My daughter Riley was home for Thanksgiving week for the first time since she started college in August. We were driving when the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on. Riley gasped and pointed at the radio. My initial thought was “hasn’t she heard this song before?” I play Christmas music the entire season, surely this was not the first time she’d heard it. But a second later, I realized that whether she’d heard the song before, she was now hearing the song in a new way. She was the one who would be back home for Christmas in just a few weeks. She loved the idea of being home for the holidays because she’d been gone for so long.
I understood that feeling of hearing a song anew. Ben and I went to hear The Chicks’ concert in October. When they sang their hit “Wide Open Spaces,” everyone in the crowd sang along. I’d always associated with the girl in the song who was leaving home because the song came out around the time I left Arkansas for St. Louis to attend law school. The dad in the song reminds the daughter to “check the oil,” and my dad always checked the oil in my car. In the past, I’d always thought of my mom when they sang, “Mom stares out the window and says, ‘I’m leaving my girl.’ She said it didn’t seem like that long ago, when she stood there and let her own folks know she needed wide open spaces.” But this time, I’d switched roles. Now, I was the mother and Riley was the daughter who’d left home to start her adult adventures. I became teary because of the nostalgia of the song and the new emotions it evoked.
I guess I shouldn’t have been caught off guard by my feelings about the song. I’d noticed my perspective shifting even before that. Two of the young married couples in our church had decided to move back to their home states. While I was sad for our loss as a church, I was excited for their mothers because their kids were moving home. Even though my youngest son is ten, I knew then that I no longer felt in sync with young couples or families who want or have young children. I’m happy for them but glad we are past that stage in life.
Even though our views change over time, we often encounter a moment when we realize we’ve moved to a different phase of our lives. In the situations I’ve described, the changes are welcome, but often, we experience changes that are difficult. We age and so do the people we love. Good health is not guaranteed. Asking for help because of hardship or loss of independence is not easy to do. Those unwanted role shifts can be hard, and we may struggle to accept them. Yet when we realize our roles have changed in undesired ways, we cannot isolate and withdraw. We should turn to those who have helped sustain us in the past and look to them for support. I can almost guarantee that they would love to help.
Let us celebrate the times when our roles change in good ways and reach out to our circle of loved ones when they shift in less welcomed ways. Especially during the holidays when not everyone can be home in the capacities they’ve once known, let’s remember to hold people close and love them in the roles they now embody.