Ostensibly we left to beat the traffic that clogs up the DC-to-New York artery during Thanksgiving week much like Thanksgiving dinner may clog up our internal byways.

Mm.  Stuffing.

But I think really we were just ready to start giving thanks on site.  So Manfriend and I cut out early and left DC at least two full days before we told my family we were planning to.  That’s right—yesterday evening, I walked in the door, pulling Manfriend behind me, and surprised my family.

The scene: Sunday evening, 10 pm, a split-level Long Island home.  I open the door.  Manfriend follows behind.  We wave to my father, who is sitting on the couch in the half-lit livingroom, on a call for his church assignment.  He smiles and waves (we told him we were coming—more on that below).  We walk through the dining room into the den, where the action clearly is.  Mom is on the computer.  She hears us, turns around, opens her mouth in delighted mock surprise and says, “Well, hello, Sarah!  And [Manfriend]!”  (Clearly she knew too.  Dad was charged with telling her.  Also more on that below.)  But the two girls (aged 16 and 14), watching Bleak House, who’ve turned at Mom’s greeting, look at us and jump up simultaneously.  “Sarah!” they yell.  And they run to me and we hug in a threesome and I kiss their faces and laugh.  Mom is hugging Manfriend behind me.  The girls are grinning.

Surprising family is so great.

So here’s the thing—I believe in the surprise of an early arrival.  I think of it as free fun.  It’s free because the cost—the money you pay for transportation, the time away from work, car snacks, etc.—are going to be accrued even if you don’t lie about when you’re going to arrive.  Those are sunk costs.  But the coming early!  The delight!  The unannouncement!  That’s free.  And it never stops being fun.  At least, it hasn’t yet.

That being said, we all know how surprises can go wrong.  For instance,

1. The parties we’re surprising are busy, and our surprise—meant to delight and love—is a burden to them. That’s a bust.  This is why I almost never lie about whether or not I’m visiting; I almost always only lie about when I’m going to arrive.  And when I do that, I always tell someone I’m coming early, so they can take the pulse of the family and perform triage work, if necessary.  Keep the family from doing things like, I don’t know, coming down to surprise me, all gift of the magi-like.

2a.  The surprisee hates surprises. I’m not sure how many people are actually in this category, but I’ve met at least one who is an avowed surprise hater.  In fact, her long distance best friend showed up one weekend and my friend feels distaste for that weekend to this day, just because it was a surprise.  (I personally think that it’s really because the visit had problem #1, but I’m willing to believe my wise, good, thoughtful friend that there are some people who would rather just not be surprised.)

2b.  Or, as in the case of my cute father, the surprisee just likes to be in the know. My father told me after my last early arrival that while he likes surprises, he loves knowing when I’ll be coming home.  “So I can have it to look forward to,” he said.  So this time, I called him before we left DC.  Next time I’ll give him more than five hours of looking forward to.

3. The surprisee is not ready for the surprise. Either they’re not dressed properly for it (like the classmate I had whose boyfriend wrapped himself in a big box and put himself under her Christmas tree for her to open him on Christmas morning so he could propose to her—which would have been fine, she said, except she came down to open her presents without having brushed her teeth or her hair or taken out her retainer; she said yes anyway).  Or they haven’t finished scraping paint off the floors after they’ve finished repainting, say, the bathroom.  (Sorry, family.)  But again—I really think this is a problem that can largely be solved or avoided by the forewarning of solution in #1.  Largely.  The rest is get-overable.

That’s it.  That’s my story.  Coming early—surprising people—it can be so great.  So say I, from where I sit on a couch in my parents’ house, working from my familial home and watching Manfriend doze next to me.

It’s already an awesome Thanksgiving.  No surprise there.