Sometimes I Feel Like a Piece of Bologna

Friday, September 29, 2006

My Story

How did I get to this smooshed place? Gradually, I guess. I’m the oldest of four. I’ve always been the responsible sort. Took care of my siblings, helped my parents, all around good kid. Did the usual school and work things, and finally married at 31. Had my first and only child at 36, after several years of infertility. By the time he was born, I was ready!

I loved being a mom, enough that I felt God wanted me to quit a very lucrative career and stay home with him. And so I did, combining a little writing and speaking with parenting and eventually home schooling. We home schooled all the way. It was challenging. My son was quite gifted, a debater from the age of three, and very artistic while I’m linear. But as difficult as it was, I loved almost every minute of it and was a very involved parent. I knew it was the best--perhaps the only--option for him. That involvement has resulted in wonderful relationships with him, his friends, and now his delightful new wife. But parenting adult children is very different from parenting kids at home. So as wonderful as this new season is, it’s an adjustment.

As I’m writing this, we’re visiting them in southern California (about eight hours from our home). What a delight to see them settling into their little apartment, learning about marriage at the age of 22. My husband and I are learning to be good in-laws—at least, we hope we are. But of course, there will be ups and downs in the process. Time with the kids is precious. We would spend days, weeks, with them, helping, encouraging, enjoying. But they have their own lives and we are learning to honor that. And let go.

At the other end of the scale are my mom and step dad. They live about four hours north of us. About three years ago, we became worried about their safety in their home up on a hill in a neighborhood where everyone was gone during the day. Dad was going blind from macular degeneration and Mom was getting increasingly frail after being mauled by a dog a few years earlier. Yet she would pull a garbage can as big as she was down the hill and back up again, and climb on the roof to clean out the gutters. It was time for a change.

We looked at mobile homes in a senior park. They weren’t convinced until I suggested we visit an assisted living facility to see if they’d like that better. The next day they put an offer on a mobile home. My husband, son, one brother, and I helped them sort, throw, and move the “stuff” of 30 years. It took awhile—like two years—for them to adjust and call the mobile home “home.” Then Dad fell and broke his ankle and ended up in a nursing home, where he spent a year hating every minute of it. We recently moved him to a board and care home where he is happier, but all he really wants is to come home. But Mom can’t care for him and they have neither the finances nor the space for live-in caretakers.

Although Mom has four adult kids and he has two, it seems that much of the responsibility has fallen to me. I try to stay on top of his care and Mom’s needs. Weekly calls have transitioned to daily. I’ve taken on more and more of the medical and financial management for both of them. I try to visit once a month, although sometimes it’s more and sometimes I don’t make it for a couple of months.

Meanwhile, I’m building a writing and speaking ministry and maintaining a marriage to my retired husband. Some days, I feel almost gobbled up. Or at least smooshed.

A Smooshed Gen Sandwicher

So, here I am. I’ve wanted to start this blog for months, but I must confess that I feel like a child atop the high dive board. Ready, ready, almost ready, to jump. But not yet. I know that once I jump, I’ll realize it isn’t that hard. But today, as I stand on the edge of the board, I wonder what I’ll say and will anyone care.

And yet, I know that the experiences I’m experiencing and the feelings I'm feeling are common to most of my generation. Increasingly as I talk with other women, and a few men, we’re feeling squeezed and confused, overwhelmed and frustrated. We are parents who are also parenting our parents. We're part of what has become known as the Sandwich Generation. Boomers, smooshed between our kids and our parents. I keep saying, I feel like a piece of bologna!

If you’re of my generation, you probably remember the lunches we packed for school. Two slices of white bread, a smear of mayo, and a piece or two of bologna. Sometimes, but not always, a leaf of iceberg. No tomatoes—they’d leak through and make the bread soggy. And the purpose of all of this? To be consumed. Usually as quickly as possible so we could go out and play. As I’ve thought about being part of the Sandwich Generation, I so often feel like that naked piece of bologna, smooshed.

And thus, this blog. I want to share my thoughts and hear yours on how we manage the complexities of two roles that we’ve never done before and don’t know how to do. Just as each stage of parenting and each child bring new challenges and new requirement, so it is with the issue of eldercare. How do we provide what our parents need? And unlike our children who offer the hope of maturing, becoming less needy, our parents are moving in the opposite direction. The prognosis isn’t good. They will simply become more needy. Will we be consumed in the process?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you my story and you can tell me yours.