grandma's birthday

82 it was this year. The six-year-old had to help her blow out the candles. She ate four pieces of cake, only because each time I offered a new piece she had forgotten already about the previous piece and her stomach hadn’t yet caught up. S’pose that wasn’t nice of me. (It really wasn’t out of spite, she just awfully seemed to want more cake).

Sometimes I’m angry. Uncle Doug wrote her a letter which she received yesterday. It was a birthday card that he’d misaddressed so it came late. She was already confused about that when her eye fell upon the sticker. For his return address Uncle Doug used one of those free labels that Some Charity sent in hopes of procuring a donation. It had his legal first name Basil on the label because who knows from what list direct mail marketers got his name.

So my mom says, Oh, I see that Doug is now going by the name Basil. I wonder what he’d like me to call him. Jenny, should I start calling him Basil? No attention paid to his personal signature of Doug on the birthday card, or perchance to the fact that he has always and only in his whole 84 years gone by Doug or Douglas.

Despite numerous, dreadfully numerous, attempts to explain that Some Charity doesn’t really know Uncle Doug and he just uses the free address labels because he’s frugal and that obviously he would have let her know if he changed his name, my mom insisted that he must have, for there it was on the sticker. And *I* was the one who was crazy for not thinking so, too. Yes, I lowered myself in my frustration to saying, You Are Crazy to think that.

I maintain a multi-generational family and do struggle along with millions of other “sandwich generation” folks in the raising of my own young children while caring for an aging parent. I just read a statistic from Pew Research Center that 1 in every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is doing this. This is what happens when people live longer and start families later.

Sometimes I feel every warning sign they tell caregivers about: burnout, anxiety, anger, fatigue, depression. Sometimes I laugh and feel doubly blessed. It depends on the day. I thank God for my husband who has the most amazing sense of humor about it all, and willingly shares his castle.

Because my mom has lived with us since our oldest (11) was an infant, this lifestyle is all my children know. I’m glad for that. Nothing was disrupted in their life by suddenly having Grandma move in. It was always this way and this is just what you do. My kids had a conversation in the back seat of the car one day about who would take care of mom when she was old. I was so stinking proud of them for coming up with a plan for my old age that included each one of them hosting me in a rotating fashion. Of course we all know it will be JoJo who takes care of me. She decided that when she was six.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27 says this, and yes, I comfort in these words not because I feel so self-righteous, believe me, I don’t, but because I need to know that we care for those in need because we are commanded to do so, it’s biblical. On hard days, it really helps to have that to lean into, lest I be tempted to fold. Speaking of fold, my mom is really good at folding laundry. Of course there is absolutely no guarantee about in which drawer clothing will end up, and I just realized that explains my son wearing my husband’s running underwear as shorts. It’s all part of the sandwich and sometimes the lettuce is wilted but you eat it anyway and it still nourishes you.


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16 Responses to Sandwiched

  1. My parents don’t live with us, but I can relate to this on so many levels. For me it is a matter of taking an hour or so every day to go visit my parents (2 minutes away), usually leaving my kids (10 and 13) at home. My mom will be 84 in April, and just in the past 6-9 months she has begun really have memory problems. She’ll say the same thing over and over again 5 times or so in an hour. It can get soooo frustrating, but I know it’s just her age. She definitely sundowns, so she is much more alert in the mornings than evenings. Anyway, just wanted to say I hear you!

  2. Jen says:

    Sarah, I think I remember when your parents moved there from New York? Glad they’re so very close, that helps. Sometimes it’s just good to be heard, so I’m glad you heard me! Most of my friends my age (40) have parents in their 60s, not their 80s, so I don’t always have common ground on this issue, except with my friends that are at least a decade older than me, or my friends with mentally ill parents–I can relate to them at any age!

  3. I pray that you will be richly blessed in your obedience. I am sure it can be difficult at times, being a mom with so many responsiblities.

  4. Mandi says:


    I am so blessed by your obedience in this! It just fills my heart with joy that you care for your mother like you do. I am surprised at the 1 in 8 statistic, simply because of the existence of nursing homes. Nursing homes make me sad. My kids and I, along with some friends, have sang at our local care center for several years. It is a care center dedicated to mentally ill patients, both elderly and younger patients. It is so hard to be there at times and I can’t imagine having a family member there, but at the same time I can only imagine how hard it is to care for them like you do. Only by God’s grace.
    You are in my prayers my friend!


  5. Kristin says:

    Happy birthday to your dear mom. I loved this story and sympathise with you, Jen. My own Mom is not elderly, but living together on a daily basis wreaks havoc with our nerves… (sorry, Mom, if you are reading, but you know what I mean!). I once locked her out of the house! And as she pounded on the door, I turned, hesitantly… only to put my full weight against it. We laugh about that now :-) Oh, but there are days, as you have well expressed here. Hugs to you and your family.

    (P.S. Mom, if you are still reading, your room is always here for you! :-) :-)

    PPS: sending positive wishes that your cat will come back. Whatever God’s will is, it is :-)

  6. Jen says:

    Halfmoon (Jane), thank you for the prayers! I think of you often, as you work through all of your own mothering missions.

    Mandi, I guess I was surprised by the number, too. 20 million at least. I think it would be easier if our culture was different, if everyone just assumed the duty like all ancient cultures seemed to do. Sometimes “hard” is just perspective. Thank you for prayers of grace.

  7. Jen says:

    Kristin, so happy you wrote here! There are days!! You have me smiling big with imagining the scene of you on one side of the door and your mom on the other…pushing against each other, that constant dance of life. Glad you can laugh about it now, that’s the most important thing. :-)

    Thanks for the well wishes to our sweet cat. I’m still scanning the highways and byways…

  8. kris says:

    Jen, you are doing such a great thing by caring for your mother at home. We are not in that situation yet, but at some point I am sure we will be. It is a gift to have that opportunity to serve. Thanks for reading my blog, and may God bless you for your willingness to serve, even when it’s hard. Pure gift!

  9. Reagan says:

    You are a hero! Truly, your children have a one of a kind mother. They are blessed! I love your blog…And even though this is my first visit, I love your heart! I’ll be back.

  10. Jen says:

    Hi Kris, I love your perspective that it’s a gift to have the opportunity to serve.

    Reagan, thank you for the kind words. I’m far from hero but it’s encouraging to consider the thought of what a hero-mother or hero-daughter would be like.

  11. Gina says:

    Oh Jen, I’ve got tears. I think of you often throughout my days as I remember watching my mom care for her mom at our house. What a precious gift you are giving your kids-you really are! And your mom? Well, she’s blessed as well (even when she doesn’t really know it). Praying for you today friend!

    (and the mri went fine…just checking on a few things-should be nothing serious at all! thanks for asking.)

  12. Jen says:

    Gina, I loved your words, like medicine. Thank you earnestly for responding. On the MRI, I’m glad to hear it’s “nothing serious” but I may still have to call you to make sure!

  13. Anna says:

    I hear the challenges (as well as the joys) you face. I long to be closer to my aging parents– (being so far away, I wonder how they are doing on a daily basis)– it seems to me that even on your most difficult days, there must be a certain peace of mind with knowing where your mom is and her daily condition.

    I love that your kids sat in the car and made plans for taking care of you! Like you write, they simply think: “It was always this way and this is just what you do.” That is a gift! It is a great example that our actions speak louder than our words, and it challenges me to consider what I need to be doing that I am not doing. Thank you for sharing this.

  14. Jen says:

    Anna, you know, I hadn’t much thought about how I’d feel if I had no way of knowing how my mom was doing on a daily basis. That would be hard for me, and I’m glad you brought that up, it brings some peace.

  15. heidi says:

    Jen, I love seeing your heart in black and white. You have shown me grace and wisdom as I struggle to come to terms with the aging and growing dementia in my own parents.

    Bless you and I hope you win! I think your voice resonates much further than you think.

  16. Jen says:

    Hi Heidi. Thank you, my friend. I did think of you as I wrote. Someone once said “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” So I will be grateful. :-)

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