Birthday Surprise


Birthdays have never been big celebrations in our family. There was always cake, a favorite dinner entree, and family around the table. As children, we received one small gift from our parents – in my case it was my annual Barbie doll. (I know it’s girly, but my Barbies and Kens went on some wild adventures.) Another year moving forward, another year or survival.

I’m not worried about getting older. I’m glad I’ve made it this far, considering how easily things can all be over for any number of reasons I chose not to worry about on a daily basis. I’ve earned every year of my life, and I wear the badge proudly. I’m 40 now. Ta-Da!

With my birthday being shortly after Christmas, I’m used to skipping the cake these days. We’ve just spent a few days consuming mass quantities of sweets at the in-law’s house and adding cake to the mess just isn’t on my palate. Plus, I’d have to the my own baker, so I prefer to take a break. What I do like for my birthday is my yearly trip for sushi. I’d eat sushi more often, but we just don’t get around to it that frequently. We cook at home most of the time and eat out on occasion. To go out to eat requires a drive of at least 20 minutes either east or west, and then a wait at the good restaurants. With two kids, that’s a low priority.

The day before my birthday, I went to work (one of the 3 in the office that day) and then drove back to the in-laws’ for another dinner. I thought it was odd that Tara was cooking such a large meal the day after Christmas. Traditionally, we headed out for Mexican food so she doesn’t have to cook and clean again. Everyone in the family was invited over for another evening. I just shrugged and accepted the change. Nothing to fuss about.

My husband and son had run off on an errand to get my birthday present, getting a late start for such an errand at 3 pm. They weren’t at the house when I got there. I sat down at the table with my father-in-law Bob, Stacey, and William to start a game of Munchkin while we waited for the rest of the family. Tara was starting the dinner preparations, navigating various recipes for pasta and sauces. Italian beef simmered in the slow cooker, permeating the kitchen with a savory aroma. My daughter and her two older cousins were downstairs in the basement playing with legos and my little ponies and watching Shrek for the 4th time in the last two days.

My sister had been texting me throughout the day making normal conversation. Margo lives in Massachusetts with her wife, 1400 miles away. We visited last June and weren’t expecting to see them again until later in 2015, when she finally finished her doctoral degree. She was asking what I was up to, so I replied we were having a big Italian dinner and playing games while I waited for my husband to get back. Nothing fancy. Work had been boring and pointless, but at least quiet. The house full of kids was noisy and draining and the quiet time was refreshing. She asked me what my husband was getting me for my birthday. “Not a clue,” I texted back.

The sky had darkened at the five o’clock hour. I was wondering where my boys were, since they’d been gone for a couple of hours now. I assumed they had difficulty getting what they wanted. It’s after Christmas, so stores are a bit cleaned out and last minute shopping doesn’t always pan out. They had probably been to several stores by now on the hunt.

Munchkin was getting ruthless. We were pummeling each other with Wandering Monsters and Monster Enhancers and Curses, keeping levels low. While waiting for my next turn, I strategized what to do with my newest draw of a Level 16 Wight Brothers card, which I couldn’t fight myself, and surveying other player’s items for possible trades.

The front door opened and figures moved in the dim light of the entry way. In my brain I took inventory of known bodies and faces we were expecting. It wasn’t my husband or son. Nor was it Jared or Danielle, whom we were also expecting to arrive for dinner once Danielle was home from work.

It struck me as Margo stood straighter and started to walk in my direction.

“What the hell!” I exclaimed. My sister and her partner were here. They weren’t supposed to be here.

“We’re you’re birthday present!” Dawn cheered as I got to me feet to hug them. Everyone was laughing. Everyone else in the house knew they were coming, yet somehow they hadn’t spilled the beans. The plot had been in the works since late September. I was amazed. Pretty much speechless, save my initial utterance.

They got settled in, being attacked by the nieces and nephews as the children came up the stairs from the basement. My brother-in-law William commented that he’d almost given the secret away about a half-hour before. When Margo’s name had been mentioned, he had almost said, “Aren’t we seeing them later today?” but he’d kept his mouth shut, remembering that is wife had told him it was a super top secret.

Margo had been texting me from the airport and from the back of my husband’s pickup, all under the guise of being back home.

I continued to be amazed as everyone gloated about keeping the secret. I was just happy to see my sister.





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