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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Sandwich, Slider and Triple-Decker Generations

For a couple of decades now, the middle-aged baby boomers with both dependent children and parents over the age of seventy have been known as the “sandwich generation”.  I think it refers to trying to squeeze your own life and needs somewhere inbetween the pressing demands of the generation coming before and behind.

Then again, maybe it refers to the fact that your time is so pressed, you’ll only be grabbing a quick sandwich from now on.  Or, it could mean that with funds slipping through your fingers faster than quicksand, you only have money for a baloney sandwich.

I know that some of you, in the grand scheme of sandwich life are definitely sliders, facing a pile of those mini-hamburgers that look so petitie, but add up to 1000% more calories than a regular burger when they’re stacked on a plate.  Life is stacking up with medical care for an aging parent, balanced with regular doctor and dental visits, summer camps, and clothes for the kids.

Others of us have responsibilities piled up in triple-decker BLT fashion—when one small component of the sandwich shifts, the whole thing is in danger of toppling.  We juggle work, kids, aging parents, homes, community actiivities, and the occasional minute of down-time for ourselves.

It’s no different for our family, probably the sub sandwich that we’ve customized to the point that it has as much bang for the buck as a Big Mac.  We have responsibilities coming out of our ears, and still, it’s nowhere near what many people have to handle.  My hat’s off to those of you dealing with so much in life.

My children have two grandparents left on our side of the family:  My dad and Benedetto’s mom.  They Skype in Russian with their grandfather each week and he’s fairly healthy, married to a nice lady.   My mother-in-law, though, is a bit older and not doing so well.

Every month or so, we load up the kids, the dogs, and the cooler to go and visit my husband’s aging mother.  She moved closer to his younger sister, just three hours away, which is a big change from being over half a country away.  Her health and memory failing, we feel fortunate to be able to spend time with her.  She resides in an assisted living facility, featuring an historic home with wraparound porch under shade trees and modern wings to house the elderly.

It’s not a huge place, but quite pleasant.  This is the type of old folks’ home most dream of:  kind caregivers who know everyone’s name, and medication, and grandchildren.  They welcome the children, and dogs, and smuggled-in pints of ice cream.  They communicate with family members.

“Your mother has gained twenty pounds,” the social worker reports.

On a woman who could easily afford to gain fifty pounds, it’s not much of a statement.

“Rose really doesn’t eat much at meals,” she continues, “just picks at her food.  Then we found her going from office to office, visiting workers, and they would each make her coffee and a snack.  Nobody knew that the others were doing the same….”

All of this for a woman who never really ate much in the way of sweets.  Now she felt that she was an employee of the facility and would go to do her “paperwork” in the office.  As long as she was not masquerading as a doctor, the staff humored her.

With her advancing age came increased confusion.  We sat in the lovely atrium, dishing out ice cream, while Benedetto went to fetch her, at last wheeling her into the room.  The children hugged her hello, while she started with the true confessions.

“We have to get Patrizia out of here,” she confided, referring to Benedetto’s younger sister who lived nearby.  “This is no place for her to be.”

The kids glanced at me, eyes darting sideways between us.

“She’s confused,” I whispered.

Patrizia’s daughter had the stomach flu, so we were on our own today.  We learned only after our arrival that Mom’s hearing aid batteries were dead.  Benedetto made a special trip on our way out to get the right ones, but meanwhile, it was shout and point.  Everything that we shouted at her was for naught.  She could barely hear a thing.

“How are the children?” she asked.

“They’re fine,” Benedetto motioned in their direction, seated around the same, large table where we all were.  We didn’t know if she knew that these were the children.

Our family sat in silence for a while, our every attempt to speak met by Rose shaking her head, unable to hear.

“Do you have much longer in the service?” she wondered.

“The service?” puzzled my husband.  He had never been in the Secret Service, the Foreign Service, nor the Armed Forces.

“Service, Mama?  Shtoh etah?” They wanted an interpretation.

“Soldat.  She thinks he’s a soldat,” I replied.

They looked very troubled.

“She’s mixed-up,” I explained.  “Papa’s father was a soldier when he was a young man.  Maybe that’s the connection….”

“Have you seen Patrizia recently?” Benedetto tried.

“What?” she strained.

“PATRIZIA?” We knew she visited several times a week.

“No, she hasn’t been around in ages,” she lamented.  “And Angelina is off studying Spanish somewhere,” she referred to his older sister who had been done with college for several decades and never studied Spanish in her life, to our knowledge.

About then, another elderly woman wheeled up, holding out two lollipops to our girls who came over to her and thanked the woman.  She seemed mute, unable to speak.  In a couple of minutes, the lady returned and waved two more at the girls, “insisting” with her hands that they come and get them.  Why she didn’t offer any to the boys was beyond me, but that was one benefit of being elderly:  you could do whatever you wanted, and no one could say much about it.

The girls later shared them with the boys (without any intervention on my part).

Our kids were celebrities in the facility, bringing the happy dogs to residents who longed to touch their soft fur.  The children smiled at those who could no longer move their facial muscles enough to smile, and said hello to anyone and everyone.

“You know, not everyone has family.  It’s like these old people are orphans, with no one to visit….”

Our group stopped by the caged parakeets, bringing their music to the main floor hallway.  One multi-colored little bird sang his heart out for us, while the others waged a wrestling match with bits of straw too big for their tiny nests.  It reminded me of the residents here, trying time and again to win an uphill battle.

“What are you doing this fall?” came another of Mom’s questions.

“Oh, I don’t know, what do you think we should do?” he responded rhetorically, unsure to what she might be referring.

“Well, you’d better hurry up and decide!”

She didn’t have a clue that it was only May.  We didn’t have a clue if she was referencing school plans for the children, any get-away plans, or holiday plans for Thanksgiving.

“What is Alexandra doing these days?” she inquired, while I was but one chair away.

“Working hard… you know…” he gestured in my direction.

“What is it that she does?” she strained.

“That’s a question we all wonder…” his voice trailed off.  I considered whether, if I kicked him, she would be able to see.  Was it just her hearing, or also her vision that was affected?

Mom started to nod off, and Benedetto wheeled her back to her room after a hug for each of us that let us know that SHE knew we had been there just for her.

Are you a sandwich family?

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8 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Phyllis says:

    Oh, this was good. We are a sandwich. And I think that maybe we are a baloney sandwich. : ) My husband’s family just moved their parents into a home that has the 3 levels of living. My parents are “half a country” away, and my dad is stubborn as all get out about moving “up north.” My brother and I live 30 minutes from each other, but my parents are 12 hours away! It is hard to see your parents start to decline… And it is hard that our boys didn’t get to know them when they all were a bit more healthy and active.

    • avatar admin says:

      I know, we try to make every minute count and I took these pictures of her the other day. Inbetween visits, we occasionally share stories that show some of their personalities, and those of the grandparents already gone. They love to hear about what they were like before. I wish my mom had even met my kids for 5 minutes-! My only regret in waiting so long for children….

  2. avatar Winnie says:

    Not there yet, but “I see the train a comin’ ” is not a reference to the Johnny Cash song.

    • avatar admin says:

      I hear ya, Winnie. Being pro-active and gathering info ahead of time really helps to explore options. I’m blessed to have two sisters-in-law who love their mom and do a large part of everything.

  3. avatar Ann White says:

    I wish I was closer to help, but I live 1400 miles away from my Dad but my 4 siblings live very close. My oldest sister is the triple decker sandwich, the others are chopped beef (help loosely). We lost Mom last July which has made things easier for everyone. She had similar mental issues as your mother in law except that my mother became totally and irreversibly deaf 2 years earlier from meningitis. It took her quite a while to realize she was deaf. If you think about it, voices are very distinctive, when a song pops into your head don’t you hear the actual artist singing? Anyway, we would hold up a paper that asked if she could hear and she would say yes. Eventually she admitted or realized she could not hear. The remarkable thing is that even with mom being deaf she had no problem hearing EVERYTHING that my dad said. It was uncanny. They were married 62 years.

    • avatar admin says:

      That’s amazing, Ann, but she had probably gotten to the point where she could tell him what he was going to say… before he said it! (I know I try to tell Benedetto what he SHOULD be saying, and he doesn’t appreciate my coaching, lol.) I know what you mean about chopped-beef, too-!

      After my mom died, my dad eventually remarried a very nice Russian lady. They live on the other side of creation, so we don’t get to see them much. We were supposed to Skype with him yesterday, but she sent him on an errand to help someone else get to the hospital, so we chatted with her. (She only speaks Russian and is very opinionated, so it’s good for the kids to be exposed to the “real” Russian personality, hah.) She has been very sweet to the kids. I always wonder if she will be around after my father is gone…. Things change, don’t they?

  4. avatar Wrenn says:

    Well, from my standpoint being in the sandwich generation leaves you feeling like a piece of meat! lol Been there done that…. now there,doing that. Now that the last one is leaving for college ( really where DID the time go?) the moms should be in for more time. My hubbys mom is failing in the mind area…confused..calls at night… Mine has a mind like a steel trap but the body is failing her.. so we run back and forth and squeeze in WAY too many activities with the soon to be college freshman. All the while looking at each other thinking “what about us?” Sigh my arms are a little fatigued from the juggling, but my God is able. I’ve just got to dig a little deeper into Him.

    • avatar admin says:

      My new sense is that “Less is More” which SOUNDS good, doesn’t always work. I just don’t like the hyped-up, go-go-go pressure…. We have enough real emergencies without being over-scheduled ourselves. I’ve found that nobody really has a problem with me being last in priority… hmmm…. Often, it’s like being on a balance beam. Lord, keep me up there!

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