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Surviving the Sandwich GenerationShari Bender
I opened the refrigerator and smelled an eggy stench. I immediately found the source of the assault in an egg salad sandwich sitting in the open air on a plate, balancing haphazardly between two containers on the top shelf.
How was this okay? Do my teenagers not know how to store food correctly? Is this how it’s going to be?
Well, I answered that question myself, and it wasn’t pretty.
Early in our new COVID-19 "shelter in place" routine, we tried to have a family dinner, but it ended abruptly, leaving me sitting alone at the table wondering how we were going to do this thing. My emotional daughter expressed her feelings of disappointment and sadness about missing so many things at high school, while my intellectual 8th grade son replied, “It is what it is and we can’t do anything about it now.”
This clash of their distinct differences erupted in upset between the two while I attempted to intervene in this colossal failure of communication. Everything escalated and they both left the table feeling unheard and angry. My husband got up from the table to do what he does best, function through it while doing the dishes and cleaning the pans.
My son, bewildered by how his concrete thinking was offensive, and my daughter, distraught with her sensitive soul, and my husband, stepping up to get things done — are all just trying to use the coping skills they have in the circumstances we’re in. I understood each one completely, for I am a compilation of them all.
I sat alone at the table picking at my meal, allowing it all to consume me, feeling exhausted and depleted, frustrated and overwhelmed, wondering how on earth we were going to do this “new normal”— living so close together in the confines of what often feels like captivity. I am the carrier of everyone’s heart and everyone’s needs and these days, it’s a heavy weight to bear.
Like many families, ours has an assortment of very distinct personalities. Ordinarily, busy schedules filled with many different activities give us room to breathe — we blend together beautifully when each person's unique strand is woven loosely into the fabric of our family life.
But we aren’t afforded the luxuries of space and time right now, so things are getting a bit twisted and tightened and our once beautiful tapestry is getting tied up in some very tense knots. The threads of each one of us are fraying from too much friction. We’re not used to rubbing up against each other so much and so often.
Right now, we’re just trying to loosen up the knots and iron out the wrinkles and that’s going to take some time.
We’re stuck in this place of uncertainty as no one really knows how this is all going to go. We're all feeling lots of emotions that surface unpredictably while we wonder about the weeks and months ahead. Each one of us is working on accepting many cancellations and grieving the loss of our once busy lives. We're all conflicted and confused, disoriented and distraught, and we need to find ways to care for one another while we live this new life together.
It won't be easy. Conflicts will erupt and tempers will flare. No matter how much we love each other, these things are inevitable. We will adapt to a new way of living — as we must. The landscape has changed drastically; we have to change right along with it.
We’ll try to be considerate and compromise and learn to embrace this new normal in ways that will be sacrificial and serving, not demanding and deserving.
We’ll take it slowly and move more carefully around one another. We’ll lean in when we can and pull back when we’re told. We’ll laugh at the ridiculousness of our ways and walk away when we have had enough.
We’ll have to bend a bit more, listen a lot better, and love each other well.
This is a true test of our family’s character, riddled with flaws but my gosh, we have so many gifts too.
We’ll loosen up these knots with understanding and thoughtfulness, respect and awareness. We’ll iron out the wrinkles with kind words and forgiveness, compassion and patience.
We’ll begin to stitch new layers of life that bring meaning and memories to this new season we are in. We are still learning how to travel this long road and we can’t see for miles ahead.
There’s a lot of fear in the unknown, so we need to hold tight to what we do know now…
We are stuck with our people, the ones we love most. There is no one else we’d rather be with and no one else we love more. And this truth will never change, no matter how many changes come our way.
My husband and I wake up early to work in the quiet morning hours, while peace still lingers in this place. I prepare a meal in the Crockpot and plan my day ahead, wondering how things will go for us all.
I let my kids sleep in because they have all day to get things done and I need this space and time for myself.
My daughter comes downstairs with newfound excitement as she announces her busy agenda for the day. She has diligently scheduled every hour filled with FaceTime chats with friends interspersed with blocks of time for schoolwork, exercise and T.V. She's beginning to settle into her own rhythm, making her own goals, filling her own needs. She’s finding her space and time and it is freeing for her and I’m thrilled to observe her new resolve.
I ask if she can fit cleaning the shower into her busy schedule and make room for a family game night tonight, too, and she says she might not have time for those things. I laugh at her seriousness, thinking maybe she's taking a bit too much space and time for herself. I rephrase my question into a statement, explaining that we all need to do our part to keep our home and family maintained. She concedes with a sigh and walks off, looking at the calendar she so carefully constructed, scratching in these new obligations.
My son appears in the kitchen next, groggy and yawning. Grabbing water out of the fridge, he tells me he plans to do his schoolwork every day in the morning so he can get it over with. He shares that he’s still trying to figure out what’s due and when; sorting it out is kind of overwhelming. I offer encouragement and praise him for managing it all so well.
He continues by saying he'll play video games with his friends in the afternoons and he can start training for soccer outside when the weather changes. He loves our family game nights and has been asking for us to have one all week, so I inform him that we're having one tonight and he’s thrilled. I tell him his plans sound good, but not to forget his chores. Nodding, he settles down at the computer to begin his work.
We are each feeling our way through this, finding a new rhythm, growing in ways we never thought to grow. We'll work together to stitch new layers into the fabric of our family's life, creating the space and time we need to blend it beautifully once again.
There will be knots and lots of wrinkles, but we’ll keep trying to loosen them up and iron them out as best we can.
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