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Thursday, 22 March 2001

"I Feel Like a Sandwich"

Written by  Wendy Dickstein

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"I Feel Like a Sandwich"

Harvey, 58, an insurance salesman, is married to Janice, 53. Janice's 79 year-old mother, Martha, suffers from Alzheimer's. Martha lives in her own apartment with live-in caretakers, Gloria and Joseph, a Filipino couple, both in their 30s, who look after her but need constant supervision. Harvey is upset because his wife spends so much time with her mother, and she has even quit her job as a travel agent so that she can spend more time looking after her mother every day.

Harvey and Janice have three children, Benny, 14, Jason, 16 and Rita, 17, all in high school.

Harvey (to Janice, who is just walking in the door): Well, Janice, it's way past dinnertime. You're home late again.

Janice: Oh, Harvey, don't start in. I had to make sure that Gloria and Joseph were able to manage. You know how confused and difficult to handle she is these days. I wanted her to eat something before she went to bed. She's lost weight recently, and I felt I just had to be there.

Harvey: And what about your own family? We're not important? What are we supposed to do for dinner?

Rita: Don't worry, Dad. Mother gave me instructions and everything's all ready.

Harvey: Rita has her schoolwork to do. It's not fair that she also has to make dinner. That's your job, Janice.

Rita: It's all right Dad, I don't mind. I only had to heat up the casserole Mom made this morning. Don't get so worked up. Everything's cool.

Harvey Thinks: This is really not fair. Janice is neglecting the kids and me. Rita feels she has to cover for Janice. It's too much responsibility for a young kid, and Benny is really hurting as well. If she was home, she could at least make him do his homework. And what about me? I feel we don't have a marriage any more. I'm just taken for granted. The truth is I need Janice to be there for me when I come home from a hard day at the office. I don't know how long I can go on like this. I guess I'm jealous of all the attention she's giving her mother at my expense. I'm not proud of feeling like this, but that's how it is. Are we ever going to get out of this mess?

Janice Thinks: Harvey's lack of support makes me sad, but it also gets me angry. He doesn't realize how conflicted I really am over everything. It would help if he wouldn't criticize me so much. The truth is, I really don't know how much I can sacrifice for Mom. There is really no end to the amount of help she needs. But I see how it is affecting my relationship with Harvey and the children. He really could be helping me through this, and then we'd be closer than ever, instead of at cross purposes. I wonder how I can make him understand?

Back to the Dialogue:

Harvey: We pay that couple good money to look after your Mother. There's no need for you to be there so much of the time. Be reasonable, Janice. Your own family is falling apart and you don't seem to care. Benny's teacher called again and wants to see us about the problems he's having in school. He doesn't do his homework and disrupts the class. I tell you, you're not helping matters by being such a self-sacrificing daughter. Your own family are the ones being sacrificed!

Janice: You know I'm trying to do the best I can. I feel like the proverbial sandwich of the "sandwich generation" -- caught in the middle, and pressured from all sides. Can't you just manage for a while until I get Mom back on track? And Harvey, maybe you could help Benny with his homework for now. Please be patient.

Harvey: I've tried. But I feel you're neglecting the house and kids -- not to mention me.

Janice: But Mom really does need me, Harvey.

Harvey: I'm not so sure, Janice. That Mother of yours has always been dependent on you, even before she got sick. And she's always known how to manipulate you. The truth is, you've been taking care of her since your father died. Let's not deny it.

Janice: No Harvey, that's not true. You are just frustrated by the situation, and you know, so am I! But let's not get things out of perspective.

Harvey Thinks: Janice has to define her parameters and decide what's really important to her. It's true, I'm completely frustrated these days, with her being so preoccupied and so distant. I would like to reach her but I don't know how. Our relationship is really on the rocks. I guess I should be helping her through this, but I feel so superfluous, as if she just takes me and the kids for granted. The only one who gets top priority is her mother.

Janice Thinks: Harvey doesn't understand how torn I am between Mom's needs, on the one hand, and him and the kids, on the other. I know they need me here, but what can I do when Mom is in crisis? There are objective situations that are simply more pressing than the everyday running of a family. Is it possible that he's jealous of the attention I'm giving my mother?

Why can't he help out, like Rita does? That child is worth her weight in gold. She keeps things running smoothly by putting the dinner up on time and folding the laundry. If it weren't for her, things would be much more chaotic around here than they already are. It's a burden on a young girl, I know that, but then again, it's giving her some valuable training in taking responsibility. Things won't go on like this forever, and then, when everything is back to normal, I'll make it up to Rita, take Benny in hand, and give Harvey all the attention he needs. I know I can fix things, but not right now.

Last modified on Thursday, 09 June 2011 11:09
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Wendy Dickstein

Wendy Dickstein is a journalist and technical writer.

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