It starts about a week out. You start assessing the options. Take them out one at a time and give them your full attention. Yes. Wait, no. Then you have to leave two of them alone while you take the other one out - bad idea. Hot potato.
Take them all out at once! Yes! NO-Jeez, what were you thinking?? Hot potato.
Have them all over to the house. You can set the whole thing up. It'll be cheaper and they'll appreciate the personal attention. Wait - wha? Who let a tornado through this house? Do we usually keep a stock of legos in the bathroom? Uh, never mind, nothing here. Hot potato.
AHA! (Light bulb!) Ask them what they want to do and then do that! Wait, no. No, no, no. Fallen into this trap before. Then they think you can't think of anything and can't plan anything for them the way they ALWAYS plan EVERYTHING. Definitely not asking them a damn thing. Hot potato.
Mental pacing back and forth, back and forth. What to do. What to do. What to do.
In the meantime, it's gotten to be Saturday. Kids have prepared loving homemade gifts and original pieces of art, wife has assembled series of small gifts for friends and family, neighbors have dropped off little somethings that make your wife tear up, your mom has dropped hints the weight of the average anvil, your mother-in-law is flushed and excited about the 'big day'. Everyone's ready except you.
'For the love of GAAAAAHD,' you think to yourself, 'why do they invent these torturous holidays?!?'
In a mad dash you pack the kids into the car, mumble something about AutoZone to make sure your wife tunes out (not realizing that your wife knows damn well you're not going to AutoZone with three kids dressed for a party) and rush to the nearest department store in a full sweat and increasing panic. You bluster from predictable display to predictable display, not wanting to be that guy who buys his wife the green apple bath set because he doesn't know what to get. The kids pant behind you as you rush up and down escalators, across lobbies, through carpeted odes to tack and glam. Then it happens! You remember your wife said something about socks yesterday and there before you, rising out of the 2nd floor atheltic wear department like a Vegas-style water display, is the glorious socks-on-sale pyramid. God loves you! It'll be thoughtful, it'll be practical (how many times has she said, 'But I don't even need a wrench set'?) and it's on SALE! Wooo hoooo!
You are done, brother. Forget the mother-in-law, your wife has that covered. Forget your own mom - she loves you anyway. You have scored the big TD. Add some flowers and a card to this puppy and you've just rung the bell, son. You may very well get some personal attention of your own later if this all goes according to plan. Home you go, barely able to contain the grin. You prance around the house all Saturday night feeling just so good about yourself. Of course she's getting excited too. Anticipation is key, as our friends at the Heinz company well know.
Sunday arrives - the big moment is here - she opens the lovely card - sniffs the lovely flowers - and then gently peels back pastel tissue paper from a floral gift bag to reveal.... socks! Yesssss. You're smiling ear-to-ear. But wait, she's got a face - not the right face - the completely wrong face. God Bless Moses, you got it wrong. You got it all wrong. It's the wrong face. She's trying not to make the kids feel bad so she smiles and giggles and says 'thank you' but it's wrong, wrong wrong. You have not been favored with the tear-and-pressed-gift-to-chest. Instead, you have been relegated to the set-aside-gift-bag-and-return-to-kids'-cards. Loser. Again.
The rest of the day goes on with a fog over it. You check to see if maybe you misjudged - hand on the small of the back as you walk through the door - extra long laugh when she laughs at a child's joke - but you're getting no eye contact, no hand snuck under yours to squeeze. You know the face, there was no misjudging. You blew it, blew it blew it. And the next chance you get to do this again, you'll be starting with the deficit of this disaster. The sky is black.
But guess what. You didn't blow it at all. If your wife is brand-spanking new at this whole married thing, then maybe she doesn't see it that way. But us gals who've been at it for a while see the whole thing and love you for it. Love you for the fretting and wanting to get it right, love you for the strain of going outside your area of expertise to do something you'd otherwise avoid like poison ivy, love you for giving us a reason to celebrate this most glorious of holidays. We love you and appreciate you and are glad for you every day and especially this day.
As for me personally? I awoke to the scent of a delicious cup of coffee - bedside - the Sunday paper (my fave), fresh roses, and the sound of my husband vacuuming. I made a brunch at home with my daughters and my mom while my husband and son tended the garden and planted all our flowers. I went shopping a bit in the afternoon, came home to a gorgeous yard and clean house, freshened up and went to my mother-in-law's house for a dinner of delicious homemade tamales. It was lovely and wonderful and my husband made it happen.
And that was so hot.