This is my first of what is likely to be many posts about being a member of the “sandwich generation.” I’m writing about it today because it is all I can think about; the issue became suddenly salient for me as my mother, who has historically struggled with high blood pressure was hospitalized for a mini-stroke, or TIA, or transient ischemic attack.
Just over a month ago, I was feeling really on top of things. I spent some time with my mom, who lives about 2.5 hours away, and we courageously ventured into discussions about what changes we/she should be considering as she and my dad get older. We talked about selling their house and property, about some of her finances, about where she’d need to channel her energies in order to get the house ready for sale, about the possibility of moving to my town where the medical care is probably better since it is a medical school town and has a much greater variety of specializations within a mere 10 minute drive, and has a veteran’s hospital where my dad could get significantly more affordable care, both for his Alzheimer’s and his general health. We talked about how living near me would be good because there are several adult, driving family members who would be nearby to help them when needed as well as a few family members who are excellent navigators of the healthcare system (my partner and my sister come to mind). I was very mindful in those conversations about how it would feel to be in her shoes, how it would feel for me if my daughter were presuming to make decisions about my life, how it would feel to have some young person telling me what I “need to do.” I also tried to treat gingerly the topic of what needed to be weeded through and what she’d probably need to “get rid of” in order to sell and move into a smaller place. She was really great about it and was much more receptive to the discussion than I had anticipated. If I was thinking that this was the first time she had thought about these things, it was surely presumptuous of me. By the end of my visit we had developed a preliminary plan—what neutral paint colors she would use for the house interior; how she might get my dad to get rid of some things he’d been accumulating for years; what parts of her Fiestaware and depression glass collections she should pack away and which would look best on display when the house was shown; where we’d put all these boxes we’d be packing up; what to do about the four dogs. We were going to work on all these components this very year, with the help of my sisters and her sisters, and get ahead of what may befall us.
Then several weeks later her blood pressure shot up and she was in the hospital and all that we had not talked about yet was looming. Our leisurely plan of moving to the next stage over the course of a year or two, or maybe even more, seems no longer workable. So now I find myself positioned, “sandwiched,” between two family homes and the care of the different people in each—my own and my parents’. All while trying to write, of course, and cultivate my professional career. Numerous bloggers have written about the sandwich generation and its impact on mothers in particular (here’s a recent post from MomsRising.org and here’s one from a blog pointedly called The Deli, and a post that was originally posted in Working Mother Magazine) so I’ll be leaning on their experiences and insights, to be sure. (BTW, if any readers are working through this stuff, do look me up on Twitter and let’s follow each other [please!]).
When my mother and I were talking in January about the possibility of her moving to my town, she mentioned that I’ve got enough on my plate nurturing my own family and career and that I probably wouldn’t want to add more layers of complexity to my life. I told her I had thought hard about all that already. I told her, and I meant it, that I am ready to move to our next phase. With the company of my sisters and my aunts and my partner and my children, we are venturing into territory that is unknown to some of us but certainly not uncharted. My mother led by example in the care of her own parents so I’ll be following her lead and drawing from my friends and the blogging community to figure this next life stage out. And my parents and our family, in all its permutations, will live it with wit and style and grace.