This is a guest article written by Bonni Berger.
“Will you be the legal guardian of our kids if we die?” My husband and I were not expecting this. Our friends, who were asking, had two little ones and were perfectly healthy. This was pre-COVID, when the likelihood of a premature death didn’t feel like a plausible possibility.
They were just doing their due diligence and getting all their chicks in a row, as it were. I knew the anxiety they felt imaging their children without a family or a home to call their own. They wanted this decision to be made, secured and then forgotten, as quickly as possible. As a young parent myself who was getting her own affairs in order, I knew the familiar weight of this question and also the tremendous relief when I heard the answer, “of course.”
So we said “yes.” My husband and I knew what parenting was all about. We were smack-dab in the thick of raising our own three. Being a parent to children who weren’t our own wasn’t something we agreed to lightly. But our friends were our extended family. Both local and afar. We played, disagreed, vacationed, celebrated and mourned together – adults and kids, alike. Saying yes to this request seemed only natural.
But what happened next was unexpected and scary.
Within a span of a few years, six different families discreetly approached us with the same request. They all asked if we’d agree to be the legal guardians of their children if they should die before their children reached 18 years old.
We didn’t hesitate. We said yes. Every single time. For all 13 children.
It hit me later. Hard. By giving my friends some peace of mind, my own thoughts raced with horrible scenarios. As the number of kids tallied higher, I became more anxious. I became fearful when multiple couples traveled together. I imagined how we would have to renovate our house. My internal questions masked my calm exterior. Where would they sleep? How would I manage? How would I take care of so many traumatized children? Would I ever leave the house again? Would we need a bus? How would my own kids fare? How would I cook for 18 people, every day?! I had daymares of becoming a parent to a baker’s dozen, plus my own three. I was honored and humbled that so many people entrusted me with their children, but was I also crazy for saying yes? What was I thinking?!
Bagels. That’s what I was thinking. A baker’s dozen. I don’t know why. Maybe because we’d need at least that many (and then some) on Sunday mornings? Maybe I needed to put a positive spin on this conventionally unlucky number. I didn’t suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, so why start now? Fear of the number 13 is a mere construct of the Western world, I told myself. In fact, 13 was my younger daughter’s favorite number. Maybe she was right. Twelve is boring. I took deep breaths.
Of course, I had to remind myself that saying “yes” to all these families was merely an insurance policy; that no one was going to die – certainly not all six sets of parents. They didn’t even all know each other or live in the same state! I took more deep breaths. I was not going to instantly become a parent to 13 additional kids. And I knew that if I was called to take on a set of siblings, I’d have to revisit my pledge to the other families, as I’m sure this is what they would want as well.
With each new legal guardian request, I wondered if I should have revealed to my friends just how many kids I was already in line to take. But then I thought better of it. That just didn’t matter. They needed to know that their kids would be well loved and cared for. At that moment, I could give them that.
My own kids are grown now, as are nearly all of the 13 kids. Some even have partners of their own. Each time one of them turned 18, I took a deep breath and silently said a little prayer, celebrating the health and safety of us all. And still today, every time I buy a baker’s dozen, I think of them.
Bonni Berger is a postpartum doula, lactation counselor, and freelance writer. Her work has been published in Kveller, BLUNTmoms, GrownandFlown, DC Area Moms Blog, and Bethesda Magazine. She can be found in the suburbs of Washington D.C. and at www.bethesdadoula.com where she is loving the fourth trimester alongside her new mom and dad clients.