Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

The lyrics of the 1970s Stealer's Wheel song Stuck In the Middle With You has been on continuous repeat mode in my head since yesterday. I literally am stuck in the middle, facing stressful situations on both sides of the generational divide. I know from talking to others that this is a common predicament faced by many of my contemporaries, sandwiched between two adult generations.

I have a highly intelligent and well educated grown daughter (trust me, I have the college loans to prove it) who has been looking for a job in her chosen field with absolutely no luck, since she graduated with her Masters. She held a temporary position for several months, but since that ended she has been unemployed. And her field is not that narrow. She's increasingly frustrated and scared because not only is she not hearing back on the hundreds of resumes sent and calls made so far, the job postings themselves are drying up as the economy worsens.

Yesterday she received one more rejection and it was the proverbial straw that broke her back. Suddenly I found myself playing a part I haven't played in a few years. Suddenly, she needed her mommy. And for me, being a mommy means you absorb and take on the stress of your child. You feel their pain.

We know she will get a job and will eventually even get the type of job she actually wants. But the job market she faces is enough to shock anyone, especially someone who is just now entering the workplace.

As I was absorbed in this crisis I got my second distress signal. One I knew was headed my way, but was hoping would hold off for a few more weeks. My elderly parents called to tell me that my dad fell nine times last weekend. He broke a couple of ribs and bruised and bloodied a large portion of his body. He has suffered from a debilitating and progressive disease for over 20 years. The care he needs is more than my step-mother, with health issues of her own, can provide. His kids all live several hundred miles away.

He needs to move into a nursing facility. Sooner, rather than later. I know that no matter how much I wish we had other options, we don't. My dad knows it too. While I was hoping that there would be some last minute reprieve - a new drug, a new treatment or something, I knew he was hoping his reprieve would be final. He is tired of living his life, and I can't really blame him. He wanted to be done with it, before this came to pass.

I remember the conversations my dad and I had when he was making decisions about his elderly parents, and facing the inevitability of their deaths. I realized at the time that one day I would be in his shoes. But I didn't have a sense of how overwhelming it would feel.

I remember telling my much younger daughter that if she worked hard, excelled in school and focused on her dreams she could do and accomplish anything she wanted. I hadn't banked on the stumbling block of the biggest economic recession in 75 years. And my frustrated inability to fix this for her is overwhelming too.

So yesterday was tough. Today a little better. From the day I was born I was a daughter. From the day my first child was born, I was a mother. I love my children and I love my parents more than words can express. And I realize that along with the innumerable benefits these relationships offer, there are also downsides.

But do the downsides have to happen on the same day?

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