By Mary Lynn Bruny

Life transitions: Sometimes you see them coming, sometimes you don’t. The last time our youngest son Nick, 25, stayed with us, he volunteered to clean the house. Now this may seem like nothing to write home about (or in a newspaper), but it was one of those moments when my husband and I looked at each other in shock, and you could have knocked us over with a feather (or more appropriately a feather duster).

Nick is very helpful with activities he likes – shopping, cooking, projects and car care – but cleaning has never been his forte. Actually un-cleaning was more his gig: Envision a family room with copious partially-filled glasses of various substances, dirty plates with cheese related food dried on, half-eaten bags of oddly-favored snackage (cool-ranch-jalapeno-pepper-cactus-spikes Doritos), random bunched up dirty socks and clothing pieces strewn about, and tangles of computer and gaming system equipment. That’s when we knew our delightful younger son was visiting and enjoying himself.

But volunteering to clean? Had an alien taking over Nick’s body? No, he’d just grown up and become a responsible human being. This is always a truly shocking moment in a parent’s life. You hope for it. You dream of it. When they are teens you cannot imagine it. But then lo and behold it seemingly happens out of the blue, leaving you speechless and gobsmacked.

We really should have seen this coming. Both our sons had become more and more helpful over the years. Our oldest son, Alex, has always been ready to lend a hand, but even more so as time has gone by. My husband and I have been like lobsters in the pot of increasingly hotter water: We just didn’t feel it was happening until we were in this astonishing situation – voluntary cleaning!

But it occurred to me that this happened not just because our sons have become thoughtful adults, but also because my husband and I are now the old folks. (Damn mirrors refuse to lie despite dim light bulbs.) Our kids come home and do things for us because they’re young and strong and, well, we’re not. We can use their help. Ouch. This reality hurts more than our old muscles.

I remember when this happened with my parents. It started with them asking me to trim bushes. My father chopped too little and my mother practically hacked them to the ground. I was the bush-trimming intermediary in this on-going marital contention and debate. But then I became the all-around default gardener as I had the muscles and the stamina. My father, formerly an enthusiastic gardener, would come out every hour or so, tell me what a great job I was doing and drop off some iced tea before going back inside to watch a baseball game.

But you know the torch is really being passed when the car keys are handed over, when your parents ask you to drive their car around their town instead of them doing so. That is the moment when you are officially the head lion of the pack, when the tired former chief decides to ride shotgun and look out the window. So bittersweet.

I’ll never have to experience this with my sons because they’ve always driven when we’re together. (They both love driving and I could care less.) But if I hand over the pruning sheers (a gift from my father) to my sons, then I’ll know I’m really old. I hope that day doesn’t come for a while or at least not before I teach them how to do it just right.

By Mary Lynn Bruny. Mary Lynn writes about local real estate and home-related topics. Contact her at [email protected]. To read previous The Lighter Side articles, go to