Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Hidden Sandwich Filling

I’ve been calling myself a member of the sandwich generation for a long time, but I never really thought too much about it. My worst sandwich moment occurred when I was speeding my way through the industrial part of town, hurrying to visit my mother in the nursing home before it got too late.

Here I am, eating my Taco Bell burrito (they’re the easiest to eat while driving), when the phone rings. This was before it was illegal to talk and drive, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t very smart, even then, to be talking on a cell phone while eating a burrito AND trying to drive.

On the phone is my youngest daughter.

“You’re on the way, right, mom?” she says.

I’m on the way, alright, but I have a feeling that’s not the “way” she’s referring to.

“MOM! You promised to bring my soccer shoes and clothes to the field. We’re playing in 10 minutes and I need to warm up! You’ll be here by then, won’t you?”

At that minute, I feel like the worst mom in the world. I think, “AH, this is what it means to be a sandwich gen mom!”

OK – you’re right. Those weren’t exactly the words that went through my head. But later, I thought how absolutely impossible it is to be in this position some days. The balancing act just requires way too much dexterity for many of us – and balls (and daughters’ soccer bags) get dropped.

Last week, however, I spoke to several women who made me feel like a mamby-pamby whiner. These are women who care for their aging parent (I can relate) AND one or more special-needs kids. They make numerous trips each month to the doctor, often traveling across their state for specialty medical care. They attend to complex physical needs and learn a whole new vocabulary of diseases, medications, treatments and specialists.

One such mom said to me, “It’s just different when you’re caring for your child. When it’s your parent, you know that aging and challenges will happen eventually. That’s the way of life. When it’s your child that demands all of your time and energy because of their care needs, you know it will never go away. You may even outlive your own child – and then who will care?”

These are the women that I now recognize are the true sandwich survivors. They attend with love and an amazing degree of grace and compassion to needs that I cannot even pretend to understand. They do this today, and they’ll do it tomorrow, the next day, and for as far into the future as they can see.

I am honored to have met several women who do this work. I’m even more honored to know that these women stand ready to support other sandwich moms and to offer encouragement, advice and an understanding ear to them.

You know the sandwich called the “Hero?” I believe that I’ve met their caregiver equivalent – heroes, each one of them.

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