Losing The Element Of Surprise (Party Planning)

I feel so bad for my son’s girlfriend. God bless her. She worked her hardest to plan a surprise 25th birthday party for my 3rd son Brandon and it fell apart. Mainly because of one failed critical element.

One of his friends was supposed to get him out of the apartment and take him to the mall, then bring him back after she had completed the setup, and everyone had arrived. Since she and he were always together, believable reasons to get him away from her were few and far between.

Ahhh, the joys and pains of being in love…

Well, not only did his friend NOT show to pick him up, but the collaborator was also unavailable when she called to find out his location and when/if he was going to come through to do his part at all.

She called me in a panic, 60 minutes prior to the party’s scheduled start time and we went over her options. Unfortunately, we were unable to solve the problem. I was drying laundry at the laundromat because our dryer went down, and my second son was with me. Therefore, me calling on him to come help with anything couldn’t happen. Besides, it didn’t make sense, trying to get him to my house for help with anything, because I wouldn’t call on him on his birthday unless it was extremely important. My oldest son was getting ready for work at his apartment and my youngest (#4) was already AT work.

As her window of opportunity got smaller, I told her she might consider taking the “L” and canceling the surprise,but not the party. There was no harm in telling him that she had planned one, but circumstances made it impossible to move forward as strategized. In fact, once the truth was revealed, Brandon could actually help her get things together for the guests who hadn’t checked in by this point anyway.

Despite her wishes, she conceded and agreed to focus her remaining efforts on cooking and cleaning, with him faithfully and lovingly at her side.

Ahhh, the joys and pains of being in love…

The situation didn’t get any better though. Not one guest showed up at the predesignated time, rendering any chance at surprising him futile.

In fact, the first to arrive (outside of the volunteer who helped prepare the food) did so a good hour AFTER the “get here no later than” time.

And our decoy? He showed up an hour and a half AFTER the planned start time…

…he had fallen asleep an hour before he was scheduled to pick Brandon up.

She was already upset because of the problems she had encountered earlier in the day. Early in the morning she had deeply cut her finger while opening a package which resulted in a trip to the emergency room and multiple stitches. Then later that morning, she picked up her birthday cake order from the bakery and discovered it had another person’s picture on it.

And she hadn’t even ordered a picture.

Things were definitely not going as planned.

No, she wasn’t having it, where incompetence was concerned.

When he arrived, I was the first who lit into him. I told him he only had ONE job. Then I corrected myself and declared he only had one CRITICAL job. I added that I was glad I never hired him to meet me at the bank to pick me up at a certain time after I robbed it.

She had OTHER words for him as he stood before her, head down in shame…

That’s the problem with surprise parties. They are hit or miss, pass or fail, survive or perish. There is no happy medium. Try as you might, no matter how well you plan, the best ones can easily go awry. And even IF your blueprints are flawless, there are the environmental and human elements with which to contend.

A similar thing happened with my party.

For my 40th birthday, my wife planned a surprise party and wanted one of my friends to take me to the movies, a surefire way of getting me back AFTER so much time had passed and not before. He and his wife said they had a better idea and decided to have me go to their house for computer repair, as I was always called upon when my friends had minor computer issues. They even had a Plan B (unbeknownst to her) in the event I finished too soon. They would fake an argument/fight which would help to delay my return time. But that wasn’t necessary because the nature of the computer issue would/should keep me from finishing too soon.

I finished too soon.

Plan B.

The argument began.
Then it escalated.
Then things were said that had been waiting on deck as ammunition for the right opportunity.
Then the proverbial lid blew off the pressure cooker and all hell broke loose.

My role then changed from Computer Tech to referee and rescuer, having to usher their crying children out of the battle zone.

Meanwhile, my wife had decided it was time to bring me in. She called my cell during the domestic civil war and asked me to come home quickly because the boys had done X, Y and Z. Of course, that was enough to change me from frustrated to infuriated, leading me to interrupt the couple and say that I needed to get home ASAP. Since the husband drove me, it was a chance to create a cease fire on their end, killing two birds with one stone.

By the time I returned home, the first words in my mind, on their way to my lips were, “All y’all (censored) line up!!!”

I inhaled.


There I stood; belt half-unbuckled. My friend was still panting heavily from his oral skirmish and his wife was standing in middle of the party crowd, red-eyed and flush, having arrived at my house before us in a separate vehicle.

Like I said, hit or miss.

As you can see, there is no science to it. All you can do is plan, plan again and plan again. Then develop backups, those Plan Bs.

But keep it as foolproof as possible and for God’s sake, keep it simple. Don’t go off script.

Sending me to the movies guaranteed I’d be gone at a specific time, leaving at a specific time, returning at a specific time. No improvisation. No phony fights.

And for anyone designated or volunteering to help, know your role and your responsibilities. Know what you bring to the table and why it is so important for you to come through.

A lot is depending on you. Especially when hoping to maintain the element of surprise. Suffer through precision or suffer the consequences.


…and speaking of consequences, what happened to the boy that fell asleep, you ask?

Suffice it to say that after I chastised him, she walked up to him, pointing her newly sutured and bandaged finger at him…

…promising that once the stitches were removed, she was going to start swinging.

Ahhh, the joys and pains of love.

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