The Sandwich Generation

March 18, 2010

Lauren and I went to the mall yesterday – girl’s day out. While I was sitting in the food court feeding her lunch I was thinking about my trip next week to check on my elderly parents who live in Florida. As I was wondering what I will find when I get down there, I was reminded of my last shopping trip with them.

My parents, then in their early eighties, had asked if I would take them to the mall because my Mom needed to buy a coat before they returned to Florida. (I don’t think she trusted Dad to help her pick out the right one.) My parents are really doing very well despite their age, but my Mom can be a little unsteady on her feet at times and doesn’t see very well. And Dad, well, he’s in amazing shape and thinks if my mother just got more exercise she’d be fine – you know the “just suck it up” approach. Now bear in mind that I also have to bring Lauren on this shopping excursion.

So, I pull out the sale flyers and figure out that J.C. Penney will probably be the simplest place to go. While looking through the flyer I see a set of dishes that are just what I’ve been looking for – great! So, I get everybody in the van and off to the mall we go. Well, the selection process took a little longer than I thought it would and now I need to feed Lauren, and my mother has worked up an appetite trying on all those coats. If you deny my mother will pay. Of course, the food is at the other end of the mall. What to do? My father says, “Oh we’ll just take a stroll down to the food court. It’ll be good exercise for your mother.” Well, it was a very slow process but we made it. I get everybody fed and consider how to get everybody back in the car - at Penney's.  I probably should just go get the car. My father suggests that I take Lauren and go get the dishes that I didn't get, and they’ll take a little rest, and then another leisurely stroll back to Penney’s to meet me in front of the store. “Are you sure??” “No problem!”

I take Lauren and return to Penney’s, buy my dishes, check out a few other things and make my way back to our meeting spot. (Gee, those dishes were heavier that I thought they would be.) parents. Fifteen minutes later.... no parents. Ten minutes parents. Where are they? Something must have happened. Did they get the meeting spot wrong? Of course, they don’t have a cell phone. What in the heck do I do? I can’t drag ‘service for twelve’ around the mall while I look for them. So, I make my way out to the car as fast as I can, pushing Lauren with one hand. I put the dishes in the car then race back to the meeting spot in case they’ve arrived. They haven’t. I retrace what should be their route all the way back to the food court and.....they’re still sitting in the same spot. And, my father does not look too good. He’s feeling light-headed and they were afraid to leave where they were. Of course, my wobbly, sight-impaired mom couldn’t go off by herself to get help. Now what do I do? I get hold of mall security and ask if they can get me a wheelchair – for my father. A few minutes later a security guard shows up and takes one look at our “interesting” group and, bless his heart, doesn’t make one comment. I ask him to wait with my parents while I – you guessed it – take Lauren and go all the way back to Penney’s where the van is parked, put her in the van, and drive around the mall to the food court entrance. In the meantime the wheelchair has arrived and they’ve gotten my father into it. My now visibly upset mother is hanging on as they meet me at the entrance of the mall. By now, two other security guards have shown up at the van. The two new arrivals take one look at my parents and Lauren already in the van in her wheelchair and turn to me with a look that says, “Lady, are you nuts!” I don’t think they believed my decision to “shop” with my three companions was a wise one. And, believe me; at that point I was in full agreement.

Thankfully, we found that my father had an inner ear infection and was soon back to his amazing self. My mother got her coat and I got my dishes. But there were three security guards that were probably shaking their heads for several days afterward.

My parents are now in their late eighties and I’m truly finding out what being in the “sandwich generation” is all about. I know they’re not telling me everything about how they are faring (I have spies.), and I worry not only about how long they can live on their own, but how I will ever convince one very stubborn father and a “whatever Dad says” mother that they need help. Fortunately, with the help we now have with Lauren, I can at least take the time to go check on them. Except for one problem, one of the DSP’s has just injured her knee and may not be able to lift next week. My parents are waiting for me, all excited that I’m coming. But now I’m asking once again, “What in the heck do I do?” I’ve got my plane ticket. I’ve rented a car. I’ve carved out four days to make this trip. I’m torn between a daughter who can’t do without me and parents who shouldn’t have to – and until I can see for myself – may no longer be able to. I’ll let you know how this all plays out. You know, some people go to Florida just for the fun of it.

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