Role reversal can be an odd, vertiginous process. But live long enough, and it will happen to you: The child becomes the adult, the apprentice becomes the master. And the former adult, the old master, now finds himself in the subordinate role. It's uncomfortable for both parties -- neither one knows quite how to act. Both feel like imposters. It's a common enough experience for people taking care of their parents, but that doesn't make it any less wrenching.
I'm lucky that my parents are still vigorously taking care of themselves -- and taking care of me, quite frankly, in many ways. I'm not in the least ready for those roles to shift. But I experienced a tiny moment of role reversal with my mentor today. I had to give him advice. That's not our relationship -- he's supposed to teach me and lead me. Taking the reins to tell him something he might not want to hear was profoundly disturbing and difficult for me.
It was all for the best, but muscling those roles around 180 degrees was hard work, and it was a relief to have it over with and everyone back in their places. The older I get, though, the more I'm not going to be able to relax and occupy that role of assistant, learner, apprentice, child. I barely feel like an adult most of the time, at my best. It's sobering to think that more days like today are approaching, and someday that will be all there is -- nobody to take care of me, only me, taking care of everybody. The thought makes me want to let it all go and become a hermit or something -- relinquish ambition altogether.
Too late for that, though. There are already people depending on me, and not only is nobody going to take them off my hands, but more are going to be arriving. I'd better hope my mentors and other parental figures stick around long enough for me to adjust to the process and steel myself for the reality. In my opinion, they can take as long as they like.