Warning to Professional Homework Helpers ("My Career in Homework," Style Plus, Sept. 25, 1987): Judging by my experience, you are well on your way to becoming a Professional Offspring Enabler.
I have three adult children, ages 32, 31 and 29. I have been and still am a sympathetic listener to at least two dozen friends who have been or who are presently "enabling" their own adult offspring.
The AO (Adult Offspring) request is not unlike that of the CO (Child Offspring); both meet the essential requirements -- urgency of situation and intensity of emotion. In a homework situation, the paper must be handed in at dawn; the essential emotion in the PHH is intense desire for the academic success of the offspring. (There may be a more remote, even wistful, hope that the offspring will, as a result of such academic success, become independent of the help of the PHH.)
However, it is just that -- a wistful hope. The next step is the Professional Offspring Enabler:
The children finish college. They have jobs. You have orchestrated weddings for your Adult Daughters. What is left? The rest of your life as a POE.
Two examples from my experience will serve to illustrate:
The first -- Offspring No. 3, a son; out-of-town wedding, no responsibilities for the parents except for a small rehearsal dinner. Grateful for so little to do, we suggest that the out-of-town relatives on our side be invited to the rehearsal dinner; in response to son's request, the invitation is extended to her side as well.
When the night of the dinner arrives, we gather in a Japanese steak house, waiting for our relatives -- an aunt and an uncle, a married cousin with her husband and child, and a grandmother. But as we wait in the cocktail lounge, we witness the arrival of in-town friends, friends' dates, coworkers ... would they never stop coming?
The Father of the Groom and I watch in horror, visions of our Visa bill growing, as cocktail waitresses circulate, take orders and return with tall, frothy drinks that sport miniature paper umbrellas, thin slices of orange and lime, skewers of pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries ...
Father of Groom's eyebrows are knit into one furious frown; his forehead glistens with nervous perspiration. Clearly the time has come for a POE to act! I turn to him and give him the look I have been practicing for 28 years. The look says, "Not now, dear. Calm Down. Let the occasion unfold, let our child have this one last thing." Father of Groom accedes to my wishes; the party grows to 40 people; menus are circulated and once again the Offspring has been enabled by the POE to accomplish his heart's desire.
My second and more recent example should make clear the duties and opportunities of a POE:
No. 1 Offspring -- a son -- and pregnant wife are preparing to go overseas for two years; they have arranged to store their furniture and will tuck their other belongings into nooks and crannies in both parents' attics and basements (against the initial wishes of my husband, a POE of a different sort).
Moving day arrives; the young people are to leave the country tomorrow. Son No. 1, Father and I pick up the rented truck and drive it to the first-floor apartment being vacated. We look at the hide-a-bed sofa, the dining room table and six chairs, two end tables, four lamps, queen-size bed, dresser, vanity, stereo, TV and boxes, boxes, boxes. Father is the first to speak; he asks in a less-than-friendly tone, "Where's this stuff going?"
Silence from the AO.
Daughter-in-law appears, weary from packing; she gazes unhappily at us. I recognize the moment, the opportunity. All my powers and expertise as a PHH and a POE are invoked.
"Honey," I say, drawing Husband out through the open sliding glass doors, across the cement slab, and onto the green grass near the truck.
"Honey ... ," I repeat soothingly. I stroke his arm and rub his back and will him to relent; he accepts.
Turning to the AO and his wife, I say, "I know just where your furniture will fit in our house -- your stuff will look great mixed right in with ours! And we can make a wall in the basement out of all those boxes -- we need a wall anyway!"
So if you are now a PHH, remember the previous warning: "The habits you are forming now will haunt you."
Shirley Bauer is a professor of English at Anne Arundel Community College.