Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Control

One morning, over coffee, my mother related a dream she had the night before:

You were shot to death and bleeding on the streets of New York. If that
wasn’t upsetting enough, after you were dead, Kevin moved back to his hometown
and took Sophia with him. I realized that he could just make this decision
without me. I had no right to her, and I lost both of you at once.

Sweet, in gruesome kind of way. But she got me wondering: What if I died tomorrow? What would happen? Would Kevin take our baby back to the Midwest to be near his family? Or would he stay here, continuing to live the life that we had begun to build together? It was a timely question, as Kevin and I had decided to do some estate planning and were about to meet with a lawyer to discuss the what-ifs.

Like my mother, I have a very morbid, over-active imagination. I often play deadly dramas in my head—if I see a car start to drift into my lane, I don’t simply worry about Sophia and I being in a car accident. I see our car spin out of control from the impact; I watch us plough into a truck; I feel the impact; I hear myself scream and Sophia’s awful cries. But I am unable to imagine what happens next: life beyond me.

Not to worry. The lawyer delighted in presenting us with worst case scenarios:

Consider this: you and your husband spend a night out on the town in
Atlantic City (already, implausible). Heading back home, you’re in a
terrible car accident and both of you die. When you don’t come home, your
babysitter doesn’t know who to contact and she calls the police. Sophia is
taken into custody by DFYS (I start to cry at this point. Silent tears so
the lawyer can’t hear.) You have a long-term guardian in place, but
he/she’s too far away to swoop down and get her immediately. So Sophia
languishes in a group home until the paperwork goes through and your long term
guardian can finally get her.
(Sold on the document for assigning short-term guardianship.) Okay. That’s if both of us, god-forbid, should be struck down at once. But what if it’s just me?

I ventured to ask the lawyer a question, “Kevin, don’t get offended when I ask Sam* this, but, what if it’s just me who dies…can I leave any directives that Kevin has to follow. Like, that he has to take my daughter to see my mother a certain number of times each year. Or he has to make sure she eats her vegetables every day.”

The lawyer paused (trying to determine whether I was serious) while Kevin had a field day with this, “So you don’t trust me, huh? Well maybe I’ll take her to Mexico! Or no, maybe I’ll force her into child labor!”

“Kevin, STOP it. I’m serious. I want to hear what he has to say.”

The lawyer, I think, thought I was a little nuts. “You can put whatever you want into writing…but, you won’t be able to enforce it.”

Kevin danced around, gleefully. And that’s when it hit me: I have no control after my death. I get no say.

This was a lot for a control freak like myself to digest.

All the things that I believe in, that I do…no tv, meals from scratch, books since birth, Spanish, staying at home, my mother’s nursery school…they might still happen, or they might not. Kevin might stay, or he might go. He might remain single, or he might remarry. Sophia could have another mother, one who, over time, she’d come to know better than me (audible gasp).

This is a very good reason not to die. I suppose there are others. But this one is up there.

I will eat right. I will exercise. I will drive cautiously. And I will parent every day as if it was my last.

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