JWR / Mideast Geopolitics

Nathan Lewin finds Israel's Histradrut trade union in contempt of court

Douglas Davis talks with John Le Carre on Jews and Israel

Sheldon Kirshner interviews new-old novelist Jacqueline Park

Anne Roiphe calls for an American Jewish initiative on behalf of Jonathan Pollard

Phil Jacobs discovers a special minhag of compassion

Zev Spektor discovers a different Jewish calling -- not worship, but photocopies

Suzanne Fields has been sandwiched between generations

Dr. Jacob Mermelstein discusses achievement motivation in children

Nehama C. Nahmoud presents the Jews of Yemen, Part II: The Jewish Kings of Yemen

Reader Response

First Person / sIngular Jewish
January 1, 1998 / 3 Tevet, 5758

The Sandwich Generation

By Suzanne Fields

My mother, a widow, lives next door. When she rings the doorbell and I ask who's there, she replies brightly: "Your neighbor."

We both like that. At 87, she still takes care of her own apartment and keeps it as neat as a rolling pin, but she doesn't cook. Last week, she forgot the boiling water in a whistling tea kettle and burned the bottom out of the pot. She's hard of hearing so she didn't hear the whistle. Suddenly she saw smoke. She quickly ran over to tell me the catastrophe, that aluminum had melted all over the front electric burner. "I was so stupid," she says. "I forgot I was making tea."

Four generations of my family live in a four-block circle in a tree-shaded neighborhood in Washington. All the furrowed lines on my mother's brow disappear when Teo, her two-year old great-grandson with fiery red hair, walks into the room. She calls herself "the Bubbe Bubbe," and he laughs when she tickles him with her walking cane.

You hear a lot these days about the burdens of the "sandwich" generation (on wry toast) and I guess I qualify, although my children are grown. Most of the stories are about the pressures of the grown child and a parent caught between against parents and needy children, juggling responsibilities to two generations.

My mother belongs to the fastest growing age group in our country, called the "old old". In the next 50 years, more than 5 percent of the population will be over 85. Nursing homes or "assisted living" communities can't be built fast enough. The specifications of these communities are determined by the capabilities of the elderly. Some have apartment with kitchens, others serve three meals a day, and still others have a full-time nursing staff. There aren't enough spaces for those who need them. The best ones have waiting lists and are astronomically expensive, charging thousands of dollars a year. They've become the Rodney Dangerfields of the post-modern world: They "don't get no respect."

I'm more fortunate than most of the sandwiched parents, because my married daughter also looks after my mother. The three of us got together to decide whether "the Bubbe Bubbe" would be better off living alone but near us, or in a residence with older men and women (mostly women) who share activities. We visited one such residence, which has organized programs like busing the old folks to the supermarket, the mall or an art museum during the day and to the opera, theater or ballet at night. My mother didn't want to be around "everybody who looks so old." She chose to be near a busy family that would not always be available for her rather than to be busy with strangers who were.

She was lucky. She had a choice. Her biggest worry is that she'll become a burden to us. She visits me several times in a day. Sometimes for lunch, sometimes for tea, sometimes just to say hello. I work in an office at home, but I've vowed never to show impatience. Alas, I don't always honor my vows. Life has its small ironies. I tell my mother I'm too busy to talk with her because I'm writing a column about the loneliness and concerns of the elderly. My mother comes from a large family and she likes to call the roll. "Mary, Charlie, Anna, Sadie, Abie, Jakie, Bennie," she says. "Now there's only Sadie, smack-dab in the middle. Why only me?"

We usually have dinner together and she takes home the leftovers, just as I used to take home the leftovers from her house when our children were young. In the evening I make a ritual of turning on the lights in her apartment so it won't seem so lonely. She never fails to thank me for being her neighbor. I tell my children, only half kidding, that I hope I'm setting an example they will follow. No, that's not quite right. I'm not kidding at all.


Suzanne Fields is a nationally syndicated columnist based at The Washington Times.

©1998, Jewish World Review