I am the volunteer treasurer in my Temple, an amazing community where, as in many such cases, much is asked of the lay leaders. This particular time for our institution has been one of transition and rapid growth, which are two things not often written about synagogues in a country that is less than 3% Jewish. It’s challenging, fulfilling in a way that no job could be, and an opportunity to collaborate with some brilliant and very inspiring people.
It also has been at times like a part-time job, which since I have a full-time job and the Sandwich Generation dad responsibilities, is one part-time job too many. During the school year, there is a 50/50 chance I’ll be at the Temple on a Tuesday night.
Recently I was sitting my Temple president over breakfast. We have become close and candid with each other over 2+ years of working together closely. This scones session was no exception. I had recently told her that I was thinking of moving on from my volunteer role after 3 years instead of the maximum 4. She found this puzzling. So specifically, she wanted to know why I wasn’t planning to stay in my role for the maximum timeframe if I found the work fulfilling.
I had to stop and think about that one. It’s an great question. Here’s what I came up with: it’s the juggling.
I signed up for this wonderful and demanding role in the spring of 2013, which is before my father came into my life as he is now. My job was different – I traveled more, but the hours were less intense and my commute nearly non-existent. And my kids were 9, meaning that they had many years to go before slipping into adolescence and needing a different level of emotional energy. So yes, I am busier now.
But it isn’t being busy that is the issue.
On any given day, I have the Sandwich Generation father problem of switching contexts dozens of times or holding both in my head simultaneously. I am at work in the morning heading into a meeting when the associate director in change of my father’s community head calls me and asks me to call her back quickly. I am sitting in the evening with my daughter who is freaking about her homework and someone from the Temple calls and emails me in rapid succession about a meeting held earlier in the day that I didn’t attend because of course, it was scheduled during my workday. I am with my father on the weekend checking my watch, always checking my watch, because pretty soon I have to leave to pick up my kids’ carpool. I am in the car on the way to get them, and my company’s attorney calls to discuss an engagement letter. I am with my wife in bed late at night watching TV trying to stop my mind racing so that maybe I can sleep through the night.
I thought hard recently on when I’ve been happiest in my life, which is a great falling asleep trick that’s come in handy recently. I decided that it was not when I was laziest, although that’s wonderful too. It’s when I’ve had fewer things to handle, not more, and felt like I could invest more and focus on each.
Maybe one of my most fulfilling weeks was when I moved my father into rehab from Princeton Medical Center after he beat C-Diff the first time, and I dropped everything else except for talking to my family. Or when I went to Israel for work this past February after a juggling-filled and snowy week and had mornings to myself to swim, run, read, write, or have a cup of coffee. Or when I used to be a lifeguard in my sophomore year in college and I’d lose myself in the task of getting the floor of the pool cleaned on sunny warm April mornings. It’s the losing myself that does it.
The next few years have a unique urgency to them because my kids are almost gone and my father isn’t going to get stronger. I have found a work niche that is strangely and uniquely suited to me, and because of the Israel connection, has an emotional hook as well. I am learning more and more from watching friends that staying happily married requires investment. These things are the constants in my life, so anything else is juggling. Sandwich Generation or not, juggling is hard.
And by some small miracle, these are also the things I would want to lose myself in.