It’s no secret – I love surprises. I get a thrill when I plan a milestone birthday surprise for My Guy or sweat the details of a simple Valentine dinner for my girls, like the one last week, when my best friend joined us for our cheese and chocolate fondue dinner. I set and adorned the table in all things hearts and pink, and when Little Miss came home from preschool, she was ecstatic to see both the table and her favorite auntie. Success!
Then there’s the kind of surprise that appears on an ordinary day, like coming home to a delicious dinner simmering on the stove after my run one evening, a gesture by My Guy that took my breath away even more than the 6.5-mile route did.
Or when I decided on a whim to take just Little Miss with me to the Chinese New Year parade while her sister napped so we could be adventurous without worrying about taxing a toddler. Plus, a one-on-one time with my big girl is always a treat. For both of us. Little Miss got to decide on the mode of transportation - taxi, bus, or train - which made her deliriously happy, and she picked the bus there and the elevated train back.
These little surprises give our routine a jolt, not unlike the plot twists in an otherwise predictable storyline. For someone who spends most of my time indoors these days, I welcome the mini adrenaline boost that comes with planning on the sly and the blip on the radar brought on by spontaneity.
But even though I love the unexpected, I appreciate the familiar too.
When my best friend, who lives eight hours away, was here last week, after reading bedtime stories to my girls in my bed, we stayed to talk while My Guy ushered the girls to their bedroom to get them down for the night. We sat up in my bed and tucked ourselves under the covers while we caught up on each other’s life with a box of my favorite chocolates between us, a Valentine surprise from My Guy. Who knew he could be so sweetly old-fashioned sometimes? Okay, maybe I did a little.
With a glass of wine in one hand and chocolates in the other, the conversation flowed freely as it always does between us. We are both book-and-food-loving home bodies on divergent paths - she, a married career woman who chose not to have kids; me, a stay-at-home mom of two - but there’s nothing we couldn’t say to one another.
After she retired for the night, My Guy took her place in bed and our conversation went into the night. With the box of chocolates still there between us. I love being nestled in his nook, in the soft light of our bedside lamp, sharing the highlights from our day apart or looking into the crystal ball of our future together. The familiar, sometimes, can be really nice.
In fact, despite reveling in the success of a surprise Valentine evening for the girls, it was our annual Valentine date that exhilarated me. On Saturday, two days after the actual day, while our girls were in bed, we went to the Chicago Auto Show. I know, how romantic. But hey, we were holding hands!
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawn to cars. There’s just something really sexy about machinery that balances form and function so seamlessly, and now that I found someone whose passion dwarves mine, the Auto Show seemed like a perfectly natural setting for a Valentine celebration.
On a night inspired by the familiar, we decided to stick with the formula and picked a place we’ve been to for cocktails and late-night dining. As we walked in, more of the familiar greeted us - they were playing an entire Vampire Weekend record, one of my favorite bands. As we ordered our drinks, My Guy surprised me by requesting another favorite album of mine, “In Rainbows” by Radiohead, to which they eagerly obliged, and when the first song came on, we were almost bouncing out of our seats, we were so giddy, not unlike high school kids who hear their song requests on the radio. (Do kids these days even do that anymore?)
Maybe it was the potent but perfectly executed cocktails. Maybe it was the delectable small plates (no-batter, fried Brussels sprouts, with the outside layers charred to a crisp, on lemon aioli, hello?!). Or maybe it’s the vibe of the place with its mysterious wine library and labyrinthian corridors. But the night felt electric.
The new and the old intertwined, stirring feelings of familiarity and comfort with the novel and exciting. It was an evening that felt simultaneously like I was out on a first date with my crush and a long-standing one with the father of my children.
Not surprisingly, we felt wonderfully energized the next day despite the late night and the early risers in our house. We couldn’t stop talking about our evening together. We still can’t.
Even though I walked wearily out of my bedroom to the usual scene of the girls in their pajamas and bed head at the dining table and their dad making coffee and French toast in the kitchen, a memory of our night together sparked a smile. The familiar can be very nice.