Thursday, March 3, 2011


I love surprises. Well, maybe I should clarify that – I love good surprises. No one likes to be surprised by bad stuff. I once had a bad surprise that was actually a great surprise for my kids. We had recently moved in to the house we are in now and I was sorting through our accumulated life in boxes upstairs, when my oldest son suddenly burst out of the basement door yelling, “I need my bathing suit!” This alarmed me only slightly because my kids were big in to dress up at that time. As I continued sorting, curiosity got the better of me. It was early spring and definitely not bathing suit weather on our chilly hill.

Opening the basement door, I heard delighted squeals from my then 3 year-old daughter. Descending the stairs I got my awful surprise – the basement was under six inches of water. My daughter was happily splashing and the cat was floating on a “raft” made of the foam carpet squares we had just put down so the kids could play. An example of how one surprise can be good for one person and bad for another. (turns out the sump-pump was jammed, easily fixed and it helped us part with the ruined contents of too many boxes)

My husband and I love to surprise our kids. Christmas morning is always filled with its share of surprises, but there are lots of other holiday and non-holiday surprises too. St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching and my kids are already talking about the tiny leprechaun hats they discovered last year that contained clues leading them to more hats and eventually a “pot of gold” (chocolate coins).

A few summers ago, we woke them up at 6am and said, “Get your suits on, we’re going to the beach!” and we fed them breakfast in the car as we drove to the beach for the day. Never mind the fortunes we have spent renting beach houses, that day remains their favorite beach memory.

The cruise we went on a few weeks ago was our greatest surprise yet. We planned and prepared for it for six months without the kids knowing. On the day of the cruise, we waited for each one to get up and get dressed for school. When they found us in our room packing suitcases, they scratched their heads sleepily and then we said, “How about instead of going to school today, we go to Florida?!!” Oh – that was the best moment of the entire vacation! (the picture above is of my youngest realizing we’re weren’t kidding)

What makes surprises so special is they are proof positive that someone was thinking about you. Which feels pretty good. I think surprising your kids is one of the greatest joys you can get as a parent. They don’t have to be huge surprises. And they don’t have to be that often. In fact, it’s best to spread them out otherwise they cease being surprises and become expected. Need some ideas?

• Pick your child up at the bus stop for an impromptu movie date (the movies are cheaper before 5pm!)

• Show up at school at lunchtime to pick up your child for an “appointment” which is lunch with you at a favorite restaurant or a picnic at the park

• Leave a small gift on their pillow

• Write a note in their planner or leave one in the pocket of their jeans.

• Bring home a new outfit or a book for them “just because”.

• Do a chore for them (mine love when I do their kitchen chore for them)

• Leave a love note on the bathroom mirror or the inside of the closet.

• Serve breakfast for dinner

• Make a special dessert or hand out fortune cookies

• Bring home a new pet (hermit crabs and betta fish count!)

These things don’t have to cost a fortune either. I find all kinds of treasures at the Goodwill and love to surprise the kids with them.

I think I picked up this habit from my husband. He surprises me regularly with small gifts or gestures. Sometimes it’s messages in unexpected places (my to-do list, my calendar). Sometimes it’s doing a chore for me, filling up my car with gas, or fixing something that’s broken that I never mentioned to him. Every once in a while, it’s even flowers. Little stuff, but it makes the ride more interesting. I just never know what might happen on a given day.

I hope my kids are developing this same belief. The belief that anything could happen today. Life is full of surprises. Sure, some of them stink. But you never know, the one after that might be amazing. You might wake up thinking you have a science test and a few hours later find yourself on an airplane bound for warmer places. So much of the time I’m nagging my kids, driving them, reminding them, disciplining them, lecturing them, but every now and then I surprise them. And that makes up for a lot of grumbling. It tells them that I love them so much I’m always thinking up ways to make them smile. They just never know what I might be planning. So they better be nice to me!

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