Tracy Lee Curtis

Reversing the order of the surprise party

My baby turned 13 Monday. And I wanted to throw him a surprise party. But it’s impossible to do on a school night. You can’t get the birthday boy out of the house, or teenagers over at a specific time, because all these kids have homework and sports practices.

So I came up the reverse surprise party – where instead of the birthday boy walking into his house where friends surprise him, he just stays home and the guests surprise him by showing up whenever they can get there.

It works, but surprises are tricky, so here are some tips …

Hide the birthday dinner and the cake in the back of the fridge. And then put celery sticks, carrots and grapefruit in front of it. So when your son comes home looking for a snack, he’ll take one peek in there and slam the door. And never know you’ve got five pounds of barbeque, mac ’n cheese, slaw and 15 cupcakes in there.

Hide the paper party plates, cups, napkins and forks in an appliance he never operates. If your teen is like mine, that could be the oven, the dishwasher, the washing machine, the dryer, the trashcan or any laundry basket. I went with the oven.

Designate a party room – like the dining room – and decorate it while he’s at school with balloons and party favors. And try to convince yourself that he’ll see the party as his gift and won’t be disappointed you didn’t get him anything.

Devise a clever excuse for why he can’t go into the dining room. I made a sign that said “Do Not Enter – WASPS!” And told him and his brother there was a live wasp nest inside that needs to be exterminated.

Don’t tell kids there’s a live wasp nest that needs to be exterminated. They freak out. And they won’t stay in the house, which is where you need everybody to be when the surprise party starts showing up.

Create a diversion to keep your teen from going to the front of the house so he won’t see the guests arriving. But don’t use my diversion, which was asking what he wants to drink with dinner. It’s not long enough, as your follow-up questions are limited to “Are you sure?” and “Do you want ice?” and “Are you sure?”

And then just wait for the party to show up – watching your kids dare each other to go into the dining room –wondering if you remembered to take out the paper products before you preheated the oven.

And finally, the guests all trickle in, the party starts, and your son thinks it’s great. But sort of wishes you had just gotten him a new pair of shorts …

No surprise there.