As a small recap into my ooey-gooey Sandwich of caregiving, I have two sons, now seven and three. When my oldest was two and a half years old, my dad was diagnosed with ALS. When my youngest was two and a half years old, my mom was diagnosed with Colon Cancer.
I do not remember mothering without it, including mothering for a parent. I used to explain to my dad that aspects of caring for him came naturally to me cause of the season of life I was living. I was used to carrying wipes everywhere I went, being out for short periods, parking close to ramps, and backing into a door for it to open. The age of whom I was giving care did not matter; I was tending to both generations the same way.
The part that I struggled (struggle...currently) with is giving the care when you need care yourself. Time and time again, I have found myself thrown for a loop with information. As a stay-at-home mom, I am rarely not within feet of one of the boys.
Whether it be a phone call, a message regarding an imaging report, or an update on a current situation, as a caregiver, your life can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds. In the same few seconds, you could also need to change a diaper, clean up a spill, or have a child who suddenly remembered that they were starving.
Time and time again, I have found myself needing to curl up in a ball and process, break down, and react, but I am a mom first. As much as I need, I have to give in that situation; when I so desperately would love to hide from the world, I need to give to tiny humans that remind me that the world needs to continue.
The former teacher in me did enjoy when I would need to find the words to explain what was going on well enough for a toddler or young child to understand simply so I could better understand the situation myself. Even if that information made me want to curl up in a ball and hide, I needed to be able to explain and answer the questions rolling through the eager young brains that constantly followed my every move.
As a mom, I have always been open and honest with what has been going on with my parents; I have just used words and phrases that they could comprehend to explain the situation. I did this partly because it helped me process the problem myself and partly because I feel like they deserved respect to know and not wonder when their daily lives would be affected.
When my dad was sick, my oldest and I would travel together weekly to visit and for a long-time sleepover. He saw things change just as often as I was, but I was at least able to have phone calls in-between visits or doctors' appointments and daily texts from his caregiver or my mom to tell me what to expect by the next visit; he did not. On our drive down, we would discuss what could be different this time, if there would be anything new around the house, and I would answer any questions he would have once we arrived.
Were the conversations hard? Ridiculously.
Were the questions harder? Without a doubt.
But guess what happens when they ask and get their answer? They move on. He would spend a few minutes asking, wondering, and exploring and then was ready to play. In typical children's squarely moment fashion, the moment passed faster than it started.
As my life continues to be thrown for loops, twists, and turns, I am constantly jealous of the speed at which a child can be content with an answer and move on in life. I think their philosophy is something we can all learn from, no stewing on the unknown, pure acceptance.
Caring for the generation that brought you into the world while tending to the generation you brought into the world is something 11 million people do daily. It would take 110 football fields to be filled to represent Sandwich Caregivers; 34 fields alone would represent the Millennial Generation.
If you are standing on one of those fields with me, feeling that Time and time again feeling, I want you to know that I, too, want to curl in a ball and hide. We feel alone as we navigate a stroller and a wheelchair, the first steps and last steps, the excitements, and heartbreaks, but we must all remember we are 1 in 3,410,000.
Time and time again, I felt like I had no one who understood, no one to turn to, no one who was buckling in a car seat while making sure you have a walker, a wheelchair, and a transfer board. I would find myself in a situation where I needed to give when I desperately NEEDED myself.
Let’s team together as Sandwich Caregivers remind our ooey-gooey pact that to give, we need to let ourselves NEED. We are not alone. There are millions out there just like us waiting for the person next to them to give them the thumbs up to have a child’s philosophy of not stewing on the unknowing, having pure acceptance.
My friend, this is your thumbs up.