Surprising Mom for Christmas
About a month ago, I decided not to tell my mom I was coming home for Christmas.
We had been going back and forth on this all semester: do I come home or do I not? I was comfortable in Italy, I didn't really want to deal with the hassle and expense of international travel when I'd only be there about a month...but I also couldn't imagine not spending Christmas with my family or spending it alone.
When it became clearer to me that going home was the option I was leaning toward, I had an idea: what if I just didn't tell her?
Image credit: monicore on Pixabay.
I proposed this to my dad, who was on board. I then proposed it to my aunt--whose family always spends Christmas with us--and she was IMMEDIATELY on board.
So I bought bus tickets to the airport, booked a room at the airport hotel overnight, bought plane tickets for the next morning, and booked a car from the airport to my house. And I told Mom I decided to stay in Italy and spend Christmas with some friends.
I spent the month talking about my plans on my Instagram (@alexwendtwriting) story, all the while blocking my mom from seeing it. I got three tickets to The Nutcracker, wrote some notes to accompany them, then put them all in a pretty, miniature chest, wrapped it up, and included it with the Christmas gifts I shipped home early. I told Mom to not get tickets to The Nutcracker and to not ask why, assuming (correctly) that she would think I was helping Dad surprise her with tickets for the two of them.
A couple weeks later she forgot this instruction and started asking my dad about going to see The Nutcracker. He sent me messages in a panic (around 3 a.m. my time; why did you think I would see them?), saying that she couldn't figure out why he didn't want to go when they went every year, and that he finally broke down and said, "Ok, OK, I got us tickets and wanted to surprise you!"
Mom relayed this story to me on the phone the next day. "I don't know WHEN he was planning to tell me," she said.
"...when I walked through the door," I didn't say.
Another week passed, and Dad told me that his office party had been planned for the night I was to arrive. He said he had planned to get out of it, but that Mom had RSVPed yes before he could. "It's ok," I said. "I can still get into the house. It'll be fine."
Then a week before I was supposed to leave, I found out that Alitalia workers and some airport personnel were planning to strike on the day I was supposed to leave. (My biggest piece of advice for Italy is to try not to travel on a Friday if you can avoid it; transportation people strike a LOT and it seems to almost always be on that day.) I'm not a huge fan of traveling anyway and don't handle it well when I can't control my plans, so this completely freaked me out. I was flying Delta, so I called them and found out that all Delta workers were on my flight, no one with Alitalia. Ok, but some airport personnel were still striking, and according to the people at my school, there was absolutely no way to tell how many would participate or how bad it would be. All I could do was wait and see. Something I'm not good at.
"I hear Fiumicino is a nice place to spend the holidays," one told me.
So I spent that week packing and quietly panicking and all the while making up lies about the plans my friends and I had for Christmas in Italy. "We're baking cookies!" I'd say through anxiety-clenched teeth as I tested the limits of how many shows I could download on Netflix in anticipation of never leaving the airport terminal. Meanwhile, I started a novena to St. Christopher and went to Adoration almost every day. (Italians reading this are probably laughing, like "lol we deal with this all the time; welcome to our world.")
Well, as what generally happens when you freak out in anticipation, my travel plans could not have gone smoother. (Thank you, St. Christopher!) The bus was more or less on time, I had a nice night in the hotel, and my flight was even EARLY. Check-in and security took a total of about fifteen minutes.
Now, my mom and I message each other a lot, so one thing I was worried about was her getting suspicious about not hearing from me during my eleven-hour flight. I had been trying to message her less over the past few days, saying that the wifi in my apartment wasn't working (which was actually true, though it was fixed right before I left.) But Dad messaged me the night before I left, saying she was worrying a little about not hearing from me, and only getting short responses.
I wasn't entirely sure if my flight would have wifi, or how well it would work, but it turned out it did! I tapped into that with a speed only a Millennial could manage, and gave her some messages at appropriate times. "So excited for dinner with my choir tonight!" I'd write as I told the man sitting behind me that the tiny bottle of Baileys on the floor wasn't mine, and he cheered. "Such a fun night, I'll tell you all about it tomorrow!" I typed before telling the stewardess just water was fine, gra--I mean, thank you.
"You should see Florence at Christmastime!" Mom said, sending along some pictures a friend of hers had posted.
"I was thinking about going next week, but maybe I'll do a day-trip tomorrow!" I then switched out the euros for dollars in my wallet.
On my way home, Mom and Dad were still at the Christmas party and apparently it wasn't wrapping up any time soon. My cousin, who was spending the night before meeting some friends the next day, greeted me at home, and then we scoured the house for the Christmas package I had sent with the special present with notes and tickets. I then hid upstairs. To hurry along my parents, my cousin texted my mom to say she was concerned about our dog limping. (That got them out of there pretty quickly.)
"The Eagle is in flight," my cousin texted me. "T-10 minutes."
I heard my parents walk through the door. I heard my mom talking and couldn't believe she didn't know I was casually standing in my childhood room. I heard my cousin present her with the special package, saying that I had told her a few weeks ago that it was an early Christmas present and that I wanted my cousin to have my mom open it now.
"Oh, no, I can't," Mom said. "I still want to cry at the thought of her not being here for Christmas."
My cousin insisted, and so Mom opened the package. She then saw my note on the top of the mini chest warning not to open it until I told her to. She read this to my cousin who said, exasperated, "No, I am the intermediary! Open it!"
There were three drawers in the chest, and to have fun I wrote a silly "poem" that I divided into notes and put in each compartment. Mom got to the tickets to The Nutcracker and said to my dad, "Oh, this is why you didn't have the tickets! Alexandra got them!" (Earlier that night she had been demanding to see the tickets, and Dad had stalled by claiming he needed to take the dog out for a walk.)
Then she noticed. "Wait, three tickets? Why are there three tickets??" She stared and stared at them for the longest time that my cousin finally said, again exasperated, "Move on to the last note!"
This last note told her to walk to the door. (My original plan had been to tell her on my way from the airport to open the notes and that she would walk to the front door and find me outside at the end.)
"No, ignore that, it's wrong," my cousin said. At this point I started walking downstairs, trying to be as quiet as I could.
"Well, what do I do then?" Mom said.
"Just..." My cousin paused, waiting for me to come in sight of the living room, where my mom's back was to me. Once I did, she finished. "Turn around."
Mom did--and did a double-take. She gasped. Jumped up. Covered her mouth. Started crying. I started crying. Then we were laughing, and I said, "I just really wanted to see the new Star Wars movie."
She still looked like she'd seen a ghost. I had never in my life seen this confident, self-assured woman so utterly shocked and speechless. She just kept saying, "HOW?" She had no clue. Absolutely no clue. My mom, with such amazing intuition that she could tell with a single look if something was wrong with my brother or me, had had no clue that I just flew thousands of miles across the Atlantic ocean.
But we all agreed that the biggest surprise was that Dad, who always sings like a canary, had managed to keep the secret.
She pulled me into the tightest embrace I had ever had, and in that moment, any doubts I had had about leaving Italy for the holidays left.
Image credit: Alexandra Wendt.
They told me I should spend Christmas in Italy, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I told them, "What matters more: where you are or who you're with?"