Monday, April 30, 2012

My Life As A Sandwich

At this point in life, many of us are still dealing with kids, having learned that just turning 18 or 21 does not mean our children are adults and no longer our problem. Many of them are still in school, or trying to find a job in this jobless world. At the same time, those of us who are still lucky enough to have our parents are having to incorporate their care and well-being into our daily life. They call us The Sandwich Generation.

My mother lives with us, and has for the last fifteen years or so. She was widowed in her early 50's and never remarried. We have a big old house and it was bought knowing that she would move in with us at some point, since she had sold her home when my dad died.  She moved to our city and lived with her sister for many years, working until she was in her 70's. When my aunt passed away and my mother finally quit working, she moved in with us.

There are so many wonderful things about her living with us. First, there is the satisfaction of being able to pay her back in some small part for being my mother. I love that I can provide for her the security that she provided for me.

My girls have benefited enormously from having their granny live with them. She is a bit of a character, and has always been the "fun" grandparent. They had a built-in babysitter when that was necessary. And she has always been a great cook, cranking out brownies and cookies and pot roast at the least suggestion. Her room on our third floor that she calls her "aerie", is a refuge from all life's problems.

So many wonderful things....      BUT............!!!

Having your mother around 24/7 for most of your adult life has its...issues.

I've never been the cook in our family. I worked in the city, and my husband works out of our house. He is a nurturer and an excellent cook, and he naturally took over those jobs. When my mother moved in, there were two great cooks in the house, and I wasn't one of them. He cooks healthy, she is an old-fashioned Southern "comfort" cook  He puts things away in one place, she puts them in another.  A little bickering ensues. Sometimes I intervene, mostly not. It's not my room.  She's older now, and cooks less.  But there are always things to bicker about. That's life.

The main thing I worry about is how has this sandwich position effected MY life, and therefore my family?

The good things are embraced and celebrated. But I know I have not blossomed into the Mature Adult that I should be. Since I am no longer working and am just a citizen of this house, this town, this world, I've been retreating more and more from my former life, and have cobbled together an existence that works for me. Maybe.

As long as your Mother lives, you are her Child. You continue patterns that you started in infancy, probably. When you move away from your parents' home and start your own life, you build your world in your own way. You are Mistress of Your Domain. Your mother may come to visit, but she is visiting Your House.  You are happy to see her, happy to show her how well you've made your world. You are on your best behavior, you commune as Wives and Mothers. But if your mother is already there, she sees you in all your frailty. She sees that you are not the Perfect Housewife because you don't Keep House like she did. If she was a mere visitor, you could whip things together for a short time and fool her into thinking you are the Perfect Housewife and therefore the Perfect Daughter. If she were just an occasional visitor, she would see you and your husband at your best as a couple. But as a full-time housemate, she's there for all the squabbles and ugliness that rear up in the best of marriages.

The worst thing for me is that when I Act Up or Act Out because my mother has hit That Button that releases the Angry Adolescent remaining inside me, my daughters see a side of me that I would prefer that they not see. I lose Mom Credibility when I act like an Angry Brat. We all have many characters inside us.  We would like to think we control who comes out to represent us.  Sometimes we just don't.
The soul-crushing minutiae of Senior Life that my mother is faced with every day -- from doctor's appointments and prescriptions to Medicare choices and on to infinity -- is also my life. Sometimes I resent that I'm being forced to live life as an 80 year old before my time. I should of course look at this as an early heads-up and learn how to deal with all this now when my brain is still somewhat agile.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have daughters who are beginning their adult lives and are becoming fascinating people. Unfortunately, they are Daughters With A Mother also.  This means that they are growing away from their parents as they forge their own lives. Any interest I have in my younger daughter's new romance is construed as Stalking.  It's now my advice on everything from life to clothes  that is hopelessly wrong. I hear myself repeating things my mother said to me and I'm horrified. I imagine them sitting in shrinks' offices in the future, relating stories about their crazy mother. I wish I could be there to show them the view from here, but that's not the way it goes.

Growing up is hard, especially those awkward years. When you hit that sandwich stage, you are once again a Tweenager. Let's hope that the mantra they use for troubled kids also applies to us older folks: It gets better.


Mary T said...

Oh my gaawwwddddddddd... After reading the first page, I am looking into the mirror and this is me... :)

Mary T said...

Oh my gaawwwddddddddd... After reading the first page, I am looking into the mirror and this is me... :)

BytheSea said...

Sandwich is perfect description!

Our kids grown and we think we are somewhat free....THEN our parents get ill and need us...Then they die.
Now my dogs dead!
What to do? What to do?