Sometimes, in my more selfish moments I think we Gen Xers drew the short straw.
I spent my first eighteen years being a slave to my parents, ‘Louise, you’re not going anywhere until you’ve tidied and vacuumed and dusted the lounge. Celia and Ron are coming over tonight.’
Then the last fifteen years I’ve been a slave to our kids. I don’t need to describe what that entails do I?
But what I didn’t expect, was that at age 47 I would be in service to both the generation before and the one behind me. And it would be so much easier if I didn’t love them like I do. And it would be easier again if I could be like my friend Fran who says, ‘You just need to lower the bar and keep going.’
Problem is, I’m not a low-bar kinda gal. Although I’m okay with an unmade bed or the occasional takeaway, I hate, absolutely hate, short changing the people (and animals) in my life in terms of time…
Scooting out of my daughter’s school concert the minute her dance is done.
Taking Mum shopping but not having time for a lunch too.
Taking Mum’s cat to the vet but neglecting to walk our own dogs.
My life has become an exercise in working out who will be Peter and who will be Paul today: who will I rob and who will I pay?
It feels awful to admit it but my kids (and our poor puppies) often end up on the losing side of the ledger. I figure I’ll have time to make it up to them.
But Mum and Dad? Their world is growing smaller. Travel is getting harder (not impossible, but not as carefree as it was five years ago). They don’t drive at night, they avoid stairs. So when it comes to who has dibs on my time, they win, and so do I, because it’s nice to feel needed.
But my laundry didn’t surrender. Weekends ceased to be something to celebrate and holidays became a tour of duty. I felt my life was unravelling. I was functioning but I wasn’t flourishing. I didn’t laugh as much as I used to.
Fran, being Fran, told me in no uncertain terms to stop ‘taking the burnt chop’ and get some help.
Burnt chop? What the hell was she talking about?
‘You know,’ she said, ‘Doing what women do – accepting the burnt chop, the broken bit of cake, the bits of the chicken no one wants. Putting yourself last.’
‘But,’ I asked, isn’t it a bit, I don’t know, princessey, to get help? I’m not Lady-bloody-Mary from Downtown Abbey. I’m Louise from Kenmore.’
‘And I’m not talking about having some nameless serf iron your newspaper,’ said Fran, ‘What your family needs is a person – or a couple of people – who are kind and interesting and qualified. People who can help your parents, or you, so you can stop stressing about the weeds being out of control or whose taking your dad to his podiatry appointment.’
‘Am I getting boring?’ I asked.
‘No,’ said Fran, in a rare flash of sentimentality, ‘But it’s getting you down. And I miss you.’
And that was that. I set the wheels in motion to find kind, interesting, qualified people.
Dad has a new mate called Jordan who comes to sort the pool and his garden. Jordan he and Dad share a love of bromeliads I will never understand.
And Grace, who helps me conquer my Mt Washing-tonne so I can spend more time with Mum is indispensable, not only for her reliability but for her friendship (and occasional batches of biscotti).
It didn’t happen suddenly, but it did happen soon. Since getting some help for my parents and for us, my life began feeling like my life again and I haven’t eaten a burnt chop since.
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‘I’m a writer by profession as well as a wife, friend, mother and daughter. I’m surprised and unprepared for the fact that the ‘daughter’ part of that resume is becoming the dominant one as I approach fifty. As I was growing up there were all sorts of articles and discussions and TV shows about building a career and raising a family but nothing at all about what happens when your parents, perhaps suddenly, need your care when you’re still up to your ears in career and kids. I suspect in the next decade we might see a Netflix drama (or even a comedy?) called ‘Sandwich’, but until then, I’ll write my thoughts for Five Good Friends. Because thinking leads to talking and talking means we’re not alone.’
* A pseudonym to protect this family’s privacy. The story is authentic.