Devon Miller Duggan on the Vise Generation

I could start by listing all the things that aren’t wrong. It’s a blessedly long list. But starting there would seem a little like asking for the universe to decide I need another thing or two to keep track of. And it would probably, in the end, have exactly the effect Oprah said it would, and make me at least feel lousy about whining, if not actually better about my life.

And, in truth, I feel pretty good about my life. Maybe even very good. But, cripes, I am tired.

Apparently, I am a member of The Vise Generation. I just thought I was a tail-end-Boomer. And you know how The Boomers are the Have It All, Want It All, Last Manifestation of the post-war American Dream? Yeah, sort of. Vise Generation is feeling a lot more accurate these days. I became aware of it when The Mother of the Wonder Toddler mentioned to me that she’d heard a piece on NPR about it and it had made her freshly aware of how much her father and I are doing for her family. The conversation was by way of saying how grateful they are. It was one of those moments when you just feel really decent about how your kids turn out—precious in so many ways.

So here’s the vise situation: My husband and I make sure that our teaching schedules don’t mesh so that we can take care of our grandson (2.5 years and sweetfunnywonderful) while his mother works 7-12. So we get up at 5:30 a couple of days a week, take him to pre-school at 9:15 and pick him up at 11:15, bring him home with us to wait for his Mama to come get him at 12:30.

I suppose his parents could probably manage to pay for day care. Sort of. Almost. These are people with middle class incomes and medical insurance and one set of student loans. But paying for childcare would pretty much wipe out my daughter’s salary, I suspect. And we wouldn’t trade the time with the kidlet for anything, though another hour of sleep would be pretty welcome. It’d be fine if I were constitutionally capable of going to sleep before midnight, but it’s pretty clear that if I haven’t started doing that after 2 years of this, I’m not going to. And I have tried.

But the grand-kid care isn’t the issue. The mother-care is. Now, let’s be clear. Moving my mother in with us 8 years ago was one of the top 5 decisions I’ll ever have made. No question. And for most of the 8 years, she has been remarkably independent, esp. given that she has had MS for a million years—driving competently, running her own social and medical life to a large extent, taking care of most of her own stuff. And we have a terrific relationship. She is smart, unfailingly generous, wildly loving, frequently funny. And she and her great-grandson have a rhapsodically beautiful relationship that is worth pretty much anything to have gotten to watch and be around.

But things have been steadily slipping, particularly over the past couple of years. And any “normal” cognitive slippage is happening to a brain that is already considerably scarred by decades of MS. So it’s hard, more and more often, for her to dredge up words. And she surrendered her car keys several weeks ago. Something weird is up with her feet that is causing huge amounts of pain in the skin on the bottom (MS just plain mucks about with stuff randomly), so between that, her MS-crappy balance, and several decades of living with a spine that S-curves sideways, walking has gone from bad to worse. Oh, yeah, the perpetual semi-dehydration (don’t get me started…), perpetual sleep issues (you don’t want to be adding sleeping drugs to this brain’s mix…), and a minor obsession with her size-4-ness don’t help.

But all of that is cope-with-able. So far, anyway.

What’s making me nuts is that the sides of her character that have, shall we say, been hard for me to negotiate all these many years are, as is normally the case in these sorts of situations, just plain exacerbated. Do we have a little trouble with boundaries between ourself and our daughter? Yeah. Are we a bit prone to passive-aggression of a Southern Lady-belle sort. Unh-huh. Do we have a great deal of trouble acknowledging that we might have done whatever it is that has the household in an uproar? Oh, hell, yes. Is EVERYTHING the fault of some man (mostly her astonishingly welcoming and long-suffering son-in-law…)? Yeah (and, oh, do I have fun negotiating that recurring mess…).

Do I spend a lot of time reminding myself how much I love this remarkable woman? Yep. Do I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I need to make whatever her remaining time is as wonderful/stable/loving/comfortable as I possibly can without doing so on the backs of the rest of the family? Yep. Is it awful that there are days when she can’t tell me who the president is or what the year is. Yeah—but most of all because it’s breaking her heart to watch herself go down into that fog. And we have more good days than bad at the moment. I think we will at least until great-grandbaby #2 arrives in March. After that, I have no idea. No bloody idea. No bloody freaking idea.

Therein lies the problem. Therein lies the Vise in which we are squeezed.

And we have two wonderful daughters who love their grandmother almost as fiercely as she loves them, and who are here, and willing to help. We have decent, if not lush, resources and a wonderful community. We have (approximate) sanity and (reasonable) knowledge of what needs to happen. We’re on the good end of the scale.

And some days my heart hurts so much I’d like to take it out and throw it away. Preferably over the side of a cliff with crashing waves at the bottom. Some days I spend the whole day vaguely dizzy from anger and grief. Some days it feels like my mother is eating me away from the inside out.

Other days it’s okay. It’s just life. And there is always the radiance of the grandson to balance everything out. Always. But I am afraid of the time when the okay days are consistently outnumbered by the hard ones. And I think it’s coming soon.

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