By now, you'd think I'd be used to change. After twenty-plus years of marriage, three children, 30 relocations, 8 different jobs, my parents' divorce, and innumerable dress sizes, I had considered myself resilient and unafraid. I felt rather smug and comfortable with how I was handling the approach of middle-age and the attendant ups-and-downs that come with it. I had a stable marriage--considering what I was seeing on the afternoon talk shows, I was (and am) proud with the way my three daughters had grown to be genuinely nice, beautiful, intelligent, and self-sufficient young women. And surprisingly, I was beginning to make progress with my writing career.
Then came the hurricane--metaphorically speaking that is. Like the verse that states you know not from whence the wind comes nor where the wind goes, I found myself being buffeted by unexpected and unwanted winds of change.
At first the changes were the indistinct flutters that make the small hairs on the back of your neck tickle against your skin and cause you to shrug away the unseen annoyance. Then there was the benign comment here, a cautious word there, a sympathetic nod, or an uplifted questioning eyebrow. No longer did I receive the smirking grin or rolling eyeballs when I made a decision or gave advice my daughters didn't agree with.
Before long their demeanor changed drastically. Like an unexpected gust of wind, they would quietly listen and wait to speak. Then when it was their turn, each would boldly tell me how and why I should or shouldn't follow a course of action. They were quick to back their counsel with the latest findings from the appropriate magazines, journals, or television interviews. I found myself living with Oprah, Montel, and Dr. Ruth.
The occasional gust became a virtual squall. No longer was I the one to initiate discussion on social, moral, or family values. They admonished and consoled me. They labeled me old-fashioned and quaint, and warned me I was much too serious and conservative. I was well- meaning but behind the times. My daughters were now the instructors and I the student. Without realizing it, I had become the child and my children the parents. While I was convinced, at least intellectually, that three pregnancies, postpartum depression, and the onset of peri-menopause proved my maturity, wisdom, and understanding, I was beginning to believe emotionally that my usefulness was over.
That, however, was just the beginning of the storm. As my daughters were becoming quite adept at their new-found role and I was being tossed about trying to re-adjust mine, still other changes were on the wind. Just as my daughters and I were approaching a new phase of life, so, too, were my own parents.
When visiting my parents, our conversations and interests were becoming lopsided. It was now I who was giving guidance to my parents on how to safeguard finances. No longer was it my mother who was concerned with my quality of life, but I who was tasked with ensuring her needs were being met. My mother no longer trusted her own wisdom and abilities to make decisions. She began to call for advice on matters of insurance and investments. I became the appointment setter for physicals, legal needs, and household maintenance projects. She granted me power of attorney and made me executrix of her will.
My father needed me in other ways. His health was failing, and even though he had remarried, it was I who was reminding him to take his medications, follow his diet, and see his doctor regularly. No longer was it my father asking me if I needed a few dollars to tide me over until payday or him waiting for me to get home safely from a Saturday night date.
But I think it was one particular incident that swept me off my feet like a gale-force wind. One evening my mother phoned to warn me to expect some registered mail. The letter contained a check for a substantial amount of money. The money, she said, was for me to have ready and available for her funeral expenses. She didn't want me or my husband burdened with the cost of burying her, especially when I would have so many decisions and responsibilities to contend with.
I didn't tell her how I couldn't explain to the bank representative why I was crying. I didn't tell her how my hand shook when I signed the account papers. I didn't tell anyone how I wished that it wasn't time for me to become parent to my mother and father, and child to my daughters. It had come too fast. I wasn't ready.
Some time has passed since then and I am adjusting to the changes. I have learned there is liberation in allowing my children to take new steps into maturity and responsibility. I also am starting to enjoy having my daughters as friends and equals. In that capacity they are able to accept my suggestions without feeling "mothered" and I am able to listen to their opinions and advice without feeling threatened.
As I continue to care for my parents, I am learning that I still have purpose. I still have much to offer to them and much to applaud myself. I am able to look at both my children and parents with a new found respect. As my daughters are learning to take responsibility and handle their lives with maturity and grace, I am learning to let go and let them grow up.
As my parents release those things they had tenaciously controlled, I am learning to take over slowly and, hopefully, graciously. I can only hope and pray that I do well by those who taught me to rise above life's challenges and provide them a climate of warmth and security as these changes continue to touch our lives.
Gail Woods Thompson is an aspiring Renaissance Woman. Being the daughter of one, then wife to another career military man, Gail has enjoyed the opportunity to see all parts of this country.
"After 30 moves, I am looking forward to finally settling down in front of my computer screen to write about all the interesting places and intriguing people I have discovered along the way."
This freelance writer has been published in e-zine magazines,
print publications and print anthology collections. She spends
her free time reading, singing with community choruses, volunteering in
her community, and perfecting gourmet recipes that even her family will
eat. When not in front of the keyboard or stove, she studies writing with
the LongRidge Writers Group.
E-mail Gail at: Gailsong@aol.com.
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