Today my partner and I took an irrevocable step towards adulthood (no, two kids do not an adult make): we called an estate lawyer. It's time to formally agree on the fact that we are responsible for providing for two small people, and to consider that our absence could actually have an impact on them, since they are here because of us. (guilt, guilt, guilt)
One of the more politically tortured choices that a parent must make is choosing a guardian for their child. Like choosing a nanny, this is one of those pseudo-parent choices, where you look around your family to see who best resembles you in parenting style and in terms of their values. If you've always sworn that you will never parent like your mom or dad, then you are in luck: common wisdom is not to appoint the grandparents as guardians, under the assumption that they won't outlive you. So literally, your kids' parents will not be your own. (Parse that, ye grammatically feebleminded!)
The biggest mistake one can make at this point is to admit that you have ever considered the question of guardianship. If asked at family gatherings, I suggest you consider publicly declaring yourself to be too irresponsible to ever make a will, or perhaps too traumatized by the idea of your own death to consider it. If you can, fake a tear and make a quick exit, because this is one discussion that gets ugly and fast. To tell another person that you are not going to choose them is to insinuate that you consider them irresponsible, a poor parent, morally reprehensible, possessing b.o. and possibly a Carlton jersey. (Carn the 'Pies!)
So who do you choose? In our family there are few perfect choices, especially when you toss in the two big questions: religion and fear of needles. We have to choose, and there is no clear, right answer and much potential hurt. Or perhaps I overestimate, and assume that my family is as invested in this matter as I am. Maybe they are sitting around, a mental finger laid on their noses.
Who will love and nourish our children? Work with their various doctors, teachers to bring them happiness, challenges, let them unlock their potential? I have to accept that whomever it is will not be me, will lack my in depth understanding of my children, and will still serve them well. A tough idea for a control freak to swallow. But I suppose I could include an instruction manual with the will.
Yup, estate planning is a bit of a shock to the system. Pretty it up as you will, it is all based on the idea that someday my partner and I could die, and without even so much as an opportunity to say goodbye and bully our children one last time into doing what we want of them. Or perhaps this will is our parting shot, our last attempt at running part of their lives. (Heh. They will obey, if they want all that lovely money...note to self: get very large life insurance policy.)
As it happens, today I am ready to believe in my own mortality. Just before Thanksgiving, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She was about my age, had two small children - the similarity is less significant, however, than her death. She is gone, and the hole where she was is unfill-able. From time to time I am lucky enough to be able to set aside my awareness that an unthinkable thing has happened, and that a young, vital person is simply, horribly absent. But then I remember the box that held her at the funeral, and I feel the world stop around me and re-orient itself around that fact.
Such things should not, cannot happen. And yet they do. Visiting a friend today, I played with her little girl, she held my little baby, and we talked about the child that she lost, some years ago. Another box, this one with a baby blanket. Unthinkable. Awful. But oh so terribly true. Families who are not forced to embrace such losses are not the norm - we only wish they were. I begin to believe that they are, in fact, just plain lucky.
On days like today, my world seems uncertain and sometimes cruel. Where the f*** are my rosy glasses?