For all my brave talk, all my “I’m really Stevie Nicks” under these black dress pants and sensible shoes, for all my aging is a joyous, beautiful thing, a lucky thing, priceless if you take it in the right way, all my advice to quit thinking you’re diminishing when you should be looking at your vast accumulation of riches, I have to admit this. I am legacy planning.
I am thinking about when I am not here.
Most people don’t talk a lot about death. So it would be hard to compare my thoughts about it with others. But just speaking for myself, it’s not something I dread. I say that, of course, from the position of good health as the daughter of parents who lived well into their eighties. Death seems closer but still a ways off, like the tip of a silo visible in the great distance only from the top of a hilly country road.
But lately, for many reasons, I have been working on the long term, what’s best for the future, for when I’m not here. What is my legacy?
With one of my granddaughters, this has meant learning to lean out. After years of taking care of her almost half the time, Friday to Monday every week, my husband and I made a very considered decision to transition that responsibility to her father, our son.
A very hardworking guy, my son, but a guy with a lot of ups and downs for a long time. Years ago, we decided to become his placeholders with his daughter, keeping her connected to our family, providing a second home for her, being a haven of consistency, predictability, comfort and care.
We did this for seven years. We potty trained her. Read to her. Took her to the library every week. Taught her to swim. Took her on hikes. Put her drawings on the refrigerator. We listened to her stories. Took her to acting classes and horse camp. We took her to the doctor and the dentist. Invited her friends over to play, texted with her friends’ parents. Carried her up the stairs to her bedroom every night and slept with the hall light on because she was afraid of the dark.
And then it was time.
It was time for us to lean out and for her father to lean in. Playing the long game meant looking to the future. What did we want for our granddaughter after we were gone? What would be best for her as a person, as a girl growing up, as a young woman?
She needed her father. She absolutely needed her father. She needed his presence, his approval, his support. She had ours. But it wasn’t enough. I could see the yearning on her face. Daddy.
In the many years of caring for her, our lives had become a re-enactment of our lives as parents. Only this time, we were much better at it. It was addictive being so good at parenting, so rewarding, so overdue. It made us happy, kept us going to the zoo and listening to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in the car. The CD of her ‘music’ was in my husband’s CD player all those years. We just recently retrieved it and put it in the glove compartment.
Oh, it was hard giving her up. So hard. I second-guessed my son’s every move, my skepticism and lack of faith in him shaming me as his mother. Hadn’t we raised him to be a decent man and a good father? We, I, had to have the patience to let that happen. We had to lean out.
Now she comes to visit. She runs out of his car and runs back to it a few hours later. She knows her way around our house, her toys are in the same place as the last time she slept here, but now the clothes in the dresser are too small. She has new clothes at her dad’s. They text us pictures, send us messages to let us know they are doing the things we would do. They are outside, in the sunshine, they are swimming. In the pictures, they are smiling.
Last night, my son sent me a text from his daughter’s school performance. She is ‘the star,’ he said. Yes, I thought. She is the star.
That’s what is important. That’s my legacy.