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August 14, 2008

A Prime Rib Sandwich

Joan Marie Aquilino

Do the terms Generation X or Y, or Baby Boomers mean a thing to you? Didn't mean much to me until I realized I could be the poster child for the thing they call The Sandwich Generation.


As I sat on the floor in our family room sorting through some of my daughter's childhood memories, packing things away to make room for what will now be part of my Mom's new space. Mom will be coming to live with me as soon as I can get things in order. Daughters to my left, parent to my right and I'm right there in the middle. Feels like a sandwich to me.


My daughters are getting their own apartments within a week of each other. One moved last weekend and the other this weekend. I get an extra weekend because I'm still needed. She's having oral surgery this weekend.


Taking care of my children has never been - nor will it ever be - a burden, every day, every moment, I cherish them all. My girls aren't perfect, but who is. Sure I've gone through the backtalk, the "I hate you" moments, the everything that is wrong in their lives is my fault; but we got through them all, one drama at a time.


Their father decided to take a powder. Water over the bridge and definitely his loss and I suppose - if I'm to be fair - also the girls, too, for not having a good father figure around. I might have gotten double the blame, but I also got double the credit and love, so it all works out in the end.


In the last three years I've seen my girls complete their initial college educations (I'm sure more will come). My oldest is a teacher and my youngest is not quite sure she's found her calling, but she's working while she figures it all out. Both of my girls amaze me with their work ethics. It's a commitment you rarely see in adults twice their age and double the work experience, much less ones so young. They missed that class on "Life's not Fair" 101, or "I'm Entitled" Beginners course.


Somehow during all this I actually thought I could run a campaign for county commissioner. Maybe later, who knows, I'm always learning. I've been a volunteer for so many others that I forgot to do it for myself this time. Got my feet wet and learned a lot, bad timing but good experience.


Also during these same three years I've sent my daughter the teacher off to New Zealand to do her student teaching. She enjoyed everything about her trip but did tell me that Americans can sometimes take quite a beating.


I asked her how she handled it. She told me that when she was with people she knew, she let them have their fun for a bit and then put her foot down, sometimes firmer than others. When she was with people she didn't know, she'd say: "Well I can understand when you are Number One everyone can find fault but did you know." And she'd proceed to tell them positive things about being an American.


My youngest and my father decided life was a bit boring for the Aquilino's. Rachele got a mysterious illness and it took us months to figure out what was wrong. Thankfully we did and she recovered.


Dad was fine until the day he got sick and then it was a steady downhill decline for the next two and half years. He defied all odds and fought the doctors. He wouldn't listen, which was pretty much the case his entire life. We are all a stubborn lot.


Dad was a boxer, a fighter 'til the very end. He wasn't going anywhere until his 3rd granddaughter made her appearance. Dad passed two weeks later on the very same day I was heading to see him with both my girls. We were stopping to say goodbye because Coleen was leaving for New Zealand and didn't know if he'd make it until her return. He didn't, he welcomed one granddaughter into the world and wish another a safe journey and then allowed himself to finally rest.


In those 2½ years I was given the time with him that many don't ever have, I have no regrets. Nothing could change the events of the day. The details of that day are still a little vague, but together we got through. We'll never forget that day, something about the joys of your child going off on an adventure of a lifetime and the loss of your father. In a way I felt more calm knowing Dad would be watching over her for me.


My brother was going through his own hell during this three year time span. His daughter, my niece, who my Father waited to see born, was perfect in everyway. On her first birthday she got her shots just like all children get. But something went horribly wrong.


For the next month we all sat on pins and needles at Children's Hospital not knowing if she would live or die, or even what was wrong with her. Without going into details, she did recover but it was a long and scary time for everyone. Her parents gave her the most perfect name, Grace, and - by the Grace of God - she did return to us. Took almost a year to get her the whole way back, but she did it.


Mom, my soon-to-be new roommate, has always been the firm-yet-gentle hand pushing me forward. She is an amazing woman. She and Dad didn't give much wiggle room. They ran a tight ship. I didn't realize until I started working how the lessons they taught me would affect and enhance my life.


What I wasn't taught was in many ways more important. I wasn't taught limits because I was a woman. I never knew my gender could hold me back, and I never feared the word "no."


Years later I found how much of what I'd accomplished was suppose to be impossible. I didn't know that at the time, so it didn't stop me from going after what I wanted, working hard and getting it. Thanks Mom and Dad for not teaching me limits. Best lesson I never learned.


Now others may see me as the bologna in this sandwich called my life, but - if you ask me - I'm prime rib and it's the most expensive sandwich in the world because the bread on either side of me is made of strength and courage.


Have a good day everyone and be thankful for what you have.


It's getting to be about lunch time around here, think I'll call the girls and see if they are interested in a sandwich.

'til next time.


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