The story of my surprise weekend is set in a particularly bitter cold winter in 1993.
Our daughters were one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half-years old, and Greg and I were living the 24/7 marathon sprint of young parenthood alongside demanding careers-in-the-making.
We were caring for our daughters, with a little help from our parents, in alternating days and shifts.
It was Greg’s day to watch them, and my dear husband, either because he is incredibly thoughtful, or, because the toddler-twosome got the better of him that day, or both, decided it was time for a romantic interlude.
I still don’t know when this weekend getaway plan for two was hatched. I only know I was informed about it at T minus 1.
The scene went something like this:
I arrive home from the office on a Friday at approximately 6pm. I exit the car, and still on the driveway with briefcase in hand, I am approached by Greg. He is a combination of flustered and enthused, and I wonder what catastrophe awaits inside. As I near the house, Greg gestures for me to return to the car.
Me: What’s going on? Where are the girls? Is the house on fire?
Greg: Everything’s fine. I have cooked up a little surprise for you. We are off to the city for the weekend. There is no time for delay. I made hotel and dinner reservations and we need to get on the road.
Me: (slightly panicked) Wait! I don’t understand. We are staying overnight? How wonderful….but what about the girls? Where are they? And my things…I need to pack some things! I’m not prepared for this.
Greg cradles my elbow and gently escorts me toward the car.
Greg: (in a reassuring tone) Everything has been taken care of. Your mom has the girls for the weekend- they are going to have a wonderful time together- and I’ve already packed your bag.
Me: (smiling to hide the horror). You packed my bag? How do you know what things I like to…NEED to…bring? You picked my outfits too?
Greg: I’ve got it all covered. I’m your husband, of course I know what you would want to bring and it’s all in that bag. He confidently points to a small duffel that I instantly know can’t possibly hold all I need.
Now, this is one of those moments in a marriage when you have to throw caution to the wind and give your spouse the absolute benefit of the (many) doubt(s).
After all, the man has just orchestrated a weekend surprise getaway of monstrous logistical proportions. He not only packed his and my bags, but also our daughters’ bags which as anyone with toddlers well knows, encompasses a considerable undertaking and mass of belongings and equipment larger than the children themselves.
Who am I to poke holes in this plan?
I inhale deeply and put on a face that exudes joy and gratitude. At least I’d like to remember it that way.
Me: With eyes still fixed on the duffel bag that seems to shrink smaller by the minute, I swallow and reply weakly: of course you know what I need, honey. After all (I really hope) you know my morning routine, and (I hope even harder) you know my evening routine, which includes brushing my teeth and the use of lotions and products and whatnot, among other things, right? Trying to convince myself I add: And you know my favorite comfortable weekend outfits, and how much I love my soft cozy winter pjs…and they’re clean (flashing through my mind: dear God did I even do the laundry this week?) and they’re all neatly tucked away in that ever-so-minuscule-teeny-tiny bag, right? (My tone turns to pleading).
Greg: (undaunted) Everything you need is in that bag. It’s time to go!
My handsome date is now holding the car door open like a perfect husband and gentleman and I follow the cue like the (usually) obedient wife that I am.
I am now in the front passenger seat kicking off the well-heeled pumps I was looking to shed hours ago, massaging my poor tired and aching feet.
Me: Greg? Did you happen to pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes or boots for me to wear this weekend?
Greg: Oh (pause). You need another pair of shoes? What’s wrong with the shoes you’re wearing?
Me: Silence. I think to myself it will be best to refrain from further questions.
After a lovely dinner we check into a hotel Greg’s brother recommended. It’s a nice place, if you don’t mind a room that is scarcely large enough to fit the bed. I try to look on the bright side, it was literally only one step’s distance to the bathroom, which I was dying to get into to wash my face, brush my teeth and tame my hair that is now wild from the high winds.
The time was upon me to finally unzip that little duffel to extract my usual array of toiletries that are the tools of my bedtime ritual. I dig around in search of my toiletry bag and come up empty.
Me: Greg, darling? Where are my toiletries?
Greg: You mean your toothbrush and toothpaste? They’re in the side zipper compartment of the duffel bag.
Me: Ok, but what about the other stuff, like my cold cream, moisturizing lotions, deodorant, hairbrush, hair dryer?
No response. But I already know the answer. Greg is now fully consumed with scanning the television for news, sports and weather. The talking head is reporting snow and sleet for Saturday, and I wonder how those high heels and I will fare under these conditions. But for the moment, I am confronted with a different problem.
I stare at my face in the bathroom mirror, wondering how on earth to remove the mascara without my cold cream. In desperation I tear the wrapper off the tiny hotel soap, lather it up under the tap and douse my face with its bounty. Instead of removing the mascara, this vicious bar of soap grossly displaces the black stuff all around my eyes, which by the way are now stinging horribly from the insecticide-like scent that is making me tear, sneeze and gag all at once.
I am in trouble.
I return to the space that is called a hotel room and face Greg. He gasps and asks why I have been crying.
Me: I wasn’t crying. I’m fine.
Greg: Are you sure? Because your make up is badly smudged and your eyes are beet red.
I try not to think about how I look at that moment, although the gruesome image reflecting back at me from that tiny hotel bathroom mirror will haunt me forever. I am singularly focused on getting into my cozy pjs, stretching out on that bed and resting my now swollen and blistered feet.
With small and careful steps I shimmy around the bed, place my duffel on it and start digging for those pjs. I can’t find them. I dump the contents out onto the bed and discover an undergarment I have not seen or worn since the birth of our first daughter.
Me: What’s this doing in here?
Greg: (with a wicked little smile) Isn’t that your nighttime cami?
Me: (???) No dear. It’s a girdle I bought after childbirth to coax things back into place in the cruelest of ways.
I toss the suit of armor to the floor and collapse onto the bed partly from exhaustion and exasperation, and partly because there was no place else to go.
The next morning I find myself eyeing that girdle of steel with a vengeance because my latest discovery is that Greg has packed a pair of jeans that have not fit me since the 7th grade. It was either the skirt, blouse and blazer from the day before, or these Barbie-sized jeans and a tightly-fitting sweater.
Oh, and did I mention my sole choice of white gym socks to pair with my heeled pumps?
What a picture I was that inclement Saturday as we shivered and endlessly stood in line at the Broadway Tickets booth in Times Square.
Thankfully, my coat concealed the silly undersized costume beneath, but I could not hide my still make-up-stained face, wild hair, and the bulk of white gym-socked feet awkwardly crammed into black patent pumps.
Dealing with ridiculous-looking frozen aching feet and trying to protect my expensive shoes from the sleet and snow were now a low priority.
I pretty much felt and looked like a scary circus clown.
There is a bright side to this weekend tale of beauty and fashion trauma. I kept reminding myself we were in New York City where I fit right in. Also, miraculously there were few mirrors in which to catch my atrocious image. So all I could do was think about what a nice time I was having with the best husband in the world.
Turns out I learned a couple of things – along with some unexpected surprises – thanks to Greg and the impromptu weekend getaway he organized for us in 1993.
First, I suppose I should feel blessed that my husband thought I needed only a toothbrush and toothpaste to put myself together each morning and night- and that he really and truly believed I could comfortably fit into those Barbie-sized jeans.
And, just as important, I should always keep a bag packed and ready to go for the next “surprise weekend” that, by the way, I’m still waiting for.