how it all went down

the idea: the trip was booked in april. i knew i wanted to do something for our anniversary in october and started planning early. we take turns on planning the anniversary celebration each year and mine are the evens (since i planned year 0, that's how it started). i was looking at cruises from back as early as february and march because we have never been on one, but that got shot down pretty swiftly when i realized that cruiselines don't let pregnant chicks past 24 weeks on board. that's actually a great policy; you'd be better off in an underdeveloped country probably with a preemie than on a ship in the middle of the ocean with no way out.

ever since we got back from our honeymoon we have pretty regularly relived how amazing of a trip it was. the views, the food, the room...everything. i would say at least monthly we would dreamily reminisce about our week in paradise and fantasize about a return voyage one day. but we always had in our heads that it would be way out of the question financially to go back since jesse's parents had generously given us a week of their timeshare to use towards the room fee and all we had to pay was for the flight and all-inclusive charges the first time around.

but when i looked on a wild whim at it in april, i realized it really wouldn't be that bad at all considering ALL food, drinks, tips and taxes were included. i got the resort to knock off 10% since we were return customers and the rate for september was the cheapest of the whole year because that's the carribean hurricane season. since i am the grand budgeteer of the family, allocating the funds to pay for it all without jesse noticing was super easy. we had both signed up for skymiles cards just to get the 20,000 mile bonuses when we were planning to go to NYC with lena and elliot before i got pregnant. it ended up giving us $400 off our tickets. superfly!

the surprise element of it all came in because of lena and elliot. elliot proposed to lena on a 100% surprise trip to NYC. she had no clue she was going anywhere. someone else packed her bag for her and convinced her to go to the airport for a fictional pickup and what do you know? there's elliot with tickets to new york, her favorite place on earth. shortly after they got married, lena got him back with another surprise trip to chicago. they both said that the surprises were so worth the secret keeping and work that went into them and that giving the surprise was more fun than even receiving it. so i had experienced and talented accomplices locked down.

the plan: the first draft of the plan was to make it 100% a surprise so that jesse didn't know we were going ANYWHERE. i went ahead and requested his time off from work and arranged for someone else at church to do his part of the worship that week. i was going to pack his entire bag and somehow attempt to keep him from scheduling any youth events for 5 days straight. sometime around june i started panicking and realized this was too much to take on. i am so glad i did because there were commitments that he had that i didn't even know about and wouldn't have known to work around that would have dumped a major stressball into his lap along with a surprise.

so lena and i came up with a decoy trip. it had to be something less than ultra-glam so that by comparison, mexico would really shine. it would have sucked if he had been like, "oh, than we're not going to the lake? bummer, that was going to be the best 4 days of my life." years of being a huge antisocial flake paid off when lena and elliot invited us and i totally waffled and was like, "ugh, i hate murky water and i'm gonna be so fat at that point and i can't believe we're wasting 4 days of babysitting on a group trip where we'll eat hamburgers and sandwiches." it was awesome. because i dogged it so hard that he couldn't have been too excited. plus when he got shoulder surgery in august that totally ruled out him getting to do any tubing or wakeboarding or skiing on this fictional trip and i brought that up many times.

we set up the babysitting with our awesome moms but didn't even tell them where we were going. they knew i was planning a surprise from the beginning, but the less everyone knew, the better. the catch here was that linda has a policy that she won't keep grandkids for international trips unless we have a legal will. ugh. so i was gonna just sneak out of the country since i didn't have to tell her beforehand where we were going, but decided the day before that that was tacky and crappy. so i quickly went to legalzoom and ordered our wills. it's just good to have that any way and i am glad that i honored my mother in laws wishes and wasn't a sneaky fugitive.

so here's what jesse thought was happening. we were leaving on friday morning to head up to south carolina. we would have judah with us and meet my mom in atlanta to drop him off. a few days before departure we "found out" that lena was going to be flying in that friday morning from one of her frivolous little trips that she was so spoiled to always get to go on. jesse thought we were just picking her up at the airport as a favor and then heading out of town, dropping judah, grabbing elliot from work and heading up to the lake to meet the others. we were supposed to be going with 3 other couples total, one of total strangers from elliot's work (another chance for me to complain...i fear new people) and another couple much younger than us that we sort of know. we were going to buy groceries, cook all of our meals (jesse was NOT excited about that) and just hang out on the lake for 4 days before heading back tuesday afternoon. it was a beautiful fiction.

here's what really went down: our flight left at 11 am on friday. the "pickup" of lena was just the excuse to get jesse to the airport. "her" bag that she had with her was actually one of our big roller suitcases filled with non-lake type clothes nested inside another one so that we could transfer our stuff from the lake duffel bags we had packed after the surprise was revealed (i could really get him to pack a big square roller case to take to the lake, that might have drawn some suspicion). so i gave the bags to lena the week before and she rode marta from grad school down to the airport. with them to make it look like she had flown in with her won luggage. brilliant.

we would pull up to get her and as i was loading "her" bag in the car and jesse was clearing the backseat for her, she would casually mention my funny blog post from that morning. i would tell jesse to pull it up on his phone and rad it real quick, and therein he would read the truth and then lena would take our car until we got back, along with judah before passing him off to my mom that afternoon. we would be on our way.

the scares: i had to get a new passport in my married name since i bought the tickets under dukes because i used our skymiles cards with my married name on it instead of my maiden name, which is how my passport was still registered. that was a HUGE ordeal involving marriage certificates, trips to courthouses and the like, none of which i could tell jesse about.

sometime in july after my new one came i was trying to secure both passports and spirit them away to work to keep safe from him (i lied to him and said we had gotten a safety deposit box) when i realized his passport was missing from its normal place. i asked him ever so nonchalantly about it, and he was like, "oh i don't know, i had it when i went to mexico for work, but it's not like i'm gonna need it again for a looooong time. it will turn up." i about vomited. once again though, years of controlling type-A-ness came in handy as i said, "hmm, you should really track that down so we have it in a safe place." and then squashed the desire the next few days to ask him about it every 5 seconds. he eventually found it in the attic and it came to live at work with me for the next few months.

on the way up to atlanta to pass off the bags to lena the week before, i had convinced jesse that we should take the kia so elliot and lena could see it for the first time. this was because it has an actual trunk versus just the back area of the saturn which would have been very visible jammed with our big bag. while jesse was at church that morning, i packed up all of our nice clothes (including my home made dress which of course lena got out and tried on in the privacy of her own home later that week) and put the suitcase in the trunk. while we were loading judah into the kia, i hit the trunk release button to put in his stroller thinking it would just unlock like the volvo used to. but oh no, it fully flew open, with jesse standing right there, exposing the suitcase sitting there in the back. i just started incoherently screaming about the security of judah carseat and directing jesse to check it again. again, he didn't suspect because i am pretty spazzy and yelly on normal days. crisis averted

the day of: i had no trouble keeping the secret for the first 5 months. i planned it all, made all the reservations and put it out of my mind (except for a countdown calendar on my igoogle homepage that i passed off as "days until viable layla"). the week of when i actually had to start thinking about it was when i about lost my mind suppressing the urge to talk to him about it or say things like, "when we're at the beach..."

that morning we were all packed for the "lake" and i had put myself on verbal lockdown. i forgot about 6 different things before we got out of the driveway and had to keep running back inside. the worst was when i forgot my fleece socks to wear on the plane and i made something up about forgetting vitamins as i ran inside. once i had the socks i realized i couldn't just go out there with them and no pills, so i shoved the socks down my underwear and grabbed a bottle of advil. then jesse tried to get me to log into my gmail account on his phone to look up some address we needed and i about lost it since my gmail and blogger accounts are linked and i couldn't risk him seeing the blog post that was scheduled to go live at 9 am just as we hit the airport. he asked me what my new password was and why i had changed it and i babbled some nonsense and all of a sudden "remembered" the address we needed without needing to login. it was not smooth. he actually said, "wow, somebody had an extra helping of crack for breakfast" before we were even out of the driveway. cue nervous spastic laughter from me. i was unraveling.

on the way up i realized we were about 10 minutes early so i fabricated a bathroom emergency and had him stop a few exits ahead of time. i sneaked his phone into my pocket so he wouldn't go internetting around and realizing that i had also revoked his blog privileged to keep him away from the surprise post. by the time i went inside, i was so twisted up and nervous that i really did have a bathroom emergency. i was frantically texting lena from my stall that i was losing it and she was trying to say how nervous she was and that marta was scary or some other nonsense. i had to textually shake her and remind her that i had way more at stake in this and she needed to be "my rock." drama was high in the mcdonalds bathroom that day, my friends.

so we got back on the road, jesse wondering why i had taken his phone AND mine inside (oopsie, again). we had the most boring conversation of our existence about the composition of hay versus straw (at least i knew it was a safe topic) and then we rolled up to the airport. at this point i am refreshing his phone's internet browser like crazy because the clock says 9 am and everything is contingent upon him reading the letter that i blogged to him. it was supposed to be up AT 9 am and it wasn't showing. i told him to pull over and slow down because lena wasn't out of baggage claim yet and we didn't want to have to circle around again as i am sweating and freaking out that the post hasn't published. then he goes, "oh, there's lena." i about died. she was going to start talking about a post that wasn't there and everything would come crashing down. bowel cramps of fear and dread. one more desperate refresh and, at the buzzer, there it is. nick of flipping time.

as we pull up lena is videotaping. jesse was like, "okay, and shes filming for some reason," and i was like, "yeah, she said she was going to do this all weekend with her fancy new flip camera...you know how she is." (it must be said that many of the weird things got explained by just throwing lena under the bus "she's so spoiled and gets to travel all the time," "she has a nice new camera," "she and elliot have to invite people we don't know," etc. she is uber trooper.)

as we pull up, jesse goes to just put the car in park and let lena throw her bag in and then hop in next to judah. i was like, "dude, get out and help her with her bag, be a gentleman." then he gets the bag, but i needed him to be talking to her so i took it from him and went and hid in the trunk, transferring our stuff while i told him to clear out the backseat to make room for her. that's when lena started reciting her lines flawlessly as i cringed in dread and watched the endgame unfold.

so here's the footage. i must say, i was expecting an extreme home makeover type of reaction, and mostly just go obstinate disbelief from jesse. watching this video makes me so stressed because that was the tensest moment of my life. because he was so disoriented about the lake, he was unable to really absorb the mexican happy part of the whole deal while his little matrix was crumbling around him. some tears and jumping would have been nice, but i can't blame him.

my absolute favorite part is hearing lena talk like a parent videotaping on christmas morning getting the kids to open up something awesome from santa, "oh what does it say?" like, "oh what's that gift over there in the corner, timmy? santa must have put it there." freaking priceless. a big part of getting him to really believe it was that i handed him our boarding passes and passports right as he looked up. i seriously think that he just though i was messing with him and being mean in that post.

so we emptied the duffel bags into the big suitcases while blubbering about how hard it was to keep a secret and how he totally didn't suspect anything, turned the keys over to lena, kissing a sleeping judah goodbye and headed off to our adventure.

i have no idea what happened in the next hour because i was having a physical reaction of relief to unloading this secret. i couldn't think or speak clearly, i may have tried to check my luggage at a shoe shining station and i was seriously shaking. jesse took a good 40 minutes before he actually believed what was happening so we just zombied our way around the airport for a bit. jesse told me i could totally cheat on him for years without him having a single clue and i was like, "yeah right, that was a happy wonderful blessing of a secret i was keeping and it nearly destroyed me, i could never keep a bad one from you." we both agreed that he is so go with the flow and unquestioning that it made it very easy, whereas he NEVER could have pulled this off on me because i am such a nosy fact-checker by nature.

i am so glad we were able to pull this off for him and that the surprise lasted for so long. it was a huge payoff once he truly believed and getting to hear jesse tell everyone we met in mexico about the surprise really made me feel awesome. i am so glad it is all over though. i am not cut out for subterfuge and deceit. i am the most hopelessly transparent and honest to a fault person alive and i have zero bluffing skills, so this took years off of my life. thank god i can now go back to living with no filter or censoring.

that is more detail than anyone could have ever wanted, but after all that work and planning and stress, i wanted to record every detail for posterity. pictures from the trip coming soon. though there aren't many. free at last, free at last, hallelujah, i am free at last!

**look how much we've changed in four years: pictures from both trips side by side!**


  1. oh man watching that video literally gives me anxiety. and listening to my voice makes me cringe. I'm sorry about the yelling I was just sooo nervous I didn't know what to do. anyways SO GLAD that the trip was so awesome! and you are the last one to have a surprise trip pulled on you. get ready.

  2. I read every detail and LOVE it.

  3. I literally couldn't believe the whole thing was actually real until we were on the plane. I kept looking around for Leonardo DiCaprio and "the kick". We did see Jerome Bettis at the ticket counter which just made it all that much more surreal.

    But many many many thanks to Lena and Elliot and my amazing wife for giving my the greatest surprise of my life, hands down.

    "Never in the wildest."

  4. I think checking the luggage at the shoe shine station is my favorite line. so sweet and wonderful and funny.

  5. Hey there! I don't know you guys (I totally just blog stalked you), but I found your blog on Justin and Marisa's (I'm a friend of a friend of theirs...) ANYWAYS, just had to leave a note, the whole vacation surprise story was awesome! I am so impressed you were able to keep that secret for so long, I would have blown it on like Day 2. ;) Hope you all had a fabulous trip!

  6. So glad to read all the gorey details!! So awesome! I was dying just waiting to call so I know you must have been near stroke-ville. Jesse was still befuddled and couldn't believe even though he was ON the plane! Hilarious!

    Thank you, Keight for honoring my wishes (a good request for all people keeping someone else's children.) We'll rest a lot easier knowing your wishes when ever you travel. You're amazing!

  7. Hats off to you sister. That was amazing!

  8. Way to go, k8. Seriously. I was getting so nervous watching the video..good thing he actually read it and didn't skim!! (i mean, of course it would have all worked out) You are amazing! Wife of the year! Your hair looks great in the vid. by the way. xoxo

  9. Just read this post- what a great story!!