Meanwhile, back at Mama’s…(sandwiches and other food for thought…)

I love the word fortnight. It sounds so much classier, and fancier than saying “two weeks.” I’m just sorry the game, Fortnite, has besmirched such an elegant turn of phrase.

A fortnight. Two weeks. Fourteen days. So much can happen in that amount of time. Just ask Romeo and Juliet.

At the end of a recent fortnight, beginning on August 23rd, and ending on September 6th, I will have run the gamut of emotions. It began with the excitement of the night before I began my thirty-fifth year in public education, and will end in spending the weekend with my grandson. And right smack dab in the middle of those two bookend events, is the seven days that I spent with my mother.

After lunch, on the second day of my thirty-fifth year in education, I received a call from the school secretary who reported that my son had been trying to get in touch with me. She added, “He said it’s not an emergency.

Thanks to the metal roof on top of the building where my office is located, the inhabitants of the 6th grade building are unable to receive calls on our cell phones. I was a little curious as to the purpose of his call, but wasn’t too worried since there was no emergency. I walked outside to the football field, where I finally got service, and dialed his number.

It seems my mother had fallen and hurt herself. She was visiting with friends up the street and as she turned to walk toward her house, her shoe (which was too loose) caused her to trip, and she face-planted on the asphalt. Proof of this was apparent in the visible “road rash” that was under her eye and on her nose.

She was sore, but Chris said she seemed okay. It’s always so hard to judge over the phone the emergency level of something like this, and I now believe, as a family, we need to devise our own color-coded alert system. (Code Yellow, Code Orange, Code Red, and maybe even Code Purple and Code Maroon for sports team related emergencies)!

I calculated that it would take me close to an hour and a half to get to Nacogdoches to check on my mother, by the time I gathered my belongings, and made some phone calls. I wasn’t sure of the state she was in, so I contacted my reliable, beautiful, precious southern belle friend, Callie.  She has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

Callie said that she would go over and check on mom, and let me know what she thought. I received a text stating that they were going to Strive, which is a walk-in ER not connected to the hospital. Within ten minutes, she sent another text stating that they were sending her to Excel ER to do a CT (CAT) scan. And then she said, “You need to come.”

I had heard that same line twenty-eight years prior, except it was from my parents’ preacher, and he was telling me I needed to hurry to Nacogdoches, and hopefully get there in time before my dad died. I didn’t make it.

I knew Mother’s injuries weren’t as serious as that, but still, the phrase, the flashback, and the sense of both panic and helplessness set in. I grabbed my things, apprised my husband of the situation and took off.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I heard my phone ding, informing me I had a new text. I pulled back into the parking space, but I couldn’t find my phone in my complete-mess-of-a-purse, so I dumped everything out on the passenger side floorboard. I rummaged around and found my phone, and the text was giving me directions to Excel ER.

As I drove off, I realized the battery in my phone was about to go dead. I was on Highway 323, and was frantically looking for a place to pull over so I could find my charger, which was lost among the debris that had been emptied out of my much too messy purse.

I spotted a side road where I could pull in to get off the highway, and it was after I had gone too far that I realized it was completely covered in, or better yet, made of sand. I stepped out of the car, ran around to the other side, opened the door, grabbed the charger, and then ran back around and got in.

Did I mention I had on sandals? Well, I did. And my toes and feet were covered in this sand. And this might seem like a little thing, but for someone who developed an unmatched fear of quicksand from watching Saturday morning cartoons, the feeling of trepidation was on that same level.

After using some rather descriptive adjectives, I tried to drive forward, and as I did, my back tires began spinning. The idea that I was about to have to call my husband and inform him I was stuck in sand right off highway 323, less than 2 miles from the school was humiliating. I had to get myself out of this jam. I couldn’t be the person who got stuck in a sand pile.

I got out of the car, and wishing I had a sand pail and shovel, used my feet to dig and kick sand away from my back tires. And quite by accident, when I put the car in what I thought was drive, but was actually “L,” I was able to move forward and get the tires out of the sand. I then easily backed out of the cartoon character setting of which I had created with my completely ridiculous inability to focus and have an organized purse.

I drove to Nacogdoches, and after I reloaded my purse, put on my mask, and tried to hide the fact that my feet looked like those of a dirty three-year-old who had spent the day in a sandbox, I walked into the medical facility.

It was determined that my mother had broken her nose and the tip of her elbow. Her arm was wrapped, and she was put in a sling, and told to set up an appointment with an orthopedist. As bad as this was, it could have been so much worse.

As usual, it took a few minutes for us to leave. My mother, as always, had to go on a “farewell tour,” thanking everyone in the entire facility, and making sure they knew what wonderful care she received. Even with a broken nose and elbow, and the skin scraped off parts of her face, she is a lady.

I drove her home, got her settled, and then made the trek back to my house to pack for the week.

When I arrived back in Nacogdoches early Wednesday morning, I was greeted with this statement: “Well, I guess you put it on Facebook. Frances called to check on me, and all I could do was ask if you had posted a picture.”

My response: “Of course, I didn’t post a picture! And I put it on Facebook because there was no other way to inform the hundreds of people who would want to know about your accident. You do realize if people found out later about this, and they hadn’t been told, they would have been very upset.”

“Well, I guess you’re right.”

After 310 comments on the Facebook post, I think she got the picture (and thank goodness I hadn’t posted the one I took at Excel ER).

I had only been on the ground in Nacogdoches for fifteen minutes, when the phone began ringing, and the texts began pouring in. My sweet friend Reesa had two casseroles she would be bringing by later; her mother, Patsy, brought a pound cake. Another friend came down to get the list of birthdays for the widows/widowers in the church for the month of September. My mother is in charge of sending these out and since she is unable to write, her friend would handle this for her.

Another lady from the DAR called and set up a date to come by and discuss my mother’s notes on Constitution Day. Mother always writes an article for the paper about this day of celebration, and her friend would take her words and write it for her.

I went to the bank, which is still in a “drive-thru” only phase. I needed to do some things for mom, but since she couldn’t write, I found myself having to explain to the teller who I was, and what I needed. I had Mother’s drivers license, but that was it. I don’t think I looked like a robber, or someone who was trying to embezzle funds from a senior citizen, but the person stated she couldn’t really help until I brought further information (mom and I were both frazzled and didn’t think this through). And then I played the “hometown girl” card, and stated, “I know (insert name here) a Vice President at the bank. He can vouch for me.”

A few minutes later, the teller returned to the screen and said, “Yes. He knows you and is aware of the situation (Facebook for the win again!)

I then went to the store (where everyone was stocking up on supplies in case Nacogdoches was affected by Hurricane Laura, which thankfully for us, was just 5 seconds without electricity, and a small amount of wind and rain).

I arrived home, picked up the mail, and unloaded the groceries. I then went back out to pick up a couple of prescriptions. And a diet coke from McDonald’s. At times like these, there is never enough caffeine.

And thus began my week-long stay in Nacogdoches.

For some, this might have been a piece of cake, but not for me. I’m great at organizing, and shopping, and planning, and cleaning and helping with tasks. I’m not so great at being a caregiver. I am impatient, and get frustrated easily. I know this. And I hate it. And I honestly try to rise above it, but I’m not always successful.

I cherished the conversations we shared. I loved every minute of watching “Anne With an E,”—-the Netflix series based on the “Anne of Green Gables” books (which my mother read as a young girl). I enjoyed watching the Republican Convention, and hearing my mother talk about government and politics, her forte.

We laughed at my son’s dog, Ace, who was relishing the time he was able to share outside of Chris’ room.

But I found myself correcting my mother far too often. It wasn’t intended to be mean or disrespectful, but she was trying to do too much. She insisted on dressing herself, and fixing her plate when it was time to eat. She wouldn’t ask me to help unless it was physically impossible for her to complete the task at hand alone.

And then I would lecture. The roles had been reversed. And neither of us was comfortable with this newfangled way of life. If only I had realized at the time, this resistance was because Mom didn’t want to relinquish her independence. She was wholeheartedly hanging on.

I received a call from a dear friend who lives in Nacogdoches. He moved back several years ago, and is a major caretaker for his elderly parents. Of course, in order to get service and even have the conversation, I had to step outside and stand on the back patio, fighting off both the mosquitoes and the humidity.

We chatted for close to an hour, and talked of our initiation into the Club: The Sandwich Club. Not a club sandwich (comprised of three pieces of toasted bread, chicken, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo), but the Sandwich Club, where we are stacked between our children and our parents. It’s comprised of a reversal of roles, and the mixed feelings of honor, sadness, helpfulness, and guilt.

As we discussed our current situations, the word “honor” came up. I have heard this word mentioned several times when the topic of caring for one’s parents arises. Afterall, it is an honor to be able to care for the very ones who raised us. The ones who changed our diapers, and picked us up when we fell, and drove us around to all of our activities. The ones who loved us unconditionally, and still light up when we walk into a room. I can think of no better word than “honor” when describing how we should view giving of ourselves in order to make our parents’ lives better.

But as my friend reminded me, when our parents were bringing us up, we were growing, and learning, and each day we were getting better, and stronger. Sadly, this isn’t the case for our parents. And that’s where it stings. That’s what makes being a caregiver so completely heart-wrenching.

The accident and injury my mother sustained was not life-threatening. She will recover and will be able to move on with her life basically unchanged.
She is 82 years old, and still as sharp as a tack. She thinks her memory is failing her, but she can recall many things that I don’t remember at all. And when it comes to history, government, and general knowledge, she might give Ken Jennings a run for his money with the title GOAT (greatest of all time).

I know one day, her health will deteriorate, and I guess that’s where I fail as a caregiver. I still want her to be strong and vibrant. It’s hard watching someone struggle. And while I am wanting her to be strong, she is doing everything in her power to demonstrate to me that she is strong, even when she should just give in, relax, and rest.

Please understand, I’m not trying to have a pity party. But in addition to the worrying about my mother, I still worry about my own kids. Even though they are grown. This weekend, we will celebrate Labor Day with our almost five-month-old grandson. And we will cater to his needs, as well as those of his parents (there is always a project and this weekend it is to build a patio in their backyard…)

And in addition to my family, there is my job. I work part time (3 days a week), so I have actually only missed 4 workdays. But it seems like an eternity. I have so many things I need to do. I worry about the paperwork, and the students who need to talk to me. I worry about getting it all done.

And then I think about how much I would love to just take care of my family. I have worked my entire adult life.

So there’s the sandwich. And I’m smashed in the middle, amongst the mayo, and mustard, and meat and cheese. And I think it must be a fancy club sandwich, with one of those decorative toothpicks holding the pieces of bread together. And that toothpick is sticking right into my heart.

I want to do it all. Give it all. Feel it all. Be it all.
And I can’t.

I’m tired, both emotionally and physically. But mostly mentally. I know the days are short. I want to fill them with goodness, and kindness, and loveliness. I want to spend them with those I love.

As I mentioned before, my bedside manner is awful. I know this. I want to work on this. But it’s hard. Not because I’m not compassionate, but because I feel too much. And it hurts. I know that I won’t always have my mother, and I don’t want to let go…

So here’s a salute to my fellow members of the Sandwich Generation. It seems just as we get our kids grown, and settled, that we begin caring for our parents. I’m not complaining. It’s a fact. And it is something I want to do well, like my job. I want to be an excellent caregiver, but more importantly a loving daughter. I want to knock down those walls of stoic strength, and show my more caring, nurturing side. I want to be real. I want to take every moment and make the most of it on every level.

I want to walk down this road giving my mother the respect and great esteem she deserves. I want to savor each moment, each phone call, each laugh—For growing old is a privilege, and one that many never get to experience.

All of this talk about sandwiches reminds me of another unfair part of life. I love bread. Absolutely LOVE it. But it doesn’t love me. I have a gluten intolerance which is one of the cruelest curses that could be cast upon a lover of bread, and pasta, and baked goods.

But I’ve adapted. And even though I can’t eat the bread (unless it’s gluten-free, and not so tasty), I know it’s the best part of the sandwich. It’s what binds everything else together. It’s the beginning and the end.
Even though I feel as if I’m the one who is holding everything together, I’m not. It’s the strength I learned from my parents, and the joy I get from my children. Those are the things that make my wedged-in place in the middle worthwhile, and beautiful.

It is an honor to look at my mother, and see a life well lived. She is an image of grace, and class. She is caring, and kind, and is always doing for others. She is a book of knowledge, and a living example of what a friend should be. She is funny (without even knowing it), and she fights every day to adapt, and learn, and understand.

She is my bread. A source of nourishment. The person I hope I will someday be.
She is my mother. My compass. She is my heart.

Sidenote about this song: At my mama’s house, there isn’t beer in the fridge, and my daddy never smoked cigarettes…

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