I am exercising moral license today. Or, in plain English: treating myself to a day playing hooky.
It’s a beautiful warm late September day in New England, which means that in about a week, the bottom will drop out and the high temperature will barely reach the high 50’s. But that’s a song for another time. Today, I ditched my responsibilities and jumped into my convertible for a day trip to the beach, top down.
I’m sitting in Coffee Obsession in Falmouth, one of my designated happy places, drinking an iced coffee tapping away happily at my keyboard while the locals filter through slowly. Often in long meetings or traffic jams when I let myself drift away, this is where I go. Sometimes it’s nice to actually go for real to the place you go in your mind. My next stop is Surf Drive beach, where I have nothing but headphones, a book (Positively Fifth Street), a beach chair, and a towel. Maybe I’ll get a Diet Coke too. That’s pretty much all I need.
Being here is sort of the height of irresponsibility. It’s Thursday, not Saturday. I don’t have any less to juggle than I did yesterday, and this is going to make tomorrow and next week more painful for sure. I’m still a Sandwich Generation father and son.
On occasion though, I give myself more leeway than I otherwise would for that, a gentle version of what social psychologists call moral license. In theory, it describes a subconscious phenomenon where increased security in one’s self-image tends to make people worry less about the consequences of subsequent behavior. It’s one reason that people who work out tend to drink more. In this case though, it is conscious. I know what the consequences are going to be, and I choose them anyway. They are a fair price to pay for a relaxed cup of coffee, a couple more hours in the sun, a drive or 2 with the top down under a beautiful blue sky. To live. Part of the sandwich generation experience is realizing as your kids grow, and parent ages, that life is short.
I’ve been told more than a few times, at different points in my life, to give myself a break. When I overachieved in high school. When I would make a bad financial decision. When I would beat myself up over work. When I felt stumped by something that was genuinely hard but tortured myself anyway. If you know me, you know that this is a tendency of mine and it is not my best quality. Far from it. In a strange way, being a some-time caregiver for my father has made me better at recognizing it, and occasion, combating it.
I suppose part of me has always wanted to treat myself better. It is strange to realize that my Sandwich Generation membership might be unlocking my ability to do it.
At the risk of alienating more than a few readers, I have a disclosure to make: I am a huge country music fan. It’s true. It’s been almost 25 years now since someone played Mary Chapin Carpenter (who went to my high school, actually) for me and I was hooked.
One of my recent “songs on repeat” is from a band called Old Dominion. It’s called “A Song for Another Time”. It’s about a relationship which is great, but is going to end, and soon. The idea is that we should enjoy it now, and feel the sadness later. This is a common country music theme, I know. To make the cliche worse, as if it could get worse, the descriptions of how amazing things are, and how sad they will be, are just the titles of songs strung together. Brown-Eyed Girl. Sweet Caroline. Always on My Mind. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. You get the idea. Trust me: no one will be writing articles about this tune 50 years from now about how it changed music.
But I am hooked on this song anyway. It captures something in the way that only music can. Like many of you, I have lived almost this exact scenario in a relationship before. (As an aside — I could do a whole other blog on those moments in relationships, of all types, when you know it’s all going to change, either one way or the other. Comes down to only a few and they always stick with you.) And as a Sandwich Generation father, there are moments when I feel like I am living it now.
My daughters just turned 13 in June. I’ve been told by countless parents that the journey from here to 16 is fraught with peril. Occasionally I can see that future, but not today. Today my kids still think I am funny and smart, and mostly like being around me. We have fun together. They make just about anything I’m doing more fun. They still have some innocence and at the same time show flashes of wisdom that make me shake my head at how amazing they are going to be as women.
After the first day of school, I took Sophie to Five Guys and we just hung out and ate dinner together and talked about our days. It was simple, and sweet, and lovely.
My father too is in one of these phases where I recognize that things are about as good as they are going to get. There are more bad days than there used to be and some things that I do for him make me a die a little every time. I wish I didn’t feel that way, but I do. And yet I know the glass is still half full. Many blogs about caregiving are written by women, mostly older than I am, who are caring for very sick parents who need help with the basics, who can’t remember who they are, or are fighting terrible diseases. Much of my time as a Sandwich Generation son is spent just talking, or fixing modest technical issues with his iPad. Last Sunday afternoon we hung out and watched the US Open final, like we have for almost 40 years now. It makes me feel like a kid again and so happy that I still have my father. It was simple, and sweet, and lovely.
In the back of my mind, I know different days are ahead. The moments will come in those relationships when I know they are going to change. As the lyrics go, though – that’s a song for another time.