Meena woke me from a deep REM sleep. Every mother faces lack of sleep, but not every mother is going through menopause. Strong sweats, precipitated by a racing heart and an out-of-control fire that burns in my head, chest, arms and belly, wake me throughout the night. At least five or six times. I finally had fallen into a deep sleep when Meena woke me—earlier than she was supposed to rise. It’s the accumulation of lack of sleep: all week she’s been having trouble falling asleep.
“Oma!” she said in a wide-awake voice.
I pulled her from her toddler bed that butts up against my bed. We snuggled. She played with a mini flashlight, strobing light on the ceiling while I massaged her feet. I told her out loud what she was going to do today, as I do every day. When I said her she was going to see her mommy she got excited.
“Let’s get up,” she said. She joyfully bounced to the bathroom to brush her teeth (an event that’s usually a struggle) and allowed me to brush her hair without protest.
“Can I go now?” she asked when I finished, her hands already on her new baby doll’s stroller.
Baby Boomers Caring for More than One Generation
I’m a member of a growing American demographic: 2.5 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, often without either of the child’s parents present in the home (that’s me, too). The statistic is from 2007, now outdated, as the numbers grow every year.
Perhaps, in part, due to another social statistic (another demographic of which I’m a member) that Ross Campbell and Gary Chapman discuss in How to Really Love Your Adult Child.
Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Xers display a slow maturation process and lingering dependence—often financial–on their parents. Other researchers suggest that “emerging adulthood”—the life stage from about 18-30—is a separate developmental stage similar to adolescence. Though the economy is one contributing factor this phenomenon has been growing for two decades, which is probably why researchers are taking note and want to name this new developmental life-stage.
Whatever sociologists and psychologists are discovering, I’m living the phenomenon. The burden of caring for two generations is exhausting. Luckily, I didn’t have my granddaughter when my father was dying or I would have been taking care of three generations. But my mother is still alive, so an elderly parent is still on the horizon. How is one family (with only one working member) supposed to care for these multiple generations? That larger question looms, but I can answer it only one day at a time.
My husband and I purchased a travel trailer where our disabled daughter-in-law lives. My son has been living from one couch to the next throughout the year and this month faces living on the street. We don’t have money to cover his monthly expenses. In addition to facing homelessness, this week he is deciding whether to take a plea bargain the prosecution has offered or take his chances with a jury trial. Jury selection is to begin on September 16.
This morning as I walk into the kitchen to make Meena her breakfast, the message light on my phone is flashing. Dread surges. It is a vague feeling at first because I am focused on getting Meena ready and time is running short.
When I became aware of the pit in my stomach the third time I glanced at the message light, I choose to become a conscious observer and attend to my subconscious guiding me. “I won’t pick up the message until after the baby is off to preschool and I’ve done my morning mantra meditation. I’ll add a prayer to respond to the message with equilibrium.”
Emergencies occurring at night strike me as more ominous than ones that happen during the day. Of course the dread may be all in my head—an interesting fact not to be ignored. Even if warranted, one’s perspective on difficult situations plays a major role in our level of stress.
The Light is a Niggly Reminder
As I go about the kitchen, the message light continues to bother me. Maybe because one of my family could have already spent the night in jail or a hospital (I deal with suicide attempts, too). Whatever the situation, as I try to unconditionally love my son and daughter-in-law (who are separated), Meena’s needs, and I have to take into account my personal limitations, finances, and my desire to help them learn life lessons.
The first time I received a call from my son from jail was traumatic. After I hung up I cried and was frantic about what I should do. Subsequent calls, and the possibility that he—or my daughter-in-law, who I love as a daughter—could call from there again, are less worrisome. I’ve made progress in my relationship with each of them and am steadier about the fact I’m not in charge of their choices.
They both need help and my husband and I are here to offer it—as much as we can financially and emotionally afford without jeopardizing our health or the care we’re giving Meena. With these guidelines I’m able to be clearer when I have to make new decisions. Clearer, not necessarily in less anguish. A soft heart doesn’t go away when we have to make hard decisions.
This first hour of the day, my two Little Ways of Being™ was cuddling Meena fully attentive and loving as if I wasn’t shocked awake from a necessary deep sleep, and choosing to ground myself spiritually before I push the play button on the answering machine. I want to approach that with awareness and a desire to find U-Love, for myself as much as everyone else.
So I’m off to the spiritual infusion of my japa meditation; then I’ll listen to the message on the machine.