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April 30, 2011

Some surprises aren't found in the surprise itself

I turned 40 earlier this month.

Some of you may have thought that I was well into my 40s, possibly even approaching my half-century mark. I blame my gray hair, sun-damaged skin and general gravitas.

My college students are wondering how I manage to walk around and drive myself places, now that I am so old. Those older than me are telling me to live it up while my knees still work. My own children keep pointing out that I am now the oldest sentient being in the house.

I'm fine with all of this. Turning 40 certainly beats the alternative, which is being dead. Besides, I can now officially not care what anyone thinks if I wear comfortable shoes to formal functions.

Because these milestone birthdays only come around every 10 years, we tend to go all out in our house. My husband threw a surprise party for me when I turned 30. But I did not expect him to do the same this time around. Surprises are harder, now, what with the everyday business of having two younger kids.

On my big day, which fell in the middle of the week, we went out to dinner at Boudreaux and Thibodeaux on Main Street. Partly, it was because we kept meaning to eat there. Mostly, it was because they had a couple of things on the menu we thought the kids would eat.

After we'd eaten, my husband and I did that thing that most parents do after a meal, which is give a brief run-down of how the rest of the evening will play out.

"You guys are going to get baths," I said, "then it'll be time for bed."

"But what about the surprise?" the Boy asked.

My husband's face froze.

"We're supposed to go to Michael's house and have cake and a surprise," he insisted.

"We decided not to do that," the Diva countered. "Remember?" If she could have kicked him under the table, she would have.

"Yup," my husband said. "Change of plans."

"But there was going to be a surprise," the Boy said, and mumbled about how he was told there would be a surprise. He kept this up for a few minutes. Then, we thought, dropped it.

Until we were driving past his much older buddy Michael's house, which reminded the Boy that he'd been wronged.

"Daddy lied to me," he groused. "We were supposed to have a surprise."

For the next couple of days, he did this every time we drove past the house in question. Each time he sounded more betrayed by the lies his father had told him.

I may not be the most observant crayon in the box, but I did clue into the possibility that plans were afoot. I went so far as to ask my husband the next day if there was a surprise planned. To which he responded: what surprise?

While I don't want to suggest that denial about every aspect of the relationship is the key to a happy marriage, I would like to point out that sometimes a little informed denial isn't the worst thing ever. I did my best to play along.

Since we'd planned to go to a late birthday dinner with Michael's parents on Saturday, I figured any surprise would happen after we'd dined.

Which is why on the Saturday in question, I hadn't planned on getting out of the car when we drove down to pick them up. I intended to stay put to get the Boy's booster seat out of the way so that two adult-sized people could sit in the back. Also, I was starving and ready to get to the restaurant as quickly as traffic laws would allow.

"You should come in," my husband said, looking a little defeated.

And so I did.

And their living room was full of people, all of whom I knew and quite a few of whom I hadn't seen in quite some time. There were plates full of barbecue and homemade sides and a cake with black frosting to signify my incipient decay. We had margaritas and a bonfire. Almost all of us were wearing sensible shoes.

It was marvelous and wonderful.

But, no, the party wasn't a complete surprise. What was a surprise was how loved it made me feel.

The next day, my husband did explain to the Boy that he hadn't been lied to.

The Boy remains unconvinced.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," last year. Her columns can be found at

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