I think surprise parties are cruel.
That’s right, I said it.
You walk into a room expecting one thing, and get something completely different. Now, if you’d KNOWN there was going to be a party in your honor, you’d probably have fixed your hair, worn a different outfit, sucked the nacho stain off your shirt.
Hell, you’d have the opportunity to look forward to it for weeks!
I learned this lesson the hard way. I perpetrated this evil on one of the people most beloved to me in my life. My sister Beezy. It was her 16th birthday. I thought it would be “super rad” (it was the 80s) to invite her friends over for a surprise pool party. I even arranged for her best friend who lived in another state to fly in for the occasion. I was high on the intrigue and deceit. Half the fun, no ALL OF THE FUN, was keeping the secret. We dressed Ray, the aforementioned friend, up like a big present and placed her front and center in the entryway of our house. My dad took Beezy to a movie she didn’t want to go to. She had already seen it, and he made her sit through it again, putting her in a foul mood. Now, we’re talking 16 years old, here, so take it from a high school teacher: crabby 16 is worse than crabby 30 any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
When she arrived at the house and came in the front door, we all yelled “Surprise!” and Beezy looked appropriately delighted and grateful, posing gamely for pictures. You have to know her like a sister to see that the smile in those pictures is pained, forced, and fake. She hates what she’s wearing. She hates her hair. She wasn’t in the mood for a party. She just wanted to GO HOME and be ALONE after spending the afternoon with her insistent and annoying father.
I learned all of this later. I was so self-congratulatory that I’d pulled off the surprise, I didn’t even stop to think if this is what my sister would even WANT for her sweet 16. Thus follows my theory that a surprise party is always about the person throwing it, and never about the person being surprised. If you think about it, would you really want to open the door to your own home thinking, “Yay, I can’t wait to crack a beer, put on my sweatpants and watch DVRed ‘Survivor!'” and have everyone you know yell “SURPRISE!” at you? Fuck yeah, I’m surprised. I thought I could trust you people. Now I have to play hostess for god only knows how many hours before I can be alone with Jeff Probst. Happy birthday to me.
Or, you walk into a restaurant with your husband expecting a quiet dinner for two. Now I can talk to him, you think, about how we can get under this cat shitting on the floor thing. You know, hypothetically. Or maybe you’re just thinking, “Thank Jeebus I don’t have to cook, and I can just relax and be waited on.”
Oh, shit! Now I have to talk to all of my family and friends for hours instead. In this stained tank top! And everyone is taking pictures! Super.
I was only 17 when I committed this evil against Beezy, so I’m glad I learned that lesson young. We have a rule in this family now. Nay, a pact. No surprise parties.
And that includes “interventions.”
It was the day of my 16th birthday AND the day I took & passed my driver’s license test, meaning I could finally drive my beloved red Acura all by myself, which was the only thing I wanted to do. Dad insisted we see Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade at one of the theaters on Brand (I want to say The Alex), which I would normally be totally down for, but I just wanted to drive! I had also already seen that particular movie twice, I think both times had even been in that same week. It was a little much of Junior. I argued with Dad so much (read: so well. Just sayin’) that he eventually broke down and just told me that there was something being delivered to the house for me as a surprise and he was charged with keeping me away and would I please just stop making it so hard on him already!
Ok, confession time. Like most guests of honor at a surprise party, I absolutely knew ahead of time that it was happening. My best friend at school buckled under the stress & gave me a mercy tell. I’ve always been afraid to host a party; certain nobody would show & it would end up as a very public humiliation, so of course I was terrified that no one would come to my surprise party, but had to suffer it in silence because I didn’t want to ruin it for everone else – your point about it being for the hosts & not the guest of honor is dead-on.
The one successful and very great surprise was flying Cookie home to visit. I’ll never forget seeing her wrapped in bows & balloons. The only problem was I had a houseful of guests now in the way of me being with the best friend I desperately missed. But it was worth it to get to see her, and like all memories I now mostly remember the good parts, not the awkwardness or frustration. I remember the EPIC cake you got, and I remember having fun in the pool and of course (the benefit of being friends with your sisters) I remember having you & Ess there with me; partners both in teen joy & teen humiliation.
So pact is still in tact, especially for intervention parties, but I did feel loved that you’d want to make a big deal about my sweet 16. Even if I have to be in my 30’s to fully realize I felt that!
And as for Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, when it’s on tv I watch it all the way thru – because of the Dad happy memories.
(sorry for the essay! :))