The front door is freshly squeegeed. Towel bars are loaded with clean, matching towels; countertops are unloaded. Dumbstruck by our teenage daughter's cleaning blitz, her father and I listen to our last-minute instructions.
"Mom, whatever you do, just don't talk. I'll die if he hears your hick accent. And, Dad, please, I beg you, go change that ratty shirt."
Tonight, we meet the boyfriend.
I won't tell our daughter that this romance has the shelf life of a bagel. I don't dare, when my windfall laundress is attacking the Himalayas of dirty clothes in the basement.
"What if he wants to play Ping-Pong down here?" she shrieks. "I'll be humiliated if he sees these nasty piles!"
Her father rolls his eyes. I roll her the bleach.
"And, Dad, don't you dare sing one of your silly songs. I'd be mortified."
Dad, oh so wicked, immediately belts out "What shall we do with the drunken sailor?" Little brother giggles.
"Oh, no. What's that smell?" Our daughter sniffs shoe soles, the refrigerator, her brothers, the trash can. "Mom, something stinks. Help me track it down." I, the Sherlock of household odors, open the broken dishwasher where foul water puddles. Daughter gasps and shoots it with Lysol.
Dad relaxes now in an upgraded shirt in front of the TV with his stocking feet on the coffee table, which suddenly is swept bare of the usual newspapers and magazines. He pulls three feet of dental floss from its canister and begins to saw on a back molar.
Daughter's scream rattles the faux chandelier. At first I think it's the smoke alarm. "Why don't you go ahead and clip your toenails, too, Dad? Go ahead and wreck my life entirely. And dig out the harmonica and serenade the entire county while you're at it."
Little brother chuckles between slurps of chicken noodle soup and goldfish crackers right from the saucepan.
"Oh my gosh. Mom, make him use a bowl tonight, please!" I hand him a bowl - and a napkin. Tonight's special.
Suddenly, she stops and surveys me, head to toe. It's my moment of truth.
"How many years have you had those jeans?" she asks pointedly. My long-term memory fails me. "They're way too short, Mom. And do something with that hair. It's as flat as a raft."
I tug on my jeans. I poof my hair.
And I remember. When I introduced my first boyfriend to my mother, she greeted him with, "Nice to meet you, Jim. Where do you go to church?" I prayed that the brown shag carpet would swallow me like Jonah. A new boyfriend always inspired my brother-in-law to twang his guitar la Woody Guthrie, even though his voice is la Alvin and the Chipmunks. My older sister informed one date that I used mustache bleach. I laugh now as I recall the guy sneaking a peek all night at my upper lip.
"That laugh is so loud and goofy, Mom." My daughter emits a four-syllable sigh.
The doorbell rings. The two titter.
"I'd like you to meet my family," my daughter says so sweetly, and we all play along with her game.
Someday, she'll even mean it. I remember that, too.