How to surprise your husband on his birthday

Most of the people in my life go out of their way to not celebrate their birthdays.

For example …

For her 50th birthday dinner, my mother, the diva, requested that my father to take her to Long John Silver’s for chicken planks and french fries. For her 77th birthday, my Oma took one look at the balloons I had hung up for her and said, “Vell, dees is the first time I’ve had balloons on my birthday.”

“The FIRST time?” I asked.

“Ve didn’t have balloons in Germany after the var.”

This was delivered with such a mix of melancholy and hardness that I felt at once glad and guilty for having hung them.

My Nana has bemoaned her birthday for years. Earlier this year, when I mailed her a container of homemade brownies, she told me to save myself the effort because she’s “an old crow” and the brownies were “all mush” by the time they arrived.

My sister PK has such severe birthday anxiety that as a child she refused to acknowledge the date. However, like any young ingrate she still liked receiving presents, so to ensure she’d still be gifted but not celebrated she invented a new birthday; an unbirthday for those of you who are into Alice in Wonderland. The date? May 11, the same day as my parent’s wedding anniversary. This was obviously a strategic move so my mother would be less apt to forget it. It worked. At 28 she still gets presents on this day.

Having said this, I do not come from a family of party poopers. Under different circumstances these people are SUPER fun and celebratory. It’s birthdays that bring out the Eeyore in them. Unlike me, this apathy stems less from a fear of mortality and more from a fear of ATTENTION.

My husband on the other hand is exactly the opposite. He’s a birthday whore.

He lives for December 8. Truthfully, he lives for the WEEK of December 8. For Joe it isn’t so much a birth DAY as a birth WEEK. He counts down to it like a child counts down to Christmas. (For the record, he counts down to Christmas too because I think he views Christmas as an extension of his birthday.)

December is Joe’s birth MONTH and he’d lay claim to all 31 days if Jesus’ big day didn’t get in the way.

Sometimes I enjoy his birthday whoriness. When you come from a family of limelight dodgers, it’s refreshing to see a grown-ass man get bitchy when you break tradition and unknowingly cut the first slice of his birthday cake. (“What’s wrong with you? It’s my birthday. I’m supposed to make the first cut.”)

Joe doesn’t open a bag of LJS chicken planks and call it a day. In the fall he types out a long list of things he’d like for his birthday and emails it to me in a Word doc.

This year he failed to send the September wish list. Probably because he’s been so busy supporting our family, being a superb dad to Hank and a patient, understanding and bighearted husband to his sometimes high-strung, sometimes neurotic, sometimes surly wife.

HE EARNED A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY. (And a ticket to see Trey Anastasio play the House of Blues in February.)

So on a weekend that kicked off Dec. 6 with my dear friend Gabriel’s wedding in Safety Harbor, Fla., I planned a two-day celebration that involved a surprise hotel stay at the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa, a surprise boat ride from the hotel to Hula Bay Club and a surprise dinner attended by a rotating cast of family and friends.

Here’s a little look at how it went down:

→ First there was a wedding.

 → At which we got happy and schnockered – Joe on vodka tonic, me on BEER.

 → After which I had a pretty awful hangover and could not function without dark sunglasses.

→ So I walked through adorable downtown Safety Harbor in search of a store that sells Advil.


 → After that I felt much better and pranced merrily back to our room, where I whispered in the ear of sleeping Joe, “Keep sleeping. I got us a second night.” Which meant I was free to mosey around Safety Harbor taking photos of Spanish oak trees.

→ For lunch we ate lunch at The Sandwich on Main and took this dumb photo in front of passing cars and pedestrians.

→ My favorite part of Project Spoil Spouse came at 4 p.m. when our friends – a fun-loving husband and wife duo from St. Pete – arrived outside our hotel (surprise No. 2) and while walking along the water, I randomly hopped on a boat with Captain Jared Simonetti (surprise No 3). Our friends followed suit. Joe figured out pretty quickly what was happening. “Uh, you chartered a boat?”

→ Simonetti, a Florida native, gave us a gorgeous two-hour ride around Tampa Bay on his new 23 Dorado, on which we drank Cristal Barefoot Bubbly and behaved like rappers well-mannered parents happy to be away from their children.

→ After which we were dropped off for dinner at Hula Bay Club, where Joe was met with birthday greetings from family and friends at a long table befit for The Last Supper, if the Last Supper were held at a beach bar in Tampa (surprise No. 4).

→ As an impulsive procrastinator I’m accustomed to flying by the seat of my mom pants, so you can imagine how pleased I was to see the night unfold according to plan. The layered surprises made me feel like I was on a one-on-one date with The Bachelor, until we bummed a ride back to our hotel in a friend’s station wagon and immediately passed out on the bed.

Romance when you’re married and have a kid sometimes takes a back seat to sleep.


  1. Joe Bardi says

    Note: I am still accepting birthday well-wishes until 11:59 pm on 12/31.

    Thank you my beautiful, amazing wife for the birthday surprise (which was even more awesome than this post makes it seem) and for this post. I am delighted and grateful.

  2. Tara says

    Great job, Heidi! Looks like a blast. Too funny about your family’s aversion to birthday attention. Does PK get presents on her actual birthday too? If so, I’m mad I didn’t think of this!

  3. Ro says

    Ugg! I’m a birthday scrooge! Poor Tom gets a bad clebration because he’s right after Christmas (1/10) and people are tired, cold, and broke. I did have a super 30th Suprise Party for him 3 weeks early and he loved it! When I turned 30 I made him PROMISE he wouldn’t have a party for me.
    Last year when he turned 35 he was sad that his almost 20 week pregnant wife didn’t throw another suprise party for him. Mind you I vomited 5-7 times a day until 22 weeks and we bought a business December 1st! Ugg!
    I did have a great 25th Birthday though-which sadly is the last one we celebrated together :(

  4. mothership says

    “birthday whore” lol That’s hilarious!!! Great party planning Heidi, sounds like a great time. So glad Joe loved ALL of your efforts to make him feel extra special. I enjoy planning parties for others and going all out too. I just feel very uncomfortable having anything in my honor and rather avoid it totally. Your father on the other hand loves the attention. He doesn’t care if he gets presents, he just likes having all his friends & family celebrate HIS day! He still is talking about his 50th bday party 5 yrs later.

  5. says

    I wish I could ‘like’ Joe’s comment above. So sweet!

    And I’m with Joe! I start celebrating my birthday six months in advance. So technically, Joe, December is MY birthday month. 😉

  6. Stacy says

    Good job Heidi!….& JOE! Let’s get something straight!….you can NOT have the 26th either as that’s my day!…lol you can have the rest though 😉 ;). Happy Birthday month-1 to you! I hope you have the best month ever! 😉

  7. Rachel says

    OMG HEIDI YOU RULE! Joe, Happy Belated Birthday! We are not FB friends or else I probably would have done the proper social media thing and wished you a happy birthday on your actual day of birth. However, since you are a “birthday whore” (as am I) I wish you a happy, happy birthday and hope you appreciated all the awesomeness that your kick ass wife set up to celebrate the one and only you. :-)

  8. heidi says

    Joe: I love you and you deserved it, whoriness or not. 😉

    Tara: Yes, PK still gets lots of presents on her actual birthday. She’s a scoundrel.

    Ro: There’s still time for you to come here and celebrate my 32nd!

    Mothership: Nothing will ever come close to the look of shock and awe on Dad’s face when he walked into the North Collins Rec Hall on his 50th birthday and PK and I charged him like two wild Buffalos. I couldn’t tell if he was about to have a heart attack or break into tears. It was priceless and for that YOU deserve a big round of applause.

    Rebecca: Happy Birthday … early … or late … you party animal.

    Stacy: Dec. 26?!?! You must get everyone’s re-gifts.

  9. heidi says

    Oh and Rachel: he appreciated it, since I got a pass on Sunday (his ACTUAL birthday) when I failed to remember to invite his family over for dinner, cake and ice cream. “It’s OK,” he said. “You’ve had a lot of planning on your plate. I’ll let it slide.”

  10. Cheri Andelora says

    Wonderful surprise!!!! You can plan my birthday any day! I’m with Joe on stretching out birthday celebrations as long as you can…hahaha! Mine is the first week of August and I still get birthday wishes until New Year’s Eve. So…that being said, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOE!!! You two are an amazing couple.

  11. Joe says

    …. there should be a like button around here somewhere for this. What an awesome job to Heidi making it unfold the way it did to a very nice and incredible surprise. And a happy late pre-birthday wish to Joe as his month is slowly upon you again Heidi.

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