Wednesday, January 4, 2012
No More Surprises
For the past month or so, I have been thinking about a Carol Burnett sketch about which I can't exactly remember the details. My brain has filled in the gray spots, and so in my memory, Carol is on a game show. She keeps having to choose between one prize or the surprise behind the door. She always chooses the surprise, and the surprises are always bad. In the end of a series of calamities, she has been smacked and watered and floured and she yells out "NO MORE SURPRISES! NO MORE SURPRISES"* And as a kid, my brother Craig used to go around quoting this skit. I have very clear memories of him quoting this for my grandma, and grandma laughing hysterically. Craig has always been the entertainer of the O'Dell clan. But whatever the real details of the sketch, in my head, I keep encountering things that make me hear the voice of Carol Burnett saying "NO MORE SURPRISES!".
Several weeks before my wedding, I was feeling the pressure of wedding planning. Everything had been done in such a hurry, and I was running out of time to do the things that actually take time. The things I could not check off my to do list by staying up till midnight. Like dress alteration. I had one final payment to make on my dress, and I needed to go pay it off and take it to be altered. Jake and I were in the neighborhood of the dress store, and I asked if we could go by really quickly to pick up the dress. Jake was hesitant.
Jake: Can we do that another day?
Me: Maybe. But I need to get it altered, and I will have to pay more if I have to rush it.
Jake: Yeah, but can't we just come back in a few days?
Me: I guess we could, but I really need to get it today.
Jake: I think we should just wait.
What Jake wasn't telling me is that he was planning on paying off the rest of the dress for me. What I wasn't telling Jake is that I thought he was being inconsiderate and just didn't want to have to wait with me while I went through the whole dress purchase process. I insisted on knowing why he didn't want to wait. He insisted that I ruined his surprise. And so our bad history with surprises began, and Rule #1 was formed: No surprises if you have to come across like a jerk to pull it off.
Then came the birthday surprise. Jake's birthday was in September. And it just so happened that during this time, my sister Ashlae was in Germany getting married, and Jake and I were staying in her house in Frisco, playing mom and dad to her kids Aedan (7) and Caitlin (5). On Jake's actual birthday, we celebrated in a kid-friendly environment. We went to Rainforest Cafe and got balloon animals and sang Happy Birthday amidst the bellowing elephants and the screeching monkeys. It was grand. The next night, I had arranged for a babysitter (my brother and sister-in-law) so that I could take Jake on a grown-up date. And as I was planning, I discovered that Mindy Smith, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, was going to be playing a show at a restaurant in Dallas. I thought this was a way better date than just dinner out. I bought tickets, and I was so excited to introduce Jake to her music, which I was sure he would love. When we arrived at the venue, I spilled the good news of what we would be doing. Jake was silent.
Me: Are you excited?
Jake: Is this really what we are doing? (he later apologized for this comment)
And so I cried. Kind of a lot. And he was frustrated. I thought he would love it. He thought that I had planned something that specifically catered to his tastes. And Rule #2 was born: No surprises that involve buying something that I love for the other person (even if I think he will like it... because he might not).
Then came the Christmas season. I am always wanting to plan date nights. I love date nights. So I suggested a Sunday night date to Urban Taco, my favorite restaurant. He said he had an idea for something we could possibly add to the night, and he told me he would look into it. After a little bit of investigation, Jake came back and said we could do his idea on Saturday night and still keep our Sunday night plans. We both had plans during the day on Saturday (a brother-in-laws shopping trip for him and a girlfriends shopping trip for me), and I was a little afraid we (I) would be exhausted but I agreed. We would go out both nights.
So Saturday came and I asked what we would be doing. He gave no clues, but just said "wear short sleeves". I did not handle the lack of information well. I wanted to know where we were going so that I could be appropriately dressed. And so he told me. We would be taking a painting class. Anyone who knows me knows that this kind of thing is totally me. I used to go on pottery painting dates when I was dating in Nashville, and I have taken a painting class locally with some girlfriends because we found some cheap Groupons. But for whatever reason, this night, I wasn't feeling it. I was tired. I didn't want to spend $35 each to paint a picture (that turned out to be a version of Van Gogh's Starry Night with a Christmas tree in the front) that we would never hang in our home. I wanted to stay home and watch 30 Rock on Netflix in my pajamas. But it was a surprise. And he had thought of it himself. And so I went.
The whole way there I tried not to show my frustration, to no avail. We fought most of the way there and for the first few minutes of the class. I was being a brat, and I just had to be mad for a while until I got over it. And then I did. And then we painted and had fun. But Rule #3 was birthed: No surprises that mean we spend money two nights in a row. And in my head, the last Rule: No surprises that send us home with weird paintings that we will never hang.
But we have come to an agreement on a Rule to end all Rules: No More Surprises. We don't handle them well. I have heard countless stories about birthday surprises and engagement surprises that ended in tears and frustration. If you have to lie incessantly and confuse the person you are trying to surprise in order to pull off the surprise, you probably shouldn't do it. It seems like bad form to make someone upset in the process of doing something nice for them.
Don't get me wrong, you are allowed to do as you please. If you love surprises and are surrounded by people who love them, good for you. Surprise away. But me? I would like to know where I am going and what I am doing and I know when I am being lied to. So other than the flawless execution of a surprise birthday party (flawless meaning no lies are told and I have no idea it's going on beforehand), I am out. No surprises for me. And my birthday is March 13, in case you were wondering. I do accept presents, even surprise ones.
*I actually contacted a Carol Burnett fan club to try to get information about this episode, but they completely ignored my request.