The Surprise Was On Us.

A little back story:

I have been thinking about this story since it happened almost three years ago.  It wasn't until this past fall when I attended a writing conference that it fully came back to me. I met so many lovely people. Two of them, Alexander Peterson and Sarah Chun, befriended me for no apparent reason. They are both talented, young, and brimming with joy. Being around them simply made me smile. But I had something to offer them as well, which was no shortage of parenting stories. Why some hip young professionals felt compelled to listen I have no idea, but when I told them this story both said, "Lisa, you MUST write this down!" They laughed, they teared up, they giggled. Maybe it was that I can play to an audience, or maybe the story was just that fun.

And so I have been toying with it ever since and even found a contest to enter. Do you all remember Erma Bombeck?  I found THIS writing contest and thought it would be sufficient motivation to not just get the story down, but to get it down in the best possible way. However, the stipulation was 450 words. Have you ever tried to tell a story in 450 words? It's haaard!  I took it to the fire with my writing group. With each cut made, I felt and my writing group agreed, the essence of the story became lost. I tooled around for other contests and frankly, just gave up.
But I need some sparkle on my blog. Life on our ranch has been a little bit stressful so I have decided to post it here. It's fun. It's real. It's so clearly my life as a parent. Things certainly go awry, even good things, when you lose site of the kids you actually have and get caught up in what YOU think or what YOU want to happen. Lesson learned.

Enjoy!  Please let me know what you think!

The Surprise Was On Us

“All I want for Christmas, mom, is to be a wizard.”

You and me both, kid. I would love to be a wizard. Hand me a wand and I will work that baby better than Mr. Potter and friends .Cleaning, meals, laundry, and photo organizing? Done, done, done, and done!

But, yes. This was the request from my little girl in her 4th grade year when she reached the pinnacle of Hogwarts immersion.The books had been read and the movies watched multiple times. Sometimes, for total Hogwarts immersion, she would listen to the books on cd while reading. She would stumble out of her room not quite sure where she was but clearly knowing where she wanted to be and 90 Hillsdale Court was not it. We knew all things Harry would be on her Christmas list but becoming a wizard was not a request we had anticipated. What would Santa-abiding parents to do?
We trolled the internet for capes and books about magic for muggles. We fought off patrons of Target like the zealots we were for the last Hogwarts Lego set available...and lost. We bought notebooks and t-shirts and cocoa mugs and a Gryffendor scarf and even, gulp, a new set of books. Not as a replacement, mind you, but just so she could hold the book without refastening the well worn gray duct tape holding it together. We could get almost anything, but there was a distinct lack of wizarding skills under the tree that year and she was not the only one who was disappointed.

So during her 5th grade year with Harry’s magic resolutely still simmering inside, we decided to take her and her brother to Universal Studios in Florida to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

To understand how big this was for us, you have to understand that my husband’s idea of fun is traipsing through woods looking for mushrooms with a well worn hockey stick given to him by his grandfather. My idea of fun is a stack of books, 10 deep, and no people or plans in my future. Disney people we are not.

But the pull to somehow fulfill this girl’s dream was too strong. We now believe she must have cast some spell on us….how else could we explain our actions?

We became covert and giddy with anticipation. We had decided to surprise them. We left the day our kids got out of school for spring break. We told the kids that dad did not have any time off, but that we would do something special. They had always wanted to go the water park by the Mall of America, a fate that did not thrill either of us ever, and so this was the perfect hook. Our kids could not believe their luck.

“Really? We’re going to the water park by the Mega Mall? Can we go to LegoLand too?”

“Uh...maybe,” I said. “You might be having too much fun at the waterpark and you won’t want to leave”

As we headed north from our little berg in Southeast MN one thing became clear. Our kids were not onto us at all.

My daughter is a rule follower, a map reader, a by-the- book kid. Once introduced to a pattern, it becomes her law. Veering from it can be tricky and we coach her as best we can. She had grown up driving to Minneapolis and while we had never directly discussed routes we were taking, all along she had been paying attention. When we reached what was supposed to be our exit, she yelled, “ Dad! You missed our turn. This is the wrong exit!” The anxiety was clear and present.

“Hey,” I said, softly, “It’s ok. I think we will do something a bit different instead”

“What!” screeched my son from the other back seat. “You told us we were going to the water park! And I want to go to LegoLand, too. I won’t be too tired!”

My husband shot me a sideways grin that was...tentative.

My daughter continued to narrate the troubles as she saw them.

“Dad! This is the airport! We are going to the Mega Mall. You have to get over in the next lane!”

“Well,” I jumped in while trying to videotape this awesome surprise turned travesty.
Yes. I had developed a stutter in less than eight seconds and the pitch of my voice rose with each question I attempted.

“How about we go on a plane? To Florida? To Universal Studios and, you know, see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? How about that?”
The silence and my heartbeat competed for decibel levels.
My son started to cry. And then moan.Finally, through clenched teeth he ground out, “ liar.”

“Huh?” I asked.

"I am not a liar. My teacher is going to think I am a liar. I wrote in my journal that we were going to a water park. And maybe LegoLand if we weren’t tired. I told her I would not be too tired for LegoLand. I am not a liar,mom!”

“Ben” I said in my most soothing voice,”It’s ok. She knows. I told her because we are going to be gone one extra day.”

“WHAT?? SHE’S a liar! She knew! I told her where we are going and she said that sounded fun and all the while she knew? My teacher is a liar!”

I look at my husband and soon we are laughing and deep down, not one bit surprised. Too caught up in our own excitement, we had forgotten everything we knew to be true about our kids.
About this time, Lucy started peppering us with questions and travel concerns not fit for a ten year old.

“What time does our flight leave? Did you bring our clothes? We may need a swimsuit. Do you have a swimsuit for me? How far away is our gate mom? Last time we were on a plane, we had to walk a long ways. Here, dad. Park the car in this ramp. It’s the closest one. I‘ll remember it.”

There is a saying which states that when people show you who they are believe them. Our daughter, from birth, has been about schedules and knowing what lies ahead. In crisis, she really doesn’t fret but she likes answers. We have always tried to anticipate her questions so we can help ease any concerns.

And my son was in second grade where the truth is a big deal. Eight year olds are experimenting with their abilities to sort fact from fiction and their role in creating it. I don’t need to tell you he was firmly on the side of truth.
So, no. This was not a good way to surprise our kids.

In fact, a surprise of this magnitude for our kids was quite possibly the worst idea we had ever had in our parenting history.

Once everyone was able to separate fact from fiction, identify the departure gate and confirm that all necessities for a Florida trip were packed, it became easy to jump in to the reality of the trip. I am happy to report the magic of Hogwarts cast a spell on all of us. And that's no lie.


  1. Have you ever done something you thought sure was just going to dazzle your child only to discover you totally ignored otherwise obvious traits about your child in the name of your wants? Please tell me I am not the only one! Please!


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