It’s my daughter’s birthday. I promised her I would visit her during lunch and surprise her for her birthday. That was the plan until my boss scheduled a luncheon meeting, which is another way of saying I was working through lunch.
But I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. After all, I was working more than I had ever worked before during her short life and the following week I was going out of town for business. I would not see her for a few days, which seems like forever when you’re young enough to count your age on your fingers and your toes. I had to do something to stop those big crocodile tears from ruining her pretty face.
So…I devised a plan. I would tuck a birthday gift inside her lunchbox.
I bought cherry-flavored lip balm and an ice cream cone-shaped mirror in a gift bag that said, “A girl can never have too much stuff!” along with a card signed by her father, her brother, and me.
When she woke up in the morning, I told her I had already packed her lunch. She eyed me suspiciously, but went along with it anyway since she had been sick the whole week and knew I was wont to spoil her. But on the drive to school, her tell-tale smile gave away the fact that she knew my little secret.
I thought the surprise was ruined, but it was not. “I saw the gift, but I didn’t open it,” she said. “I was just looking to see why my lunchbox was so heavy.”
“It’s because I packed you a drink,” I said. “The gift doesn’t weigh much.”
“I promise I won’t open it until lunch time,” she said.
“It’s all right if you open it up sooner,” I said. “I know you want to show your friends.”
“I’ll open it at lunch time,’ she said.
For a long moment, neither one of us spoke.
I parked and started the short walk with my daughter to school.
I didn’t know what my daughter was thinking or feeling, but I knew what I was thinking and feeling. “I knew you were disappointed that I had to work so I just wanted to surprise you.”
“You did surprise me,” she said.
In front of the lavender tulip tree, my daughter and I embraced. “Happy birthday,” I wished through her freshly straightened hair.
“Thanks, Mom,” she said.
I strolled down the sidewalk, thinking about how different my childhood would have been if my parents had valued imagination over facts. Maybe I would have had a few surprises in my lunchbox instead of the big things that caused so much heartache in the end. As a child, I had very little control over my environment. But as an adult I could act in ways that I felt were not only appropriate but lifesaving. By choosing to take the time and the creativity to show my daughter how much I love her, I was able to fulfill both my role as a provider and my role as a mother without anyone losing anything.