My mom arrives 10 minutes before my date, and I tell her: “You can say your hellos from the top of the stairs, but you cannot come to the door.”
“Yes, ma’am!” she says, and heads off to find her 5-year-old granddaughter.
It’s enough that my daughter will be meeting my date tonight, but at age 33, the idea of my mom meeting him too seems absurd.
Mae is in the kitchen, making Jewish stars at her art table, and I give her the drill: “No sugar snacks, teeth brushed … ”
“You look pretty, Mommy,” she says, ignoring my litany.
My mom asks me about this man. I tell her that a friend has set us up. “He’s Jewish, 45 years old, never married,” I say, pretending like Mae is not catching every word, when I know this isn’t really appropriate.
The doorbell rings.
“There he is!” my mom says excitedly.
I smooth out my skirt and descend the stairs. When I open the door, both my mom and Mae are at the top of the staircase.
“Hello there!” my mom yells out in her flirtatious, sing-song voice.
“Hello there!” Mae mimics, giggling.
When I look at Stan in his jeans and a white, collared, button-up shirt, I feel overdressed. Still something about his casualness looks fatherly — I can imagine him cheering from the sidelines of a kid’s soccer match.
I block his body, not letting him inside. “I’m glad everyone had the chance to meet!” I say, and slam the door behind me.
As we get into his car, Stan says, “Wow, I can’t remember the last time I met a woman’s mother on a date.”
“Yeah, and I even have a 10-o’clock curfew,” I say, trying to make light of the situation. But the truth is, as I sink down in the seat, I feel very small.
What are you doing with your life? I think. You still have boys knocking at the door to meet your mom! Not only that, but my kid was right there, greeting him. That’s a lot for a man to handle on a first date.
But none of this is the real reason why I shut the door so fast behind us. Really, I want first rights of refusal. It matters immensely how my mom and daughter feel about the man who’s taking me out. However, I get to look and see first, and then decide whether he gets to come upstairs. When I invite a man upstairs, it’s quite an honor: It means letting him enter my most personal space.
Stan is telling me about his synagogue, but I’m lost in my own thoughts.
What if I had invited him upstairs and introduced him to my family the old-fashioned way? Isn’t that what happens in traditional Jewish families? Don’t you introduce a suitor to your mom?
No, I don’t want to feel like a little girl whose mom has to meet her date. But I do like the tradition of introducing a man to those who are closest to me. I imagine what would have unfolded, had I invited Stan upstairs. My mother would have asked him where he went to college and what he does for a living.
Then Mae would have rushed in with her drawing and thrust it into this lap. Would he have glanced at it quickly and said, “Nice!” Or, would he have held the picture with both hands, examined it carefully, and asked, “Can you tell me about what you’ve drawn here?”
When a man meets my child, it’s a true test. Will he bend down on one knee and talk to her face-to-face? Or will he ignore her as she hovers at his legs, and look into my eyes instead?
Over dinner, Stan and I talk about our parents and our Jewish education. I wait for him to ask about my daughter, but he doesn’t.
His potential for father-material is not looking very good, and I’m anxious about how the night will end. When he parks the car in front of my house, he leans over for a goodnight kiss, but I’m grateful for my old-fashioned excuse to turn my cheek and jump out of the car.