10 years ago, I had my first surprise birthday party. Up until that year, I had always been very involved in planning my birthday and making it exactly the way I wanted. A month or two before I turned 17, my friends and family began asking what I wanted to do, and to every one of them, I replied “nothing”.
Sixteen was a very hard year. Maybe the hardest of my entire life. I haven’t really talked about it on here, but shortly after I turned 16, my best friend took her own life. It was not something my 16 year old self was at all prepared to deal with or knew how to handle. Less than a year later, and exactly one month before I turned 17, an other close friend took his life as well. The last thing I was in the mood to do was celebrate. I agreed to a small dinner with my family and my two closest friends (Bethany and Jason–the two that are still my best friends ten years later) at my favorite restaurant–Avanti.
That evening I arrived at dinner, and my jaw almost hit the floor. An entire long table in our own private area filled with friends and family. I had never let the control of my special day go long enough to let anyone surprise me (just pretend to be surprised by that, okay? ), but here when I least expected it and thought I didn’t want it, was everyone I loved in one place here to surprise me–and they did! I had absolutely no idea. I was overwhelmed. I realized in that moment, that even in sorrow and life’s most challenging times, there can be joy, and it is okay to let yourself feel happy, even when your current situation is, well, not.
I looked around the table and saw the effort that my dad had gone to make me feel happy again, and I looked at all of the support and people there who loved me. My friend Charity hadn’t been able to find a ride, so she called a cab to take her 20 miles to be there to celebrate my birthday. Where do friends like that even come from?!
When my dad started to ask about my birthday this year, I was honestly hesitant to go back to Avanti (where I have been every single birthday since then, with the exception of while I was at UI), because to be 100% honest, Italian food kind of stresses me out. Then he said “But it’s the 10 year anniversary of your special surprise party!” And I remembered that incredible night–I couldn’t resist.
This year, in the theme of keeping things small and being able to spend time with more individual, smaller groups, my Avanti dinner consisted of my dad, Hermano, Janie, my grandma, Steve and me. Steve, Hermano and I showed up to a table with balloons on top (including Tigger, and purple and green–my dad definitely remembers details of what people like). We sat down and ordered some drinks while waiting for my dad, grandma and Janie to arrive.
One of my favorite things about Avanti is that they always encourage Hermano to play their piano!
They have a professional that they hire to play on the weekends, but both him and the manager are always asking Hermano to play and making comments about his improvements! Sometimes, I can even be convinced to sing with him. Today, after the rest of the family arrived, we decided to do Coldplay’s Fix You together. By the time we got near the end, all of the memories of my birthday 10 years ago, as well as the friends I was missing flooded back and I started to feel a little emotional–not necessarily in a bad way, I was just caught a little off guard.
I will never forget what my friends and family did for me that year, but it doesn’t always feel quite so fresh, and it was a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am, and how much I have to be thankful for.
This year started out a little bit stressful, but it got better really quickly. Of course, Hermano making fun of our dad helped get me out of the cranky mood I started in.
After hours and hours of waiting pretty soon, my dad, grandma and Janie arrived.
I had no idea what I wanted to order. I wanted pasta, but I figured I needed protein and blah blah blah. I don’t even remember the last time I ordered pasta at a restaurant, but I did. Avanti has the BEST gnocchi. Seriously, they melt in your mouth! I ended up ordering a half order of gnocchi in rosa sauce and a side of roasted veggies in spicy red sauce topped with gorgonzola cheese. Everything was amazing,
I couldn’t finish my pasta because I knew I had to save room for dessert!
For as long as I can remember, my dad has given me the same birthday cake. He asked me years ago what kind of cake I wanted and I replied “Marble cheesecake with an oreo crust.” I am a girl who knows what I like. It is out of this world and it’s been my annual cake ever since.
You wanna know what’s in that delicious martini glass? White chocolate mint martini. Yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.
After we ate, I opened presents–can you believe I am still getting presents?!
After presents, we
had some fun were completely ridiculous with the balloon clip. We’re really mature in my family.
It definitely would not have felt right this year without our annual dinner, and I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had this year to spend time with people close to me. Thanks dad for always making me feel super special this time of year! I am a lucky girl!