The concept of the “sandwich generation” has really been resonating with me lately.
In the last year, I’ve experienced parenting a toddler, two miscarriages, one first trimester, the death of my father, and two major surgeries for my mother. Since my parents were divorced for 25 years before my father died and I’m an only child, all their arrangements/care has fallen to me. All while doing my full-time job, of course. We spent this Mother’s Day visiting my mom in the hospital at the end of her week-long stay — she had a hip replacement last Monday (her second), then had a bad fall on Wednesday, needed surgery again on Thursday, and I just brought her home today. We packed up the toddler into the car on Saturday and came to her house for the weekend to take care of her cat and her house and visit her while she was still in the hospital. I’m writing this from her house, where I’ll be for the next couple of days taking care of her as she starts to recover, and then I’ll be driving back and forth (two hours each way) several times over the next couple of weeks, depending on what she needs. We just did this in December/January with her first hip surgery, so at least we both know better what to expect this time.
I’m exhausted, no joke. The timing isn’t awful, since it’s the end of my semester, but I’m still running around like a chicken with my head cut off this week begging random people to proctor exams for my extended time students while I’m with my mom, figuring out what to do about the student who badly burned his hand while fire-juggling this weekend, dealing with the student whose dean told me that she was almost hospitalized for mental illness this week and is trying to help her figure out whether she can finish the semester, and the stack of term papers that are sitting there giving me the hairy eyeball while the clock ticks down to the day that senior grades are due on Monday. With all of my extended-time students and various other necessary accommodations, out of two classes with a total of 85 students I have had to make arrangements for a grand total of 26 hours of exam proctoring this week, not to mention all my regular grading work and, you know, writing, editing, and printing the exams, running review sessions, and dealing with the inevitable “I know it’s exam week but can you please please meet with me for two hours the day before the final because I’m freaking out about stuff I still haven’t learned and now I’m finally motivated to learn it.”
Anyway, yesterday it was all kind of crashing down on me. But at some point after driving the two hours back from visiting my mom with my toddler only sort-of napping in the back and then dealing with his meltdown at the end of a weekend of disrupted routine and cooking dinner for the dear friends that we didn’t want to uninvite over since who knows when we’ll be free to see them again and having had no time whatsoever for a Mother’s Day celebration myself, I suddenly thought, “How lucky am I?”
I am so lucky. I’m so lucky to have my amazing son, my wonderful husband, my dear mother, and our unborn son as part of my lives. The sandwich generation is only a thing for people who are fortunate enough to have their kids and parents in their lives at the same time — I am so needed only because I am so deeply involved in the lives of all of these people. The death of my father this year only drives home to me how fragile it all is, how short our time here on Earth is together, and how fortunate I am to have such rich relationships (which he never really had). And at least my mother should recover from these surgeries (if all goes well) and have many more healthy years with me and her grandson(s) before we have to say goodbye to her. After all our pregnancy losses, I never take for granted how incredibly fortunate I am to be mother to a living child, nor to be pregnant with his little brother, and it was so sweet to see my son giving his Nana a hug and kiss in the hospital and getting to bring her his school photo (which turned out completely adorable this year, unlike last year) along with the flowers to brighten up her hospital room. This is life: messy, hard, but ultimately beautiful. Being there when things are tough — for your tantruming toddler or your convalescing mother — is what it’s all about.
There will be lots of other Mothers Days that will hopefully be a little calmer, but I wouldn’t trade this one for anything.