Adulting is hard. It’s a fun word, like sandwich, and who doesn’t like a sandwich? But the reality of being an adult in the Sandwich Generation is nowhere near as enjoyable as it sounds.
Do you remember being a kid and wishing the years away until you could have your own house where you could stay up past bedtime and eat sweeties for dinner? Me too.
But now I’m an actual adult – not an aspiring one who is still on the path to relationship, mortgage, children – I’m there, solidly mired in the responsibility of marriage, house, kids, schools, work, and I’m part of a sandwich I don’t remember ordering and the filling is threatening to go off.
My husband’s mother is sick and, unlike when the children have a sniffle, the illness of old age is harrowing, exhausting and unlikely to be solved by Calpol. She needs him to be there, emotionally as well as physically, which he’s happy to do. That leaves me to deal with the kids and their myriad of needs, which was fine until one of my dearest friends had a heart attack and ended up on life support.
He’s the filling, the middle of the generational sandwich, and now that he’s upset the natural make-up of the butty, everyone is going unfed.
When we were in our early 40’s, friends who were in their 60’s told us that we’d hit the tough years. Having built up the career, the relationship, the home and the family, we now had to sustain it….forever.
At first, we balked at the concept, then the recession hit, and we floundered, wondering how we’d survive, lives intact. We did, thanking our lucky stars, until the next tirade of adult woes smashed at our newly rebuilt defences. Health issues trump financial problems every time, although one can easily destabilise the other.
It’s simple enough to ignore one’s own mortality when the generation before you is in need of care. That’s a lifetime away for us. Their frailty magnifies our strength. Looking after children keeps us young, we can still speak their language, albeit with an accent that makes them mock us.
Our vulnerability comes when one of our own goes down.
My friend is on life support and our gang has rallied like the troops on D-Day. Texts and messenger services are pinging across counties like bullets, arranging for someone to be by his side, pulling him back to us. The awfulness of his elderly parents having to travel to be with their unconscious son is unimaginable. The thought of his step-son seeing his strong, reliable parent in that bed is a thing of horror.
He’s not supposed to be there. That bank of bleeping machines with their multi-coloured squiggles should be on TV, in fiction, or at least attached to creped, aged skin, after a life well-lived.
Those texts we’re sending shouldn’t include lines about having to be back for school pickup, because by the time the filling fails, we should be the next generation, the top slice of bread, our children should have children of their own.
There are rules which need to be adhered to if the world is to turn comfortably on its axis. At our age we need the confidence that we are currently the well-preserved sandwich filling, there is still a generation ahead of us. We’re adults, that can no longer be denied, but we’re simply not ready for this.
(PS. I wrote this last year, but it was too raw to share back then. I’m delighted to report that my friend and my mother-in-law are now back to good health, in fact my friend designed and built this website. The sentiment behind the piece stands, I’m not ready to be mortal yet)
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