We have been becoming increasingly familiar with the realities of aging parents for some time now, and most of my friends are as well. The latest development is a short-term nursing home stay for my Mother-in-Law due to a bum wing, and that's been requiring some attention from The Spouse, who just returned home tonight.
As we got caught up over a piece of Opera cake and a glass of wine, I was reminded of the first time the parent/child dynamic shifted for me, and we suddenly and unexpectedly found ourselves to be "The Grownups".
We had vacationed with my parents a number of times - a timeshare in Phoenix one year, camping in the U.P. another year, etc. These were easy and familiar trips, at least for me if not my wife. Old roles fall naturally into place; Mom cooks dinner, Dad calls the shots and we kids fall in behind and go along for the ride.
Things changed dramatically during one trip to the North Shore. They drove up from Milwaukee, and we from Minneapolis, and met at a pre-designated rendezvous point: the Perkin's in Duluth. Unfortunately, after lunch, we discovered that my Dad's car would not start. Not a problem for creative problem-solvers like us. We had the deadster towed to a local dealer and piled their stuff into our car, and car-pooled to our destination, a cabin on Lake Superior. We would pick up the repaired car back in Duluth on the way back home.
It quickly became apparent, however, that my parents were in the backseat both literally and metaphorically. Suddenly, and with no advance warning, dinner destinations, day trips, sight-seeing destinations and just about everything else was up to us.
What the heck? When did we become the grown ups? Molly and I actually exchanged glances as we slowly figured out what had just happened. My parents were done. I can hear them saying to themselves, "Enough. We raised him, he turned out alright... let's just sit back and enjoy this, damnit!"
We made it through that trip well enough although it was a little disconcerting. I suspect everybody has had this kind of experience if they are old enough, but it's interesting to me that years after this happened, it's still clear as a bell and I can point to a specific date when this dynamic changed.