Yesterday Bob and I finalized our will, a task that was long overdue since we are both in our late 50s (although both in great health). Along with the four-inch-thick binder that specifies how our assets will be divided once we are gone, our estate plan includes something more: a 45-minute-long audio of us sharing our personal histories and our philosophies towards family, work, money and other big topics.
Our attorney told us that this oral record, which she called the “priceless conversation,” was as important as the estate plan. It would help our children remember our voices and the details of their ancestries: our parents and grandparents’ names and birthplaces, our memories of where we grew up. But it would also give them our thoughts about our priorities and values, our hopes for their own futures, and how we would like them to remember us. In turn, maybe it would help guide them in deciding how to spend their inheritance – as Bob pointed out, “a user’s manual for the money.”
I was a little apprehensive when we learned that the “priceless conversation” was part of our package of estate planning. The family history was pretty cut and dried, but the list of topics – thoughtfully sent to us a few days ahead — included major ones that I haven’t pondered enough:
“Describe your proudest moment or an accomplishment you found most gratifying.”
“What do you feel is the true measure of success?”
“What are the qualities that a person needs to live a rewarding life?”
“What advice about using money wisely would you hope to pass on to your children, grandchildren or other loved ones?”
[and the last one:]
“If you could pick a few things that your family would remember about you, what would they be?”
Does anybody other than religious zealots know the answers to these big questions? Our attorney assured us there were no “right” or “wrong” answers; that we were not being graded. Yet the night before our meeting I lay awake wondering how I would answer them, slightly ashamed that I didn’t know, angry that I didn’t give myself more time to write a good “script.” Despite being a parent for 27 years I still sometimes feel as if I am muddling my way along, dealing with each new situation on the fly and without a playbook, waffling too many times, consistent only in my inconsistency.
All of us hope that we have passed along the right values to our children, that we have given them the best foundation for the challenges of adulthood, that their memories of us will be good ones. But we are flawed individuals, which makes us flawed parents. We second-guess ourselves and replay painful videos of our fumbles.
But yesterday morning I gave it my best, and I hope that I won’t confuse our children too much 30 years from now when they unveil this time capsule from my middle-aged life. We followed a format: the attorney asked each question; I answered first, and then Bob would answer. Bob was a lot more eloquent. As the digital recorder screen started ticking off the seconds, I said that I hoped our children would spend their inheritance wisely on things that would bring lasting pleasure and memories for their families. I hoped that our children would value relationships and family above money and always be able to grow stronger from their mistakes and setbacks.
As I thought about that last question – how I wanted to be remembered — I found it was easier to remember the things I hoped people wouldn’t remember. While I didn’t put it on tape, for the record here are 10 things I hope my children don’t remember about me:
1. The time I poured orange juice on a whiny four-year-old after he complained it didn’t have ice.
2. The time we opened our car door in the Springfield Mall parking lot and smashed the headlight of a brand new Toyota next to us, and my first instinct was to move the car. (I did change my mind and put a note on the Toyota’s window with my phone number.)
3. The time I accidently dropped a six-year-old off at the wrong field for a baseball game.
4. All the times we didn’t go to church
5. The time my 18-month-old chased a ball down our busy street while I was folding clothes, totally oblivious.
6. A troubled two-year period when I took up smoking and I’d hide in the bathroom with the exhaust on, while my concerned children knocked on the door and said “Mom, we know what you’re doing in there.”
7. The busy weeks as a working single mom when we’d order pizza one night and reheat it all week.
8. The time I couldn’t understand my 13-year-old’s math homework enough to help him and bellowed, “Ask your teacher. That’s what she’s being paid for.”
9. All the times I made my daughter cry when I tried to get the knots out of her curls.
10. All the times I lost patience.