Your husband is recovering from pneumonia slowly. He is tired. He is stressed. On his desk are stacks of envelopes, invoices, important-looking papers.
His birthday is in eight days, and you wonder if you should shelf the celebration for a better time.
(There is no better time.)
You text the wives of his friends: Are the men free this Friday to help with a surprise?
Yes, yes, yes, is the resounding answer, and you realize their husbands probably weren’t free this Friday, but they are now. You know that this is just what women do – they move mountains, heavy blocks of calendar squares, rearranging them, hoisting the load onto their own shoulders to free up the square for someone else.
You thank them. You search for ‘simple syrups’ on Amazon. Add to cart.
The idea is simple enough: Each friend creates a custom cocktail named after your husband, a three-word toast. You grocery shop for procurements, field secret texts from a drummer and a realtor, a principal and a marketing exec. Can you grab Fernet Branca? Or Campari? Worcestershire, if you’ve got it?
While your husband is on a conference call in the bedroom, you giftwrap the ingredients, bottles and syrups into matching matte black bags. You realize you have only blush tissue paper on hand, and later, the neighborhood will watch four grown men marching down the street carrying what looks to be a quartet of prized lingerie acquisitions.
You debate telling the 5-year-old, but her eyes widen at the whisper of a party and so, you do.
Are the kids coming? she will ask with a hopeful grin.
You will say no, but you will be wrong. Later, through a series of last-minute babysitter voids, you’ll offer to watch two kids, host a wife upstairs while the husbands celebrate below. A neighbor stops in with two more kids, then another wife. Come over, you message to the fourth, we’re having our own party! She will, and she’ll bring her daughter. The kitchen will be warm and bustling and loud, your baby bouncing on the teenage lap of someone else’s baby.
But not yet. It is still early, and you’re shooing your loose-lipped little girl and her father out the door for a birthday date while you prepare the charcuterie.
Were you surprised? you will ask him later.
Well… he will say.
Mid-date, just before the burger is eaten, your daughter will tell your husband it’s time to go. Her friends are coming for a party and they can’t be late! and her face will flush pink so she stops there, eats another fry, drinks long gulps of water, says nothing more of it.
On the drive home, an emergency phone call from work – a different surprise. He’ll come in, hurry through the front door as he motions to his phone – it’s his business partner, he’ll take it in the bedroom.
Your daughter will slip off her shoes and see the slow trickle of friends walking up the driveway. The dogs will bark, our hellos will hush, you’ll stall until you won’t.
He’s in the bedroom on a call, you whisper, and they tiptoe back one-by-one, four men ready to shoulder another burden with campari and lime.
Later, there will be swelling jazz and salted rims and jalapeno popcorn. The wives upstairs, chatting over children. The men downstairs, laughing over labor.
Tomorrow, the basil leaves will wilt in the bottom of the garbage disposal and you’ll acknowledge the inconvenient timing of it all. The craziness of work, the role whiplash from daughter date to conference caller to party host.
And then you’ll acknowledge the importance of celebrating anyway, of going for broke, of allowing friends to speak meaning to you in three words or less.
Birthdays come once a year, after all.
Good friends even less so.
A surprise with both seems nearly impossible.
(Worth trying anyway.)