June 4, 1998
Until children reach a certain age, parents seethem simply as beloved offspring. Flesh of their flesh. Withbittersweet nostalgia, they remember all, from the Gerber days tograduation day.
But then it happens: the transformation.
Suddenly, when your parents look at you, theydon't see the adorable tot who couldn't say "spaghetti." Or the boywho learned to bike in the driveway. Or the young man who pinned acorsage on his prom date by the front door.
Now, they see Grandkids Inc. A factory notproducing to capacity. They're no longer just Mom and Dad. You're asubsidiary, and they're co-presidents of the parent company.
They've invested big in this enterprise. Andthey've been patient, knowing there would be years of huge expensewith no output.
But the time has come. They want results.
"Nanny and Max" by Scott Prior. Painting from "The Artof Motherhood"
Hey, they're not asking for much -- just oneproduct. And they don't need you to fill a warehouse. Two or threewill do just fine. But, make no mistake, they want 'em.
Fortunately, the pressure's off while brother orsister subsidiaries are producing. That's because this is veryspecial merchandise.
Assembly is required. And it takes even longerthan most train sets. It doesn't use batteries, but you'll needhundreds for the accessories. And the maintenance requirements areunbelievable -- not just applying some oil every six months.
When a new unit comes off the line, that's whenthe heads of the (grand)parent company get most involved. Spendingtime with the newbie is Priority 1. They can't get enough.
This bought me a lot of time. The other two subswent into production in the early 1990s. Apparently, both were on aschedule of accelerated output. Together, they popped out six littleguys in five years. For a while, I thought they were trying to fielda company softball team.
These were the boon years. Milk and honey.Precious goods falling off the line like manna from heaven. A periodof miraculous growth, like Japan in the '50s and '60s.
Curiously, our family's bull market coincided withWall Street's, but I'm not sure which came first. Kind of achicken-and-egg thing.
Yes, it's been a period of champagne, cigars andvery small shoes. A nonstop celebration. With so many tykes takingtheir first steps, uttering their first words and throwing theirfirst crayons in the dishwasher, not a minute was left for, say,pressuring the third sub about kick-starting his own assemblyline.
But my window of pressure-free time is running outfaster than napkins at a watermelon-eating contest.
The other two subs have reached quota. And thelatest additions to Family Corp. are rapidly approaching 12 months ofage. That means the end of the One-Year Baby Buffer, awell-established principle of grandparent science. For the first yearafter the birth of a grandchild, the newborn's uncles and aunts areshielded from pressure to contribute additional grandchildren. It'ssafer to walk past a lion that's been recently fed.
When I talk about family pressure, I really meanMom (and her accomplished mentor, Grandma). In our corporate family,areas of responsibility were divided between the two top executives.Dad was the CEO-PS (Chief Executive Officer of Practical Stuff). Thisincluded lawn care and auto maintenance. Mom was the CEO-EE (ChiefExecutive Officer of Everything Else). This included everythingelse.
So, Mom's department naturally covers themonitoring of my prospects for a merger. All information is carefullyprocessed. Like cyborgs from "The Terminator," she automaticallyscans and analyzes incoming data. But Mom doesn't care about the waragainst the machines. Her decision parameters are aimed at maximizingthe likelihood of future grandchildren. Action options decreasingthat probability are strongly discouraged.
I can tell the Baby Buffer is almost over. Thephone numbers are starting up again -- mostly daughters of Mom'sfriends and co-workers. Any expenses incurred along these lines arewritten off as R&D.
Don't get me wrong. So far, the barometer readsonly mild pressure. Plus, no matter what, there's always a seat forme at the annual Thanksgiving board meeting. After all, unconditionallove is the company slogan. Still, I suspect only one thing will makethe big cheeses at Family Corp. feel they've met all long-termobjectives: when their youngest sub finds a suitable merger partnerand finally snaps into production.
Stephen A. Simon writes for Washington JewishWeek.