My father was 53 when I was born and my mother, 40 which was considered old for pregnancy at that time (1957). Considering that I am now 53 myself, I cannot imagine having a little newborn in the house. I was an “oops” baby. After all, my parents already had two girls, eight and ten and a half when I entered into the completed picture. What would be my nursery had been serving as a cozy family den. Bottles, diapers, crying, baby clothes, oh the intrepidation they must have felt!
And so it was that I inserted myself into this established foursome. My dad probably held out some hope for a son, but he never admitted it. He told me he was happy that I had brown eyes like him, and when I was older I liked watching baseball and football with him. My sisters would be resigned to babysitting and entertaining me.As for Mom, she often said I kept her young.
If only that had been true for more than 16 years and one week. She died too soon after a not-so-successful recovery from a cardiac arrest ten months earlier on an operating table. I felt so alone. One sister lived in Ohio, and the other one would be moving to Arizona within six months. Suddenly, it was just my 69 year old father and me.
The intrepidation had turned tables on me. I was filled with fear because my dad had been diagnosed not long before with congestive heart failure. He also had emphysema, having once been a three pack a day smoker, wittled down to one. Often when he went to bed at night, he would cough and barely seem to catch his breath. There were other times he was short of breath, and I had to summon an ambulance on two different occasions. This was a scary world for a teenager.
I had friends, but they had their own lives to live so I rarely burdened them with how it felt to be so responsible at such a young age. Not only did I worry about my father’s health, but I also had to take on adult responsibilities such as cooking, laundry, cleaning, and lots of yardwork. I did not have a job. Dad didn’t want me working. It was because he was alone too often when I went to school. He needed companionship. And besides, between homework and “home” work, a job would have been too much. My friends didn’t understand what I was going through, and when my best friend once cynically declared about a school holiday, “well some of us have to work tomorrow!” it hurt. She didn’t get that I had an altogether different sort of work. She wouldn’t know how much I wished I could have a normal teenage life just like her.
Dad died almost two months shy of my 21st birthday. The house would have to be sold, and I had no relatives in my home area. Because of that, I finished school in Arizona, although my sister by then had moved on from there. She’d moved to Oregon with her husband, and when I graduated school, I did too. I fell in love with the state, and it has been my home for over 30 years.
As I married and had two children, I missed having my parents around. They would never get to know the grandchildren their “oops baby” produced. Nor would my kids have the pleasure of knowing my mother and father. So no, I have not known what it is like to be in a “sandwich” generation. It skipped me. My life has been two open faced sandwiches instead. Parents needing care when I was very young being one, and having my children being the other. It’s been a different life, especially when I was younger. I think it would have been a challenge to be in one of those generational “sandwiches”, but it also would have been a gift to experience it.