Monday, March 9, 2009

Uncertainty, A Marie Sandwich & Where Do We Go From Here?

“The Sandwich Generation” is a phrase that has barely penetrated my awareness over the years. Whenever I have seen a news article or report about it, I have scarcely skimmed the information. The vaguest conscious thought of “that will never happen to me” has slid through my brain each time.

Funnily enough, a decade ago, when I saw a movie about a woman who had MS (Hilary & Jackie), I thought the same exact thing.

Maybe I should just stop thinking.

The expression “The Sandwich Generation” was coined to describe Baby Boomers who were discovering themselves living with/caring for their aging children at the same time they had to live with/care for their aging parents. People my age are then stuck in the middle, caretakers to two generations, with no energy, money or enthusiasm left for their own lives.

In my case, I never supposed it would affect me because I assumed my children would all be settled by at least their early twenties and be on their own. First mistaken belief. I currently find myself living with two grown daughters, who show no signs of going anywhere else.

And what would I call them now? They are not like roommates, because they don’t help with the bills or the housework. As a matter of fact, when I asked my 21 year old recently if she would help me straighten up because I had a business client coming over, she snapped at me that I shouldn’t expect her to be my ‘slave’. So they are not slaves either.

More’s the pity.

They are not really children anymore because they are bigger than me and have jobs and serious relationships and drive their own cars. But they kind of are like children because they still watch TV all day on their days off, leave dishes and debris all over the house and don’t pay for anything.

I lived alone for about 5 minutes before they both asked to move back in for various reasons. I said ‘of course’. My sister said “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND?” But these are my children. I adore them and would do anything for them. So back they came, with my expectations and boundaries clearly laid out for them.

Now my expectations and boundaries are clearly laid out in the yard, where they landed when the girls tossed them out the window.

So they are not roommates, helpers, slaves or [actual] children. That could leave ‘parasite’, but I don’t want to be mean.

This would make me an open face sandwich so far, which I have been dealing with. I deal with it mostly by wringing my hands and ineffectually whining to them they have to be preparing to find their own places and they really need to help me more, but I deal with it.

The other reason I thought this would never happen to me is I guess I thought my parents were going to be healthy 40 year olds forever. Another example of why I should stop thinking. Because, surprise!! My parents have grown old.

For someone my age, 54, they are still relatively young. My mother is 75 and my father is 76. They have friends their age who travel and are very active. Shoot, I have friends their age who travel and are active. But my parents are not doing well.

My sister took them into New York this week so my mother could have her pacemaker replaced. This is a relatively minor procedure, although a minor procedure to my mother is the same as a heart transplant. I did not expect anything to go wrong, and technically, it didn’t.

But when my sister got home, she called me immediately. Although she ended up making me laugh because she is so funny, she was distraught. She said she felt as though she had just spent the day in the Twilight Zone. I cracked up and said you did, you were with Mommy and Daddy. (sad but true, we still call our parents Mommy and Daddy; my children tease me about this mercilessly).

She said, no, there was something seriously wrong. I won’t go into details, because even though I seem irreverent about my parents, I would never deliberately humiliate them. Let’s just say that their behavior was not usual and it was very concerning. And my sister is not an alarmist.

Ok, ok, she is an alarmist. So am I. But we’re alarmist about things like will we get cancer from non-stick pans. Really serious stuff like this we usually take in stride, I suppose because we’ve both had to deal with so much of it.

My parents live about a half hour away from me, about a half a minute from my sister. I told her I would go over and stay with them until I was sure they were ok, but she did instead. And they were. But we aren’t.

Glimpses of health problems, inappropriate responses and behavior have been noticeable for awhile. But we are not a close knit family that talks about ‘things’. We genteelly skirt around the elephant in the living room until everyone gets used to the smell. And let me tell you, we have a circus full of elephants in our family living room.

My father’s health has been the most concerning. But when I expressed my worry to my mother, she furiously denied anything was wrong and firmly closed the subject. My sister and I have talked about just going to his doctor with what we are seeing, but have not had the nerve, afraid of angering and embarrassing my dad. But now my mother’s health seems precarious too.

What appears to be not too far down the road is the reality that they can no longer live alone.

As I said, as a group, my siblings, parents and I are pretty detached. We are cordial, but not really warm. Never really honest. I am the black sheep. Which is comical considering how ordinary I am. But I am the one who has clearly delineated boundaries as an adult that I do not allow my family to cross. I go my own way, do not acknowledge emotional blackmail, I spend my holidays with people who love me and make me happy rather than people who treat me like the misbehaving Village Idiot.

This makes me scary and dangerous, because I do not play by the Family Rules. Scary and dangerous is translated into our Family Speak as “you know what Marie is like”, accompanied by sighs, eye-rolling and much criticism about what a bad daughter I am. Greatly embroidered half truths, if not bare faced lies, accompany this indictment. They wanted someone compliant and acquiescent. They got someone who challenges every coping strategy they have.

So we do not have what you would call the ideal set up for a calm and sensible discussion about the future. Instead we have denial, suppressed anger and decades of baggage. Fun!!! Sign me up for that family meeting!

If push comes to shove, my house is actually the only one that would be practical for my parents to move to. I have a Craftsman style bungalow, with all the necessities on the first floor. Bungalow is misleading, because it is a big house. And my parents really love my home. It could be manageable.

It might never come to that, but the idea, now planted with my sister and I, is like a wild vine that has sprouted and threatens me with growing out of control. My girls upstairs. My parents downstairs. All wanting things from me I can’t deliver, with docile perfection being at the top of the list. I can imagine having to live with the faces of four people full of expectations and perpetually disappointed in me, sucking my life away.

And that vine just keeps winding around this reluctant sandwich...


...we just have to wait and see where it will lead us all.


Webster said...

Marie, Some unsolicited advice for you to take or leave.

It's time to lay down the law with those ungrateful daughters of yours. In these economic times, they can't take the chance that you'll lay down the law. It's time for them to respect you and follow the rules you laid out ... or else. It's tough love time.

I know this because I was an ungrateful daughter who returned to live with Mom and Dad, and though I worked I contributed very little. It might have changed me as a person if I didn't get away with so much.

HappySkinnyGirl said...

When it comes to family it's hard to say no. Well, you already know what to do. Sometimes tough love is the best. You'll feel guilty for a while but that will be over. I see is as helping them to move on with their life, becoming a stronger person. Maybe this time things will make everyone getting closer to each other?

Deronda designs... said...

I do agree with what has been said, but my rebel self just wants to tell you to make sure both slices of bread are buttered...then when you start feeling squished, you'll slip right out of that sandwich leaving the parents and daughters to watch out for each other.

Lin said...

Okay, so you've got a sandwich situation, but you still get to choose what you put on it. I'm with Webster--set some rules for the younger ones. Here's a beginner: R E N T! $400 - $500 a month isn't unrealistic to get free heat, electricity, phone, laundry, food (prepared!) and maid service. Don't like it--go find another place with those things for that price.

Good luck with all that is to come. Just be sure to set rules if your parents come too--like how the rest of the family (your sister) can help you out with them.

It's tough, but you'll be okay!

Marie said...

Webster, I live for unsolicited advice. The more anxiety provoking, the better. lol But strictly speaking, this would be solicited, because I have put it out there.

I agree it is tough love time, but I have such a tough time being tough!!!! I am practicing though. Honest.

Jessica, you never fail to make me wish my arms could reach to Sweden and hug you!!

Deronda, as a matter of fact, I LOVE butter and will make sure much is on hand.

Ironically, my ex-bil calls my mother Mrs. Buttersworth because if you ever ask her for a recipe she says "First you take a stick of butter..." lol

Lin, you are right, right, right!!! I am already making plans for our family meeting. It WILL happen!

Patti said...

Marie, you know I love you....but are you freaking INSANE?!?!?

Move your parents IN WITH YOU??

I'm getting heart palpitations just thinking about it.

I know better (somewhat) to cast stones, what with my glass house situation and all...but good grief woman, at least my parents live in a house next to mine and we have our own separate space.

If they moved in and thus would contribute to you financially, and that would allow you to work less and still survive, then this idea is less horrible...but still almost induced a cardiac event for me.

You can not take care of 2 adults, 2 semi-grown children/parasites/slaves/whatnot, and also continue to work full-time. You will go insane. Quickly.

Holy cow woman. :)

Katja said...

I'll throw in more unsolicited advice. You and your sister need to expand your horizons about what the possibilities are for your parents. It's not just her house or yours. There are boatloads of other options out there.

*sparkle* said...

i feel faint.

thank god i don't have children. open-faced sandwich is bad enough!

i'm having an eye-popping seizure and it's all your fault, marie! ;D

get that mirror outta here! ack.

Jen said...

The answer is really very simple. Your daughters get to take care of mom and dad.

I find it interesting that you have established firm boundaries with your parents and siblings yet have none with your own daughters thus perpetuating the cycle in future generations. In my family my brother plays your role and I play your sisters. To my knowledge however he has not questioned his decisions like you have. There were times when I have envied him his ability to step back and out at times. But then when my father died suddenly I knew how hurt they both were that they never discarded their boundaries so they could be a father and son. I have a lot of happy memories while my brother has a whole lot of grudge and a chip on his shoulder. I've discarded most of the bad memories and chosen to concentrate on what was good and tho we were incredibly dysfunctional we still managed to function quiet well.

I have no advice, except making your daughters participate or move out and take care of themselves. Sandwich generation does not describe someone with grown children but someone with small children taking care of aging parents. I'm not arguing with you and I'm certainly not judging you, You have to do what is best for you and no one else. I wish you the best in this stage of life, I'm sure you will find an answer that satisfies all. Take care.

Marie said...

Hi Patti cakes !! I thought of you with every word I wrote. Don't worry, they won't be coming here. Primarily because my mother is not speaking to me again because I wasn't attentive enough. Sigh.

Katja: I am smiling that everyone is apologizing for giving "unsolicited" advice. My point of view is, if I put it out there, I am fair game for anyone's advice. And how on earth could I have a problem with such warm and witty offerings?!?!

Sparkle: don't feel faint. It is all going to work out. :)

Jen: Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. It always amazes me to observe all the varied family dyanmics.

With my girls there is one crucial difference; I believe they do love me and I am crazy about them. And we do tell each other, often.

They do occasionally clean the kitchen, load the dishwsher, but not much else. I have trained them terribly because I have not wanted them to want for anything.

I know that is because I have been trying to overcompensate for their losing their dad.

Families are SOOOO complicated.

Oh, I do realize I was stretching the Sandwich generation definition. But I thought it was apropos because at that point I did not feel my girls were acting like anything so much as school age children.

Things are much calmer this week. We have done much talking. Things will work out. :)

Thanks again for your input!

lilaphase said...

Well, there is one necessary element for this situation:


Thank God you are equipped, because that's the only chance for survival in your situation!

Marie said...

Thanks Lilaphase! Can you imagine what life would be like if we couldn't laugh?