It's the time of year when kids come home from college and stay in the frozen museum you made of their old room.
Child: "Gosh, Mom, it's nice to see these eighth-grade soccer trophies all shiny and lined up, but ... "
Mom: "I used Brasso! Turns out it just ate the finish off, because the trophies are plastic. So I had them regilded. Same place I did your baby shoes and first retainer, which is right here in the top drawer, next to that little stuffed animal you carried around for four years until it was just a scrap of fabric. You called it 'Woonie.' " (Sniffs, blinks back tears, smiles broadly.)
Child: "Thanks! But I can hardly remember even playing soccer in middle school. Maybe I could put up a picture on the shelf instead?"
Mom: "Sure! Here's a picture of you playing soccer in eighth grade."
We haven't touched Daughter's room since she left. And by left, I mean "exited the hemisphere." I haven't seen her in 302 days, eight hours, and 14 minutes — that's a rough estimate; not like I'm counting or anything — but that will change on Saturday. She returns from Brazil, where she spent the last year as an exchange student. Haven't seen her since, although occasionally my phone vibrates and there's a picture of her on a ramshackle barge in the rain forest, holding an alligator. Better that than the other way around, I guess.
The return will be a joyous day — and it's also an opportunity for a prank of epic proportions. Here are the schemes I'm considering.
1. Different mother. Granted, her mom is inordinately gorgeous, so it would be hard to find someone who looks like her, but it's possible I could find someone who looked similar. The right haircut, some practice nailing the telltale mannerisms (right here is where my wife looks up from the paper and says, aloud "What mannerisms?") and it would be close enough to make Daughter doubt her own sanity for a second.
"What did you do with Mom?"
"This is your mother. She has always been your mother."
(Fake mom turns around from the front seat, wearing contact lenses that make her eyes look like those of a lizard.) "I've always been your mother."
Possibility of success: 1 in 10, but it would make the ride home from the airport memorable.
2. Room rearrangement. She has a big cork board with memorabilia from her travels and interests, and I considered removing everything, scanning them and altering them on a computer. Changing faces, dates, places, just a little. Replace all the books with something slightly different. "Moby Duck," for instance, a novel about a man obsessed with an enormous white waterfowl.
Come to think about it, after she left we cleaned out the room with the scouring fury that comes from sorrow, leaving everything neat and pristine and perfectly ordered, so she's probably not going to recognize it, anyway.
3. Dye the dog from white to black. Or, at least, give him spots and call him Barch instead of Birch. Daughter would excuse herself and call up the home Wi-Fi network, thinking unimaginative old people always name the network after the dog, so it should be Birch ... and then she sees it's "Barch" and she starts to question her entire reality.
4. In the first morning she's back, we sneak into her room and wait for her to wake up. Then we act relieved and grateful. "You were out for quite a while, we almost thought we lost you."
"What do you mean? I was in Brazil."
"There, there. Of course you were."
"No, I was there for a year and I had great adventures! I held an alligator!"
"I mean, sweetheart, really? They would let you hold an alligator? Does that even seem logical? No, was there a lion who looked like Daddy in this 'Brazil,' and a mean witch, and you tried to escape in a balloon?"
"I escaped in a 737 that had a layover in Dallas. What is going on here?"
"Remember at the end of the 'Wizard of Oz' when Dorothy said she'd never leave home again? You can still go to the U instead of Boston, you know."
5. I could dye my hair. I already tried this earlier this year, because I saw some shampoo at the store that offered to restore my "natural" color and wash away the gray. I don't mind the gray, but the only guys with my color hair I see on TV ads are walking along the beach barefoot with their pants rolled up to their shins, and there's a dog running ahead, and his wife is laughing at his clever joke, and everything's fantastic because he asked his doctor if Prevarica was right for him. (Side effects may include vomiting, loss of bowel control, shrieking and sporadic skin-sloughing. Do not use Prevarica if you have high blood pressure or any social engagements.)
After two weeks I had gone from Distinguished Gray to "the most popular stain for wood in 1974," which is to say, darker than anticipated. And no one said anything. Highly unlikely daughter would notice it.
Why prank her at all, you ask? Because four months ago she sent a text from Brazil with a picture of her new tattoo, because all the cool kids were heading to flyblown tat-shacks off the beach at Rio to get their epidermis engraved. I was horrified, of course, and reminded her, "When you were born and weighed a scant 8 pounds, I didn't swab your delicate limbs so they could be injected with hepatitis in another hemisphere!"
But it was a prank. She was just trying to give me a jolt from 5,000 miles away. And it worked. I bought it. But now it's payback time. Perhaps I'll get a tattoo. Maybe I'll walk into a parlor and ask for the Proud Dad's Special.
" 'Welcome back, missed you, now go fly away again,' with a heart?" the artist would ask.
That's the one.