Sandwich To Go

Two photos taken on the same day in August:

Here a picture of my beautiful boys, Roman and Avery, dressed smartly in uniforms for their first day of the 2010-2011 school year. Below a photo of my dapper, Guayabera wearing Daddy. He’s 82 years old this November.

I took the picture of my Dad on Monday at an Applebee’s in Florida, just a few hours after Chris, my husband, took the picture of our boys in Singapore.

Because try as I might, I have yet to perfect the art of being in two places at once. So I missed Avery’s first day of first grade and Roman’s first day of 2nd grade, in order to spend some much-needed time with my Dad. As I agonized over the choice of where I most needed to be, the term “sandwich” generation kept coming to mind. That phrase, the origins of which are unclear to me, but which seem somehow linked in my mind to a Time Magazine cover, seemed both appropriate and ridiculous. Appropriate because I certainly felt mushed between conflicting demands on both ends of the generational spectrum, but ridiculous because I’m not sure there has ever been a generation that wasn’t a “sandwich” generation.

Both of my parents lived in households with their grandparents. I doubt my father’s mother would have called herself a “sandwich” generation member when she was caring for my dad and his siblings as well as her mother. But daily she decided, “Robert needs shoes” or “Momma needs new shoes.” Or medicine, or schoolbooks or a cane. And while one likes to think that no family member ever causes another’s suffering, the reality is that few of us have infinite financial resources and none of us has infinite time resources. So families, like societies, make tradeoffs — and these tradeoffs are across and between generations.

It’s a particularly 20th century notion that seniors, like teenagers, achieve independence. Pensions, Social Security, Medicare, the ability to live in separate homes hundreds, if not thousands of miles apart, allow us to forget that one family member gives, so that another member of the family gets. As it is in families, so it is in societies.

While it was hard on me to be away from my boys on their first day of school, I talked to them about why I was gone. They missed me but I have to believe they also gained something. Living across the world, it’s easy for my kids to view their grandparents as others. Related, but separate nonetheless. By seeing me make a difficult choice, they have a clearer sense of their grandfather as part of our family. One who needs and deserves family time and resources every bit as much as they do. Maybe I needed that reminder too.

8 comments

  1. Anne

    Although choosing is tough, you will never regret any time you spend with either side of your sandwich. And when your parents are gone, it is for good. (And your boys are too cute.)

  2. Yolanda

    Lovely Crystal and so true. I’ve got a similar dilemma going on right now with my mother who’s just been diagnosed with a cranial aneurysm. She plans to have operative surgery (In Atlanta) during the week of school break upcoming, for our girls, here in Cape Town. The week which also happens to coincide with our plans to move house!
    Who to be? The Mother, Wife/house-holder or Daughter…. Life Lesson #44 Big Kiss. Yolanda

  3. Yolanda

    Lovely Crystal and so true. I’ve got a similar dilemma going on right now with my mother who’s just been diagnosed with a cranial aneurysm. She plans to have the operative procedure (In Atlanta) during the week of school break upcoming, for our girls, here in Cape Town. The week which also happens to coincide with our plans to move house!
    Who to be? The Mother, Wife/house-holder or Daughter…. Life Lesson #44 Big Kiss. Yolanda

  4. Mary Rapoport

    I think that when the “extended” family became the “family of origin” as opposed to the family “of choice” the sandwich was born. When people live together the push and pull of intimate relationships are not layered by over by time, distance, loss of intimacy and so the word “stew” would have been more appropriate to crisis or just conflicting needs.

    Societal changes bring all kinds of changes and if language is to remain relevant it has to change as well. So yes you are a sandwich generation (as mine was as well) but think of all the wonderful fixings that go with it today.

    Much love to you and your beautiful children.

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