Assets, Liabilities and Coughs. Oh My!
I remember one time years ago my four-year old daughter had an argument with her best friend over their coughs. Yes, their coughs. One claimed to have a “mommy cough” and the other one insisted that no, she had a “baby cough,” and then one staked her claim on a “daddy cough,” and then there were tears over who owned the dominant cough. At the time, I realized, wow, I really need to get out more if I’m now relegated to refereeing disputes over strange theoreticals that don’t even exist.
A few years back, my husband and I had to update our wills, something we’d forgotten to do following the birth of our youngest child over a decade ago; we figured it was about time. After spending a few weeks navigating the delicate avenues of will diplomacy, I finally realized why it took us so long to revisit that lovely task.
Will-writing can be a most humbling experience, not the least of which because inevitably you find yourself fighting over theoreticals. Who currently has what money. Who will have what money. Who keeps the kids. Who keeps the dogs. Who distributes your remaining assets.
Ah, assets. That lovely vague reference to one’s ultimate dollar value. Something that stay-at-home moms will certainly find themselves lacking in. Moms are definitely asset-less, unless you count their ability to drive one-handed while turning around to referee an argument in the backseat while changing the radio station while answering a phone call to figure out what fellow mom can pick up Susie at violin practice because Johnny’s football practice ran late, while carefully avoiding all motor vehicles, pedestrians and wayward groundhogs within a two-hundred-foot radius of your moving vehicle. Asset or skill? You decide.
Anyhow, it was fair to admit back then that as a writer in search of an agent (not too far removed from a waiter awaiting a big acting break) I qualified as one who was long on optimism, and short on reliable income (i.e. asset-less). But I found great amusement in our estate attorney’s referring to my potential future earning potential by saying: “as assets are titled in your name.” A euphemistic way to say that I wasn’t worth squat–except if someone cashed in my minimal life insurance policy. Or figured out a way to bequeath my multi-tasking skills.
[And as an aside, I need to interrupt here for this ancillary observation: wills and diets are a volatile combination when undertaken at the same time–both stir deep emotion and can lead to one saying/doing regrettable things. I should never have dealt with will-writing on an empty stomach, because it only served to make me surly.]
As we reviewed our old wills, we were slightly embarrassed to realize that the executor we’d last chosen because of the lifelong bond we shared with him was someone we hadn’t spoken to in fifteen years. So much for that irrevocable friendship. If something had happened to us, authorities would have been left to log onto Anywho.com to track the poor guy down. Imagine the surprise for him!
So after assigning an executor we actually still knew, we had to decide upon whom we would confer the humbling responsibility of raising our children. This subject alone created a family version of the DMZ: bloodlines were drawn, creating a landmine-infested zone between two warring familial factions, with my spouse and I both gently but firmly arguing who had relatives up to the job of taking over child-rearing if called upon to do so. This task required treading very lightly so as to avoid permanent hostilities.
Talk about loaded with potential for major anxieties. After all, in this situation, you’re trying to pick the replacement for you, and of course no one will ever be the same as you. So instead, you have to wrestle with finding two people who will love your children, treat them equally, and educate them in the ways of life in much the same way that you would. Do their worldly philosophies and political views align with yours? What about religion? Would your children have to move to another state? Could they keep their pets?
Say you don’t select your or your husband’s parents for the job. That leaves them with hurt feelings. But who next to choose? Your siblings are already overwhelmed with their own kids. Can you saddle them with more? Plus, what about all of those lingering sibling issues that have festered unresolved for all these years. How does that affect your kids? Will your sister be able to truly love and respect your children despite her subliminal resentment toward you?
So then you look toward friends in search of compatible potential alter-egos. What about Cindy and John? Well, they punish their kids if their rooms aren’t completely picked up every day. Our kids’ rooms are only picked up bi-annually. That won’t work. Hmmm, how about Robert and Samantha? Well, no, that won’t work; they’ve only now let their teenaged girls grow their fingernails long. We definitely aren’t that strict. Matt and Caroline are out; I think they still smoke bongs!
After all of this internal debate (and external spousal “negotiating”), I realized I couldn’t think of anyone who would do things quite the same way that we would. I couldn’t bear to assign our children to a life with someone other than us. And I know that all of this theoretical talk of assets to be determined, and money gained and money lost pales in comparison with the idea of family lost. It leaves me feeling so bereft that I think I’d better grab a cookie. So much for the diet.
I think I’d rather go back to being the arbiter over who’s got the baby cough and who’s got the mommy cough and pretend that all of those other theoreticals are just that.