A few years ago my brother drove my octogenarian mother to Meadville, Pa., so she could see some old friends and--good son that he is--spent two days squiring them around town. When I e-mailed to ask him if he had a good time taking three little old ladies to lunch and dinner, he wrote back: “If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone ask ‘WHAT DID SHE SAY?’ I could pay off the mortgage on your house.”
When he and I trade stories about our mom, he is quick to remind me that I’m a future little old lady and will no doubt provide my sons with plenty of fodder for tales about their bossy mother. Our mother, bless her heart, appreciates the anecdotes about her as much as anyone. I suspect she sees them as our way of bonding, which makes her happy to play the straight man.
Technically, I’m part of the so-called Sandwich Generation--middle-aged Baby Boomers who have kids who still need parenting and elderly parents who still need kidding--or at least someone to drive them to the grocery store. Rather than being squeezed in the middle by the younger and older members of the family, I feel more like a member of the Taffy Generation--being pulled in different directions by people moving at completely different speeds.
Until recently, eating out all together was a frustrating experience because our kids would be done with their food and ready to leave the restaurant within 15 minutes--about the same time their grandmother was taking her second bite. We could never get them to slow down and her to speed up enough to make it a relaxing affair. We once celebrated her birthday lunch in about 35 minutes squeezed in between two boys’ basketball games. The experience was only slightly more festive than if we had all ordered meals at a drive-thru.
So our kids live ridiculously busy lives. Then there’s their grandmother on no particular timetable who can slow down a checkout line in a store to the point where those behind her are grinding their teeth. When we arrive at the front of the line to pay, she’ll put her large pocketbook on the counter, root around for her small bag inside, unzip that to fetch a Baggie containing a crumpled wad of bills. By this time, the people behind us are shifting impatiently in the growing line and the cashier is sweating bullets.
But trying to hurry her can get me in trouble. Once I was dropping off my mother for an appointment with a new doctor and had to quickly run to pick up some kids. I got out of the car and sped up to the receptionist’s window, blurting out my mother’s name breathlessly as my mom joined us. “She’s a new patient here,” I hurriedly told the receptionist. To which my mother added dryly, “And she can speak.”
She points out that older and younger generations have always moved at different speeds. But the variety of distractions today and pace of modern life accentuate those differences beyond what earlier extended families experienced. It’s not just the proliferation of activities that compete for young people’s time and attention--but also the plethora of media.
Ironically, when I become impatient with my mother and try to hustle her along, it’s usually my teenage sons who take her side, slowing down to give her their arms and carry her bag for her. I might be wedded to my watch but they’ll find a reserve of time and tolerance for someone to whom they can do no wrong. It’s a beautiful alliance to see.
And just as she’s willing to play the straight man for my brother and me, I can be the stressed out control freak over whom they exchange knowing glances. It’s the least I can do.