had a woman sent that out, she said, there would have been a string of e-mails going back and forth and who knows where, with details galore.

Not me. Radio silence on a stealth mission. Keep it simple, less chance for discovery.

I also planned a simple menu. We always make cake for birthdays, so I could get away with preparing one without raising suspicion. To go with it, I planned some chocolate fondue, simple ingredients easy to stash in the back of the fridge or on my side of the garage (Yes, we have "His" and "Hers" sides to our garage).

Heading into the big day itself, my wife still had no clue. Invitees hadn't leaked a word. Indeed, with company coming to visit the next day, it appeared I had the perfect cover for tidying up the house before she got home from work. She even called to run down the list of chores that needed to be done -- perfect.

However, when she arrived home, she began to get suspicious. Vacuuming was expected; mopping the floor after was not.

I tried to think fast; I remembered a "dirty pictures for women" e-mail that had circulated amongst her coworkers. It featured scantily clad men doing housework.

"I'm just doing that for your birthday. Do you want me to take my shirt off?" That satisfied her for a few more minutes, and she didn't bat an eyelash when she saw the kitchen counter had been scrubbed -- I had to clean up after making the cake, and she knows I tend to make a mess when I cook.

But then she discovered that I had wiped down the counter and toilet in the bathroom. To be fair, I don't think I've done that in years, company arriving or not.

And she found the veggie tray I had stashed out of sight on the back deck. She had no reason to go out back before I got her out of the house, let alone poke around under the grill cover that spends more time covering the railing rather than the grill.

"All right, who's coming over!?"

Think fast: "My sister and brother-in-law are coming for cake when we get back from dinner. They love pineapple upside-down cake and wanted to stop by." Yeah, that's the ticket. She bought it, and we were on our way out to dinner, still on track for her to be surprised.

So what gave it away?

We have two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. They can't keep a secret, and they're terrible fibbers. I didn't breathe a word of the surprise party to them. Information was distributed on a need to know basis, and they did not need to know.

One of the invitees, though, told her son, who is friends with my daughter. He must have mentioned on the playground that he was coming to our house for a surprise, because on the way to the car, she asked my wife, "Mommy, when are the people coming over for the surprise?"

Boy, was I surprised.

Will Morrow is the managing editor at the Peninsula Clarion

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