I knew the day would come when I would become part of what is commonly referred to as “the sandwich generation”. It’s defined as the time in your life when you are sandwiched between the needs of your children and those of your parents. And, I can tell you, after only having been in this pickle for a few weeks, it ain’t no picnic.
My kids are pretty self-sufficient at 15 and 19, but my son is in the middle of finals and my daughter is home from college getting ready to start her summer job. Before he starts summer school and she starts working there are orthodontist appointments, haircuts, and other details that I need to or want to be a part of.
And even though they both say they don’t need more rest than they are getting, believe me, they do. Recently on the news I heard someone giving advice on staying healthy. He said “If you wake up on a Tuesday, go to bed on that Tuesday. Don’t go to bed on Wednesday.” I thought that was hilarious, but it’s also really good advice.
Up until a few weeks ago, my parents had been doing pretty well. But now my Dad has a back problem that is so horrendously painful that every time he winces or yelps I feel nauseous. He is in the most pain I’ve ever seen a human being in without the benefit of having a baby at the end.
This “sandwich generation” stuff is not a tasty pb&j or a perfectly toasted grilled cheese. It’s more like moldy bread slathered with bacteria-laden mayonnaise that’s been sitting in 100 degree full sun all day topped with spoiled headcheese (would you even be able to tell if headcheese is spoiled?), and several other varieties of lunchmeat that are months beyond their expiration dates. By the way, I looked up headcheese because I wasn’t sure if it was something like bologna with round bits of cheese in it, or, as I suspected, something really gross. Well, according to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, 1988 edition, headcheese is defined as “meat from a pig’s (or calf’s) head, boiled and pressed in a mold, in its natural aspic.” Natural aspic isn’t much of a treat, either.
I am not complaining about being a sandwich. I am not the one that is not old enough to get a job or drive, nor am I the one that is too old and sick to enjoy life at the moment. But watching the struggles of my children — and mainly my parents– makes me feel as helpless and stressed out as a rapidly spoiling headcheese and mayo sandwich sitting in full sun on a picnic table in August with fancy toothpicks inserted in the middle of each half.
The stress is giving me daily stomach aches as big as a foot-long sub riddled with fancy toothpicks. I try not to let the stress get to me. I try to breathe deeply and take things as they come. But things aren’t just coming at me. They’re being hurled.
Again, I know I have no complaints. I am not the one studying until all hours of the night for finals. Well, let’s face it. Neither is my son, the one who has the finals. And, I’m not the one trying to adjust to living back at home after being away for a year, wanting to borrow the car, needing money, and wanting to stay up until the next day. I am not the one in the hospital writhing in pain, and I am not the woman he’s been married to for over 50 years watching him writhe in pain and staying with him from early morning until late at night making sure he is properly taken care of.
But I am now, for better or for worse, smack dab in the middle of the sandwich generation. And even if you add fries with that, it’s hard to swallow.
My Dad will have surgery in the next few days that should alleviate some of his pain. He’ll go into a rehab facility and that should help my Mom feel more comfortable and more able to take care of her own needs, like a full night’s rest.
My sister, another sandwich casualty, will be off work for the summer and be able to help out without feeling she’s being pulled instead of nicely sliced in half.
My brother, the third sandwich on this deli tray, will be able to come into town soon and help out, too. And, since he is undeniably the favorite child, he’ll be considered the Hero sandwich. And I don’t say that bitterly, like arugula. I say it with relish. He will be a fresh face; a squishy piece of white bread, relieving what’s left of the crusts of the rest of us.
My kids will settle into their summer routines. My husband and I will get to play some tennis or a round of golf, and my parents’ nightmare will soon be a really bad distant memory. Life will begin to get better for everyone. Then we’ll all go out and celebrate with big, fresh sandwiches. Hold the headcheese. And definitely hold the mayo.