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Surprisingly, we were able to pull it off

Before we go any further, let me be clear: I am not the guy you want to put in charge of a surprise birthday party. I’m not organized, and I can’t keep a straight face.

Even so, my spouse’s 40th birthday was approaching, a milestone she has been dreading every single day for about eight years. Forty is a traumatic birthday for most of us. It’s the age when your body begins to rebel on you, when people begin telling you how “good” you look for your age. However old you are, they insist that you don’t look it. Damn, you’re getting old when that happens.

The only answer was to throw her a party, a big one. All too aware of my weaknesses as a party organizer, I turned to Facebook and formed a “birthday party task force” comprised of a few of her closest friends, remembering something I learned a few years ago in my job as a college administrator. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, delegate.

Pretty soon, we had a theme, a date, a location, a food list, and a plan for how to pull it off. All I had to do was arrange for our daughter, who has been away at college for six weeks, to come home as part of the surprise.

The party had a lot of moving parts, but on the night before the big day arrived, everything was in place and I was feeling pretty confident. The plan was that I would take her out to dinner in Asheville, right after dropping a book off at a friend’s house on the way. The party would be waiting there, with cars and party-goers well-hidden until the big reveal. Our daughter would be there and would appear on cue a few minutes after the first big surprise. Two layers of shock and awe.

It was all set, but just as we were getting ready for bed, my daughter called to inform me that her car was “doing funny things,” if you think that your teenage daughter’s car sputtering and spitting and not being able to go more than about twenty-five miles per hour in Charlotte traffic is funny.

I had visions of driving down there to get her myself, but the crisis was averted the next morning when she was able to get the car fixed. About two hours before the party was supposed to begin, she was trucking up I-40, almost home. We were all set. Then I had an awful thought.

Everyone in the family has an app on our phones called ‘Find Friends,’ which enables us to keep tabs on where each person in the family is at any given time. It is highly invasive but very helpful when any of us needs to track someone down. But not now, please not now, in the name of all that is holy, not now. What if Tammy decided to check on our daughter’s whereabouts?

We tried various ways to disable the app, but could not figure out how.

“I am going to try blocking your number, dad,” she said. “Hang up, then check in five minutes to see if you can still find me.”

I waited five minutes and tried. I could still find her. I tried calling, but was still blocked, so I sent her a text.

“It is not working. If your mom finds you driving home and calls you, our story is that you are going to meet one of your friends to go to a concert. If she figures out you are coming here, the surprise will be ruined and the party will be ruined.”

The very instant that I hit “send” on the text, I knew I had mistakenly sent it to Tammy. Yes, I sent it to Tammy. After planning this party for weeks, everything had gone perfectly right up until this moment. My daughter was almost home. The food was prepared. The guests would soon be leaving to assemble there and hide. I had managed to keep the secret. And then I sent her that text. I felt like I had fallen out of an airplane without a parachute.

I rushed out of Ingles, peeled out of the parking lot, and violated about 14 traffic laws on my way home, praying that she would not call me or text before I could get there. Since she had come home early, I knew I had a slim chance that she would either be showering or napping. The only hope I had was to get there, steal her phone, and delete it before she saw it.

There was a very strong possibility that she was on her phone, or it would buzz when my message came across. The odds were that she had already seen my message, but I had no other choice but to do my best to save the party.

I still hadn’t heard from her when I got home. I parked at the end of the driveway, hoping that might prevent the dogs from barking in case she was asleep. At the front door, I took off my shoes and then gently opened the front door. Silence. So far, so good.

I tiptoed through the dining room to our bedroom, and as quietly as I possibly could, I very slowly opened the door. There she was, asleep as I had hoped, her phone on the nightstand. I crawled over and lifted it and then crawled back out the door. I checked the phone. There was my message, still unread. I deleted it, crawled back into the bedroom to put it where it had been, and then turned to crawl back out the door.

Just as I was about to shut the door, two seconds from getting away with the heist of the century, she stirred.

“Honey? What are you doing?”

I had to think fast. Her cake and all the decorations were still in my car. I had to deliver them so that our friends could decorate, and then come back to pick her up.

“Um, I left my wallet at the library and I have to run back and get it,” I said.

“Huh?” she said, but I was already gone before she could say anything else.

Suddenly, I was Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Resourceful, dashing, lucky. If you’re all of those things, you can sometimes get away with being a little disorganized

Party on!

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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