Here’s a quick story of how my Sandwich Generation moment (sort of) intersected with another’s.
My kids’ last elementary school science night was a few days ago. The first session we attended was devoted to blood – specifically, what’s in it (plasma, hemoglobin, platelets and 3 types of white cells, by the way). That we focused on blood was not the important part. The element that matters in this story is the presenter, who was a student’s hemaologist grandfather. I found his style and manner of speaking ideal. Unfortunately, my sensibilities and those of a 7 year-old differ slightly, so I suspect many of them were bored.
The subject matter caught my attention, but even more so was the way his son behaved. At least I think it had to be his son. His impatience with his father’s imperfect presentation was palpable. He corrected and interrupted him frequently. HIs tone is one I can only describe as a cross between exasperation and embarrassment.
His father took it well and kept plugging away at his program. But it got me thinking.
Fast forward to the next day when I found myself in my dad’s community room attempting to troubleshoot network connectivity problems with the overmatched and harried assistant executive director (Terry) responsible for the “independent living” wing where my father lives. My dad’s latest classical music presentation had been hamstrung by technical problems that could have been caused by a variety of factors, so Terry and I were trying to troubleshoot. Or, rather, I had on my nerd jacket and trying to decipher the problem while Terry told me stories.
One that he told me, after which he asked for my help, was about the a recent community trip to CVS (estimated distance: 1.5 miles) on the group bus. Apparently my father had been a participant on that trip, which I know from speaking with him is one of his favorite outings of the week. The fact that he does not have to shlep all the way out there (remember – estimated distance: 1.5 miles) never ceases to amaze him. It makes him feel like royalty.
On that trip, Terry told me, as if this physical challenge of my father’s was news to me, that the smell from his incontinence had permeated the bus sufficiently that other residents had complained about it… and could I please speak to him about doing something about it?
Now, I know this issue is a chronic one for him. It has been since 2004 when he started taking Lasix, which is his congestive heart failure (CHF) medication. Basically, CHF is caused by excessive fluid, so the drug drains it. There is only one way it can drain. You get the idea.
I took him to Mass General last month for a C Diff check, and all I can say is that I know what Terry was talking about. Plus, the weather that night ranged from really cold to “are you kidding me”, so opening the car window for very long presented its own set of challenges. I usually give him non-stop grief about this issue. My brother does too. Don’t get my sister-in-law started on it.
So what did he say when I brought up Terry’s comment to him? Nothing. Because I didn’t tell him.
I figure that part of my role, aside from parceling out medication and checking that nothing scary has taken root in the refrigerator, is to take his side whenever possible, even when he is wrong. In this case, he was almost certainly in the wrong. But so what? He already does his best with this. I have done everything I can short of conferring with my brother and deciding that he’s not capable of making his own decisions about getting dressed. And aside from having to pick my battles, I feel like I have to give him credit for generally making pretty decent decisions, and for a generally improving trend of decision-making overall.
When I had showed up for our weekly dinner that night, he had put on a nice oxford shirt and dress pants just because I was coming over. This is a man who wore robes nearly non-stop just before and just after he moved here. That doesn’t happen anymore, and not because I continued to yell at him about it. He still has the capacity to self-correct, which if I devalue, makes everything (my brother’s and) my problem.
Back to the blood, which is how we started this. I don’t know if I would have reacted as the hematologist’s son did had this been in front of kids, even my kids. It is hard not to snap at parents. Maybe I would have. But I hope not. I hope that if my father had been up there talking about and showing off his lifelong passion for blood or anything else, I would have listened quickly, helped out politely, and looked on with a lot of pride.