Portrait (Really. I Got Photos!) of a Crazypants Christmas Surprise

I honestly don’t know how, exactly it came to be that I was struck with my ever-so-slightly crazypants  idea of a Christmas gift for my husband this year. I really don’t.  But once the idea got inside my head, my enthusiasm for the wackadoodle plan grew & grew until nobody could talk me out of it.

What was it that I got Jon this year? Well, a  Schwinn Meridian three-wheeled bicycle, of course – – a supercool urban transport thingamajig that I just knew I wanted to get for my beloved as soon as I spied it online for the first time.

Just for a bit of background before I tell you about my decision to get Jon this three-wheeled bike for Christmas, I will tell you that up until now, we have not really been what anyone would describe as “a biking family.”  E does sometimes go biking with his dad, and has even done one 35 mile race, where he was the youngest person to finish, but in general, none of us here at Casa Hickju rides a bike. To be clear, none of us are ANTI biking, it’s just that for whatever reason, biking as an activity hasn’t really been on our radar.

There’s a rather worse-for-wear mountain bike belonging to Jon down in our basement, but I’m not really sure when he rode it last. In my own case, since becoming an adult, I’ve always enjoyed riding a bike when the very infrequent opportunity has arisen, but I haven’t actually owned a bike since I was in college — a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That bike was my grandfather’s supercool 70s Raleigh cruiser, which he gave me when I went away to school. He and my grandmother had bought the same Raleigh cruiser models in both the men and women’s styles back in the mid 70s, but while my grandmother rode her bike regularly well into the late 1990s, my grandfather barely touched his from the day they brought them home from the SoCal bike shop where they’d bought them.

And so, that’s how in 1987 or so, I ended up with a like-new, 1976 Raleigh cruiser as my own. I’d never much ridden bikes before this, but I immediately took to my new bike. Although it was the men’s version, I loved the thing. It was an orangey, 70s brown color with fat widewall tires and an even fatter, broad seat. (It looked quite a bit like this Raleigh of the same era.)

Even though other college students and young hipsters-about-town were riding the flashy mountain bikes that were all the rage at the time, I absolutely loved my retro, old-person bike with its three speeds, kickstand, and plush seat. This bike was built for comfort, not for speed, and that suited me just fine. It already had a zingy bell, and I added a wicker basket I wired onto the handlebars with a coat hanger — which worked quite nicely — and I pedaled the thing all over the place for two years…until it was stolen from where it was chained to a pole out in front of the downtown restaurant where I worked at the time. I hadn’t worried too much about anyone stealing my funky, uncool old bike — remember, 70s cruiser bikes weren’t at all in style like they are these days — and as a result, the chain I used to lock up my bike when I needed to was a piece of junk. So when someone decided they did want my bike,well, that was that. I was really bummed out when it was swiped, and I’ve missed my brown bike ever since. However, somewhat strangely considering how much I enjoyed riding it, I’ve never bought or owned another bike of any kind since that time.

Fast forward to Christmas 2012: although neither of them had actually asked for a bike, I just had this strange sense that Santa Claus would, in fact, decide to bring both 14-year-old E (he turns 15 next week) and 17-year-old J bikes of their own for Christmas this year, along with the other presents they had asked and hoped for. I just had a funny feeling that this would be the case. So maybe that’s how I got started Googling around about bikes and types of bikes, something I had never done before — ever. And this Googling eventually landed me at Amazon’s page featuring the three-wheeled Schwinn Meridian bike, an item which immediately looked SO cool and fun and practical to me. I read some of the reviews about this funky-cool thing and was further intrigued. Reviews like…

“I recently had shoulder surgery and wanted to go to Burning Man. This trike was the answer to my dreams. Super-sturdy and playa-tough, everyone on the playa was envious of the trike. So easy to maneuver in tight spots and traffic, no worries about potentially damaging late-night crashes. Actually was slammed into by a buddy on the way home one morning–his two wheeler ended up in 4 pieces, he ended up starfish on the playa, and the trike just kept on cruisin. The basket in the back was a godsend–plenty of room for cold beers, a bag, a jacket….watever–a great way to make friends. I love this thing, I can’twait to bring it out there next year.”

Well, that sounded like a type of bike that would be just awesome for a guy to have! After all, aren’t three wheels better than two? That’s what I thought, anyway. Jon isn’t planning to go to Burning Man anytime soon, but I began thinking about all the ways he could have fun riding and using this three wheeler right where we live — a relatively flat  urban neighborhood in downtown Knoxville with sidewalks and a wonderful greenway that runs directly behind our street. Very bike friendly. And Knoxville is becoming more bikeable all the time. For example, from our house, you could easily bike to the neighborhood grocery store or pharmacy, the Food Co-op, C’s school, our church, the downtown Farmers Market, lots of restaurants, two libraries, the downtown pub that’s Jon’s favorite hangout, several parks, many of our friends’ houses, and much more.

Wouldn’t it be GREAT, I thought to myself, if I got Jon one of these cool Schwinn three wheelers with that big basket on the back to ride around to all these places on summer evenings and weekends, instead of driving his car?

The more I thought about this idea of Jon being able to pedal his own cool, fun, green urban transport machine around, leaving his car behind, the more exuberant I became. He could make grocery runs, using the basket to carry stuff home!  We could get a trailer for him to pull the two littles to the park! He could hit the pub with his buddies without driving a car! The possibilities seemed endless. I was sold on this great idea I’d come up with.

So, I went ahead and ordered one of the Schwinn Meridians for Jon. In cherry red. I also ordered a top notch bike lock/chain combo, a bike helmet, and bike headlights for front and back. I was really excited as I placed my Christmas orders.

I was so excited about this big surprise for Jon that I began telling a few people about my holiday cleverness, showing them a photo on my iPhone of the three wheeler I’d ordered for Jon, and swearing them to secrecy. I think I expected high fives for my creativity in gift-giving. However, that’s definitely not the response I got when people took a look at the photo of the three wheeler now on its way to our doorstep. From my little sister, to J and E, to our close friend Jay, everyone said the same thing to me:  Jon is a runner. He doesn’t ride bikes. Have you ever seen him on a bike? Has he ever expressed any interest in riding a bike? No he has not. This idea is a flop. Cancel the bike. He won’t like it or want it.

Well, this feedback (which I’d admittedly invited) kind of irritated me. I mean, COME ON! Where was these people’s sense of surprise and creativity around gift-giving? If everyone always just got exactly what they wanted and expected for Christmas, why not have them just go out and but their own dang gifts? Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received have been completely unexpected — things I never would have imagined wanting or using — but that I grew to really appreciate and enjoy. And what about Father’s Day five years ago when I got Jon — an Apple-hating, open source kind of guy — his first iPod, something he would have SWORN he wouldn’t want had we asked him? Well, we didn’t ask him, and I knew he’d love the iPod once he tried it. And guess what? I was right. In fact, only a few months ago, Jon told me yet again how glad he was that I’d taken a chance and gotten him that iPod as a surprise.

To me, these big surprises that take Christmas giving outside the box, as it were, are often the best ones of all. That’s what I indignantly told the naysayers after they told me that they really couldn’t see this idea of mine being a hit on Christmas morning. However, despite my insistence that Jon would love the three wheeler once he saw/tried it, I secretly began to wonder if maybe these nattering nabobs of negativity were right, and whether my exuberance over this wacky gift idea had been irrational. However, the three wheeler and its accoutrements were already on their way, so I couldn’t turn back. Plus, I still hoped that maybe all the others were just wrong, and I was right, and Jon would love this cool, totally unexpected gift.

The Schwinn arrived at our house via FedEx in a giant box. Jon was there, but J distracted him so he didn’t see. E helped me to wrestle the box into the solid gold minivan to transport over to Greenlee’s Bike Hospital — only two or three blocks from our house — for Christmas Eve day assembly. After Greenlee’s called me an hour or two later to say that the bike was ready, I waited until Jon was out running errands for several hours, left J and E to watch their little sisters and visiting cousin, and I hoofed it over to Greenlee’s to pick up Jon’s stylin’ new ride. I then pedaled it back to our house so that the kids could get a preview before I hid it for Christmas morning. It was SO fun to ride that I felt more confident than I had been that this gift would be a win.

When I got to our house on the new three wheeler, J was otherwise occupied, and G was asleep, but E, C and cousin NC all came outside to see it. The little girls  began squealing with excitement, and the previously skeptical E asked to take the Meridian for a test spin, which he did…wearing his Christmas jammies, as you can see.

Schwinn Meridian

(YES! My children are required to always wear helmets when they ride a bike. In this instance, however, E was in his pajamas and literally just pedaling around in circles in front of our house for 10 minutes.)

After his test ride, E announced that he loved the three wheeler, and that he was sure Jon would too. He’d changed his mind completely after actually seeing and riding the thing. He said that if he had one, he’d ride it everywhere. This obviously cheered me because to be honest, as the big moment to actually give this wacky, off the wall gift to Jon approached, I was beginning to doubt myself on this whole plan. So E’s thumbs up gave me a nice confidence boost.

Once E hopped off, I climbed back on and pedaled the bike one block over to the pre-arranged hiding place in Doctor D’s carport, where the gift would wait ’til Christmas morning.

And so Christmas morning arrived! Among all the other awesome items Santa brought, J and E were both surprised with new Bell Citi helmets to go along with their BRAND NEW BIKES!! Woohoo! Yay Santa!

Here’s J’s bike.


And here is E’s

After all 4 kids had ooohed and aahed over Santa’s bounty for an hour or two, it was time to open the gifts under the tree — gifts from family and friends, and to each other. In other words, the moment of truth had arrived; it was time to surprise Jon with the Schwinn.

I decided to give Jon his big gift first, before anybody else opened their presents. Earlier I’d snuck out and run over to the Rivers’ and ridden the bike the one block back to our house. E brought out a sheet and we had Jon’s Schwinn in our front yard, ready to unveil. I told myself that whatever Jon’s reaction was, I would take it in stride. After all, it’s fun to go out on a limb with gift giving sometimes, and hey, if he hated the darn thing, we could unload it on Craigslist, right?

So here we went… I led Jon and the little girls out onto the front porch, and J and E were ready to unveil this crazy gift. We were all waiting to see what his reaction would be: love it or hate it.


The sheet came off, the little girls squealed with excitement, and J, E and I waited to hear what Jon would say….

But instead of saying anything positive or negative, he just kind of stood there with bemused bafflement…like, what has my insane wife done?


I guess I expected him to immediately show his hand here – love it or hate it – but instead he kept a complete poker face, with a little smile.

So what do you think, honey?! I asked with great enthusiasm. He smiled at me, still saying nothing, and pulled me in for a big hug. He then suggested that we all go in to open gifts, something to which all four kids eagerly agreed. So in we all went, Jon holding my hand and still smiling somewhat cryptically.

DAMN. This was not what I expected. I wanted a definitive answer here, but I willed myself not to harass him to tell me what he thought of the bike now sitting outside. We opened gifts and had a great time. I fixed a good breakfast for everyone. And I still managed not to ask him what he thought of the admittedly kind of weird gift with three wheels and an enormous basket now sitting in our front yard. I noticed him going out to look at it a time or two, but I still didn’t ask.

And that was 12 hours ago now. It’s after 10 pm, and I STILL have no clue what my husband thinks of the Schwinn Meridian, now locked up on our porch for the night. I did break my silence at least once this evening to sort of demand some feedback, to which he replied calmly that he is “still processing” the present I gave him.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said with a smile as he headed off to bed a few minutes ago. “You definitely managed to surprise me with this one.”

And that was ALL I GOT! No expressions of love or hate. Nada. Just that he’s “still processing,” which is soooooo much like my cerebral, very laid back guy. And I can tell he meant it, too. Some people might say something like “still processing” as a euphemism for “I hate this gift.” But that’s just not Jon’s style. If he says he’s still mulling over what he thinks of my wacky gift, because it came as such a big surprise, then that’s exactly what he means. This is not a guy who talks of things like “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

Despite how impatient I may be to get a verdict on this, it looks like I have to wait at least until tomorrow.

So stay tuned! Will Jon love it or (Craigs)list it? Will my wackadoodle Christmas gift be a big win or a big lesson for me to just get people what I am sure they will want for Christmas?  I really will be okay with either outcome. I knew from the start that it could go either way. I will just have to be patient to find out the verdict.


READ PART II OF  THE CHRISTMAS SURPRISE: JON’S SIDE OF THE STORY (In which he tells what he thought of the weird bike I got him.)


So how about you? Have you ever gone out on a limb and gotten someone you love a gift that you weren’t entirely sure would be a hit? How did things turn out? Have you yourself ever received an “out there” gift from your significant other? What was it? What was it like to be super surprised like that? Did you end up loving it or hating it?  And in general, do you like receiving “surprise” holiday and birthday gifts, or would you rather than your friends and family just buy you something you’ve clearly indicated that you want and will use/enjoy?

Do tell!









Article Posted 3 years Ago
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