During this month since Thanksgiving, I have lied, lied and lied some more. I have lied to my family about the head count for Christmas Eve and to my cousin in Florida about my plans for the next day. I have lied to our friends and neighbors who extended kind invitations to join their families for dinner with ham and turkey and all the fixins. I even lied to my hairdresser who asked if there was any chance my children might be home for the holiday.
No,” I lied. “My kids can’t make it. They’re too far away. They have to work. They can’t afford to fly cross-country for just a few days.”
She smiled and gave me a hug.
“Well, maybe next year,” she said.
I lied big. I lied small. But the untruths were worth it. My kids were coming home to surprise their Dad on his 70th birthday on Christmas Eve.
This plan hatched while Jim and I were in Colorado for Thanksgiving with our daughter, Kate. I called my son to wish him a Happy Turkey Day and remind him of his dad’s big December birthday.
“How about buying a card and splurging on a postage stamp?” I asked.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone.
“Hey, Mom. Remember your 60th birthday?”
“I do,” I replied. “I walked downstairs in the morning and found you there in the kitchen, holding a dozen roses. Your father had just picked you up at the bus station after the red-eye flight. The two of you were so excited that you had pulled this off.”
“I want to do this for Dad’s birthday. I want to come home!”
God love him, I thought.
I hung up the phone and waited for my daughter to come back from her afternoon run.
“Todd called,” I said.
“How’s everything going? Did he go to Amanda’s for Thanksgiving and deep-fry a turkey? Terrify her parents as he slowly plunged a twenty- pound bird into a vat of boiling oil?”
We both laughed, remembering a holiday several years ago when we were all together in Palm Springs and Todd had introduced us to this alternative method of cooking the big bird.
“Yes, he’s up with Amanda’s family. And he sent a video of the turkey being lowered into the pot. Amanda’s dad was looking on from a distance. I think there was a bit of fear in his eyes.”
“Brings back memories, Mom. Doesn’t it?”
We both smiled.
“Your brother wants to come home for Dad’s birthday. For Christmas. I told him I’d buy his ticket. So I want to make the same offer to you.”
She was seated on the floor, doing her apres running stretches. She stopped and flashed me that million-dollar smile.
“I am absolutely IN!” she exclaimed.
The secrecy and the lies began. We all agreed that there would be no mention of this plan in an e-mail or a text. Phone calls only and pre-arranged at a time when Jim was not home. My daughter, son and his girlfriend coordinated their airline reservations from California and Colorado so that they arrived in Boston within an hour of each other. I even dragged my best friend, Eileen, into the plot. She would track their flights and be ready for their arrival in Dover. All texts, e-mails and phone calls would be between them. I would not be in the loop so there was no chance Jim could see a message or overhear a phone call.. She would get them home for the big surprise.
Throughout this time, I lied to my husband on an almost daily basis. I lied about everything; UPS deliveries, the post office, food and alcohol. All lies!
Jim: Where are all these boxes coming from?
Me: From the kids. We have a system. You wrap the boxes addressed to “Nancy.” Those are their presents for me. All the other boxes I’ll take care of. Looks like they’re spending some big bucks on us this year, huh? (LIE) All those presents were for the kids and him.
Jim: When are you going to have their boxes ready to ship? It’s almost the fifteenth?
Me: I bought all their presents on Amazon. Had them wrapped and shipped for free! (LIE) I was wrapping all those presents and hiding them in the kids’ bedrooms and my office closet.
Jim: What about their stockings? We need to get those in the mail.
Me: I took them to the post office the day you went skiing. Lots of extra time now that I’m retired. (LIE) Extra time? You’re kidding, right?
JIM: How come you put two dozen eggs on the shopping list?
Me: For Christmas morning. Eggs Benedict.
Jim: We’re eating two dozen Eggs Benedict?
Me: And I’m making cookies for our guests. A nice little Christmas tin of chocolate crinkles to remind them of their Grammy Mabel. ( LIE) Like I really have time to bake cookies for our family? I just finished doing four dozen for the neighborhood cookie swap.
Jim: How come there’s five bottles of Prosecco in the hallway fridge?
Me: There was a sale on Italian wines at the liquor store.
JIM: But five bottles for you and me on Christmas morning?
Me: I said it was on SALE. And you might get lucky!! (LIE) On SALE, maybe. Lucky on Christmas morning? Hmmm…
And so it went. The tree was up and decorated, the candles glowed in each darkened window. We cleaned the house and decorated each room with swags and tiny white lights. Jim borrowed tables and rented chairs so that we could all sit down together for our Christmas Eve dinner.
All the plans were going smoothly until The Weather Channel announced that winter storm Ethan was coming across the Rockies to the Midwest and then onto the Northeast. Snow and freezing rain were scheduled for the early morning hours of December 23rd…the arrival time of the big birthday surprise!
I switched channels; all the weather forecasts were the same.
I went up to bed around 11 o’ clock, the same time the kids would be boarding their planes. As much as I wanted to check the airlines, I knew that I couldn’t risk being on the computer as long as Jim was awake. I went down the hallway and sent a quick text to Eileen: “If icy, call taxi.” It was all up to them now.
I woke to the sound of the morning before I could see the new day. Ping, ping, ping! Icy pellets against the windows. I lay in bed and waited for the gray morning light. Five new inches of snow covered the deck railing and now it was being glazed with a layer of ice.
I went downstairs, turned on the electric kettle and quickly checked my e-mail. Nothing. All the tv channels were reporting storm news: delays, cancellations, accumulations. But so far, the airport was open. Jim came downstairs, made coffee and we discussed our “to do” lists for the morning. I carried my phone around with me as I set the table for Christmas Eve and wrapped a few last presents. Finally, at 8:31 there was a message from Eileen: “package on its way. delivery scheduled for mid-morning.” I hit the delete button.
At 11:00 am the phone rang.
“Hi there. How’s it going?” asked Eileen.
“Fine,” I said in my best chatty voice. “Busy, busy but we’re getting there. How’s the weather up your way?”
“I’m on my way to Portland. But I have Jim’s birthday gift and I’d really like him to have it today. Can I stop by for just a minute?”
“No problem,” we both said. Jim headed upstairs to brush his teeth.
I paced around the kitchen, looking at the snow-covered street and the driveway that had not been plowed. A few minutes later Eileen’s car inched its way down the street and broke through the end of the driveway. The three kids scrambled out of the car and raced for the back door.
Inside the mudroom, we hugged and squeezed without making a sound. I told them Dad was upstairs.
“We’ll stay right here,“ Todd whispered. “You and Eileen go into kitchen.”
The upstairs door closed and Jim started down the stairs. Eileen and I were in an animated conversation about the roads and freezing rain.
“Hey there, birthday boy. I just wanted to stop by with your present before I head out of town for Christmas. It’s in the hallway.”
Jim followed her through the door.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” we all yelled.
“HOLY SHIT,” he said. He looked from the kids to Eileen and then to me.
And then we were all over him and each other. Laughing and crying and hugging and jumping up and down.
“I can’t believe this,” he said. “How did you get here?”
“Mom,” they said. “And Eileen,” Kate added.
“And with a whole bunch of very, Merry Christmas lies!!,” I said.