It happens slowly at first. One day your mom starts using glasses when she reads, then she uses glasses when she looks at her phone, and then she starts wearing them all the time.
When you’re home over the holidays, your dad complains about his bad back. You ask what happened and expect him to say he pulled a muscle and he’s just waiting for it to heal. You wait for an explanation, but what he says is, “I’m just getting old, that’s all.”
You’re an adult now, and your parents start confiding in you. They share problems they’re having or emotional issues they’re dealing with. You realize they’ve had these issues and problems all along, but they just kept it from you when you were a kid because they didn’t want you to worry.
You begin to understand that they have fears – things that keep them up at night the same way your fears keep you up at night. You learn that they have faults. You start to realize that everything does not come easy to them, the way that you thought it did.
Your parents used to be flawless, wise, brave, young, vibrant. They’re still most of those things. But now, you realize that they’re more fragile. Now you realize that they are not everlasting.
They might make a mistake in front of you, or take longer to get up the stairs. When they exercise, they can no longer run on the treadmill. It’s all walking now.
You still often rationalize things according to their opinion. You look to them for advice. You try to make them proud. You avoid doing certain things because you know they would be disappointed in you.
But now you know they are mortal. They’re fallible. They’ve screwed up too, just like you have and will. Their bodies have already passed their peak in terms of physical health. They will continue to get older. Their eye sight might get worse.
At this point, if your parents are up and about and for, the most part, happy and healthy, you’re thankful. Because you’re already seeing friends lose parents. You’re witnessing death. You’re losing grandparents or aunts or uncles. You’re understanding the fragility of life that you did not understand as a child.
It’s frightening and disorienting when you finally accept that you’re parents aren’t invincible. When you realize anything can happen at any moment. When you realize they’re just normal people, just like you, who are capable of screwing up and getting hurt and needing help help.
But there’s also something heartening about it. When you understand that they’ve struggled and been afraid and have not always felt as brave as they appeared, you feel encouraged. Because if they got to where they are, you can too. You stop comparing yourself to them and realize that it’s okay to make mistakes and be unsure of yourself and to be scared and to sometimes feel weak.
You realize, like you had not before, that one of the best things about your parents is that they are not invincible. It means they took risks and did scary things and put themselves out there all the while knowing it might not always work out. Perhaps they’re no longer invincible in your mind. But now they’re more real and more alive and closer to you than you could have ever expected. Because they’re human.