My favorite ever production is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby [1980’s]. As with all Dickens’ works, there is a host of memorable characters, and all the actors, except one, who played Nicholas, performed multiple roles. An orphan in one scene, then a waiter the next, a dressmaker later, then a gambler.
Being versatile enough to play multiple and varied roles in one production is a skill to be admired, and must be a daunting challenge.
And yet, we all pull this off this feat every single day, don’t we?
You wake up as a husband and a dad, have breakfast with the family, get in the car, drive to work, and then you’re an accountant. Then you leave work and drive to the ball park where you’re a coach.
You wake up as a wife and mom, head to the kitchen where you become a chef, making breakfast, and packing lunches. Then you become a chauffeur to drive the kids to school, leave there for work and become a nurse. Then you leave there and head to…
Throughout our lives, we take on different roles, fulfill them, learn them, and then adapt to new ones as we grow.
Sometimes we can prepare ourselves for roles we know are coming and sometimes roles are thrust upon us. Sometimes we want to keep the roles we have, never wanting to let them go, and sometimes we take on roles we never dreamed of.
Some basic roles never change, such as parenthood, but we must learn to be willing to change the descriptions our roles involve.
That’s why I titled this “Refurbished Roles,” rather than “Fractured,” though sometimes we may feel we’ve been severed from what and who we once were.
Sometimes a new role means you Step Up.
The first shift in roles I remember was when I was 13 and we moved from Texas, my mother’s home to Florida, my father’s home.
Brief backstory: My father joined the Air Force and was stationed in Amarillo, Texas, where my mother was a secretary on the Air Force base. They met and six weeks later…yes, that’s right…weeks…later they got married.
By the time I was six, we had moved to Denver City, Texas, where my father worked for a company that supplied parts for oil rigs. At the end of the ‘60’s the economy tanked and in our small town of 4,302, there weren’t man options for jobs.
We moved to Jacksonville where my father’s family still lived. My mother got a job teaching at Terry Parker High School and my father started selling insurance and going to school at night.
I suddenly found myself “on my own” and responsible for facilitating my parents’ lives. By that I mean: they were, of course, still providing for me, and we all came home to the same house every night, but my father was working so hard, I don’t remember seeing him much at that time, and my mother (she would tell you herself, if she were present in this “conversation”) sank into a deep, year-long depression, because she was so homesick for Texas.
Add to that, Jacksonville was (and is) so huge and spread out, she and I never drove anywhere without a city map. We had lived in open, dry-air spaces, and now, we were learning to live with humidity, not an easy transition.
To put it simply: she cried for a year.
Homesick myself, and friendless, as the “new kid in town,” I simply had to bear up.
Every afternoon, I walked home from school, and then had supper on the table when my parents came home from work.
My mother began to turn to me for counsel and encouragement.
I grew up overnight.
Within the last few years, I’ve found myself in that same position with her. As my mother has slipped deeper into dementia, I’ve been called on to support her, speak on her behalf, and tend to needs of all kinds, physical, financial, emotional.
This is a natural consequence of the passage of time, and the child’s responsibility to honor the parent…blessed with the opportunity to repay the parent for the love and provision given to the child for so many years.
Then, after I became a mother, eventually, I had to learn to Step Back.
There are all kinds of parenting styles and philosophies and we will not explore those today.
But the very most basic concept of parenting is to equip the child to make it on her own on day, to live a healthy, happy life, be a responsible member of society, contribute to the welfare of others, and be a light in this weary world.
We may be baffled at the passage of time, wonder how in the world the little baby totally dependent on us is now able to open the front door on her own, take up a lunch box and walk into a school, go on a date, put on a cap and gown, walk down the aisle to get married, but we must support them while they grow and then let go.
The child you are teaching today, and helping with homework, is one day going to know more than you do, be more capable of navigating the complex world than you are. Don’t be too proud to turn to them and ask for help when you need it later.
The child to whom you are currently the center of the universe is eventually going to move out into wider circles and find adults to teach him things he needs to know. He needs to learn to trust, show respect for, and submit to other authorities in his life, who will make his life richer.
Every day, like it or not, you need to prepare your child to leave you. And when he establishes his own home, you must learn to honor the way he guides his family, be available for advice, keeping it yourself unless and when you are asked, and be willing to take his in turn when you need it.
It takes a lot of grit and determination to be able to Step Up and Step Back.
And we haven’t even talked about the workplace where eventually all your bosses will be younger than you.
But changing roles, yes, “re-inventing” yourself to some degree, is part of the challenge of living and with a little flexibility and a lot of confidence and faith, we can shift and settle into place.