Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Biggest Favor

I recently read a book called The Kids Are All Right. The book is a memoir written by the four Welch siblings, who first lost their father in a car accident, then their mother to cancer. The oldest daughter was 19 at the time, the youngest was four. To their mother, the thought of not being there for her children was more than she could bear, and there wasn't much of a plan for where the kids would end up. So the siblings were separated, with various friends taking them in and lots of moving around. Many of thier placements were, at best, less than ideal.

When my son Moe was born, my husband and I did the responsible thing and made a living will and trust. It was hard to imagine us not being around, but we knew it was important to specify who would take our child if anything were to happen to us. Finding the right guardians was challenging. We wanted people who would already love Moe like their own, people who would know him as he grew up and could provide some continuity to his life. Grandparents seemed like the obvious choice but it would be tough for them to take on very young children. I have no living siblings and my husband's brother is only in his early 20's. I have wonderful cousins but they live across the country. Fortunately, I have a great friend nearby who is like a sister to me. I would do anything for her children. She and her husband wanted to be Moe's guardians. The documents were signed, notarized, and put away.

This was before Moe was diagnosed with autism. Last year was packed with all of the assessments and therapies that early intervention requires. My daughter was born and I had a newborn to care for again. My brain, tired and stressed to the limit, functioned just enough to get through the day. I wasn't thinking about the future, and certainly not about our wills. Besides, I knew that even though we hadn't named our daughter specifically in the will yet, it was set up for "additional children." We could add her name later.

A couple months ago, my friend called me. She asked if they were my daughter's guardians too. I hadn't realized that I didn't ask them. I said yes, that I did not want my kids to be separated if they didn't have to be. I made a mental note that we did need to go back and update the will. Then she said something that caught me off guard. She said that she and her husband talked about what it would mean to take in Moe, a child with autism. Her husband agreed that it would be challenging, but that he still thinks Moe is "a pretty cool kid." They still wanted to be his guardians. I was thankful. And completely freaked out.

I realized that in all the chaos of the year, I hadn't even stopped to think about what being Moe's guardians means now. It is not just asking a big favor. It is asking the biggest favor. It is asking them not just to feed and clothe and love my child, maybe take him to soccer practice and make sure he does his homework, but also to find the right therapies, advocate for him, work the system, get his IEPs. How do you ask someone to take this on? It is more than a lot to ask of someone and I should have asked my friends if it was still something they wanted to do. I'm so thankful that she brought it up, and that they are the loving, generous people that they are that they would still agree to this responsibility. But I should have asked.

No one wants to think of their children growing up without them. I cannot stand the thought of my little boy, already struggling to find his place in the world, without me. But that fear is not going to keep me from making sure that they are taken care of no matter what.

Jen read The Kids Are All Right as part of the From Left To Write book club. A different post about this book, which includes comments from the authors, appears on her personal blog, Anybody Want A Peanut?


  1. This is a very insightful and helpful post. That guardian relationship - though we all hope it will never be needed - is one to choose with the utmost care. Making a will, and deciding who does what for whom (including medical directives) is a great gift that we should all give to our loved ones.
    By the way, our 12-year old daughter made a will, after she found out that her cancer had recurred, and was incurable. She wrote the document in longhand, and we carried out her wishes. It's a powerful act, and I have the deepest respect for her decision to do it.

  2. It is the biggest favor isn't it? The living will and trust is something that we have not done, and I know that we need to do it. Part of what has me procrastinating is deciding on the guardianship. I too do not have the obvious go-to person or couple.

  3. Good post Jen.....and good info. When we went to our son's readoption hearing this past summer, it was like getting hit in the stomach when the judge asked us "Are you prepared to provide for this child, given his limitations etc. for his needs until adulthood? You understand and assume full responsibility for guardianship, etc. and acknowledge that responsibility extends to issues such as a will and a trust?" Not only was it like taking an emotional hit in the stomach, but also a financial one (especially after accruing lots of adoption expenses! We had never considered doing a trust!)
    These are the things we hate to think about, but need to.
    Chris P-M

  4. Another good kick in the butt for us to get our house in order. Thanks! Good information and gave food for thought in a fruitful discussion here at our homefront.

  5. My first cousin's parents died by the time he was about twelve years old, and my parents were his guardians so he came to live with us, a family with three little girls. It was incredibly difficult but we grew up together and he is more like a brother now than a cousin. What it really did to me, though, was underscore the importance of designating a guardian for my children.
    Great post --