The other day, as I was working on completing an outdoor project, showing it off to my daughter, she admired it, somewhat predictably, ... "very nice, dad" ... and then casually mentioned that there was a stain on the seat of my pants. "A brown stain" in her words.
It didn't register with me at first. The khakis in question are my work pants. Of course they have stains all over. There's a hole in one knee as well. The cuffs are fraying. Work pants. Stains. Stains. Work pants. Is there a problem here?
"Did you have an accident?,' she asked gently, quietly.
THAT caught me by surprise. Emily nurses people who are largely unable to care for themselves. The aged with dementia, Alzheimers and other problems. And children—even infants—tragically injured in accidents or abused by adult monsters. She cares for them with enormous compassion. She knows about brown stains.
"No, I didn't have an 'accident,' Emma," I replied with more than a little sarcasm.
That didn't stop her one bit.
She suggested gently that maybe I should change my pants.
I told her I was wearing the appropriate pants for yard work. And I had more to do.
But she persisted, again, quietly.
And that's when I realized that Emily was protecting me. We had house guests and she didn't want anyone to overhear—or to see her dad with a brown stain in the seat of his pants. Not if she had anything to say about it.
My heart jumped into my throat as I saw that my daughter was now caring for me the way Meryl and I had cared for her. All those thousands of little acts of love that parents just do for their kids. She was now doing the same for me. She didn't want anyone to see me as weak or helpless. She didn't want me to be embarrassed in front of others.
I went and changed my pants. There was no "accident." The stain was so small I could barely see it. But she saw it. It had jumped out at her in a flash. And she responded in a way I will never forget.
When my parents reached their later years I felt that a baton was gradually passed from them to my brothers and I. While Mom and Dad never relinquished their independence, they did permit us to do more for them and ultimately care for them when they couldn't care for themselves. We took on a parenting role.
Now I saw the very first sign that the overwhelmed, confused and frightened little kid we carefully scooped up off the plane from Korea so many years ago was reaching for that baton. Gently. Quietly. Protectively.
Another generational shift was beginning. Ever so gently.