A Filling Without a Sandwich

I am a member of the Sandwich Generation--Baby Boomers (mostly women) who are caught between taking care of cranky teenagers and creaky parents. Except I have no children and my surviving parent walks the mall five days a week, lifts weights in her morning exercise class, goes to more movies and lectures than I do, and still sends me money--for my birthday, Chanukah, Valentine's Day, and whenever she makes a withdrawal from a limited partnership, in some financial transaction I don't quite understand. She doesn't need me to send her checks or to help her understand Medicare Part D. (For this I'm grateful. And I'd probably pass my mother's questions on to L, who explained it to his mother.) Now I am the one going into the hospital for the second time in less than a year, and she's the one flying up to take care of me. On the phone Sunday she asked me if I needed her to do anything. I said, tentatively, If you're going shopping... Are you going shopping...? Because she is a shopper. Not a clotheshorse but a lifelong shopper and comparer of merchandise. She is comfortable shopping. And as she strides through the mall she goes into the stores and sees what's on the racks. She said, Yeah, and I said, Maybe you could buy me a robe--because my two robes are terry cloth and I think they'd be too heavy to wear in the hospital bed. But she'd already beat me to it. She'd bought me a silky robe and a washable one and another one, and is bringing them with her, and I can choose any or all, she said, and she also bought me a button-down top, and my sister has approved of the purchases. I mean I just realized two days before that most of my tops go on over my head and that I hardly have any that button or zip, and that I probably won't be able to raise my left arm for a while, and she's more prepared than I am.

What I'm trying to say is that my mother still takes care of me and by rights she shouldn' t have to, and she's 28 years older than I am and is healthier. Cancer-free. She is thinner and more moderate in her habits. I am faster and stronger and my hearing is better, I could beat her at mall walking, as well I should.

I feel like I'm complaining. I don't want my mother to be sick and feeble. My friend H is almost 60 and he says he's never grown up because he never had children. To parent (well) you must sacrifice and think of others--who are helpless--before you think of yourself. I have never taken care of anyone in that way. L and I have, I suppose, a mutual care-taking pact, but he's not helpless (except when he's trying to find something in the refrigerator.)

Do I feel guilty bringing my mother out of retirement to take care of me? No, because she's not flying here to be my full-time nursemaid. It's only for a week or so. And she likes it. (What kids always say when they're pulling too hard on the dog's tail: But she likes it, Ma.) Really, she does. She likes feeling needed. Am I feeling guilty for having a mother capable of taking care of me? For being pleased that she wants to? Guilty because I'm not taking care of her. She doesn't need help. I researched hotels for her last night and then she called and said that when she made her plane reservation, the agent offered her a good rate (This price won't last, he told her) on a hotel. She'll pay for her flight and for her taxi and hotel. (She doesn't stay with us. She prefers a hotel.) I feel guilty, most of all, I guess, because having a healthy 78-year-old mother to help me after my mastectomy is a luxury. And luxury, by definition, is excess.