“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.