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Hovering in the Middle

Hovering in the Middle

When I first starting working in advertising in the early 1980s, I marketed to Yuppies, Gen X and Y, even Tweens and Empty Nesters. But never did I believe that it would be my legacy to become not one, but two of the labels that my industry conveniently packages into a target audience. I woke one day to discover that yes indeed, I am a helicopter sandwich.

If you’ve been breathing over the last ten years, you have witnessed the arrival of the adult sandwich, the distinction of being a Babyboomer who cares for elderly parents and young children at the same time. The kids aren’t quite ready for college, the seniors not quite ready for nursing care but you, of the 70 million strong, must be ready to spend your waking hours figuring out how to stretch your paycheck, daylight and emotional stability to satisfy three generations.

Despite the challenges, there is a remarkable series of analogies tied to this distinct sandwiched life. The kids are just about tackling their day-to-day issues and responsibilities on their own: “Did you do your homework? Did you do it right? Did you practice/rehearse/clean up/prepare?” Suddenly we aren’t doing the work alongside them, but rather managing after we learned it’s been done.

This art of watching over little young shoulders lessens in direct proportion to the seniors in the family. Suddenly Grandma or Grandpa must relinquish their most basic needs to another caretaker – be it a family member or healthcare professional, most do not give up that easily, often until medical necessity requires them to do so. In our household, it was a simple conversation, in which my mother admitted that caring for her small apartment, getting groceries in and bill payments out, was, in her own words, “getting harder.” Mentally she was young and strong, physically her body was telling her to rest a lot more often.

It was an innocent conversation that set off a series of life altering events: the visit and review of assisted living facilities, the offer and sale of her co-op apartment in one of the toughest real estate markets in recent decades, and the emotional toll of taking 54 years of possessions and reducing them to twelve boxes, three clothing containers, and an easy chair. In our case, the move was very much like what I anticipate parents do to prepare a student for college: boxes labeled, meeting a roommate, sharing a bathroom facility.

I have also found some similarities in the need to learn new languages and their phrases as a proud new
member of the sandwich generation.

College-ese: high school deficient credits, need-based scholarship, weighted averages, early acceptance, tuition assistance, early admission, merit scholarship, rolling admission.

Medicaid-ese: Medicare part B reimbursement, effective date, Medigap, Medicare D.

Do I feel a sense of entitlement to demand such ease and comfort as a boomer? Not really. But as the hovering hero (as in sandwich) I do feel that boomers need real government help to nourish young minds while easing elderly ones. And if the only way to really get support -- physical, financial, or emotional support is to have NO money or too much, then I am not to see ease and comfort in my middle years.

All in all, I’ve accepted my role as mom and daughter. In fact, I mostly savor it. My saving graces are children who will work with whatever we can provide for their secondary education and a parent who simply asks for her framed college diploma to be hung in her new room -- the place she now calls home.

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