by Melodie Davis
for release January 28, 2000
As the Table Turns: Safety Net
I tiptoed out of the bedroom to the corner of the darkened living room. There was my dad, peeking out the window of the front door, looking for any sign of movement, any sign of the young man who had recently been evicted from the room they rent out.
"I'm glad you're here," my dad said when he saw me come into the room. I was staying with them for a few days while on a business trip to my hometown. There had been signs earlier that the young man had tried to come back into their home. Mom and Dad were both uneasy; usually they didn't worry much about such things.
"Yeah, me too," I said softly, realizing in that moment how the tables had turned. When I was a girl, it would have been me who felt safer when my father was around, especially after hearing strange noises or seeing weird lights in the driveway.
Now Dad-though still hearty and normally very much in control of things-was needing the reassurance of having another able bodied adult in the house.
Now I am the one saying goodbye to my daughter going back to school. This hit me particularly hard at Thanksgiving vacation. She had found a ride home with other college kids. As I waited for her to arrive-wondering why they were a little late, cleaning, cooking, continually looking out the front door, I thought, this is supposed to be me coming home from college. When did my daughter get this old?
At Christmas she came blowing in looking very grown up and organized with a shopping bag full of wrapped Christmas presents. My shopping was nowhere near done. I found myself resisting the urge to boss and manage my daughter's schedule and life. Eighteen. Is he or she still your child, or another adult living in the same house? Who makes the rules? How about if we negotiate them just like we would if they were other adults? That works, to a certain extent. But in other ways, we are still the parents and she is still, after all, our daughter. We still help her out.
In a few days we all left to go spend Christmas with my parents in Florida, and it was my turn to blow into Mom's with bags full of wrapped Christmas presents. It was my Mom's turn to resist the urge to manage my schedule: "Now, I don't want to tell you what to do, but if you want to get that bushel of oranges, we better leave by 11:00 because the fruit stand closes at noon today."
Ben's mother-in-law came to live with his family, and he admitted that living with three generations in one household is definitely not easy. Usually when Grandpa or Grandma moves in, it is because of health problems, and so that is the first complicating factor. "But I am so glad to see my children being exposed close up to the aging process," Ben reflected. Children today sometimes feel embarrassed by a grandmother or grandfather who spills things on his or her shirt, who has big deep wrinkles, who may not be able to move very fast. "Children need to know that everyone ages-and they will too," said Ben. They won't really learn this lesson unless they exposed to it.
One of the blessings of getting older is this sense of everything having a season. We can fight the aging process, deny it, iron out the wrinkles through repeated surgeries. We can close off our elders to warehouses where all they ever see are people of their generation. The smell of aging sometimes isn't so pleasant.
How sad. Or, we can embrace, or at least adjust, to each phase of life as the tables turn. We can work to make sure our children have contact with older people-whether their own grandparents or older people who live nearby. Not everyone can care for an aging parent in their home, but we must work at maintaining frequent contact.
When we are children, we need our parents. As parents age, they need their children. That's what families are for.
For a free booklet, "Wondering What's Best for an Aging Parent," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 725 words; end material = 105 words
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