the joy of surprise

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

When G turned 49 a year ago in November, he started talking about his 50th birthday.  He had no shortage of ideas.  It often seemed like every week he’d come up with some new, fun thing that we should do for his birthday.  He was childlike in the most fun possible meaning of that word, when it came to anticipating his birthday.

Once upon a time, friends had thrown a surprise birthday party for me, and I had known since that time that I MUST do this for someone else – if you’ve never had a surprise party, let me tell you:  it is a really special joy.  So I already knew his 50th would be that gift that I was so eager to give.

What he really wanted was a basement show at our house – something loud and fun.  Little did he know, I’d already started the ball rolling, a full year ahead.  That party happened this past weekend, after a year of careful, quiet planning.  I have had THE MOST FUN all year, plotting and planning and letting the thing change shape as our circumstances have changed.

What was originally planned as a basement show (when we had a big basement that was very show-friendly) changed when we moved toward home ownership.  I explored outside venues.  I asked a lot of questions.  In the end, it was a backyard show at our house.

The challenge with a surprise party, of course, is how to pull off the “surprise” part.  An entire year of planning and NOT TALKING ABOUT IT was a real challenge for me – I am so grateful for my daughter, who was my sounding board and secret-keeper all this time.  I think there were literally thousands of occasions where I almost started to say something to G, and then checked myself upon realizing it would blow the surprise.  One of the things I did to preserve the surprise was have the party a full month ahead of G’s birthday, since his eagerness to party made me concerned he might just plan something himself.

We have really the very best and coolest friends ever.  Bringing a band in from Chicago meant we needed places for folks to stay, and our little 809 square foot house limits our ability to provide sleeping space.  Two families eagerly and helpfully stepped up to house band members overnight.  I needed a huge roaster of nacho dip, and one family joyously took on the project of preparing and bringing that.  There were balloons to be picked up at the last minute – someone stepped up to make sure they got here.  Someone loaned us tables.  Someone made killer cupcakes and someone else delivered them.  Family and friends took time out of their busy lives to join us on a gorgeous fall afternoon to celebrate, and we’re still gushing to each other about that.  Some pushed plans aside for us, others came from many hours away to make G’s day special.  It was just that:  really special.

I had gotten one of those big 10 x 30 party tents for the occasion; my dilemma was how to get it set up.  I prayed about that, and was given a genius plan.  I brought the tent home from its hiding place in my office and announced to G that we’d be using it as our sukka for the upcoming Sukkot holiday (if you don’t know Jewish holidays, Sukkot is when we sleep outdoors in remembrance of how God cared for the Israelites in the desert, and a sukka is your outdoor dwelling).  I asked him if we could set it up Saturday morning to be sure everything was in order, so we wouldn’t have any last-minute surprises when the holiday comes.

A lot of spouses might be difficult on this front; he already had plans to leave at 11 AM (a friend had generously helped with the plot to get him out of the house by asking him to help move some boxes), and now I was asking him to get out in the yard with me bright and early to first rake and mow the lawn, and then set up a huge tent.  Not exactly “Shabbat,” and G is really very faithful to resting on his Saturday when he’s not working.  He could have pushed back and insisted on some down time, but I knew he wouldn’t, because G has the most amazing attitude of anyone I’ve ever met.  So he cheerfully went out to the yard with me on his “day of rest,” and while I sorted tent poles and studied assembly instructions, he raked and mowed the yard and got it all spiffy (I had said we probably should to that before assembling the tent).

Then we got the tent up, and it took literally until 5 minutes before his ride showed up.  Funny note:  as we got the tent assembled, he lit up.  “We could have shows here!”  As I had been doing for a solid year, I rained on that parade.  I let him know that he was silly and a wild dreamer, and was pretty clear that such a thing was surely not possible (how many times have I intentionally been a dream killer in such conversations in the past year?  Maybe 100…)  As I poo-pooed his idea once again, he grinned.  “No, really, Leper could plan here in our back yard!”  I laughed at him and teased him  and didn’t give the idea any credence whatsoever.  Then his ride showed up.

Off he went to help a friend move boxes, and I picked up the pace and worked double-time from then until the party started at 3, with help from my daughter.  The band pulled in and got everything set up.  One of the best moments of the day was G’s face as he got out of the truck after helping move (2 truckloads!) of boxes with our friend and saw the band.  After a year of hoping and praying that the surprise wouldn’t be spoiled, in that moment I knew success.  The man was STUNNED.

I had invited partygoers to come dressed up; some did, adding to the fun.  One final party note, and then I gotta move along.  The band I had invited (Leper) is a really cool Christian goth band, and the lead singer happens to be G’s best friend.  I had assumed when I invited them to play that we would hear the usual music they do (which I love enough to have at my desk at work).  Having seen them play live a number of times, I wasn’t worried about noise.  They’re not that loud of a band.  Little did I know that G’s friend loves him so much that he’d change up the set to play G’s favorite stuff, even letting G shout into the mic on the “good parts.”  Oh good golly.  It.  Got.  LOUD!  Y’know…loud enough that a very friendly policeman came to shut it down.  Which only added to the fun – who do YOU know that gets their 50th birthday party shut down by the cops?!  We will have fun remembering and retelling that for years to come, and the party wasn’t over by a long shot when the music stopped.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of surprising someone, I’d encourage you to do it.  G got a great DAY out of it, but I got a great YEAR out of planning it, and now we will retell one another and those around us stories from it for a long time to come.

It’s worth the investment of time and effort.

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