It was the first time I had considered this. As I mentioned a week or two ago, Plantboy and I are planning a trip "home" in April. My mom also turns 60 in March, but knowing that we would see them later in the spring I hadn't considered coming for either of their birthdays. After mom and I hung up, I checked Delta for fares and I was pleased about the affordability. Especially if mom was willing to go halves. After a surprisingly easy number of arrangements, I boarded a plane, BY MYSELF, in Portland on Friday. (I hadn't been alone in the airport for thirty minutes when I'd bought a hamburger, Dr. Pepper and the most luscious, chocolaty, $4 cookie you have ever seen. Now do you understand why it is bad, very bad, for me to spend too much time alone?)
After a lovely two-hour conversation with an Indian woman who is a mechanical engineer, Mom picked me up at the airport, and filled me in on the plans for the surprise party. She was trying to figure out a way to get Dad out of the house Saturday afternoon so that she could go to the party room at the restaurant and decorate it. I suggested, very unselfishly I might add, that he and I could go skiing for the afternoon. It would be no problem to borrow my sister's gear and get him out of the way for a few hours. She agreed and then we talked about how to convince him that he wanted to eat at a Mexican place he only has marginal feelings for. It had been a long day and she said, with no small amount of impatience, "I don't care if he's happy; I just want him to be surprised!" That became the mantra for the weekend.
About an hour later I walked into my dad's kitchen and said, "Surprise!" The look on his face was priceless. One surprise down.
He was so thrilled and distracted to see me that convincing him of the rest was easy. "You don't want to go to Cabella's on your birthday, Dad! I'm never here--we should go skiing!" Um, okay. "You don't want to go to a steakhouse on your birthday, Dad! I'm never here--and I'm really craving Mexican food!" Um, okay.
Skiing was fantastic. The day was sunny, clear and almost warm. The snow wasn't too icy or crusty, though it hasn't snowed for a week, and we met people from all over the country. It struck me more powerfully than ever before just how lucky I was to grow up where I did and with the opportunities I had. It is impossible for me to imagine a happier way to help the first man in my life celebrate his birthday. When I was growing up, my mom and sister hated to ski, and it was always my special thing I got to do with the boys. My abilities are extremely average, but there is nothing better to clear the mind than cruising as fast as you dare straight downhill until your breath won't come any more, and then stopping on a ridge and looking out as far as you can see past layer upon layer of mountains, gulping great gasps of frigid air.
Not all was perfection, however; the muscles in my thighs don't really think that skiing is an activity that should be attempted biennially. My older brother and I have begun to think that there are some activities that we just have to do more often or quit all together. I'm voting for more often. It has worked for my dad--he could have outskiied me by at least six runs yesterday though he is nearly twice my age.
At the ski shop I bought a sticker for my dad to put on his helmet, so that he always remembers what he did the day he turned 60. And I had to have this hat. Isn't it just so cute?
That night we made it to the restaurant, just when Mom and I wanted to, but frustratingly late for my dad. He was fuming because he kept saying that we'd never get back home in time to meet the other kids for ice cream and cake at 7:30 as late as we were leaving. We smiled and stalled and acted in all ways innocent of any plotting.
The surprise over my appearance was nothing compared to seeing a roomful of family in the place he least expected them. I thought my mom was going to have to go after the defibrillator paddles. Six of my dad's brothers were there with their spouses, a couple of nieces and nephews, his mother, three of his children and/or their spouses, and six of his nine grandchildren. Dinner was a little better than marginal, and the company was fantastic. After my dad recovered from the shock a bit, one of his brothers called out, "I hope you brought your Visa!"
The weekend has been lovely, irresponsible and different. My dad is now highly suspicious of anything anyone tells him, having been lied to so many times this week, but I'm sure he'll get over it. I think I'm missing my kiddos, and I will return to them rested, rejuvenated and re-committed.
Happy birthday, Bean Boy!