According to the latest United States census, 29 percent of Americans are under age 18. At the other end of the spectrum, 13 percent are 70 years and older. A figure that is predicted to reach 30 percent by the year 2050.
Those of us born during World War II suddenly find ourselves on the sunny side of that 13 percent. We remember our Grandparents’ and how, when they were our age, we thought of them as being old and wise. Judging by the aches and pains in my joints every morning, I pretty much have the “old” part down pat, but sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be as wise.
As I explore the world of senior citizen, I also discover that my role with my parents is changing – that parent is becoming child and child is becoming parent. Hopefully, by the time you reach this stage in life, you’ve successfully raised your own kids, they’ve grown up, matured and moved out of your house and now have children of their own. While your kids were growing up, your parents were growing old. While the grand kids were becoming stronger, more independent, your parents were becoming weaker and more dependent.
The Golden Years
They call this period in our lives the “golden years,” though I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because, like gold, the days are fewer and more precious. Or maybe it refers to the “Golden Age” believed by Greek and Roman poets to be the time when one lives in the ideal state of happiness and prosperity.
Either way, neither of these definitions accurately describes these so-called golden years or helps to make the journey though them any less complex, nor does it answer the Question, “When did parent become child and child become parent?”
I think the transformation begins when we stop asking and start telling our parents what to do: when we stop taking advice and start giving it: when we drive them to the doctor, dentist and grocery store: take them shopping for new clothes and shoes and insist they buy the most practical; take them to the market and suggest hamburger instead of steak because it’s easier to chew. It begins the first time we remind them to take their vitamins, wear a warm coat and stay out of the rain. It starts when we haven’t heard from them in a few days and we start to panic. You know: all the same loving, but aggravating, things they’ve been doing for us for more than half a century.
Role reversal isn’t anything new. It’s been going on since man began walking upright, pairing off and forming families. but how we deal with our elderly has changed, In Grandma’s day the elderly or infirm weren’t deposited in nursing homes; they were cared for at home by their adult children, just as their parents did before them and so on. If it’s at all possible, it’s a practice my generation will uphold.
In Grandma’s day taking in the elderly meant adding to an already crowded household. It meant three or four generations under one roof. At times there would be slamming of doors, arguments galore and hurtful words screamed out in anger. It also meant there would be shrieks of joy, plenty of encouraging words, doors being opened, shared disappointments, comfort, hugs, and kisses while all the while the music of Puccini echoed down the hall. Most of all, it meant being a family.
I remember asking Grandma how she tolerated having to care for her ailing parents as well as the inconvenience of so many generations crowding her household? Grandma smiled and responded with an old-world tale written by Jacob Grimm. It’s a generational story that has stayed with me all of these years.
Jacob Grimm’s Old-World Tale
There once was an old man who lived in a village with his son and his son’s wife and child. The old man was deaf and blind and had trouble eating his food without spilling it. Sometimes, accidentally, the old man would drop his son’s fine china and break it. The son and his wife were disgusted by the old man and made him eat out of a wooden bowl behind the stove.
One day the little grandson was working with some pieces of wood. When his father asked him what he was making, the little boy answered, “I’m making a wooden trough for you and Mother to eat out of when I’m grown up.” The next day, the old grandfather was back at the table eating out of his son’s best china. Not another word was said on the matter.
The realization that we’re all going to be there someday is reason enough for compassion.