Birthday Surprise BACKFIRE.

You wanna talk about blue balls?

I planned this super awesome surprise birthday trip for my husband.

And get this.


For three whole months I snuck around planning. Scheming. Taking time off. Arranging for my mom to take the kids. Asking the Facebook public awesome road trip ideas so he had LOTS to choose from at the big reveal

. . . which was meant to go something like this:

Morning, handsome birthday man! Here’s a cuppa tea. What would you like to do today?

Well, I’d like to-

Too bad! Surprise! We’re going on a roadtrip!

And he was going to blink at me all surprised, in awe of my awesomeness.

And no matter what his concern –cats, dog, chickens, deadline– I was gonna say:

“Already taken care of!” Then we were gonna bask some more in my awesomeness whilst packing.

I even had books on CD waiting in the car.  James Lee Burke in the likely event he chose Louisiana and Alexander McCall Smith in case he didn’t.

“I don’t want to go on a road trip,” he said matter-of-factly. Sipping his tea.

My stomach did this funny flip floppy thing.

“. . . I have too much to do, honey bunny.”



No kids.

For a WEEK.

Corn Nuts and the open road.

“I wanna get the bathroom done.”

Housework? He wanted to do HOUSEWORK?


“On your birthday?”

–it came out a whisper.

You know when you blow up a balloon all big, let it fly around the room making awkward noises, then it plops to the floor all deflated and moist where your lips were?


My insides sludged down in slow motion. Pulling my ability to fake smile with it.

His face fell, too.

“You ok, Jenny?”

Don’t do it, Jennifer. Don’t get upset. He has no clue what you planned. Don’t you dare make him feel bad on his birthday. My eyeballs burned.

“Darling, what’s wrong?”

“I’m good,” I lied thru my damn teeth. “It was just an idea. We can do whatever you want.”

“I’d love for you to help me do the bathroom.”

He wanted to — I’m sorry– the bathroom?!

4 months ago Christopher took a sledgehammer to our crusty old downstairs loo to remodel, insulate, make it bigger, etc; the final plan of which maybe included a big ole Beatles mural for me.

beatles_group_posterminimal_posteritty_by_posteritty-d60n7gv.jpgThis was the image I had in mind. ( I’d taken it to a tattoo studio in Liverpool but they told me it wouldn’t make good body art.)

“But it will make a great mural,” Christopher said when I came home, tattooless.

(I saved the image on my phone just in case.)

Back to the bathroom:

Unfortunately, remodels take money and time. And it’s still not done. So here we are, months later, with a gaping hole downstairs. A big, fat, dusty, showerless pain in everyone’s ass.

Did I want it done?

(Is the Pope Catholic?)

But I also wanted greasy fried chicken fingers from the swampy back roads of Louisiana. And hot sauce. And Corn Nuts.

That stupid gaping hole would be here when we got back.

Next thing I know we’re at freaking Lowe’s picking out paint samples. And boy was I in a funky mood.

I watched Christopher from the carpet section, creating a safe distance between him and my attitude problem. He bustled around the paint aisle, talking shop with the employees, examining brushes, and I noticed something obvious.

How very happy he was.

Holding samples to the light. Chatting with customers, offering advice on their projects because (inevitably) he knows more than the employees.

He looked over to me and smiled.

“Why don’t you start picking out colors for your mural?” he called.

Me and my attitude slinked over to the wall o’ samples –which I’ll admit– was totally satisfying. I held little color cards against the image on my phone– which ended up being quite hard to match. I forgot about being a brat for a little while.

At home he rolled out butcher paper then taped big long pieces on the wall.

“Let’s get these templates cut out so we can trace them and you can start painting.”

Wait. What?

“How big do you want your Beatles?” he asked all charming, handing me scissors and a pencil. He knew what he was doing.

Me? Paint?

Oh, but his sweet birthday face! Happy and bright. Expectant.

He had vision. Time. A quiet house. A wife to help. No kids to tell 46 times: go brush your teeth!

This was his happy.

“I don’t want to  can’t paint a mural!”

“Sure you can,” he coaxed. “Take it one color at a time. I’ll supervise.”


I didn’t argue. This is what he wanted, thinly disguised as what I wanted. For the next three days I was either up a ladder or bent down all weird on the floor.


Painting. Mixing colors. Holding my breath trying to stay within my penciled lines.


Hours passed.

We listened to music.

The old bathroom was narrow and weird. This new one’s spacious and clean. He sanded. I painted. Someone farted and we marveled at the acoustics. Stanley, our chiweiner, watched from the corner.

We took tea breaks.

Out to dinner breaks.


Let’s watch a movie breaks.

Do whatever the hell we want cos we ain’t got no kids breaks.

Every time Christopher climbed down from his scaffold, he kissed the top of my head. Or cheek. Or shoulder.


And everyday I woke up anxious to get back to it.

He slathered and smoothed Venetian Plaster with expert precision while I painted Ringo’s mustache. George’s vest. Paul’s pants *tee hee*. John’s glasses.

And I felt profound gratitude.

Sorry I’m such an ungrateful wretch, I told God. Thank you for this week. Thank you for Christopher, who’s supremely happy with a paintbrush and cup of tea. Who dumbed down this mural process so I could help him.

And you know what? I’m GLAD we didn’t go.

Like, really glad.

We spent three days in that little room. Not spending money. Creating. Listening to music. Beach Boys. Beatles. John Denver. Glen Campbell. Talking. Making rustic French decor plans for the kitchen.

And I noticed something profound.

My mind was quiet each day. Peaceful.

I know Christopher would’ve gotten this mural done in one day. But he wanted me to experience his world. The way anyone does when they’re passionate about something.

So the surprise was all mine.

From an amazing man who inadvertantly gave me a present for his birthday.











13 thoughts on “Birthday Surprise BACKFIRE.

  1. EDW

    I love this. You guys are the best. (And if you want a road trip buddy to Louisiana, hit me up, girl. I can eat me some greasy chicken like nobody bidness.)


  2. This was a delight to read. I read it because I am the cousin of one E.D. Watson’s husband and discovered through her FB page that the word ‘pestilence’ is a favorite to both of us. What are the odds?! Hooray for pestilence and you and your writing and your husband and your week without your kids and your MURAL!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s