Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Vince and I went out of town last Saturday and stayed at a hotel overnight so we could attend a surprise birthday party the next day for a friend. The key word in that sentence is surprise. Vince almost blew it when he did that thing on Facebook where you “check in” at a specific location and it posted the hotel where we were staying.

Now, there’s really no reason for us to be in and around Steubenville – unless we’re visiting the very friends who were having the surprise party. Or for the annual Dean Martin festival, perhaps, but that’s not until June.

So I asked him to remove the post. (Plus, I wasn’t sure everyone really needed to know we were at an out-of-town hotel. That, in my opinion, is a little TMI.)

The next day at the restaurant we all were all standing there waiting to yell “Surprise!” when the birthday girl walked in and, wonder of wonders, she was truly surprised! She had no idea her husband had been planning and plotting any such event. There was even a cake and balloons and party hats. There were people from in-town and people from out-of-town. And he not only had to bring the birthday girl to the gathering, but also had in tow their daughters, including their newborn baby girl!

Our friend, apparently, is one of those “un-surprise-able” people. She knows everything that’s going on and is very good at detecting unusual activity. So it was an even bigger coup for him. As it was for those of us in attendance who didn’t spill the beans before the event. Yay, us!

I heard her ask her daughters (not the newborn, of course!) if they knew about the party and they nodded their heads. Whether or not they actually knew about the party beforehand, I don’t know for sure, but if they did, I’m VERY impressed. Four- and six-year-olds are not necessarily known for their secret-keeping abilities.

So we all enjoyed spending a fun couple of hours together and indulging in some food and cake and perhaps even an adult beverage or two. (Well, the adults, anyway!)

Another friend I’d categorize as “un-surprise-able” told me about a successful surprise party her new coworkers threw for her birthday last month. They’d even invited her husband and ordered her favorite cake from her favorite cake baker.

That particular day she’d had to handle a lot of details which necessitated her attention in areas outside her office. This was probably pretty distressing to the party planners given that they were trying to get people like her husband and the cake baker into the office without her noticing.

When she was summoned to the conference room on a bogus errand, she almost left because the person she was expecting didn’t appear to be in the conference room. Probably because the lights were off. And, as she started to turn away, some part of her brain told her something wasn’t right because there were vague people shapes standing there in the dark. When the lights were flipped on, she was the one who called out, “Oh! SURPRISE!”

I’m pretty un-surprise-able, myself. There was only one time in my life that friends even tried to throw me a surprise party. But I learned about it beforehand. And, since I’m a lousy actor, I couldn’t quite manage the “WHAT? For ME?” reaction that allows people to think they’d really pulled off the surprise.

It’s not that I was expecting a surprise party, mind you. But I happened to run into a coworker at the grocery store one night and he said, “So…we’re going to be partying next Friday night, huh?!” Because I was usually the party planner in our group and hadn’t scheduled anything, I gave him a perplexed look and asked him what he was talking about. He immediately got that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face and then quickly stumbled around searching for a plausible explanation to cover his tracks.

Naturally, I knew something was up. The next day I looked at the online calendars of some of my more indiscreet colleagues and, sure enough, saw “Jane’s Surprise Party” scheduled for the following Friday night. It even informed me of the time and location of said surprise party. Yeah. I’m thinkin’ it didn’t really require an advanced degree in detecting to figure that one out.

So I spent the next week shopping for an appropriate surprise party outfit and practicing my “surprised face” look in the mirror.

Friends had already arranged to take me out to dinner on that Friday evening. I just wasn’t sure how they were going to get me to the specific location of the party. But they made up some excuse and I tried to do the nonchalant “Oh, okay – that’s fine” thing in response. But when I walked into the room where the party was being held and everyone yelled out, “Surprise!” I couldn’t quite pull off the surprised face I’d been practicing in front of the mirror. Or at least I didn’t fool anyone. Darn.

But I WAS surprised to see some of the people they invited, including my parents, sister and out-of-town friends. And it was a lovely evening even if I wasn’t really surprised.

So if you are planning a surprise party for someone, here’s a hint: check any online calendars, especially some of your more clueless colleagues. You might also want to hide your cell phone since friends will probably call to confirm and you don’t want the surprisee to question the unusual phone activity - or the texts from unthinking guests whose "Can't wait to attend the surprise party!" texts pop up on screen.

And for the surprisee – especially all those “un-surprise-ables” out there – practice your surprised look in the mirror. A lot.

And…SURPRISE! Have fun!


  1. John succeeded in throwing me a surprise birthday party (for a milestone). Since he hardly ever plans anything, let alone an event, he was able to pull it off without me suspecting (I'm one of those who are rarely surprise-able). What also really surprised me was my parents and some far away friends attended too. [But now I know he CAN plan so he ruined his future excuses while doing something nice for me.]

    Amy Riley

  2. Hee hee. I guess he'd better expect to plan parties for ALL milestone birthdays in the future, hadn't he?!