The art of a good surprise

I have always considered myself one who is good at planning surprises, and though I’m still holding out for a surprise party of my own one day, I love being the one involved in the process behind the magic.

I recall fondly of the time a close friend of mine went back to studying after years out of uni and moved into our family home with us. Her birthday was shortly after she moved in, and upon hearing that she was planning on doing nothing, I hatched a plan with my young brother to fill her room with balloons while she was out all day. Even with realising the mass scale of our scheme, and the effort involved in blowing up and tying two hundred or so balloons, our wild hearts were set. My brother unearthed an air compressor from the depths of our shed, and away we went, sitting on the cold tiles and methodically blowing up and tying balloon after balloon till our fingers were raw. At the end of our efforts, we had a kaleidoscope of colour, a room full of balloons, and a palpable joy that we had created in the small space of four walls, and I knew right then that I wanted to be in the business of joy when I grew up, however that looked.

See I love the rush of making people happy. Those who know me well could probably list off many a time I have been involved in a joyous surprise. I’ve planned secret birthday celebrations that needed grand distractions, filled cars to the brim with beanbag balls, and given gifts that required sleuthing into locked houses. I’ve helped plan and create many events, cheeseboards, and announcements galore that I no longer can count on all my fingers and all my toes. There is something lovely and warming to the soul about creating for others. And joy creating is something I was, and still am, always happy to foster within myself. If you know me, I’m the first to put my hand up, and the last to say no.

I’ve shared in the joy as a couple announces their pregnancy to their family and the raw chaotic excitement that comes with a crowd. I’ve been trusted with the envelope of those awaiting to hear if they will have a little miss or mister with the tiny bump they grow. I’ve created and researched and formulated great schemes on ways to share good news with people, time and time again, both behind a camera and not. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my young self that I’ve found my business of joy.

I’ve decided there’s a check list to any good surprise, and it is as follows;

  1. See opportunity
    Always be on the lookout for ways to be a creator of a joyous moment.
    When you seek it out, you will find opportunities will never be in short supply.

  2. Create the idea
    Brainstorm and create the surprise in your head – how will this look? Research even! Let Pinterest become your best friend when inspiration is lacking.

  3. The gift
    Is the gift you? Or a room full of balloons? Maybe you’ve glad wrapped every item in their room, or posted your face across all their family photos? Maybe it’s the gender of their baby or a home cooked meal. Big or small, a surprise is always a unique gift of it’s own.

  4. Formulate an elaborate and foolproof plan
    How do you now enact your grand idea? Learn patterns and scout information – “What are you doing for your birthday?” “Do you know when you’ll be home?” – but be subtle! Ask mutual friends if you need, and always remember where people hide their spare keys.

  5. Now tear your foolproof plan apart
    Always ask the “what if?’s” What if your air compressor fails or something goes wrong? What if they come home early or they’re moved that dang spare key? I’ve found talking it out with someone else helps spot the super obvious flaws in your foolproof plan.

  6. Create a distraction, and always have a cover story!
    Is the distraction someone taking them to a movie so that you have a set time frame they’ll be away, or a lookout to text when they’re leaving a previous commitment strategically planned by you? And always have a cover story! Before you need it!

  7. Be speedy
    Never use your full allotment of time planned as anything can change at any moment. As you might often hear me say in a heated competitive game when someone is taking too long on their round (ahem, husband), – “a quick game is a good game!” So if your surprise is time sensitive, then treat it as such!

  8. Wait
    The hardest part of a surprise is when all things are in place and you have to resist the urge to hurry the reaction or blurt all about it. The best surprises are the natural, candid, and play out in their own time. So hold your tongue and don’t ruin the surprise!

When our good mate Matt approached me saying that he wanted to propose to his girlfriend Rachelle, and even better he wanted me to help capture the moment, I was delighted! My heart swooned at the romance, and my head danced as it began thinking through the 8-step-planning listed above, and the secret conversations I knew I would undertake as the date came closer.

I had Step 1 – see opportunity. Step 2 was organised over many late nights with hot chocolates in our kitchen, and roundabout conversations spoken in only a way we’d understand – create the idea. As the date approached, and Matt picked up the ring, I mentally checked off Step 3 too – the gift.

Steps 4 and 5 required more hot chocolate, and more planning re the location. Matt wanted to propose under the waterfall at Morialta Falls, and like any outdoor shoot, we battled an ever changing weather forecast leading up to. I’d never shot at this location before, and did my research as best I could before the date. We planned and schemed and changed it all up again. Formulate an elaborate plan, then tear it apart.

When Matt very first came to me, I knew that Step 6 would be one of the hardest ones, as to not raise suspicions with Rachelle – create a distraction, and always have a cover story. So we told her it was simply a couple shoot, for me to get new faces, and for them to get some nice photos together. And we weaved this elaborate story from the beginning. Because of this, we talked openly about the shoot without her even knowing the behind the scenes. It was like I was helping script-write the romance to a story the main character wasn’t even aware she was in.

Step 7 – be speedy. Time was of the essence throughout all of the planning, with an ever enclosing deadline. A date was set, and the days ticked down. It was like we were putting together this puzzle and each day was another piece, and once the final piece was ready, it was just time for Step 8. Time to wait.

The day came, and we met at the car park, walking up the track to the falls. The whole time, I was biting my tongue so as to not even joke about what a nice place for a proposal this would be. When we arrived, it was beautiful. The wind was cool and caught the thousands of droplets cascading over the cliff, scattering them around the pool. We slipped the edge of the path and stepped across the stones, and before time knew, Matt was down on one knee, asking Rachelle to be his forever, to which came response a resounding “yes!”.

The weeks and weeks of us planning accounted for only that single moment, and while it seems big pains for small gains, I guess that’s just the art of a good surprise.

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