How Thin Is the Ham In Your Sandwich? (Or Cheese, If You’re Vegetarian)


Yesterday I dropped my kids off for their latest school milestone trip. They have gone to Yosemite for five days. Five days!

We have all been preparing for the event for quite some time.

There have been parent meetings, chaperone meetings and boot camps. Teachers compiled carpool groups, cabin shares and trail teams.

Shopping expeditions for gear have rivaled the anticipated snow-filled hikes in terms of human cost and endeavor. It’s been quite Everest-like in the planning.

But now they have gone and the parents left behind have returned to their lives sans children.

It’s a milestone for us all.

Some parents, I noticed, were quite brisk in their good-byes. Drop-off for them appeared to resemble pretty much any other day. Others weren’t quite so circumspect and lingered.

And I?

I dilly-dallied about a bit until I became rather pointless and eventually shook myself away to face my week.

I was going home to arrange a flight to the UK.

Another kind of milestone is looming for me.

As I drop off two boys who will, no doubt, come back from their trip five days older but much, much wiser, I find myself pulled to the other end of the generational divide.

Aging relatives and small, geographically-divided families are a fact of our time.

Long distance keeping-an-eye-on and then caring-while-apparently-not is a reality for many, if not very satisfactory. Watching and waiting, intervening when finally necessary. Respectfully keeping a distance, preserving independence and yet ready to scoop up when the time comes.

And all made more complicated when juggling dependent children and a spouse’s business travel.

One plan is hatched, then another and another. Having to account for every eventuality that might occur, business trip organized, school event scheduled. Everything becomes fluid, certainty not possible.

Priorities have to be made.

One thing for sure is that the long-distance view of the scene is only as clear as the person painting it. If they aren’t articulate with their artwork or prefer rendering fuzzy images, the scene becomes difficult to interpret.

It becomes necessary to see it all personally, cut out the middleman. And then eventually ensure everything juggled doesn’t get dropped. Or at least picked up if it does.

The crux, the linchpin, the centrifugal force. The mom as superhero.

It is a responsibility I take on happily but brings challenges.

To mix my metaphors, that’s a lot of balls to color in.

When I was in the grocery store buying ham for sandwiches to be eaten en route to Yosemite, I was asked how thin I’d like it sliced. ‘Very thin,’ I replied. ‘Shaved, in fact.’

It was so thin, it was transparent.

And as I look ahead to the next few months not knowing if there will be small changes or big ones as I keep an eye on both aging relatives and young children, I wonder if I will end up feeling, kind of, the same.

Thin. And squished. And gobbled up. But satisfying, calming, meeting a need.

And taking strength from that dichotomy.

Have you been the meat (or cheese) in the sandwich? How did you manage? How did it make you feel?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. ULrich
January 12, 2011 at 4:39 am

What a wonderful opportunity for the boys. You must be in a great school. You are right, they will be a couple days older, but much wiser.

Like you, I’m also in the “sandwich generation” taking care of my parents and my children. I never thought about asking “How thin do you want your ham” but that is a great analogy. I do feel sliced too thin. (actually that is the only thin part of me:)

Let us know how the trip goes–and enjoy your quiet time.
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Alison Golden January 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Hi Mary:

This was a metaphor laden post – ham sandwiches, painting and juggling are all in there. And maybe because you’re sliced too thin in one area, you are compensating in another?


Glynis Jolly
January 12, 2011 at 6:30 am

You have quite a bit on your plate, don’t you? Be careful in your travels over the ocean.

I feel more like the cheese, and a little dry and cracked as if the sandwich has been waiting a little too long. Hopefully it won’t have to be thrown away.


Alison Golden January 12, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Thanks, Glynis. Sorry that you seem to be lacking some moisture though. What can you do to water yourself a little so that you are not so dry and cracking?


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