I called to wish her happy birthday at about noon Seattle time and expressed my regrets at not being able to greet her in person at that moment. "I hope your father doesn't buy me flowers again, " Mom said. "Oh, I think he can come up with something better," I said. "I gotta go. Talk to you after dinner?"

As it turns out, the "something better" was a surprise party, and I was phoning mom from the O'Hare airport in Chicago about 30 minutes from our house - our plane had just landed. This particular surprise party abused frequent flier miles tremendously. My brother and one of my parents' close friends flew out from California. I came from Seattle. 5 of my mom's 7 sisters plus one cousin came from Boston, Seattle, and the Philippines (well, they were visiting Seattle anyway). Another cousin came up from the U of I, another cousin from Ohio (with her boyfriend), and friends of my parents' came from all over the place. We made cardboard cutouts (almost life-size) of the sisters (my aunts) who couldn't make it and propped them on chairs.

Ironically, Mom had helped surprise my grandmother (her mom) for her birthday the week before by turning up unexpectedly in Seattle along with me. But she was still shocked. I think it took a while for her to realize how many people were in the room. And then who was in the room, because none of us were supposed to be anywhere nearby.

This all started as a joke, an idle comment wondering about the possibility of my little brother visiting home for the occasion. Then it turned into "actually, I wonder if both us kids could come and surprise her." Then we looked and found that, thanks to frequent flyer miles, we could. For about $5. (I knew going to the Philippines was a good idea!) Then my aunt decided to come along. Then my dad decided to invite all the rest of my mom's sisters. And her mother. And then cousins. And friends. And get one friend to make a collage, and another to hide us in his house until dinnertime when we all crept into the restaurant's back room...

And that's the reason why I woke up at 5:30 today (after having gone to bed at 3am from working late) and struggled onto a plane with bleary-eyed relatives and had an utterly unproductive workday and a really wonderful day. My aunt and I are flying back to Seattle tomorrow and heading straight from the airport to Bellingham for Yet Another Conference that I'm presenting at, so I'm only home for a very short evening, but it's still great to be around my relatives - the house shook with life and conversations until a few hours ago when everyone started going to sleep (and I started working). I think bringing her (large) family around her is probably the best gift we could have given.

Happy birthday, mom. I'm going to sleep now so I can wake up and catch my plane back over in the morning. I think we'll all remember this day for a long, long time.

My dad did give her flowers for her birthday as well, by the way. He knows it bugs her. But he's like that.