4 Tips on How to Avoid a Surprise Party Going Wrong

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Kate Moynihan | 0 comments
The story:

This birthday, my husband, Larry was turning a big number. I thought, What’s more amazing than something unexpected?

Luckily, Larry is a creature of habit. Every morning he sips coffee with his friends at JP's, one of the local coffee houses. Afterwards, before the gallery is open for business, he strolls across the street, unlocks the front door, moseys into the darken shop, and heads downstairs to his office. Every day, same routine. That being said, I knew we could pull off a great surprise.

I rallied Allison, Larry’s daughter, my partner in the shop. That's right, the gal who was days away from moving to Colorado! As if she didn't have enough on her plate?!? But this was a milestone so I pushed. “I want to surprise your Dad for his birthday. Can you bring your kids unexpectedly to the gallery?”

“I suppose,” she said. "But I don't understand the surprise part."

"Well, every day he comes through that door,” I said, pointing to the front entrance. “It’s the perfect spot to catch him off guard! We can all be waiting there ready to yell ‘surprise!’ Can you get the kids here Wednesday, at 8:23, the morning of his birthday?”

She rolled her eyes at the thought of arousing summer vacation kids that early.

“And don't forget the grand-dogs, Taco and Finn!" I said, putting one more demand on the already-stressed-trying-to-pack-for-a-1200+ move gal.

Early Wednesday morning, Jackson, Lilly, Allison, and the grand-dogs all gathered. I also managed to get Brian, my son’s kids, Aislynn and Liam, at the shop, too. Mom snuck in from the independent living center so that made nine noses pressed to the front door window, each decked out in party hats and noise makers. A bundle of balloons bobbed about. 

We waited.

9:23 – no Larry.

9:25 ticked by.

9:30 – nothing.

“Where do you think he is?” Jackson asked as his eyebrows wrinkled with worry.

“I don’t know. He’s never late,” I said.

9:33 – nobody.

From behind we heard a rustle at the BACK door. The dogs’ ears perked up. Larry's shadow filled the door frame. 

Instantly chaos struck.Taco spun in a circle and bolted to the back. Barking at his heels, Finn pursued. Racing to catch up, the grade-schoolers toppled over the toddlers, yet they quickly bounced to their feet and thundered their way to the back as the bundle of balloons bounced behind, ricocheting off chandeliers and cabinet tops. Mom shuffled with her walker while everyone shouted “Surprise! " even though the birthday surprise was not on Larry. It was on us!

Finally, when the hubbub settled down, I asked. “Why did you come in the back door?”

Larry shrugged. “I dropped my buddy, Paul, off at the auto repair shop, so I parked on 9th street today,” he said.

All we could do was laugh. The cake was still scrumptious.

4 tips to avoid a surprise party going wrong:

Don't count on predictability. It is good to "plan" the event around a routine of the guest of honor, but realize if it is to be a true surprise, something may go wrong.

Consider those near the guest leading up to the event. Think through anyone and everyone that may impact the event. Ask yourself who will be near the guest an hour before, minutes before? Larry is such a creature of habit, I never thought to include his coffee buddy, Paul, in the caper.

Have a back up plan. If you're counting on one individual to "guide" the guest of honor to the event, consider a second option as a fall-back plan. I could have had someone step into the coffee shop and say he had a delivery for the gallery but the front door was locked. Could Larry open it?

Entertain those waiting. I never thought how I would keep toddlers, school-age kids, frisky pups, and my eighty-nine-year-old mom wedged in a door frame. Since you'll need to get people to the party early, think about games you play when you're traveling on a long distant road trip. Even for an all adult party, I-spy can keep them fairly quiet.

Let me know if you've had better luck pulling off a surprise? 

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