Leaving Notes May give our families the wrong message

January 04, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

What's the best way to get to Carnegie Hall? Leave notes, leave notes, leave notes.

Two friends who are members of the Annapolis Chorale were rewarded for their talent and their long hours of rehearsal with a trip to New York to sing in Carnegie Hall.

Between them, they left behind seven children, two husbands and a grandmother, all of whom muddled through a four-day weekend by consulting page after page of notes.

Before these women departed, they had to clean everything, wash everything, cook everything and call everyone they knew and ask to please take their children everywhere they had to go. Then they had to write it all down.

"I wish I wasn't going," Betsy said before she left. "I have put so much effort into this, I think I have even lost weight."

Betsy, trained as a lawyer, left what amounted to a brief for her mother and husband. It had subsections labeled: "Schedule," "Meals," "Phone numbers," "Important things to do" and "Children's chores" (she must have been dreaming). She even bound it in a notebook.

Also attached was a kind of matrix for the four birthday parties to which her children had been invited: which child, what time, where, what gift, who's driving.

Nan added a medical power of attorney to her lists. And she spent the morning moving the hot dogs, hamburger patties and chicken nuggets to the front of the freezer so her husband wouldn't have to look too hard for dinner -- mostly because she knew he wouldn't look too hard.

When I asked if I could send a casserole over, she did not hesitate. "Let them fend for themselves. If you want to send something over, wait till I'm sick."

Neither husband appeared to be taking charge as these women left town. "This morning I reminded him I was leaving today and he said, 'Did I know that?' " said Betsy.

Her husband is a lawyer, and his mind is as sharp as a brand new No. 2 pencil, but she said she could hear him saying -- as the kids tripped out the door in the morning -- "Lunches? Did I know you needed lunches?"

Nan's husband wasn't even back from his business trip when she left. All week on their long-distance chats in the evening, she kept trying to bring up the fact that she was leaving and there were things he would have to do.

"But it was clear he was tired, and I had this terrible feeling that nothing I was saying was actually sticking."

I know just how they felt. Before I left town on a five-day business trip, I papered the house with lists. Lists of where everyone was due and when. Lists of dinner possibilities. Reminders that Thursday was media day and the library books had to go back. And Friday was spelling tests, so Thursday night had to be "pretend spelling test" night. Reminder that Friday is pizza day, so nobody needs a lunch.

"Dad, you're not going to believe this. I found another one. She left them everywhere," my son shouted when he found another note, this one on the bathroom mirror.

Of course, I didn't leave a note about what to do when Jessie went to the circus and had an allergic reaction. Her face blew up and her eyes leaked pus and nowhere was it written what to do.

Why do we do this? Why do we micro-manage our family's lives? Do we think they will not eat unless we leave a note telling them to eat? Do we think our children cannot speak for themselves? "Dad, I need a lunch." "Dad, I have tap today." If our husbands are so incompetent, why did we allow them to father our children? Do we think it matters much if our children miss one lesson or one party?

As the axis around which our husbands and children revolve, we should sit back, ponder the big picture and delegate. It's the only way our children will ever learn to be responsible for their own lives. And it is the only way our husbands will feel like more than our errand boys.

I say this knowing how hard it is to give up that controlling hand. We honestly believe that nothing will happen unless we are there to tell someone to do it.

My family must feel certain that I will not abandon them, no matter how badly they treat me. It would take too long for me to write all the notes before I left.

"Practice spelling and math facts every night. Jessie should go to an all-girl high school to protect her self-esteem. There is spaghetti sauce in the freezer. Have them earn their own spending money for college. . . ."

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