Just about every new baby born in the U.S. – or at least almost every one whose “first pictures” I have seen in countless emails or Facebook postings – looks something like this. You see them in the ubiquitous, unisex blue and pink blanket and cap babies receive in the hospital. Over and over. That’s how you know it’s a newborn.
And then the differences emerge. Their eyes may be open or closed. They may be blonde, brunette, black-haired or bald. Boy or girl. Big or small. Whatever they are, God knows we love them.
I spoke with a friend this afternoon about preparing for her baby, due in June. They have the room ready. The crib is purchased. The curtains are pink. The baby registry is, well, registered. I wished her well, recalling that glowing gush of almost-mommyhood as if it were yesterday.
I also remember the first day I left my son with someone else, a family member. He was three weeks old, and I was gone for less than two hours. I was only about 1/2 block away from the apartment – we lived in NYC and walked everywhere at the time – and I dare near turned around and went back. How could I LEAVE him? The bond felt too strong, the break too fresh. Yet I knew that I needed to keep going forward. The job of a mother is to bring a child into the world and then little-by-little, day-by-day, prepare that child to be independent. We can’t keep them “in the womb,” as it were. As close as we feel to our babies, one day we have start the inevitable, growing separation. That’s a good deal of why they call being a parent the toughest job.
The same son I could barely leave that day is now nine years old. I leave him every day, or rather he leaves me (to get on the bus)…. He has been through two minor operations and countless aches, pains, bumps and sniffles. His younger sister, now six, is on a very special diet (as am I) due to celiac disease, which causes severe reactions after the most minuscule ingestion of gluten. We have become the gluten police. Yet, as the years have gone on, it has become exceedingly clear that I cannot protect my children from absolutely everything. Nor should I, lest they need protection themselves from a helicopter mom. The best I can do is intervene where I can and teach them to make their own way.
In my professional life, I think about these issues every day. As an estate planner, I have the same worries as every other parent and as many of my clients in their 30s and 40s with young children. What if I am not there to help them in life? What if the worst happens, the unthinkable, and their Dad and I don’t live long enough to see them through to adulthood? Back when I started college, my mother told me that for my entire childhood, she worried that she would live long enough to see me through high school. She was thankful to have been granted that wish. Years later but before I had children of my own, I said something about her joy that the worrying could subside at that point. “Are you kidding?” she answered. “Then I worried about living long enough to see you through college….” At some point, we parents can all stop worrying, but hopefully not for many years on.
Back to my friend, the one who’s expecting. A while into our conversation, I gently mentioned her that along with the bottles and blankets, she should consider which standby guardians to appoint for her soon-to-be-born child, in case the unthinkable happens. If she doesn’t plan ahead, and disaster does strike, the decision will be made by a court among a variety of contenders, not by her (and her husband’s) choice. It’s not a rush, hope against hope, but it is important.
We buy life insurance, car insurance, home or renter’s insurance and more. We have collectively come to realize that we won’t cause our home to catch fire by buying insurance. We are merely protecting ourselves and our families. We also need to look fate in the eye and realize that, even in our children’s early days, we need to prepare not only for that first day of separation, but also the last one.
Our children are our best presents in life and our sweetest Valentines. We gave them the gift of life, and we can also give them the gift of being prepared for what life may bring. After that, as I often tell my clients and friends, we can go back to enjoying them!
Because God knows we love them.
This post is one in an occasional series about the interplay of legal practice and everyday life. Anne Marie Segal is admitted to practice law in New York and Connecticut.