Boomers have been called “the sandwich generation” — responsible for their children who haven’t yet left the nest and also for their parents who are struggling to maintain their nest. It’s not a phenomenon new to this generation, but there are times when the meat in the middle of the sandwich gets mighty thin.
A couple of weeks ago, my 89 ¾-year-old father-in-law was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. His oxygen levels and blood pressure were so low a caterpillar couldn’t have crawled under them. Pneumonia at almost 90 is a serious issue and our whole family took it that way. His children and their spouses, Boomers all, spelled each other at his bedside and transported my 90-year-old mother-in-law back and forth to the hospital.
While we worried and waited for the antibiotics to kick in, our daughter, who lives in San Marcos, was in the center of a firestorm and had to evacuate her home, along with our granddaughters. We spent days at the hospital waiting for signs of improvement and those same days calming our frightened daughter, praying that our son-in-law, a deputy sheriff, stayed safe, and going to work and taking care of business in our own lives.
The middle generation often has both parents and children living with them and usually they are the only ones with a job. Adult children are able to drink, vote and have their own babies, but they still seem to need financial help. Grandma and Grandpa are on fixed incomes and when anything beyond their monthly bills looms up, they also need a little help.
Middles are the ones whose time is so conscripted with responsibilities that it’s hard for them to remember what fun might be like. The best gift they can receive is a day all to themselves with no one to do for and nothing planned.
Middle generation, middle income, middle of the road. Middle income is an economic game of Pickle. The very wealthy have options to squirrel away pockets of money; the very poor have programs and options for assistance. In the middle, someone must pay the taxes that support the programs, so no loopholes for us. We are on our own and the squeeze is on.
In the middle of the road, we’re squeezed by the conservatives and by the liberals — do this, vote for that, pick a side and do it now.
It sounds awful, and if you knew at 15 that’s what you had to look forward to, you might just run away to join the circus or the Foreign Legion as soon as possible. But, the middle is also a place of options and opportunity. You can’t be the middle generation forever, but while you’re there, you have an opportunity to pay back the previous generation for the love and support they gave and to pay love and support forward to the next generation.
The middle is a place of options: you can always tighten up and lean to the right, or loosen up and hang to the left. From the middle you can watch the drama unfold and calmly take action without cluttering things up with more drama; in the middle you have to think for yourself. Finally, thinking for yourself might actually be supported by society as middle of the roaders, scoffed at by both righties and lefties for not signing up as party members, and emerging as a force of independents to be reckoned with and courted.
The middle is not vacillation and indecision — it’s a tough place to be and the best place to grow.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.