Surprise. You’re wonderful.

Dear Friends,

Last night I was holed up in our master bedroom getting caught up on work emails when our doorbell rang. And much to everyone’s surprise, this arrived for my son, Parker:

Photo by Instagram

He downplayed it, of course, but I think he was secretly excited. I mean, what 16-year-old boy wouldn’t be thrilled by the Exacta payoff of pizza AND a date? (Bonus points for any reader who knows what an Exacta is. My father is a horse better from way back and I know all sorts of gambling terms that might surprise you.)

As I helped myself to a slice of Parker’s invitation, I was reminded of two surprise gifts I received a long time ago, both of which made me swoon.

The first: I was 16 and it was Valentine’s Day. I liked a boy but we weren’t exactly dating. I was home with my sister and my mother doing absolutely nothing special when the doorbell rang, well after 8:00 pm. On our doorstep was a tired delivery boy from the local florist at the end of his long day with a dozen roses in a box. My sister — 10 years my senior — grabbed the box and unwrapped the roses while oohing and ahhing over them and guessing out loud which of her many suitors had sent them. Then she read the card, which said: Smile a little smile for me, Joan-Marie.

Yes, my given name is Joan-Marie (after both my grandmothers). And, yes, the boy who had stolen my heart also stole a line from a corny song by the Flying Machine. But as my sister’s wide smile instantly disappeared and she reluctantly and sadly handed the box to me, I didn’t care about my corny name or the corny sentiment. All that mattered was somebody I cared about thought I was wonderful.  And that’s a feeling a girl (or a boy) never forgets.

The second: I had just started dating Mr. Mom when one Sunday we decided on the spur of the moment to go to lunch at our favorite Mexican joint. Not only did we love the food at this particular place, I loved the free candy at the hostess’s station — Atomic Fireballs. Mr. Mom had introduced me to the insanely hot and addictive jawbreakers and we had gotten in the habit of picking up a couple every time we could. But on this particular day, the hostess was out of candy and we left empty-handed.

As Mr. Mom drove me back to my apartment, he made an unannounced stop at a Sam’s Club, saying, “I forgot, I have to pick something up here. I’ll be back in two minutes.” I sat patiently in his truck, assuming he was on an errand for his mother. When he came back to the truck, he smiled and said “Ah, they didn’t have what I needed, but I figured you could use one of these.” And with that, he handed me a jar of 144 individually wrapped Atomic Fireballs.

And let me just say I think it’s about the most romantic gesture ever directed my way. To this day, the man gets a free pass anytime he needs it because he surprised me with a gross of Atomic Fireballs when we were dating. I know it sounds crazy (what love affair isn’t in one respect or another?), but it was his Lloyd Dobbler moment. (Double bonus points for anyone who catches that reference from one of my favorite romantic comedies.)

With gratitude {for wild romantic gestures of all types at any age},

Joan-Marie, who used to cringe at her old-fashioned name but now thinks the hyphen is the mark of something special, sorta like Cindy Crawford’s beauty spot or Lauren Hutton’s gap-tooth smile