I view surprise parties as the devil’s playground. In my experience, something always goes wrong. Today’s celebration for my father-in-law’s 75th birthday proved no exception.
Wisely, the triumvirate of party planners – my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and wife – kept me far removed from all party planning and preparation. To prevent me from gumming up the works, they limited my role to the simple task conveyed by Sophia: “Richard, just guard Prometheus and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble. That’s all!” I assured her I’d do my best.
My sister-in-law, Gina, volunteered to remove the birthday boy from the house while the guests assembled. She easily achieved the task. In Vito’s presence, she “happened” to mention her plan to buy supplies at Home Depot today. That’s his favorite store, and he volunteered to tag along, as expected. With Gina’s almost-four-year-old daughter in tow, Vito and his daughter-in-law departed for the land of home improvement late this morning.
According to Gina, the trouble began in the store’s lighting aisle, where little Maria threw a sudden tantrum. I still don’t know what incited the outburst. Frankly, I haven’t bothered to ask, since I’ve found it doesn’t take much for a young’un to go berserk. Whatever its cause, the episode quickly grew into a full-scale riot. Gina frantically attempted to quiet her child, but failed miserably. When other shoppers began to stare, the embarrassed mother lost her temper and dragged the screaming girl from the store.
The shopping expedition ended abruptly, but the tantrum did not. For most of the ride home, Maria wailed ceaselessly from her perch in the back seat, while her increasingly frazzled mother yelled at her to stop. By the time the kid interrupted her wails with a shout of “Mommy!,” Gina couldn’t think straight. She responded with a terse: “Shut up!”
Instead of shutting up as ordered, Maria called out again: “But Mommy! …”
At wit’s end, Gina once more told her child to zip it, adding: “If I hear one more word from you, you’re not going to Disneyland this year!”
Gina didn’t hear another peep the rest of the way home. Even so, she remained livid and out of sorts until the moment they walked through the front door … and family and friends poured from every nook and cranny shouting: “Surprise!”
Gina stopped short, took in the crowd, and blurted: “Oh shit!” Milliseconds later, as a pall of silence blanketed the room, Maria tugged her mother’s hand and announced: “Mommy, I tried to tell you; we forgot grandpa!”