Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to Strengthen Relationships by Using Surprise

Have you ever walked through your living room door on your birthday and had people scare you by yelling “Surprise!” and tossing confetti in the air? How did you feel? A little embarrassed? A little awkward? A lot loved?

“I was loving you even when you didn’t know I was loving you!” is what a surprise really says.

How many times a day do you think about your spouse? Your children? Your mom, dad, or siblings? Probably many more times than they will ever know. Would it shock you to know how many times a day people think about YOU? Do you know there are people who think of you during the day, people of whom you are totally unaware?

A surprise brings an unaware moment into full awareness. It says, “While you were doing something else, I thought of you and was planning a way to show you how much I care.”

A surprise is an intimate connection, even though it may be exhibited in public, or by many people at once.

A surprise brings joy to the giver and a feeling of being appreciated to the recipient.

What a Surprise is NOT….

If you’ve never surprised someone, let me enlighten you on how NOT to do it.

A surprise is NOT sneaking into the bathroom at night while your little sister is taking a shower and shutting off the light. And when she steps out and reaches for the light switch, DON’T have your hand covering it. Bad surprise. [My brother.]

A surprise is NOT finding some red food coloring, then dripping it down your arm, and running up to your mother screaming, “Mom, I got bit by a bat!” [My brother again.]

A surprise is NOT playing hookey from school, then tying a string to a kitchen chair so that when your sister comes home from school to find a snack, you can yank on the string from your hidden vantage point, sending the chair flying across the room, and your sister flying out the back door screaming. [ Hmm…my brother?]

A surprise is NOT walking into the produce section of the grocery store ahead of your wife, turning the intermittent vegetable mister outward, then watching as your wife gets misted instead of the vegetables when it comes on. [Sigh… My brother. They’re divorced.]

A surprise is NOT putting baby mice in your sister’s bed. [Surprise! This was NOT my brother. This was my mom’s brothers.]

THIS is how you pull off Exquisite Surprises

Years ago, my mom expressed a wish to see Wayne Newton. Knowing that I would not be able to take her to Vegas, I filed that desire into the back of my brain card catalog drawer.

Oddly enough, shortly thereafter, I heard that Wayne Newton was coming to the big City of Sioux. I hauled myself down to the auditorium to snag up some tickets.

I called my mom and asked her if I could meet her for lunch the next day. She was working so I met her outside at a picnic table on her break. I had told her not to pack a lunch because I would be supplying.

As she bit into the sandwich I had provided, she got a strange look on her face. She peeked between the slices of bread to find two Wayne Newton tickets wrapped in plastic.

Now wasn’t that fun, ladies and gentlemen? I could have simply told her that I was taking her to Wayne Newton, but it was much more amusing for her to bite into him. She was the star of the day at work as her co-workers all gathered around to laugh with her.

Last week, my son came home from school, ravenous as usual. He raided the fridge, as we all do, expecting that during his absence, the Food Fairy had magically stocked the box with chocolate pudding, root beer, blue jello, chicken nuggets, bubblegum yogurt, and Boston Creme pie. Finding only celery, strawberries, leftover hamburger, milk, broccoli, pepper jack cheese and various condiments, he whined, “Don’t we have anything to eat?”

Enter the sneaky mother. “I saved one peanut butter ball for you. It’s in the freezer.”

“Just one? OK, I’ll have it after I unload my school bag.”

Because it was his birthday, I had made him a baseball sized peanut butter ball, as opposed to the quarter sized ones I usually make. The look on his face as he opened the freezer was priceless. He’s been gnawing on it all week. Today, a week later, he finally finished the last of it.

I was at work about seven years ago, taking care of customers. During a lull, the phone rang. It was Daughter M.

She needlessly asked if I had my Franklin Planner handy. Pshaw.

“Open it to April 17 (or whatever day it was.)” I was used to her asking me to put important dates in my planner so that I could remind her, so I did as she asked without question.

“Now write, ‘I am going to Riverdance.’”

“You’re going to Riverdance?” I asked with supreme awe in my voice.

“No, silly. I told you to write I am going to Riverdance.”

My co-workers thought I had gone crazy as I did the dance of joy right there in the office.
Do I have an amazing daughter, or what?


Not only do I have one amazing daughter, but Holy Schnikey I’ve got two of them!

Daughter K was in college in South Dakota a few years ago. I had not seen her since she graduated from high school the previous year. It was spring break and she was unloading on me about how she was going to spend the entire break working at her two jobs, to try to save some money. I empathized with her, having done the work-every-minute-I’m-not-in-school stint myself years ago. I wished I were not in Utah, several states away, so that I could be there to help her.

Daughter M was over for a visit one afternoon. She was in a different room chatting with Computer Geek. I was at my computer, checking email. Suddenly there were hands over my eyes. I accused M, only to hear an offended gasp. It was definitely not M’s gasp. I turned around and K was standing there. She had plotted with Computer Geek over the past week to come out to Utah for a visit during her break. Even M was shocked. She had been in the living room when she saw K walking across the yard, and blurted “That’s my sister!” Luckily Computer Geek shushed her in time and I didn’t hear a thing.

While I had spent the last two days feeling sorry about her work schedule, she was traveling to surprise me.

That surprise meant so much to me, so much more than if she had simply called me and arranged to come out.


About 2 hours away from our house is an exciting play palace called Trafalga Square. It’s a child’s dream home, complete with bumper cars, batting cages, mini golf, ice cream shop and arcade. Every time we had a shopping trip planned in that city, and we passed Trafalga Square, Jeremiah would lament, “Please can we go there today?”

Being loving parents, we would always reply, “Not today. Maybe some other time.”

One fine Saturday, we were very tricksy. Computer Geek and I told Jeremiah that we needed to go out of town to buy some supplies. The two-hour trip is always boring enough, but to know that he was going to be subjected to adult shopping was excruciating.

After driving for two hours, we turned at the Trafalga Square exit. His little eyes popped open widely.

“Where are we going?” he asked hopefully.

“Aw there’s some store around here that we’re looking for.”

He resigned himself to the fact that this was going to be time number 27 that we passed Trafalga Square without stopping.

Except we didn’t. We pulled into the Trafalga Square parking lot and told him that this was his day. We still talk about the magical experience we all witnessed that Saturday.

During a rousing game of mini-golf, Jeremiah swatted at the ball with his club. He struck a little too exuberantly and the ball bounced off the green, over a small wooden border and down toward a pool of water. We were starting to tell him that he would have to go inside to get a new ball, when suddenly the ball flew back over the wooden fence, bounced back onto the green, and made a hole in one! The only explanation we had was that the ball struck the cement curb, which sent it back over the fence. Or, an angel was sitting by the pool, caught the ball, lobbed it back over the fence, and laughed. Yeah.

He has never forgotten that surprise day, full of parental love. (See accompanying photo after the implausible shot.)


One thing you should know about Computer Geek is that by the very nature of being a Computer Geek, he is subject to many phone calls, all from friends requesting free computer service.

He gets these types of calls every week:

“My monitor went out. Do you have a spare one lying around that I can have?”

“My email is not working. I need you to come over right away.”

“You said you would come check out my sound card as soon as you could. That was yesterday and you still haven’t come.”

“I know it’s midnight, but this is urgent.”

Free. Yes, Free. (Computer geeks of the world, you know what I’m talking about, right?)

Last year, Computer Geek was turning 5-0. I thought this would be a good time to have a party, giving all his friends a chance to show their appreciation.

But…how to get him to the party? Since I was a teacher at the elementary school, I told him that we were having a school book fair, and requested that he show up at the school after work, to support me while I tried to sell some books. It was to be held three days before his birthday.

He fell for it!

It wasn’t until he got closer to the building that he suspected something. When he walked in, he was greeted by over 60 friends all yelling, “Surprise!” For the next two hours, we ate, played musical trivia and expressed appreciation for someone who gives on average, 15 hours a week helping others with computer issues. For free.


Two years ago near Christmas, Daughter M asked me if just she and I could spend a special day alone, to celebrate my birthday. She said she wanted to take me shopping in Provo, then out to dinner in Salt Lake City. We arranged to have the spouses take care of kids, and off we went.

It was nice to spend driving time just chatting with a lovely daughter. She took me out to lunch before we shopped. While chowing at California Pizza, M got a phone call from a mutual friend. After she hung up, she presented a dilemma.

“Mom, Jake left his Blackberry at the airport last week. He knew we were going out to eat in Salt Lake tonight and wants to know if we will pick it up. One of the stewardesses has it set aside for him. Do you have any objections to stopping by the airport for him?”

I had no problem with it, so after we ate, we went shopping. M bought me a new pair of black Skecher shoes. She was taking a lot of phone calls, but I thought nothing was out of the ordinary because she manages 120 people at work.

Shortly before it was time to wrap up our shopping and head to Salt Lake for dinner, M received another call. This time she handed it to me, saying “It’s K” (my other daughter in South Dakota.)

K: “Hi Mom. What are you doing?”
Me: “M and I are just doing some shopping and now we are headed off to dinner. What are you up to?”
K: “Oh, I’m just sitting at the Sioux Falls airport.”
Me: “Why are you at the airport? Meeting someone?”
K: “No, actually I have to go to Salt Lake City and my flight is delayed.”
Me: “M and I are going to Salt Lake City! What are you going to Salt Lake City for?”

It took me a second and then I said, “Jake didn’t really leave his phone at the airport, did he?” My sneaky daughters had surprised me. M had paid for K to come visit us for Christmas. Had her flight not been delayed, she would have surprised me at the airport while we were there supposedly picking up Jake’s phone. Now, she would still be meeting us in 2 hours.

We had a wonderful week together as we celebrated Christmas. The trip shopping with M was enjoyable enough, but was accentuated by the wonderful surprise by my two girls.

All of these surprises mean something—that the recipient was loved and thought about, even when he or she had no clue. These surprises bind us to each other and strengthen our relationships as we show love and appreciation for those we care about.

Do surprises have to be elaborate?

No. I was once surprised by a gift of simple purple ink pen, given to me by someone I knew. He said, “I knew you loved pens and I knew purple was your favorite color, so I got this for you.” A simple act, yet it spoke volumes.

This week, as your mom, or husband, or daughter or co-worker crosses your mind, resolve to surprise them in some way. Let them know you were thinking of them.
Send a postcard. Drop off a batch of cookies. Kidnap a friend and take her to a movie.
Or buy someone a purple pen.

Have you ever been surprised by someone who loves you?


  1. You have a family full of surprises! Thanks for the surprise tips! I agree that it's nice to surprise someone you love. I need to do that more often. I think it's great how you surprised your mom with the Wayne Newton tickets. I also loved Riverdance. Great Post Randi!

  2. septembermom: I think I get as much fun out of planning surprises as I do being the "victim." Luckily, I haven't had any surprises backfire yet. Yeah, my mom absolutely adored Wayne Newton's concert. And if you don't tell anyone, I will let you in on a little secret: I really enjoyed him too. Shhh...

  3. hehe...I've heard myself say I don't like surprises but you make them sound like fun. You're just full of mischief, aren't you, Ms. Randi!?

  4. Brenda: Heh heh heh--you have no idea! Surprises really ARE fun though. Unless of course they are being perpetrated by a impish brother! You don't have one of those hanging around, do you?

  5. You're so good at surprises. I love the peanut butter ball for your son. What a great mom you are. No wonder you get Riverdance.

  6. Controlling My Chaos: The nice thing about the peanut butter ball is that it doubles as a weapon. Yeah, what a surprise THAT is, huh? :) Thanks for the nice words!

  7. You write brilliantly, Randi - I get drawn right in and disappointed when the posts end. Your scope is vast; few folk can take me from the contents of their fridge to an airport and back with such ease.

    I love surprising my family, but I'm not good with surprises myself. Comes from being a sad old control freak, I guess.I also hate disappointing folk if I don't like something they've gone to a lot of trouble or expense or effort with. My eyes give a lot away.

    No wonder your girls turned out so tricksy...their mum's an expert!The love in your family's an inspiration to all of us.

    But what is a peanut butter ball??!

  8. Janice: I feel so honored to receive compliments from you on my writing, because you are very much an in-demand blogger because of your writing. Thank you ever so much.

    I think I'm tricksy because my mom was a very sneaky surpriser. It's in the genes. :)

    Here ya go on the peanut butter ball:

    Take some peanut butter, however much you want. I use Adam's organic peanut butter, however, any cheap imitation will do. Throw it in a bowl that is big enough to hold your peanut butter. (Important step.)

    Add some powdered milk, enough to cover the peanut butter. Don't put away the powdered milk yet. You will still need it.

    Cover the mixture with honey.

    Stir all the ingredients with a fork or spoon. You will need to lick this so don't use a knife.

    If it's too sticky, throw in some more powdered milk. It should end up being play-dough consistency ( in case you want to make sculptures with it.)

    If it's too dry and crumbly, drizzle in some more honey.

    Take the peanut butter play-dough and form balls, however big your heart desires.

    Some people also add coconut or M&Ms or sunflower seeds for added texture, or roll them in liquid chocolate, the kind that hardens later.

    Put them in the freezer. If you leave them out, the oil from the peanut butter seeps and makes them kind of messy. When ready to eat, let sit for about 2-3 minutes or it will be really hard to explain to the dentist how you broke your teeth on peanut butter.

    Baseball sized balls are usually for special occasions.

  9. HI Randi, i never knew until i saw your post that it's not me who only enjoys the surprises and backfiring it on others. I would love to share it with you!
    The best one was on my b'day which is on 4th of july,last year, my sister got her hands on a "Louis Vuitton" wallet for me, well after few weeks I lost the wallet, and cried bitterly over that lost!

    this year on july 4th i got a "bag like thing" wrapped in a glittery paper... when i cut the cake and and opened it.. what i saw was.. the biggest patent cow hide bag of Louis Vuitton... wat my sister said was "now its too big you just can't loose it anywhere.."

    Randi i cant express, I was so ecstatic then.. my b'day was more than a celebration for me... and I take it to my college carrying law books in it! i feel simply great...

    surprises are soooo beautiful! thanks for sharing yours with us..

    I'm your new follower.. I would like to enrich my reading list with your presence.

    love Naqvee

  10. Naqvee: Thank you so much for stopping by to visit. It was wonderful to hear about your Louis Vitton bag surprise. What fun! It sounds like you and your sister really love each other. Thank you for sharing that lovely story with us.

    I visited your site and was impressed with your lovely artwork. My favorite was the picture of the dove. I also liked the snow scene and the purple castle. Your pets are adorable.

    Thank you again so much for coming to my site. I wish you the best of luck with your law studies.

  11. If you don't ask, you don't get! Thanks for the recipe, m'dear. My son and hubby are the peanut butter fans in our house. I'll let you know how they turn out...

  12. "A surprise is NOT sneaking into the bathroom at night while your little sister is taking a shower and shutting off the light."

    Um. Ummmmm. I have to be honest. I find doing this to Chris HILARIOUS. I mean, I always turn it back on pretty quickly! And Chris has done it to me also, though he is QUICK to point out that I've done it to him more than he's done it to me.

    We're kind of like children sometimes. :)

  13. Janice: You are very welcome. Peanut Butter Balls are about the extent of my recipe knowledge, so I hope they turn out well. :)

  14. Hayden: I laughed so hard at the visual of you and Chris shutting off the light on each other in the shower. Maybe it's not so spooky when you're adults and married.

    Our basement shower was unfinished so it was bare concrete and spooky anyway. The room was L-shaped so when he snuck his hand inside the door to shut off the light we had to feel our way around the L to get to the light. The turd would always leave his hand poking inside the door over the light switch just to hear us scream. We always locked the door, but he knew a way to unlock it. (These are some of our sibling stories that we laugh about now!)

  15. Hi Randi,
    I came over from RB's blog to visit and say hello. After reading this blog I will surely be visiting more often. This is a great blog about surprises and it sounds like you've got an awesome family (and a mischievious brother!)

  16. Hello Liz! Thank you for stopping by to visit us. I AM very lucky to have an awesome family. And now, years later, I finally appreciate my brother's mischievousness. I always enjoy what you have to say on RB's site so I'm really glad you came over!

  17. Oh my goodness, I LOVE THIS POST! You know I've missed you terribly over the past few months. I know I know.. you've always been here, but me.. well, what can I say except that I've been thinking of you, and I don't have a surprise for you.. but I have. I've been thinking "I wish I had time to visit Randi's blog." and "I wonder what amazing posts Randi's writing now."

    Sigh. Here's just a prime example of my gushing because your posts just 'surprise' me so much - so heart-warming, so geniune, so beautiful. Yes, you and your loved ones sure know how to pull off amazing surprises.

    Keep it (surprises and posts) up.


  18. Daisy: You were getting me all teary-eyed! Thank you immensely for such nice comments. You seriously made my day. I'm so glad you have had time to visit now, and to create some good posts on your own site. I've really enjoyed having you back and have enjoyed hearing what YOU have had to say as well! Many, many thanks.

  19. It's okay to get teary, really it is.. cuz, my golly, your surprise post just kept me going and going.. I couldn't believe the number of amazing examples. Also, I do have to say, I did read your like a millionaire post before and loved LL Cool guy (I don't remember what you called him). When I went back, clearly I didn't comment, but clearly, in my mind, I already wrote a big comment about how incredible that guy is and how wonderful for you to have shared that with us.

    Seriously missed you, and I've been thinking of you! :)

    - Daisy

  20. Daisy: I'm so glad you like the post and were able to get some value out of it. And LL Cool Guy--what can I say? The man is totally amazing in his ability to see a need and try to fill it.


You won't be paid for it, but at least you'll know that you have contributed intelligence to the universe...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...