Sandwich Generation Blues
Guideposts|December /January 2021
First my daughter and her husband had to move in. Then my mother-in-law. So much for my empty nest
LORI DURHAM, Brunswick, Georgia

One a.m. and I couldn’t sleep. Rather than wake my husband with my tossing and turning, I’d escaped to the living room. I stared at my laptop screen, clicking aimlessly between websites. This was what stress had driven me to—the stress of having my ailing 84-year-old mother in-law and my 22-year-old daughter and her husband living in my house, all requiring help in some way. I was spent—and more than a little disheartened. I sank back into my old recliner. God, was it wrong for me to have had such high hopes for retirement?

It had been two years since I’d packed up my classroom. After 32 years as an English teacher, tethered to class bells and the public school calendar, I’d been thrilled to take control of my own schedule. I envisioned a future of leisure and adventure—John and me traveling, just the two of us doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

“What about an Alaskan cruise?” I’d asked, grinning.

“Or the Bahamas in January,” John added.

We’d dreamed of crossing off bucket list items that had been delayed by raising and supporting our family. Selfish? No, self-fulfilling.

I’ll have quiet time too, I’d thought. Time to write and to read the stacks of books on my shelf, which had been gathering dust for years. I imagined lounging on the sofa, totally engrossed in a new novel, my days of grading essays on The Great Gatsby far behind me.

My fantasies were short-lived. Five months after my June retirement, my daughter, Allison, called from Orlando, where she and her husband lived.

“We’d like to move back to Brunswick to finish my degree,” she said. “Brandon and I can’t afford to live here and pay for college at the same time. Would it be okay if we moved back into the house?”

When they’d first moved to Orlando, we told them they were always welcome back home if they needed help. Much as John and I were enjoying life as empty nesters, we knew the best solution was for Allison and Brandon to live with us while she attended college here in town. So we agreed without hesitation.

Allison and Brandon moved in just before Christmas. We crammed one room, floor to ceiling, with their belongings: tables, chairs, lamps, desks, storage tubs. Couldn’t they have downsized? I thought as we shoved larger items into the garage. A second room became their living area and bedroom. Their two cats, along with our three, made for a rambunctious five-feline household.

This will be okay, I told myself. It’s not forever.

A month later John came home from work with a grim expression. “Mom isn’t doing so well.”

John’s mother, Betty, affectionately called Granny, lived an hour away. She’d been suffering lower back pains, and her doctors practiced in our larger town. It made sense for her to come live with us, at least until she was strong enough to live on her own again.

“I’m sorry to be a burden,” Granny said.

“Not at all,” I assured her. “We’re happy to have you.”

And really we were. Granny and I had always gotten along well, and I knew she valued her independence. I felt guilty even considering how this could put a damper on my retirement.

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