Don’t Hold The Mayo

1 Mar

I never really liked sandwiches. I was a hot lunch kid in elementary school, although this may have had something to do with my mother’s great distaste for cooking of any kind. I still would rather eat something that requires a knife and fork than a variation on the Earl’s invention, with the exception of the exceptional BLT from Buzz Café in Oak Park.

So I am more than a little annoyed to find myself part of the Sandwich Generation, that lucky group of people taking care of aging—and often ill—parents, while still nurturing nested offspring. In the words of me, it sucks.

It wouldn’t be so bad, I think, if it just sucked for me, but it sucks for everyone involved.

Let’s take the aging, ill parent. The ham and cheese in his sandwich scenario, he’s slogging through chemo, radiation, insomnia, tremors, muscle rigidity, chemically-induced anorexia, nightly enteric feeding because of the anorexia, and boredom. He’s on a break from cancer treatment, a little physical vacation in preparation for massive reconstruction of his digestive system to remove the tumor from his esophagus.

The whole wheat and white bread holding his life together are my sister and brother, respectively. They do the heavy lifting, which often requires heavy lifting, of caring for Dad during the week. This consisted of driving him to doctors’ offices, hospitals and treatment centers, preparing his meals, coaxing him to eat his meals, and attempting to keep him awake during the day so he would sleep at night.

With the break from treatments, there is nothing much to break up the day, so now my sibs are looking for things to keep from shooting themselves in the head out of  boredom while providing a stimulating environment for Dad. My sister, an artist, has developed a homegrown art therapy program that consists of her encouraging his artistic talents through watercolor painting. My father is an engineer by training. My sister sets the stage, supplying Dad with brushes, paper and water. She encourages him, saying things like, “Dad, you really have a feel for the materials.” Dad, playing along because he’s that kind of guy, says something like, “My heart isn’t in this.” My sister then posts Dad’s artwork to Facebook, titling it “My heart isn’t in this.” Everyone’s happy-ish.

As boring as the days may be, the nights are full of activity. For the first two or three hours after hitting the hay, Dad sleeps an average of 10 minutes at a stretch, waking to do any combination of the following: readjust the sheets, walk to the center of the room then walk back to the bed, call out for confirmation that he is in the bed, or pee. These do not necessarily happen in a fortuitous sequence.

Once the initial settling in period is over, Dad will sleep for about 1 to 2 hours at a stretch. Naturally, so does the caregiver.

Obviously, no normal human could maintain this schedule for an extended period of time. My sister does a two-day shift, my brother another. Due to excellent financial planning on my dad’s part, he is able to afford a professional caregiver two nights each week.

And where do I fit? I am the lettuce and tomato in Dad’s weekly care. I’m sure everyone could get along without my assistance, but I’m really good to have around. I take the weekends. From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, Dad and I hang out together. Since I don’t paint and Dad doesn’t want to learn how to knit, we watch golf together. My dad doesn’t golf and I’d rather rub sand in my eyes, but we watch golf. My brother and sister get a break and I get to feel less guilty about them doing so much during the week.

If I’m the lettuce and tomato at Dad’s house, I’m the challah at home. And between my jobs, my kids, my pets and my husband, I’m feeling sliced pretty thin lately.

The jobs—there are three—are probably the biggest drain. See, each of them is the kind Rick Perry is so proud to have created: low pay, few hours and fewer benefits. But, hey, they don’t begin to pay the bills, so there’s that.

The kids are mostly doing ok. The son can be counted on to call Jimmy John’s or put a pizza in the oven. He can also be counted on to bring his girlfriend home from school, but that’s another blog post. The daughter is showing some signs of wear around the edges. She recently got unlimited texting thanks to her brother’s $300 worth of overage. So while I’m at Job One, I’m treated to messages every fifteen minutes. The most recent spate started with “I had a BAAAAAD day” and went through “I’m sad,” “I want to cry,” and “Why should I tell you?” until I had her dad call her to see what was wrong. “Nothing,” she replied to him.

The pets should soon be less of a drain. I think it’s only fair that with all the angst she’s added to my life, the new girlfriend appears ready to provide a home for the world’s worst cat. There is still the issue of the dog’s confounding penchant for soiling in his crate, but I can only expect so many serendipities in one lifetime, I suppose.

The husband is a wonder, which sounds sort of like something you’d say about an ugly baby, but he’s picking up what slack he feels comfortable with, trying to add skills that weren’t critical until now and, most important of all, being Mr. Good Supportive Husband. He’s even agreed that Mr. Perry can have back one of his jobs, so I’ll be saying goodbye to Stalker Boy soon.

I’m probably never going to love the life I’m living right now, but I’m reminded of one sandwich that I crave. Take two slices of white bread. Slather both with as much Hellman’s mayonnaise as they can hold without dripping on the counter. Place a slice of cold meatloaf in the middle. Enjoy. Proof of one of my life’s organizing principles: enough mayonnaise can make just about anything bearable.

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19 Responses to “Don’t Hold The Mayo”

  1. keynoncoaching March 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    You are definitely the bologna in the sandwich! I applaud you for being able to maintain your great sense of humor in the face of things! Know that you are not alone! Kathy http://keynoncoaching.wordpress.com/category/sandwich-generation/

  2. nevercontrary March 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    That sounds so tough. Thank goodness you have such love and support within your family and the mayo to be there for you when you get home.

    • jmlindy422 March 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      Oh, I would be so lost without mayo. Thanks.

  3. David "one of the sibs" Lindegard March 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Thank goodness for lettuce and tomato.

  4. writecreateclick March 2, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    I soooo feel for you. Being an only child, I’ve seen my mom through 2 bouts of breast cancer, a knee replacement & last week, 3 broken ribs. Hang in there! This was beautifully written.

    • jmlindy422 March 2, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      Thank you! I really feel for you doing all of this yourself. A good friend of ours is also an only and she really feels the squeeze as she also has three children to take care of. You hang in there, too.

  5. societyred March 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    I love how you say what you say, even though I know how difficult the subject matter is. Thank goodness for our sibs and the way we pull together as a team.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. sukanya March 6, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Admire your tenacity and your sense of humor in this difficult time. You have a lot on your plate and here I thought I was a superwoman/mom/sister/wife!

    • jmlindy422 March 6, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Thanks! I don’t feel like superwoman. In fact, I feel pretty inadequate a lot of the time. I guess it’s that focusing on what’s NOT been done rather than what has been done.

  7. John March 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    So your son has a girlfriend now?

    • jmlindy422 March 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Yup. Well, sort of. It’s complicated!

      • John March 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

        How so?

    • jmlindy422 March 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      In the way of all teenage relationships these days, no one is really a “girlfriend” or a “boyfriend.” They all just hang out together and some of them are friendlier with some others. It’s new-fangled.

      • John March 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

        Haha care to write about it? Sounds interesting!

    • jmlindy422 March 21, 2012 at 8:13 am #

      Not ready to write about that!

  8. philosophermouseofthehedge March 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hey you lettuce and tomato creature, well done (post and the way you are managing life) As a previously sandwiched one, all I can say, is “good kid, hang in there”. Funny how fondly you’ll recall those golf memories in the future.

    • jmlindy422 March 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      I’m fortunate to have a family that laughs at it’s dysfunction. Dad has reached the “who are you and what are you doing here” phase of his chemo-Parkinson’s brain funk. It’s pretty amusing. He can remember the name of a tiny town in Michigan where a friend’s daughter lives and then, 30 second later, as me where I live. Hm…Dad, well, I’m living in Naperville these days. How about you?

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