In the 2000’s I became part of the sandwich generation but I’m rapidly becoming just the filling.
Three years ago I had an aging and sick mother and a primary aged child. As a single parent running their own business, this wasn’t without its challenges and I would, if pressed, admit to having periods of quite impressive anxiety. Even more impressive was my ability to mask this from virtually everyone except a tiny inner circle who I knew would be non-judgmental. I coped with the sandwich because, well because what’s the option? And because I loved the bread.
Then things deteriorated.
My lovely boy, who has some minor additional needs reacted to secondary school like the rank and file of the local Oxford Conservative Party on being told that one Jeremy Corbin had been proposed as their next candidate. Heaving of bosoms (mostly mine), wailing (mostly his) and gnashing of teeth (both of us) ensued.
Then things deteriorated further.
My mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer and after a month or so of faffing about, the hospital decided to try and do something about that, only to discover that it had advanced too far and she died at home a few too-short months later. Followed with lots more coping.
That was two years ago and so within those few short years I have gone from being the squeezed filling in the sandwich to a weird breadless sandwich. Filling lying pathetically on a side plate, the low carb version of a sandwich, otherwise known as just “ham and cheese”.
My previously struggling 11 year old has hit his stride as a 14 year old. Well supported by his school, he is more often earning credits than detentions. He gets himself about on public transport except for a few wheedled lifts to school when late. He has seen through my thin veneer of perfecton and realises that I actually know very little, having mostly winged it through this parenting lark with crossed fingers and prayers for a following wind.
My friend Liz recently sagely listened to the current tale of anxiety paralysing me and commented:
“Well you’ve spent so many years looking after other people that you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself now.”
And she’s not wrong. No ailing mother, no needy toddler, no child with separation anxiety. Of course parenting a teenager is just as (if not more) demanding, but your aim is different . You aren’t trying to keep them alive, teaching them to walk, talk, read, write. You’re teaching them (hopefully) to become a decent self-dependent adult. You’re teaching them to leave you behind.
It’s the tragedy and the joy of parenting. And hopefully, in time, they return with their broken cars, and their first time house purchases, their broken relationships and their first born child and once more they need you. And then in time you may need them. But for now I am an open sandwich, still bread at the bottom but fast heading towards just “ham and cheese”.
Maybe it’s more obvious to a single parent with an only child. Pasting on a smile and waving them goodbye as my mother did for me. This circle of life business really sucks sometimes.
However I have a cunning plan… in January we’re getting a puppy! Say hello to Georgie. And Liz… I can hear your eyes rolling from here and mutters of “That wasn’t what I meant!”