Romancing family: a surprise birthday visit to Paris underway

The Seine River, ParisI kissed my hubby goodbye February 15th.  He’s on a mission to intercept his father and SURPRISE him for his 75th birthday.The kicker?

His father’s in PARIS on a weekend trip with his girlfriend.  And he doesn’t know his son’s about to surprise him.

My husband doubled up on work the past two weeks and for the month to come, banking on the fact that his father is as predictable as ever.

“Are you sure your father won’t change plans? Move hotels? Do something spontaneous—?” Like you?  I thought, as I asked.

“He won’t change plans. Or hotels, I’m pretty sure.”

Even if he did, I still thought it might be worth the try. My husband had mentioned a number of times in recent years that given that we lived a continent away from his father he might only see him a handful of times more in his life.  This is one of the underestimated hardships of the immigrant story.

I wanted to do what I could to make this surprise story happen.

So, I’m waiting, rooting my husband on from home, my virtual base camp from which I write and armchair-travel between trips.

It’s funny. We prefer adventure travel in wild places, over crowded European cities—even those in which we’ve lived. We’re not so much Francophiles as we are practical. What’s practical about Paris you might ask?

Charles de Gaulle Airport for one. The destination is easy to get to with frequent flier miles and puts us within a few train hours of my German husband’s family outside of Frankfurt.

So I hesitated to publish another post about Paris. But in reality this isn’t about Paris as it is about distance, expat romance, love of family and surprises.

See, I should have known what I was in for when I married a foreigner. We each had in our possession tattered and stamped-up passports when we met. Our first Christmas together, I left Alaska, he left Germany. We met in New York and traveled to Montreal.

But somehow after we moved to Europe and back and had children I felt left behind.  I felt like it took years for me to get my traveler’s feet back under me and catch up with him again.

But I did. We did. Hauling our babies in car seats to the wild coast of Costa de Sauipe in Brazil, the flanks of the active Volcano de Arenal in Costa Rica, and holding hands with them as we climbed Mayan Ruins on the Guatemalan border to Belize.

But I remember reconnecting with my husband most in Paris. Paris, where ironically I’m sure my second-born was conceived. (No wonder she LOVES Paris!)

But for our first trip without kids, I had spent weeks with Mischa’s family in Germany. Kissed my then tween-agers goodbye, leaving them in the hands of the birthday grandfather mentioned above and boarded a train for Paris to meet my husband.

It felt like something out of a Dan Brown novel.  My husband could not have timed our itineraries it better if he’d tried.

As I walked from the Metro toward our hotel, pulling my roll-aboard behind me, who emerged from the opposite direction on the street?Paris' Street

My husband.

We embraced like secret lovers and sauntered toward our hotel, giddy with our accidental timing.

I hope he has as much luck meeting his father tonight.

The surprise will be worth it.

As I told him over the homemade dinner of anti-pasta I served on Valentine’s: “Your father only turns 75 once. Go. Go. Go. I’ve got things covered here.”

I can’t wait to hear about how surprised my father-in-law is to suddenly see his now-US-based son in Paris. I’m as excited for that Skype call as I was getting off the Metro back then.

Have you ever showed up from long distance to surprise someone? Or celebrate a birthday?

How was your surprise received? Or were you the home-support team for such a surprise adventure?

What thoughts went through your mind?

21 thoughts on “Romancing family: a surprise birthday visit to Paris underway

  1. Oh, how wonderful! I bet it was awesome. I can just see your in-laws so surprised and happy!
    Our favorite story is when my hubby scheduled his arrival to coincide with his mother’s plane trip to our home and booked the same flight, unbeknownst his mother. He called her on her cell when he spotted her and fell instep right behind her. She was so excited to get his phone call and busy getting to her gate, she was oblivious of her son behind her. Eventually hubby hung up and carried on his conversion, phone still to my mother-in-laws ear and chatting along with excitement. Travelers along the way were chuckling as they witnessed the site before them (talk about people watching!). He mentioned how he liked her red sweater, and she was stunned that he could guess what she was wearing. Finally she turned around and jumped with shock and joy. Needless to say, they had a great trip home and a hilarious memory to share.


    • OMG Lisa, Our lives are more parallel than we could ever have imagined! Your hubby is such a kick to begin with. I can just see he and his mother! Red sweater, conversations continued without her knowing he was right behind her… that lag time of realization and the ensuing excitement! How awesome! Only our husbands! We have to wonder what’s in stake for us… It’ll certainly be a surprise! THANKS, Renee


  2. I’ve only had unplanned encounters. I’ve had far too little travel in my life, but one summer, at age 25, I went to Europe with my mother. My aunt and cousin were also there. We had no itinerary, but separated in Lausanne. They were heading to Belgium, we further up to Interlaken. A few days later I sat down at the lunch counter in the Gare du Nord in Paris, I looked up to find my cousin and aunt seated at the counter across from me. I was ridiculously happy to find them there- and I am sure your father in law will be even more pleased to be reunited with his son. Good job holding the fort! 😉


    • Sheri, I LOVE THIS! Fantastic! I bet you were all jubilant! Train stations are wild like that! I once sat in Norway on a platform and struck up a convo with a fellow American traveler… something beginning Eurailers loath… talking to other Americans… but I did. And, I was glad I did. Turned out this stranger was the next door neighbor of my college roommate back in New York. I had epic goosebumps for a number of days! Thanks for stopping by and rooting for the the base camp too!


  3. What an amazing surprise. Thank you for this, Renee. I feel that you’ve filled in some gaps for me about your story :). I can’t wait to hear how it went!


    • Thanks! I probably should update my “About” page since I understand key words a bit better than when I started… and it’s a bit foggy and nebulous to begin with! Glad you pointed out previous “holes.” It’s from years of sheltering… I know if anyone might notice and get it… it would be you friend.


  4. Oh, my! Your story is all romantic! And it’s funny, cause I actually understand all this 100%! My partner’s Catalan and I’m Polish, and we constantly travel around with our little son, having two homes, and friends all over Europe. And yes, we had all those surprise moments! Too many to count by now! And my partner still does it when he leaves us for business travels. He often comes back sooner, making us a wonderful surprise:).

    Now Im really curious how your Paris adventure turns out! 🙂


    • You so get it then! Love that you write here about your fantastic family heritage. I didn’t find that on your blog… I know it’s a strange balance to figure out what people want to read, but I find that fascinating. And of course all the logistics involved in lives like ours is interesting as well! I couldn’t agree more – I used to dread my hubby’s travels the first year. NOw I get a break and an exciting reunion every few weeks!


      • Oh, I agree, it’s not all that bad to part cause the time spent separately just adds fire to the relationship.

        It’s funny, but you can find out more about me reading my comments on other people’s blogs than actually reading my page…

        I read in the other comments that your father-in-law was happy with the surprise:). That’s so great! Glad it went so well!

        Have a great day, Renee!


  5. Your story tells me that your husband is a very loving son and that your father-in-law is still a romantic. What a great gift for those two men to share and model for others.

    My sister and I surprised our mom on the afternoon of her 60th birthday. She and my step dad had just fulfilled their retirement dream by moving from Oklahoma city (the only state she’d ever lived in) to Vail, Colorado. They planned and saved so they could spend their golden years living in the mountains. My mom has always had a hard time with “change” and this change was exciting but emotional. Turning 60 and moving away from family and friends she’d had for a lifetime was all happening within a few days of each other so my sister and I decided to show up on her doorstep and bring gifts of comfort and familiarity on this special birthday.

    My sister and I met at the Denver airport where we rented a car and drove two hours to my parents new home. Mom was in the kitchen unpacking her dishes when we rang the doorbell. We stood together on the porch holding a dozen red roses. The opened screen door allowed me to say in my deepest voice, “Flowers for Brenda Lee”.
    Scientists discovered light travels faster than sound. My sister and I discovered on that porch, that light also travels faster than reality. My mom came to the door, glanced at us and said, “Oh my goodness, what gorgeous flowers!” It took my mom one to two full seconds longer to realize who we were. A long embrace and many tears followed. It was the best gift I’ve ever given.


    • What a beautiful way to make your mom’s transition special. It’ll never be forgotten! I love how you weave science into this anecdote – about light traveling faster than reality! Sweet!


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