One in a series of reflections about growing up in small town America in the 1950’s and 60’s.
When I first entered elementary school, starting with kindergarten class in the building’s basement, until I rose to sixth grade on the top floor, I was a shy, mostly nervous kid, especially around girls. All my friends in the neighborhood were other guys and whatever girls might have lived in the “hood” rarely played outside or hung around the boys (except for my younger sister, whom we really thought of as just another one of the boys).
I liked girls, at least from afar, but didn’t know what to do, how to act or what to say around them. When I tried to talk to them, I got literally tongue-tied. So, gratefully, the one time of year I was finally able to express myself and my feelings for them was on Valentine’s Day. But it had to be done very carefully!
Every year, as part of our arts and crafts class (remember when they did that good stuff in public school?), everyone would make a Valentine’s card “mailbox”. It was quite a meticulous and exhaustive process. We each started out with a shoebox we brought from home, cut a ¼ inch slit in the top and began to painstakingly decorate the outside. Of course, pink or red hearts, cut out from colored construction paper were customary (although the boys generally toned this down in favor of large Cupid’s arrows!). White, ornate, custom-cut (or pre-cut) doilies and lots of glitter were also very popular. After gluing on various non-sensical shaped paper or aluminum foil pieces, the whole thing got brushed with various paint colors – – and then came the scary finishing touch, your name was prominently printed on it! (Classmates invariably gave each other tons of grief for their mailboxes – – whether they were good, bad, bland, or exotic boxes, it almost didn’t matter!)
That was just the initial, traumatic step in the Valentine’s card giving (and getting) process. Next was the selection of the cards themselves. The first few years my Mom took care of that and just had me write kids’ names on the envelopes and randomly, it seemed, place the cards signed by me into them. When I reached about third grade, though, I started to take this whole card selection thing very seriously! I spent hours in the local pharmacy or “5 and Dime” store going through boxed sets of cards until I found just the right ones. Then, the really time-consuming and nerve-wrecking challenge began – – who would get which card. The girl “of my eye” had to get the sweetest one, but not too serious lest I be laughed at! Then there were the nice, but not overly effusive cards for the other girls I “kinda liked.” Then, after I was fatigued by all that, the rest of the cards just got quickly, and without much thought, sorted out between the rest of the girls and all the guys (which turned out to be a big mistake I’ll explain in a minute!).
Then, there was the final, “icing on the cake” step – – placing one or two candy “sweethearts” in the envelope with each card. (If you don’t remember or know what “sweethearts” are, here’s a photo…)
You might note that each sweetheart has its own special message. And matching each message to each card was a delicate and scary endeavor! I wanted my “special Valentine” or “crush” to know I cared but not be too “mushy” about it. Selecting the rest of the sweethearts took equal amounts of attention, or should have (as I unfortunately learned in fourth grade, when the class bully received his card from me along with a sweetheart that said “Kiss Me” – – which he proceeded to do in front of everyone! Quite miraculously, he never picked on me again after that!).
The fateful, last step to this whole Valentine’s card process occurred when February 14th finally came and everyone opened their boxes, right in class. Those moments were for me filled with equal amounts of terror, excitement, and embarrassment as I saw others react to my cards and I sorted through the ones I got. Even a moment of eye contact with a girl I liked was an eternity in heaven or hell!
Fortunately, I seemed to survive this annual card giving tradition relatively unscathed. That is, until I encountered a new and much more horrifying Valentine’s Day event in sixth grade, my last year in elementary school.
The Valentine’s Day Dance
There’s a little “back story” I’ll need to tell you here. I never paid much attention to school “politics” and elections, and I never ran or campaigned for “office”. But I received lots of public attention from teachers in class and at school events as a top honor student. (I didn’t seek the adulation of classmates, I just wanted to satisfy my parents, or else!). So when the election of sixth grade President came around, even though I never placed my name into nomination, I surprisingly won as a “write-in”! I wanted no part of this and tried to immediately resign, but my sixth grade teacher insisted I serve, which I did begrudgingly.
At first I didn’t mind being sixth grade class President (and by default, School President). It was just an honorary title with few perks (I got to occasionally arrive late to school) and even fewer duties (like directing each class to its seats in the auditorium before an assembly or leading a “bomb shelter” drill – – this was right about the time of the Cuban missile crisis!).
Everything was going along fine, until I was informed I was to be in charge of the sixth grade Valentine’s Day dance! What a disgusting thing, dancing with girls! Yuk! Before I knew what hit me, I got caught in a huge argument between the boys and girls over the music to be played. The girls were crazy about the new sound of The Beatles, while the boys (including myself) mocked The Beatles as a bunch of high-pitched, screeching idiots with rag mop haircuts! (I later, however, did admit my error and became a huge Beatles fan!)
That whole music controversy was bad enough, but things got worse when the day of the dance came. My teacher told me that, as President, I would have to take the first dance, with a girl! I wasn’t fazed at first, thinking someone amongst all the boys, particularly the more handsome, outgoing ones, would strike up the dance anyway. But when the dance began and started to drag on, with the boys lined up on one side of the room and the girls on the other, my teacher pushed me towards the girls and said “Dance!” I don’t remember much from there, because I literally almost passed out on my feet, but I do recall reaching out for a girl’s hand to walk her to the center of the floor and her hand slipped out of mine because my hand was soaking wet!
Thankfully, by the time I got to seventh grade and junior high school, this whole frenzy over Valentine’s Day seemed to subside. We didn’t make mail boxes in art period. Academics and clubs and sports became my major focus. I’m sure there were some Valentine’s celebrations or dances, but I didn’t really pay attention – – except I did occasionally summon up the courage to send a card to a special Valentine (and I do still enjoy that part of the “holiday” to this day!).
To Sum Up…
I suppose you may wonder how I’m going to tie all this to estate planning. Well, a mentor of mine once said “an estate plan is like a love letter or Valentine’s card to your loved ones.” But that sounds a bit cheesy and contrived. So I’ll leave you with this…
Here’s hoping your Valentine’s Day will be an enjoyable one, with as little trauma as possible! Take a chance and send a card to your husband or wife, your mom or daughter, or other special someone, or maybe even someone you’ve “had your eye on” that’s not expecting it! And include a few sweethearts… but be careful!
Estate Planning for Women
Slightly more than half of the United States population is female. And women can be found in nearly every arena of modern life. From homemakers to senators to business owners, women make things happen. However, life can happen to women just like their male counterparts. Women are mortal, too. In this article, we survey some of the estate planning challenges women face in the context of their marital status. In addition, we consider some unique challenges of women-owned businesses.
Footloose and fancy free. Single life pretty much lets you do as you please. Nevertheless, unlike your married counterparts, you do not have a spouse available to make your personal, healthcare, and financial decisions should you ever become incapacitated. In fact, even a spouse would need to be legally appointed by you to serve. Without proper legal planning in place, a judge would appoint a decision-maker for you. What if you have any children who are minors? If the other parent is deceased, who would rear them to adulthood and be their inheritance manager? On the other hand, even if the other parent is then living, would you want someone else to be the inheritance manager? While being single offers freedoms, there are important personal and legal responsibilities to address.
If you have said “I do,” then proper legal planning can empower your spouse to take care of your personal, healthcare, and financial decisions in the event of your incapacity. Since, on average, men tend to die seven years earlier than women, you should appoint a backup decision-maker, too.
Oftentimes, spouses may do household chores together but then have separate responsibilities, over which one or the other exercises day-to-day ownership. For example, financial and legal matters have, traditionally, been the realm of the husband in many families. Consequently, when he is incapacitated or dies, the wife is left in the dark on these matters at one of the most stressful times in her life. Do not let this happen to you. While you are at it, make sure you know as much about your family finances and legal plans as your husband.
Did you know some husbands outlive their wives? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10 times as many widowers as widows remarry after age 65. And the average time a widower waits to remarry after his wife dies is just 2.5 years. Losing a spouse is a traumatic life event, and sometimes those left behind can make poor choices when they are grieving. Consider including “remarriage protections” in your estate plan to protect your family from the possible poor choices your spouse might make after you’re gone.
If you are single again due to divorce, then how would you feel about your ex-husband (and perhaps his new wife) inheriting your estate? It can happen. Say the children you share together remain single and childless after inheriting from you and then die without an estate plan of their own. Who is their “next-of-kin” under state law? That is right, their father.
Before you remarry, be sure to ink a premarital agreement to protect your estate for yourself if the new relationship does not work out while you are alive, and so your children will remain your heirs at your death.
If you are widowed, do not make any major personal or financial decisions for at least one year after the estate of your husband is settled. Anyone who has lost a spouse, whether a husband or a wife, is dealing with the loss and the attending grief. In short, you are now more vulnerable to manipulation by others.
On the other hand, take steps to meet with your professional advisors: accountant, financial planner, insurance agent, and estate planning attorney. In fact, the latter can quarterback and coordinate the services of this team. Your attorney is the only one who must maintain your confidences and secrets by law.
Remarriage: Blended Families
Blended families are very common, whether formed after a divorce or the death of a spouse. Without a premarital agreement and proper legal planning, you may lose half of your estate due to a subsequent divorce or completely disinherit your own children. One way blended family spouses can provide for their new spouse and their own children is through a carefully coordinated estate plan with life insurance funding.
Every woman who is at least age 18 needs to have basic legal planning in place. These include advance healthcare directives that are HIPAA compliant, durable powers of attorney for financial matters, a last will and testament, and, perhaps, a revocable living trust.
Once those legal documents are done, that does not mean you can forget about them. Change is one constant in life. Make sure you review these documents every two years to ensure they reflect your current circumstances.