The first time I recall being surprised by a loved one was when I was 8 years old. My parents took us three kids out of school early and told us we were going on a trip.  It wasn’t until we boarded an airplane in San Francisco that they told us the destination: Disneyland!  We were ecstatic!  The surprise element really added to the sense of fun and adventure.


This experience planted a seed in me. I remember thinking, “How fun!  I can’t wait to surprise my kids one day!” But, even before having kids, I started incorporating surprises into my family life.

When Dennis and I were dating, it occurred to me that he needed to visit Miami to see his favorite football teams play. He’s been a Miami Dolphins fan since he was a kid and a University of Miami Hurricane’s fan about that long too.  But, he’d never been to Miami!  We had to fix this.  So, in my youthful zeal, I decided to use some of my student loan funds (I was working on my M.A. in History at SDSU at the time) on a weekend trip to Miami to see both teams play.  I purchased our flights, booked the hotel, and found tickets to the Canes’ game on Saturday and the Dolphins’ game on Sunday.

The trip was in mid-November, about three months away. I told myself that I’d wait until a couple days before the trip to surprise Dennis… I lasted three days.  Out at dinner that weekend, I couldn’t contain my excitement and spilled the beans.  He was surprised and thrilled!   I LOVED the feeling of doing something special for this wonderful guy; especially because it was something that meant a lot to him.

Years later, I took that feeling to another level when I celebrated his 50th birthday.  The 50 Days to Celebrate 50 Years project was so much fun!  I got to think of little surprises that Dennis would enjoy and share them with him daily for nearly 2 months.  Reminiscing about the Miami trip surprise, I got us tickets to the University of Hawaii Warriors game against SDSU as one of the surprises.  Again, I cherished knowing my husband and what would be meaningful to him.  It creates such a sense of intimacy to contemplate your spouse and think of things that would make him happy.

Once Sienna and Mateo were old enough, we jumped on the idea of surprising them. I got to live out my 8 year old wish when we surprised them with a trip to Disneyland! We actually have had the chance to do it a few times, when we had the annual passes.  We’d wake them up, get them dressed and piled into the car, and then announce the destination when we headed out on the drive.  Their reactions were priceless!  So fun.


Last year, I learned that Phantom of the Opera was coming to San Diego and right after Dennis’s birthday. He loves the musical, but hadn’t seen it performed live.  Another surprise opportunity dawned on me!  I got tickets, as his birthday gift, months in advance and feared I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret until his birthday.  Recalling the Miami trip to my friend Andra sparked her to say: “I bet you won’t be able to keep it a secret until his birthday!”  We bet a lunch out.  My competitiveness helped me to keep the secret and win the bet!  I’ve thanked Andra several times for helping me last those months without spoiling the surprise.

These are mostly stories of pretty grand gestures, but I’ve found lots of little ways over the years to incorporate the fun of surprising loved ones in little ways. For example, when my mom was recently visiting, Teo had asked her to pick him up early from preschool.  She’s often able to pick up Sienna early, but Teo’s school is less convenient.  She decided to pick him up one day, but we opted not to tell him.  Partly to spare him disappointment in case her plans changed, but also so she could surprise him.  He was so surprised and happy to see her.  “Gaga! What are you doing here?!” he yelled as she ran across the playground and jumped into her arms.

surpriseA couple weeks ago, I spoiled a surprise somewhat, but still got to enjoy the excited response when I told my sister that Teo and I are coming up to visit in mid-April. Right after Sarah had her third baby and first girl – Charley Ann – I started hatching a plan with my mom to make a quick visit to meet her.  Our next big trip to Humboldt isn’t until July and I simply couldn’t wait.  I wanted to surprise Sarah by just showing up at her door, but logistically that was going to be tough.  We were on the phone the other day and I suddenly had a strong urge to tell her our plan.  I said, “Oh, I want to tell you something but then I also want to surprise you!”  Obviously the whole plan came out shortly after that.  But, it was still a surprise in that we already had the travel booked and everything coordinated.

Surprising the people you love with something that’s meaningful to them is such a joy! You get to enjoy the fun of planning the surprise, which includes thinking about the person in a more deliberate way. Then there’s the fun of watching their reaction and telling them about your plans, ideas, and the dedication it took to keep the secret!  The person being surprised then gets the joy of knowing that you cared enough to plan something special for them.  Finally, the surprise element makes the experience more memorable, so that the occasion becomes a shared memory, knitting your family together.

What surprises have you pulled off for someone? I’d love to hear your stories!

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