Being a member of the sandwich generation has never been more fraught. In the age of Covid our generation is being asked to make Solomonic decisions about our parents and our children. For many of us, keeping both our parents and our kids safe means keeping them apart and that means that we, the bridge connecting them, must choose which side of the river upon which to plant our flag.
In my case, given the fact that there was a confirmed case of Covid-19 on my son’s campus before he came home, the choice was and is between my 19-year-old son who is in the age group most likely to carry the virus and my 87-year-old mother who is in the age group most likely to get into trouble with the virus.
My mother lives alone, about a half an hour from me. She has been widowed for 20 years and as a survivor of World War II, she is fairly stoic. For the last month, I have been begging her to refrain from going out, even though I know that being social is what keeps her sane. She enjoys a day program at her local community center and until they shut it down she insisted that she had to keep going.
I would bounce between phone calls with mom and calls with my kids imploring them all to be careful about exposing themselves unnecessarily. As between the kids and my mom, the kids were far more reasonable, and for a time I felt that a competent 87-year-old should make her own life choices and be mistress of her own fate.
But then things got very, very real and very, very scary. And, last week, mom and I made a joint decision that right now she should stay in her apartment. She has food and she’s feeling okay, but she has several chronic health conditions that crop up from time to time, and that’s worrisome. Even though I know that her loneliness will grow acute, I believe that she is better off not being exposed to a 19-year-old who just last week, despite his mother’s boisterous admonitions, hugged all of his college friends (yes, every single one of them) goodbye.
I know that my mother feels alone and vulnerable, and that she would prefer to be with us but I just can’t see another way to play this hand. I call her every day as does my brother and we realize that we are now, more than ever, her lifeline to the outside world. She waits for those calls. The other day my call was somewhat delayed, so she texted me, “You forgot to check in on me.”
It’s a lot under normal conditions to feel pulled by both sides, but right now, the decisions we are making for our loved ones feel monumentally heavy and singularly impactful. And I am forever second guessing myself: Should we have brought her here earlier? Is she really better off by herself even if she’s unhappy alone? What do we do about the upcoming holidays?
I promised mom that if she gets into trouble I will come, that if she needs food or medication I will send one of my boys to drop off what she needs right to her doorstep. I have friends who have made a different decision, choosing to take their parents in and limiting themselves to seeing their mostly adult children virtually.
We all make what we think is the best decision at that time. Sometimes, the answer is clear, but it’s never easy. And, for all of our sakes, I hope and pray that the status quo holds. Because if it doesn’t, we may be forced to actually split the baby in half, not just threaten to do so.
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