There’s a name for the current generation of people who are both raising children and caring for their ill parents, something tacky, like ‘The Sandwich Generation.’ You can look it up. The sandwich phenomena came about from people waiting to have children later in life combined with older people staying older for longer: a 45 year old mother of teenagers who is also the primary caretaker of her 75 year old mother with dementia. At least, those are the stories I found when I went searching for support online last year after my mother had her stroke. I don’t really fit into the sandwich generation’s parameters. I’m too young, my mom’s too young and never really completely independent of me. We are not of the middle class variety. The stories didn’t stick, as difficult as it is to be the center of that scale, teens and seniors both needing a lot of attention. I didn’t see my story in the groups being formed.
How… how am I going to do this? Am I going to do this? Of course I am.
This being taking care of my mother on a whole new level. I’ve always taken care of her to certain degree due to her mental health issues. My entire adult life she has either lived in my home with me, or has been just down the street. She’s been in group homes and treatment facilities. But the place she wants to be the most is on my couch planted safely in front of my TV. It’s always been a hard boundary to keep. Harder still to keep after her big stroke and then a series of smaller ones where I began helping with her daily needs. But she liked having her own place too. It was a compromise.
And then, my mother had a heart attack over the Christmas holiday. She is recovering slowly at her sister’s now and will be there for the next few months. She won’t be able to come back to her apartment in Oakland. And, well, shit, I guess I can’t do this. And that is not an easy thing for me to say. I can’t is not a phrase I’m comfortable with. I’m ok with I won’t, or I don’t, because there is choice present. But can’t? I hate can’t. Can’t means even if I wanted to, I’m not able.
And right now, I’m not able. I’m having surgery soon to remove an ever growing and ever more painful grapefruit-sized fibroid from the wall of my uterus. It’s been two months of near constant agony. Recovery from surgery will take another month or so. I physically can’t do everything that I want to do. I am able to be a full time parent to my kiddos. I am able to love the work that I do. I am able to be careful with myself as I face this health challenge. I am not able to keep my mother healthy and alive.
I made this agreement with myself when I was 10 years old that I would always take care of my mother. This is just who I was going to be. I was never going to abandon my mother the way she had been abandoned. They way we had been abandoned. And that 10 year old girl inside of me is kicking and screaming and crying at not keeping that promise. But I know that 10 year old girl needs to be kicking and screaming and crying for a whole other set of reasons. She doesn’t know that I’ll still be caring for my mother, loving my mother in ways that won’t break me. My 10 year old self doesn’t believe I have a breaking point.
I took care of my family from such a young age because I didn’t see anybody else doing it. And that is fucked up. It’s not easy now as an adult to look at how that belief has shaped my life. How it’s kept me from maturing in certain ways. When you’re in charge at too early of an age, shit gets weird. Gratefully because of all the community love I’m experiencing now, the vulnerability I’m leaning into, the connections who absolutely 100% can take care of me in their own unique ways, shit is getting less weird. It’s hard, yes. But not as weird.
I am able to do what I can because of the trust I have in the people that surround me. Not a child’s trust of blind need and constant demand. I’ve finally learned the adult version of trust. A trust that comes with compassion and understanding.
So fuck a sandwich generation. I’m feeling snug in the center of a support sandwich. I’m shoulder to shoulder with family and friends who want me to rest when I need it. Want me to fall apart as necessary. Who don’t need me to be stronger or smarter or more held together than I can be. I’m learning that’s ok too.
This isn’t how I planned to begin 2016. I had a whole other blog post to share about upcoming workshops and counseling opportunities. You’ll have to stay tuned for that in the Spring. For the rest of the winter, I’ll be resting and recovering.