Every so often, as a wife or mother you have the chance to plan an event so cool, you’re beside yourself with all the possibilities (if you’re a creative control freak like me, anyway). A few years ago, my hubs was set to hit 60, a landmark that clearly deserved a full on surprise bash. Sure, he didn’t want one. Why would that matter? After years of planning superhero parties, I was going to plan a big ole shindig for an adult. There’d be martinis, and oysters, and no goodie bags. Little did I know, it would nearly be foiled by the most unlikely of pairs… Simon and Garfunkel.
The key to a surprise is the ruse. I started before even booking the hotel. His bday was the first Saturday of December, but since we each own our businesses, I couldn’t chalk it up to an office party. It had to be something I had no control over…hhhmmmm… A wedding! But who was engaged? or even serious that we knew? Answer- no one. So I made one up. I called a friend with two daughters and congratulated her on her 21 year old’s impending (albeit imaginary) nuptials this Dec 2 to a phantom boyfriend I created. And she went along with it like any logical mother would. So as early as February, I dropped a “oh, guess who got engaged for Valentine’s Day?!” In March, “yeah, Janet said her daughter’s engagement will be short-- maybe by the end of the year.” In May, I griped routinely that she was getting married the day of his bday and I’d look like a schlub if we didn’t go. He bought it all. The surprise shindig trap was set.
I continued with my imaginary wedding relaying gossip that never happened about the couple that never was. I was so into it, I was almost believing it myself. I designed an invitation and RSVP set and drove to the “bride’s” town for the proper postmark. When I needed time to shop for a dress, I created a shower, with another fake invite. I had a quiet lunch, sorted lists, sketched out the cake, and then stopped at Macy’s to pick up a cheapie, favorish looking candle so I wouldn’t return empty handed. (If you ever need a day, I highly recommend fabricating a shower.)
I followed a martini theme, and planned to make a Kettle One bottle-shaped cake with a Tahitian vanilla recipe I found. I was surprised to see it was actually imported from Tahiti, so you can imagine the cost per bean. But hey, not like I was actually giving a wedding present, right? I baked while he was out, then lit vanilla candles to which I attributed the scent. I decorated the cake and display at my office. I was getting a little carried away by the time fondant pimento-stuffed fondant olives were sculpted. I was teetering on the ledge of overachievement where you can suck your own joy out of the most joyous event. But it would be worth it that night, I knew. Mentally, I was full frontal surprise mode.
It occurred to me by November that I had omitted planning anything he was aware of. He knew I wouldn’t forget, so NO hooplah would have been suspicious. Shit, now I had to plan a pseudo shindig. I told him I was doing a long weekend in MD closer to Christmas with his daughters and sister. I hinted there would be more then, to create a red herring party. Ok, so now we have real-but-secret party, a fake wedding, a fake shower, and now fake-but-supposed-to-be-real party. My head was spinning with where I was supposed to be when. Little cracks of stress (or psyche) were emerging.
I never told the boys what was happening. At 8 and 6, Son1 and Son2 were as discreet as Julian Assange, but I had other cohorts to help on the big day. My stepdaughters would be in town from PA and MD, Dad from MS, and my conspiratorial mom close by. Our church’s Santa Breakfast was announced for that morning which meant hubs would be tied up flipping pancakes all morning (whew!). Mom could whisk the kids away right from there under the guise of watching them overnight while we toasted Michele and her faux beau.
It was all going so smoothly. That morning he even offered to take Son1 to church for set up help. The kids were divided. (whew!) The second he left, I loaded the car with 57 bags of clothes sorted in the days preceding. Ok, maybe it was only 3. I had outfits for the trip to Picture People the girls were taking with the boys for the first ever formal portrait of all 4 of the hub’s kids. I had their suits for the party. I had the cover-story overnight backpacks for their trip to grandma’s that wasn’t happening. She would take the boys to hotel to meet up with their sisters, they would all take pics, and then my dad would get them into suits that night by preset schedule.
I loaded Son2 and stopped by my office to load boxes filled with centerpieces I made while at the school committee meetings I also fabricated to give myself free nights to assemble the cake and décor. I would drop them at the hotel on the way home from church, then head to back to my office for the cake which I would drop off on a 2nd trip. I would then head home with the wedding card I picked up for the check I would write in route to the “wedding” the way I always do at the last minute much to his chagrin. In route that evening, I’d get a call from another friend and wedding guest suggesting we meet at the bar for a drink, to get him unsuspectingly to the lounge where the party was is rather than the banquet rooms the wedding would be in... you know, were there a wedding. A few more stress cracks in the psyche, but if I stayed close to timing, a year’s planning would be golden.
But then, I went one step too far. For reasons still beyond me, I caved to Son2’s prodding for balloons so he could surprise Daddy when we showed up at church. We picked the big 3ft tall “6” and “0” but of course the credit card machine froze, then a fender bender blocked traffic. Every second on B-Day was critical, and I was just screwed out of 30! I needed to make up time. Enter Route 287, NJ’s Autobahn. I was now hyper-stressed, so figured, ok, let’s crank some tunes. My mood lifted; Son2 sang along with me. The bulbous 6 and 0 glinted in the sunlight (and obscured the view I’d later take note). When the theme from The Graduate came on, I was getting stress-giddy. And so as Son2 and I belted out our longing for Joltin’ Joe, I did not notice the NJ State Trooper in the rearview. So distracted replicating Simon and Garfunkel's harmonies with my then 6 yr old, I was oblivious to the officer. A good two verses later, he caught my eye coming up next to me, waving me over. Uh oh. Ok, speeding, right? Turn down Paul and Art, plead mea culpa, shed a tear or two and drive off. Um, no. For when the trooper approached, he proceeded to rattle off all of my offenses from excessive speed, to reckless driving, (3 foot metallic balloons are frowned upon in cars, FYI), and failure to yield to his request to pull over for 3 miles. Really? 3 miles? How long is that song?
Knowing I had one hell of a ticket coming and insurance surcharges tripping through my head, I was then informed my registration was not one, two, or even three months expired. It was SIX months late. I later sorted out that I sent our boat reg in twice rather than my car, but it mattered little then. I was recklessly operating a non-registered vehicle with a minor within… and I was told it was being impounded. I was to call for a ride, and prepare to be relieved of my car momentarily.
And that my good friends, is where I lost it. Simon and Garfunkel got me into this mess of driving with distraction, but could not bring me back. All the drugs of their generation could not have calmed me from my implosion. I begged. I pleaded. I. lost. it. I wailed about the party stuff in the car, the cake I needed to transport with Tahitian vanilla—FROM TAHITI. Good God, man! Ta-F’IN-HITI!!!! I was sobbing-RANTING, and blaming it all on Mrs. Robinson and the hypnotic effect of singing along with my son. Son2, heretofore unaware of the party was panicking and yelling “What party? We’re under-arrested?? I’m too little to be under-arrested! What party? You’re having a party?! You didn't invite me?! Oh who cares?!! We’re going to jail!”
I can only imagine that may have made the cop feel like hell. Maybe he was confounded by my Simon and Garfunkel defense. Who wouldn’t be? Or maybe he was afraid to be trapped in his own car with me ranting about Tahiti, because the next thing I knew, he was back telling me to calm down (easy for him to say), and please to proceed with caution. He handed me a court summons. I was still blubbering and kind of clueless what was happening really, until Son2 shouted, “no see Mom, he’s letting us off! We’re free! We’re not under-arrested! GO- but don’t speed! What party?!”
I had to come clean to hubs why I was so upset when I got to church, without ever letting on WHY it would have been so disastrous. I also had to keep Son2's mouth jammed with pancakes non stop lest he spill the beans. The day did improve, and all got back on track. The party was awesome, and hubs was truly surprised. The ticket (THANK GOD) was pled down with some counsel by a trooper-friend. Son2 is still vigilant on speed, and to this day, I can break out in hives when I hear Mrs. Robinson while behind the wheel. The hubs admitted my acting troubled him because I lied over and over again for a year. Well.
But the whole near-fiasco taught me the valuable (expensive) lesson of what happens when you get so fixated on one item in your life. In the drive for the perfect shindig, I nearly drove myself into an accident by reckless behavior, with my son in tow. It taught me to mellow some, take things with a grain of salt and take off the blinders. Slow down (literally), and chill. As wives and moms, we sometimes try and make things so perfect we can easily go beyond reason. While I still may cross the line of logic, I do try to keep some perspective. I should be a much calmer planner by the time 2016 rolls around and it’s time to gear up for the hub's big 7-0 shindig. (Shhhh) Simon and Garfunkel~ please keep your distance. I'll need my focus.