I Am the Bologna

The “baby-boomers” – the generation of children born to the rowdy, returning WWII G.I.’s, which burgeoned the population of the world, have many unique features, one being they’re the “Sandwich Generation.”  They were raised in a era of affluence and excitement about the promises of science to improve and lengthen life.  Many of them took advantage of the material assets their parents gained and went to college, began careers, and in general began re-producing at a later age than previous generations.  Consequently when their youngest children were still in the throes of teen-agedom, their parents were benefiting from medical advances allowing them to live longer.  But for many of that older generation, living independently wasn’t an option.  So they joined the households of their children, the “baby boomers:.  That often puts middle-aged people today “sandwiched” between both generations, being the care-givers of both.

I’m sure the 4th Earl of Sandwhich, Lord of  Sandwich in Kent, England in the 18th century,  didn’t have this in mind when he invented what the baby-boomers are named for.  Certainly the Earl probably never knew his invention would become world famous, bearing his name.  Or that his name would have meaning beyond identifying the meal named for him, or the islands named after his family – but that it would become an English word with its own meaning, an adjective and in this case, describing an entire generation!

Folk lore has it that Lord Sandwich spent so much time at the gaming tables, he didn’t want to stop and eat.  So his valet slapped down a nice chunk of bread, layered it with meats, cheeses, seasonal veggies, slathered another piece of bread with lots of rich butter or a sauce, put it on top of the pile and the Lord could continue his gaming while eating.  Though named for the Earl, it was obviously his creative valet who should get the credit.  Maybe then our beloved sandwich would be called the “smith” or “norton’.  But the clever valet’s name isn’t mentioned so we’ll forge ahead with sandwich.

In any event, that all leaves me caring for my 89 year-old mother while still having my youngest son living at home, and belonging to the “Baby Boomers”, “Sandwich Generation” and titles probably not so flattering.  (Although I don’t see much to boast about in being called a sandwich or a boomer.  Both seem to imply that I have a weight problem.  Which I do.)

Beginning at the beginning is always a good way to begin.  But I haven’t.  So I’ll start now with the life of a “Sandwicher”.

I’ve had my Mom full-time now for about 7 months.   About five years ago my brothers and I realized it wasn’t safe for her to live alone.  She loved her home in Ohio, which was beautiful in the summer but another story in the winter.  We all wanted her to have the comfort of enjoying her home, but still be safe.  In the summers we all tried to make sure one of us was visiting throughout the warm months.  When it became cold and icy, we took turns having her in our homes, several months at a time.  So I had had a taste of what it might be like to have her full-time.  In 2008 my five brothers and I realized she wasn’t adjusting to  moving around as well, and when she was at home during the summer she’d venture out on her own when no one knew.  Several times motorists reported to us that she tried to cross the highway to get to her favorite breakfast spot without looking to see if there were cars.  A couple actually followed her into the restaurant and told the owners they’d almost hit her.

So the time came when we put her house on the market.  Consistent with her expressed desires when she wasn’t suffering from dementia, she came to live with my husband, son and I.  In preparation for this time, we started the process of down-sizing from the labor-intensive old ranch where we’d been living for 35 years.  We built a home in a sub-division near a small shopping center within walking distance.  Mom’s room was designed for her, small but bright with a large window over her bed so she could watch neighborhood activities if she became bed-ridden.  When she wakes the first thing she sees across the room is a large canvas one of her sons painted of her beloved father, “Grampa Tom”.   As she leaves her bedroom and enters a small hallway, the bathroom door is the first on her left.  Both these rooms are decorated with things from her home and more family photos.  Almost across from the bathroom door is the garage door.  When the weather is inclement she can get into the car without facing snow, wind, etc. (which in Colorado there is some of!).  If she continues down the small hall she’s in the kitchen where she helps herself generously to Ensure, which is in constant supply in the refrigerator, the caps popped so she doesn’t have to struggle with hands that don’t work as well as they once did.  Right past the kitchen to the right is the master bedroom, allowing my husband and I to hear her and her to easily find us.  If she continues walking straight from the kitchen, there’s a very small sitting area.

There was lots of strategizing involved in minimizing certain of her repeated monologues.  One was “Am I sitting in your chair?”  “Should I sit on the couch?”  “Where do you want me to sit?”  “Are you sure this is my chair?”  “Are you comfortable on the couch?”  “Do you really think I should sit here?”

Mom dressed to the "nines".

Mom dressed to the "nines."

To avoid that litany we designated a recliner in each of the three rooms she’d be spending time in, the sitting room (we call it our “sun room” after a real sun room we had in our old house.), our bedroom where she watches television, and the living room.  We make a pretty big point of making sure no one else sits in those chairs if Mom is up.  After many reassurances that those chairs have her name on them, she finally accepted it and automatically sits in them.

If Mom passes the door to our bedroom and opts to sit in her recliner in the sun room, there’s a table next to the recliner with a digital photo frame displaying pictures of her loved ones through the years in slide-show fashion.  She spends hours watching her life spin before her eyes, which prompts many happy memories and conversations.  The table, littered with flowering plants and knick-knacks from her home in Ohio, is beneath a window.  Affixed to that by suction cups are bird feeders.  Mom and I delight in watching the rather drab little wrens or sparrows fighting and bickering for space in the feeder.  They just nip and scold each other like an old married couple.  We gasp with delight when occasionally a rare or colorful bird graces our feeders.  A bird book is handy to identify what feathered friend might wander into our area.  The red-winged black birds are fairly regular, mountain blue birds which look like a “slice of Colorado sky” with their rich blue color stop sometimes.  We’ve seen chickadees, doves, blue jays and rarely someone will stop by that we don’t recognize.  But we welcome them all.  This and the photo frame are wonderful past-times for Mom.

When I first got Mom about 7 months ago, it was the week before we moved into the house we’d designed with her in mind.  She was very familiar with our old ranch home, having visited twice a year for the 35 years we lived there.  So it was a difficult transition.  But I also felt it was a benefit for her to be making the change right along with us.  We didn’t shield her from anything.  As a matter of fact, when boxes of canned goods were being unpacked, my daughters-in-law nicknamed her the “box Nazi” because she wanted to unload them all herself.

Diverting a moment from Mom, I had a laugh over my daughters-in-law from our move day.  You can read about my experiences with in-laws in “What About In-Laws.”

Back to the move, my oldest son, who has lots of experience  packing  semi-trucks, organized the move.  My husband, Mom and I and one of our more emotional sons were to be at the new house, and everyone else was at the old packing and getting things to the new.

Mom is frail and tiny.  She has osteoporosis and is very stooped.  Her weight upon arriving here was 107.  She originally was about 5 feet tall, but with the shrinking (My father-in-law used to say he was “puddling” as he got older – everything sagging to the ground.), she’s probably 4’8” or even less.  Her hair is very white.  So she isn’t exactly formidable!  While she’s determined and stubborn at times, she is one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.  Certainly her dementia has her going in circles mentally – she may make the same comment 6 times in a minute, not knowing it.  But it’s almost always a complement to someone or an observation about how beautiful the sky, flowers, sun, mountains, etc. are.

When I go to the grocery store, it’s fun to park Mom at the Starbucks located in the front of the check-out aisles.  Sometimes if I’ve taken awhile to shop, I’ll get in line and notice Mom looking around in a somewhat panicked state.  But to get her to notice me is a riot!  I’ll start out waving and usually end up jumping up and down, calling to her – in general attracting the attention of everyone in the store but Mom.  Sometimes a friendly shopper ahead of me in line, or one of the clerks will come to my rescue (or hers, depending on point of view) and point me out to her.  When she sees me, it’s all worth it, as she smiles, waves and blows kisses.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 5:52 pm and is filed under Caring for Mom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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