Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Big Secret Surprise

I love surprises. I love keeping secrets about surprises for other people, and I love to be surprised. I'm always disappointed when a surprise for me is spoiled.

For instance, when I got married, I told my husband to keep where we were going for the honeymoon a secret.

"Just take me to the airport blind-folded. Don't tell me a thing!"

But days before the trip, the travel agent called me to confirm our trip to Trinidad & Tobago. Sigh...

Or what about the time my husband (then boyfriend) tried to throw a surprise birthday party for me when we were in college. I decided at the last minute to throw my own party and called the DJ to see if he was free.

"Yeah, I already discussed it with Maurice last week. I planned to get there around 9:00 to set up," he said, without thinking that I may not have known about the party to begin with. Sigh...

Anyway. This is isn't about me, it's about the biggest surprise EVER for my kids. A secret surprise that almost killed several people in its enormity. A secret surprise that got out a little too soon.

When the world starting getting exciting about the World Cup soccer tournament taking place in South Africa, I remember talking with my husband and saying... "wouldn't it be cool to go there and take the kids?" A year later, my husband announces that he's in the pool to get tickets to a match in Johannesburg. Huh?

For months, he had secretly been working on flights and hotels and travel between South African cities for the kids and us. When he explained the whole thing, I thought to myself... what a fantastic secret surprise. I didn't tell anyone. I started strategizing with him on how to make the trip well worth the expense, time and energy. By April, everything was finalized and we told our parents and my brother. First mistake.

Despite our telling my mother this was a secret surprise for the kids, she announced the trip to her brother and his children who promptly sent me a Facebook post exclaiming... "World Cup?! When are you leaving?"

Since my older son and all of his friends are my Facebook "friends", I had to quickly delete the post, and send the first of several messages alerting the family that this was a secret surprise. Sigh...

Next, my brother, who has adult attention deficit and a very poor memory, asked the kids... "Are you excited about going to South Africa?" They stood there looking at him dumbfounded. My husband gave my brother the "shut up" face and the two of them made up some silly story to cover up my brother's faux pas.

My husband later reported that one of the kids asked my older son, "what's your uncle talkin' about? Are you guys going to the World Cup?"

My older son responded with a shrug and a, "I don't know what he's talking about." And they proceeded to play a game of soccer in the middle of the street.

As damage control, I waited until weeks later and, while we were watching an opening match on television, I nonchalantly said, "Hey, I talked to your uncle yesterday. Can you believe he thought we were going to the World Cup?!"

"Yeah! I know. He said something to me too!"

"Your uncle's crazy..."


As we got closer to the actual trip, it became important for me to share the secret with those I worked with and the babysitter and the neighbors. Imagine trying to get all of those people to keep such a huge secret from my kids when they see them every day. There were several close calls, and I grew at least 4 more gray hairs in the the 2 weeks before the trip.

Four days away and now I have to figure out how to pack for winter in Africa when it's 90 degrees in Atlanta. More importantly, I had to get the older child to actually try on jeans and sweatpants because he has outgrown all of his clothes and keeps getter taller every month. He hates trying on clothes. He hates shopping for clothes. His brother hates waiting for him to shop and try on clothes. Long story short - shopping was not fun. 2 more gray hairs. Secret still safe. (chalked it up to school shopping while winter clothes were on sale - yeah, I'm good)

Three days away - my family are at dinner with my girlfriend and her family. She gets excited and loudly exclaims to her aunt and uncles, "They're leaving for Africa on Wednesday!"

I punch her firmly in the arm, the table goes deathly silent, she drops her head, and my husband turns to stone. My older son narrows his eyes and surveys the scene. My younger son continues to play his DSi, completely oblivious to everything taking place. Sigh...

Deny, deny, deny. That's my husband and my motto for this whole fiasco of the secret surprise. We pretend like nothing happened at dinner and go about our business without comment.

The Monday night before the trip, I'm doing laundry and folding clothes when my older son nonchalantly asks me, "Why does everyone think we're going to South Africa?"

This time I literally sighed out loud and sofly said, "Oh, Maurice."

He knows how much I love secrets and surprises. He knew I was sad that the secret was out. He knows me so well, he didn't ask me anything else and completely changed the subject. I love that kid.

Last night, my mother - who is going on the trip with us - arrived from Miami with her car loaded down. And when my older son heard that my husband was picking up my father-in-law from the airport, the inquisition began. I received a sad phone call from my husband as he was driving home from the airport, "We have to tell them."

My husband checked to make sure the video camera was charged, then he nodded to me. We went into the kitchen, gathered our parents and the kids and made the formal announcement. My older son had the decency to look somewhat incredulous. However, our younger son really had no clue. He was truly surprised and the look on his face made it all worth it.

My older son began going through all of South Africa tourist books my father-in-law had brought with him and my younger son began interrogating me about flight time, accommodations, the language barrier, and his selective eating habits.

Even though we were unable to keep the secret, our children are just as excited as they would have been if they hadn't found out until we arrived at the airport. This trip is an adventure and memory that will last all of our lifetimes. What we experience as individuals and a group will be shared with family, friends and those who don't even exist today.

My motto has always been to live without regrets and do everything I can while I'm able. This trip has meaning on so many levels, I cannot begin to put it into words. All I can say is I appreciate my husband and the spirit that allowed this to be, and I can't wait to blog about the experience...

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