by Diane Snyder

It’s a phrase that’s been around for about 400 years, and according to my research, it originated with board games like backgammon, when the person who was winning is now losing and vice-versa. This metaphor, “The tables have turned,” can refer to a situation when the roles between two people or groups of people have reversed and are now the opposite of what they used to be. I find myself applying it to my own life situation, a widowed senior woman with adult children and young grandchildren.

My mind turns back forty years, and I am moving with my husband and three children from a small cape style house to a large multi-level contemporary home. The open staircases connecting the four floors pose a challenge for my then two-year-old daughter, or more accurately, a problem for me as I worry about her falling through the open steps. While baby gates offer a solution, they only work when closed, and two active older brothers don’t always remember to do so. Eventually my daughter learns to navigate safely, and there are no major catastrophes on said stairs.

Now, forty years later, the stairs are again a hot topic. It’s not me, though, filled with angst about them, but rather my children. “Mom,” says my oldest son, “Wouldn’t it be so much easier for you to live in a one floor setting?” And “Ma,” says my middle child, “I’m really worried about you falling.” With a chronic bad knee, they observe a mother who doesn’t alternate her feet on the steps but follows the mantra to go up with the good and down with the bad. Recently, having had hip replacement surgery, the stairs do seem daunting, but physical therapy has me in a new and improved mode. I’m even alternating my feet, at least some of the time. “It’s good exercise,” I tell my children, trying to reassure them. When it comes to the stairs, it’s true, the tables have turned.

The recent hip replacement surgery introduces another hurdle for me to overcome. There are several precautions I must take to prevent any post-surgery complications, and when I finally get the go ahead to drive, I’m feeling a little reluctant. My daughter offers to accompany me for a trial run. Now I’m thinking back to when this same daughter was learning to drive, and I was the one coaching her from the passenger seat.

I picture us approaching a busy rotary with me trying to appear calm as she practices this maneuver. My right foot is pressing on an imaginary brake when she merges into traffic. Now, back to the present, and it’s me buckled in the driver’s seat, my daughter the coach. “Are you comfortable, Mom?” she asks. “Do you need to adjust the seat?” I pull out of the garage, exit the driveway, and head for the library at the top of my street. It’s a Sunday, the parking lot is empty, and I practice the same skills I’ve been doing for 60 years. “You’re doing great,” says my daughter. “One suggestion, though. You’ll need to go more than 10 miles an hour when you’re on a main road. Just keep up with the traffic.” I’m laughing when we pull back into my driveway. Yes, once again, the tables have turned.

Another role reversal occurs, this time involving my 11-year-old grandson Kai. He, his mother, sister, and I are going into a movie theater. The three of them go first to the bathrooms, and I enter the cinema alone. It’s pitch dark, the screen failing to offer enough light to allow me to see anything. I can’t see the aisle, steps or seats. I’m afraid to move, sure that if I take a step, I’ll fall. In enters Kai to the rescue. “Grandma,” he says, “Hold my hand.” He guides me to our assigned seats, helps me sit, and directs me on how to use the button to adjust the seat. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was the one holding his hand, guiding him as we would cross a street, me the one keeping him safe. Now it’s a two-generation turn of the tables.

All these thoughts, however, aren’t about winning and losing, as in a board game. My mind is acknowledging the changes that are inevitable with aging. What I feel, when I think about the concern and attention that my children and grandchildren are giving me, is a deep appreciation for their help. While the tables may have turned, love is coming from both directions, and that’s the most important part of the equation.