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When The Child Becomes The Parent

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Peggy Scott just returned home from a lovely jaunt through Italy and Greece with her college daughter, Abigail. Abby was finishing up a semester abroad and her Mom joined her over there. Peggy's Facebook feed was filled with photos of the two of them posing in front of Roman fountains, sitting at seaside tables set with scrumptious food. It was a trip where Abby, having spent the semester abroad and with a newly acquired knowledge of all things European, took the lead on many occasions.

Said Peggy to me after: "Abby led me around the streets of Rome, and the Metro, with a confidence I had not seen before. This was my first international trip with an iPhone; she helped me figure out the best ways to use it (airplane mode so no extra charges, making the most of WiFi when we had it) and easily converting euros ... She kept track [of everything]."

We all watch proudly when our kids do this. We visit them in the cities where they go to college or the country where they have been semestering abroad and they show us how they navigate the public transit system, how they know the place with the best tamales and want to take us there, they are on a first-name basis with the boutique owner in Paris who has the best bargains. It's a great thing, right? They have figured things out on their own and at least for the moment, they become the teacher and we, the student.

I recently slipped into this role switch myself with my 16-year-old daughter. It was when one of the bulbs in our recessed kitchen lighting blew out. That's right, you may say it: She can't even change a lightbulb. Truth is, the light bulb isn't the problem for me; climbing up a ladder is. That ladder might as well be Mt. Everest for me; I'm terrified of heights. I actually ride ski lifts with my eyes shut and rely on my seat mate to tell me when to open them. I hiked down the Grand Canyon in a stare-down with mules coming up, ignoring the mule master (is that even an actual job title?) shouting how I needed to stay to the right. I clung to the mountain wall, whichever side it was on. Scream on, mule master.

And then there was the lightbulb that blew out. I knew my daughter would do it if I asked her. My kids have always been helpful people so there wasn't even any arm-twisting involved. Sophie scrambled up the ladder like a surefooted billy goat, changed out the bulb, and scrambled on down. But then she delivered the blow: "Mom, do you want me to help you get over your fear of heights? We can practice together. You can do this."

There it was! Not just her words, but the tone of her voice. It was a "Mom, let me show you how I can order in French" moment. It was "Follow me, Mom. We want this train." It was "Mom, I am the teacher and you are the student."

She even used the same inflection that I used when she was little and I was trying to get her to try something new. "Let's try ice skating together! It looks like fun, doesn't it?"

It's hard to say which I was less ready for: learning to climb a ladder at age 64 or having my daughter become my teacher. Truth is, I've already learned so much about life from raising my kids that there have been times I've thought they were placed in my arms just to educate me.

As Peggy Scott told me, on her first day in Rome while she simply followed Abby's lead, she realized she was experiencing a role reversal and "I actually liked it a lot."

And so, with my daughter's steady hands bracing the ladder and my eyes wide open, I have just made it to the third rung -- a height where I can reach the ceiling and change my own lightbulbs. Yes Sweetie, you may now go away to college. Mom's ready.

pegasus
Peggy and Abigail Scott in front of Pegasus.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Do You Miss About Your Children Now That They're Adults?
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