I first remember hearing about the “sandwich generation” when my parents found themselves in that place. After my Pawpaw died, my Granny moved in with us for a while so that we could help her over that hump, and figure out what she needed to do next. Those were great days for me… I loved having her with us, but I know they were challenging for my parents. They still had two teens at home to look after, my dad owned his own business, and then there was the displaced, saddened little old lady to care for. They were sandwiched between two generations that needed their help.
Now, I look around and see that I am that sandwich generation. As my parents get older (Dad turned 80 last weekend) there are times that they need my help with some things, I’m working full time to help put my kids through college, and I’m still working to get those kids safely to adulthood. I also have the additional blessing of a bonus “parent”, my Aunt Jean, to care for. These are busy, wonderful days, and I would not trade them for anything. I love my life so much.
But these are interesting days. These are different times from when my parents where the sandwiched ones. Take phones, for instance. From the time of the invention of the phone, moving ahead about a hundred years… nothing changed too much about it. We were all pretty much tied by a pig-tailed cord to the kitchen if we wanted to talk to someone on it. Let’s just call it Phone1.0. Phones were just phones, no one expected anything more than that, and we all just talked on them. Phones were an even playing field across the generations. Everyone sort of lived in the same ballpark.
But today, things are different. While my parents have smart phones, they still pretty much just use them as… phones, and they expect/like it when people call them on their phones. My mother tells me most of the time I could stand to do that a lot more. When I call my kids on their phones, they’re like, “Um, why are you calling me on the phone? Couldn’t you have texted me?” You see, for their generation, their phones are less phones and more… everything else. The phone part of their phones is the least thing they do with their phones. I’m not even sure why they still call their phones phones. And they are always waiting for the next upgrade or innovation for their phones. I mean I went my entire childhood, into adulthood with the SAME PHONE tethered to the wall in my parent’s kitchen. It didn’t even have buttons, just a rotary dial, and I was completely fine with that.
So being the sandwich generation is a little different these days. It’s a little like having one foot in one dimension and the other in another, completely different dimension.
C Wright Mills was a prominent Sociologist around the time of the end of the Second World War. He worried that societies were changing at a pace that was too fast for most people to keep up… and that was back when phones were still tied to the kitchen wall. I bet his head would spin if he saw the pace at which society is changing now. I used to marvel at my great grandmother, and all that she had seen happen in her lifetime. But y’all, they just grew a baby goat in a plastic Ziplock bag in a lab. Are you kidding me? There is now an app for the phone where you can take a picture of a suspicious mole, upload it to the app and it will diagnose that mole with greater accuracy than a dermatologist. There are predictions that doctors will soon go the way of travel agents. Travel agents are something my parents knew about that my kids have never heard of, and would find completely irrelevant today. (My apologies to all my doctor friends… but you have been warned.)
I can’t say that I really have a great point to all of this, except to say that I have a lot of friends who are also sandwiched right now, and I hope to encourage them as they navigate these years. We are living in a time like never before in history, and we are all just trying to figure it out and keep up. We have been entrusted with some pretty special people to help take care of on both sides, and we are the bridge that joins them together. It’s a pretty special place to be, really… sandwiched in like we are.