For the first time in the history of our family, the siblings and my dad teamed up to surprise my mom—otherwise known as The Karen, because every badass needs a The in front their name (e.g., The Terminator)—with a trip to Pigeon Forge this March in dual celebration of her 60th birthday and my parents' 40th anniversary.

You might not quite grasp how big of a feat this was unless you know my mom, but I'll just preface my story with one simple fact: The Karen does not surprise easily. Come to think of it, I've not once witnessed a surprised Mooma in all my years on this earth. Grateful, sure. Amused, pretty much every day! But shocked? Never. (It's like they say—mothers know everything, and this one really does.) Which is why we had our work cut out for us.


The plan was in place months ahead of time: Mom and Dad were going to road trip it up to Nashville to visit Lance and Tyler. The next morning, the four of them would take off east together, stop in Knoxville for lunch, and then head on to Pigeon Forge for a Dolly Parton concert and a few nights in the mountains with Lance's coworkers. Little did my mom know that Dolly Parton was not scheduled to perform in Pigeon Forge that weekend, and Lance's friends wouldn't be joining. Instead, to her utter shock (we hoped), she'd find the rest of the Alleman clan (me and Scott, who "couldn't afford time off for a family trip this year," and Jason and Jenna, who were "spending their Spring Break in Denver") hiding out in Big Bear Lodge, donning creepy looking Dolly masks, and impatiently awaiting their arrival.

It was the perfect plan, and as long as Dad could keep his cool, we would successfully execute the Birthiversary surprise that would go down in infamy.


The Friday night before the reveal, Mom and Dad were safely situated in Nashville for the start of their little springtime vacay and everything was going down without a hitch. That is, until the next morning, when one damning group text message would catch the all-seeing eyes of my mother, instantly peaking her suspicion.

Meanwhile, on our end, panic was setting in:

A precarious slip-up indeed, but frankly, I was impressed that we had managed to prevent it for as long as we did. (With all of our different group texts going, someone was bound to mistake the Family thread for the Siblings Only one.)

Luckily, Lance's recovery was flawless—and the rest of us quickly filled the thread with comments and questions so as to inconspicuously conceal the evidence. It was a close call, we concluded, but we were probably in the clear. After all, it'd take a real Jedi Master to catch on to something so small in the grand scheme of things.

Alas, I'm regretful to report that we underestimated the sharp intuition of our mother, the Sith Lord.

Although she'd later swear she didn't, THE KAREN KNEW THE WHOLE TIME. And we wouldn't realize it until around 4pm, when our presence was finally revealed with shouts of "Surprise!" echoing throughout the vast cabin the moment she walked through the door.

Because, dear readers, the look on her face said it all: Underneath the undeniable elation, pure adrenaline, and sheer joy of having her kids together again was the calm and collected composure of someone who is always one step ahead.

Such is the way of our mother; but, admittedly, that's why we love her.

Failed attempt or not, the mission to surprise The Karen is not yet over. My parents' 50th anniversary will be an even bigger milestone, and we have ten years to plan something she'll never see coming.

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In all seriousness, though, our stay in Pigeon Forge was a success in every sense of the word. Mom and Dad were on Cloud 9 the entire time, and us kids were just happy to have made it happen without one stitch of help from the Planner Extraordinaire herself.

  • tasted every flavor Moonshine at Ole Smoky Barn.
  • escaped a malfunctioning spaceship in The Escape Game.
  • endured insults and a mean lunch at Dick's Last Resort.
  • grabbed a beer and played a round of Checkers at Yee-Haw Brewing Company.
  • hiked 5 miles through Cades Cove in the cold rain.
  • dressed up in our dinner party best for Jason's expertly-crafted murder mystery night.
  • sat through 2+ hours of the most dramatic Bachelor Finale yet.
  • and, as always, played lots and lots of board games.