Week Fifteen: "Surprise!"

A few months ago, two of my wife’s best college girlfriends, Miranda and Chelle, approached me with a proposal.    They wanted to come into town and surprise Gabby for a special “girl’s weekend.”

For any uninitiated male readers out there, allow me define a girl’s weekend for you.  Think of it as a 72-hour book club meeting. Though I have never been formally invited, I have seen book club females in their natural habitat.  Their gatherings include the following: wine, lots of laughter, wine, indulgence in snacks that they normally forbid themselves to eat, simultaneous conversations, wine, more wine, discussions about crazy things their husbands do, whispers and eye rolls, surprised exclamations of “where did all the wine go!?”, and long goodbyes at the front door followed by someone saying,

“Oops!  We forgot to talk about the book!”

For the girl’s weekend, just add shopping.

I know this may sound like a nightmare to most of you fellas out there.  But trust me.  A girl’s weekend is the best thing you’ll ever do for your marriage.  We males simply do not have the capacity to absorb the number of words and complexity of emotion our wives have to offer.  It’s like trying to shove 50-pounds of raw bread dough into an empty beer can.  Try as you might, you’re still going to end up with a big, gooey mess.

But her girlfriends?  They take all that dough and knead it, nurture it, and bake it into the best rolls you ever tasted.  It’s sustenance to last your wife several months.

Her girlfriends wanted it to be a surprise.  “On the morning we arrive,” they said, “just tell her she has something to pick up at the airport, and we’ll be there!”   I was reluctant.  You see, Gabby loves to give surprises.  She loves the planning, preparation, and the ultimate “aha” moment when her plan comes together.  But receiving surprises is a different story.  I believe they all feel to her like winning an Academy Award, then realizing during the acceptance speech that you’re not wearing any pants. 

Against my better judgment, I agreed to the surprise.  My cover was that I was planning a special family weekend for us.  This announcement led to a Freaky Friday style body swap. Gabby took on the role of happy-go-lucky, carefree Scott.  I became the organized, planful Gabby.

This is not what God intended.

For me, planning involves lots of thinking, then walking to the refrigerator and opening the door, followed by expert procrastination.  In the three months leading up to the big weekend, I had consumed several pounds of leftovers, but not much else had been accomplished. 

A few days before their arrival, I had a Zen-like moment of clarity.  Since they couldn’t go shopping, I decided that my job would be to make sure everything at our house was taken care of so that once her friends arrived, Gabby wouldn’t have to think of a single thing besides enjoying their company. 

What followed was a frantic array of failure.  I tried to clean the house as Gabby might in preparation for a long-term guest.  I told her, “I’m handling everything for our family fun weekend.  But, assuming someone comes by to check on the plants while we’re gone, what would you want me to clean?”  She rattled off a list that started with vacuuming and ended with putting down wood floors in our linen closet.

I’m not kidding.

I only finished one-third of Gabby’s normal pre-trip cleaning checklist, and I felt like I had just birthed a walrus.  One hour after scouring the hall bath, I heard Audrey scream “Oh no!”.  I rounded the corner to see her watching a cascade of urine run down her legs, saturating the bathroom rugs I had just washed.  Jake added his own yellow design to the back of the toilet seat for good measure.

It was glorious.

I also committed to doing all of the errands Gabby had planned.  Shuttling kids around.  Dropping off paperwork.  Going to the bank, etc.  I think I ended up delivering our tax forms to the kid in our car pool, and trying to deposit a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the canister at the drive-thru teller.

This is definitely not what God intended.

The night before Miranda and Chelle were to arrive, I surprised Gabby with a note on her pillow.  It said, “There is no family trip.  Instead, you are to go to the airport tomorrow morning and pick up a special friend.  Be there by 9:30.”


Her gaze met mine.  Her face wore a complicated expression of anger (how could the love of my life have lied to me?), excitement (I wonder who my special friend is?) and Gabby’s Look of Mild DisapprovalTM (Scott didn’t clean out the refrigerator!). 

The next morning, I took the kids to school while Gabby got ready to meet her special friend.  I watched her in the mirror as she put on her eye liner.  Seeing her in a whole new light.  But her mind was elsewhere.  She caught me ogling her and said. 

“What have you done, Dannemiller?”

“What do you mean?  Aren’t you excited?”

“I’m sort of excited.”

“Why not completely excited?”

“Because, had I known someone was coming to stay at our house, I would have dusted the shelves in the playroom.  They’re filthy!”

When Gabby left the house, I got to work.  I wiped down a few shelves in the refrigerator so they would pass inspection.

Meanwhile, at the airport, Gabby was relishing a teary-eyed reunion with some of her best friends.  I had left a second, intriguing envelope in the car.


Inside was a surprise letter for Gabby and her friends telling them they could cash in Gabby’s unused spa certificate I had given her three years ago as an anniversary gift.  Side note: After taking over Gabby’s duties for just one weekend, I now see how an entire Presidential Administration could go by without her finding the time to get a massage.


* The lovely ladies.  Chelle, Gabby and Miranda.

They called to relay their thanks to me, and tell me they were on their way home.  I estimated I might have just enough time to grab the knock-off-brand Pledge and a rag and attack the book shelves, but I would be cutting it close.  I started in on the first shelf when my phone buzzed.  It was a text from Miranda.

“Um.  We might be getting a ticket.  L It’s mine and Chelle’s fault.  We were distracting her.”

Two thoughts came to mind.  First, now I have plenty of time to dust.  Second, bail bonds are not on the approved purchase list this year.

I texted back, “FYI… In case you were wondering, the hunky young cop is not part of the surprise.  Do NOT put any dollars in his waistband.”

Apparently, Gabby relayed this information to the State Trooper thinking it might get her out of a ticket.

It didn’t.

As I dusted in the playroom, I wanted to do a good job.  Twenty-four book shelves in all.  Each filled with stuff.  Some were crammed full of great children’s stories like “Oh No, Gotta’ Go” and “Tickle Monsters.”  There was no dust on top of or behind the books, so I carefully wiped in front of each one.  As my rag passed each spine, I remembered how much fun it is to sit on our couch and hear the kids beg me to give a special voice to every character.  In “The Gruffalo”, the mouse sounds a bit like Elmo.  The fox is a dead ringer for Larry the Cable Guy.  The Owl is from Bangalore.  And the snake is an odd mix of Sean Connery and Jimmy Stewart. 

I also do children’s parties.

Then there were the pictures.  I picked up each one and dusted underneath.  Thanks to Patrolman Riley/”Not-So-Magic” Mike, I now had some extra time to really see the photos that go unnoticed day-to-day.  They all brought back memories.  Friends young and old were all preserved in a moment in time.  Family.  Pics of the kids from when they were babies.  Smiling.  All bringing back happy memories.

Finally there were the shelves covered with trinkets.  These left a very different impression.   I tried to simplify the job by simply dusting around them, but it didn’t work.  Each one had to be moved and set down again.  Every time I picked one up, each seemed to ask, “What purpose do I serve?”  “Why do you keep me?”

The answer was always the same.

“I don’t know.”

These things just got in the way. Old awards and plaques once held pride and ego.  But all of that leaked out long ago.  And the decorations?   The effort required to maintain and transport them far exceeded the benefit of having them.  They were now just items that we had to maneuver around.  Getting in the way.

I finished the dusting five minutes before the girls walked through the door.  I was greeted with hugs and smiles. They were so ready to take on the weekend.  They came to visit Nashville.  Music City.  It’s a place where people come to see the sights. Hear some music.  Buy souvenirs.

And surprise!  They failed. 

Sure, they went out on the town.  But for the most part, they buried themselves in the couches and chairs.  Nonstop conversation.  It was like that for the entire weekend.  Plans came and went, falling victim to the desire to relax and just enjoy the company of one another.  Storytelling.  Catching up.  Connecting. 

Never once mentioning the shelves. 

Just as God intended.