When I made a trip down to Florida last week, it wasn't to hear Paul Ryan's acceptance speech, I wasn't on a recon mission to bring Clint back to Hollywood, and I wasn't storm-chasing. I went because of the Sandwich. And not a Cuban sandwich, though, Miami admittedly does have great Cuban sandwiches.
It was Sandwich Generation business. That's people like me, on the cusp between Boomer and Gen X who waited so long to have kids that we're doing things that previous generations did separately at the same time, like my husband and I wondering if should we try and squeeze out a contribution to our retirement accounts or does our son go Steve Buscemi? Ultimately, we went for our son's braces, because no matter what career path our 14 year-old takes, an exploding mouth full of teeth isn't going to help him as he's already made the terrible mistake of failing to have been born into a 1% family. Many of us are the same people who appear to "have drifted away from Obama." There are loads of scary statistics about how folks are being torn between their own needs, the needs of their kids and their aging parents, but what does life in the Sandwich look like and are we really, as Maureen Dowd has pegged it, "disillusioned" with Obama? Here's a slice of my Sandwich life and why Sandwiches should be the pivotal voting population in this election.
The plan was a relaxing Labor Day stay-cation, but on the Monday before the holiday weekend, as I'm repeating for the umpteenth time to my teenager that he's got to become more organized because high school sets you up for the rest of your life, the woman who said the very same thing to me, calls me with some news. There's the good, the bad and the ugly. I ask to get the bad over with first.
The bad: my mother's got breast cancer again. The good: she's so old the cells aren't growing quickly. The ugly: her doctor is confident that a mastectomy should take care of it.
The news about the breast cancer isn't that shocking. In the last 100 years, we've doubled our lifespan as Americans, but that doesn't mean our health and productivity are necessarily what we think or hope they will be at an advanced age. Our "lengthening morbidity" is both enervating and expensive. My mom had breast cancer once already and made it through with a modicum of radiation, but she's had thyroid cancer and had her thyroid removed as well. She successfully had a benign brain tumor removed with no lasting repercussions other than sticking with the Rod Stewart circa 1982 haircut she adopted in preparation for that surgery. My mother was fired from her job at 74, despite stellar job evaluations, to make way for younger employees. She finds it comforting that her oncologist is someone I went to high school with as her life since her "forcible" retirement has compressed to the point that her relationships with her doctors are primary and deeply personal.
The idea of my mother having a mastectomy hits me hard. With one in three women developing breast cancer, I've had numerous friends survive and thrive and only a few die from this scourge, but I feel attached to my mom's boob. Honestly, it's a mystery, like many people my age, I wasn't breastfed but I am mourning the loss, maybe more than her. Piece by piece, I am slowing losing parts of my mother and I feel tempted to call her doctor and ask if I can save her breast, like a relic, in one of the pricey BFA free glass jars I've just invested in so my kid won't have plastic leeching into his body.
This is the kind of discussion you never envision having with your mother. My older sister, mother and I are on the phone together as our mom tells us she's concerned about the safety and the longevity of implants.
"You're 77," I remind her, "You probably only need an implant to last for 10 years at the most. If you're worried about leakage, I've got some 'chicken cutlets' I put in my bra for auditions that call for cleavage. How about we ask your doctor if we can just stick those in there?" She reminds us that she'll only need one new breast.
Then, we're stumped, none of us know if there are implants on the market that will mirror my mother's remaining 77 year-old breast.
"I've got some old cashmere sweaters," I offer, "They're probably the right consistency or what about my TempurPedic pillow, it really does mold to any shape you want."
Our mother informs us that she really doesn't want the implant and I suggest other things she could put in the place of her breast like a marsupial pouch -- she could carry her phone, mints or that grandma must have -- balled up, slightly used tissues. We're all laughing now, and I can't resist admonishing my mother. "You know, if you'd just gotten cancer when I was younger, I might be able to recall if it was your oncologist or his best friend, who was one of the many guys who felt me up in high school, but I've got peri-menopausal brain fog and can't remember!"
Before I fly down to Florida for her surgery, I've got back-to-school shopping, so I am booking a flight on-line while waiting in line at Staples. Mitt likes to tout Staples as a success story, but he has probably not been to a store in years or he'd know that the low-paid workers, at least at my local Staples, seem positively pissed off at all times.
Once in Florida, I don't sleep the night before the surgery because I'm on L.A. time and my husband and I need to coordinate our kid's carpool and baseball schedule. This process is made slower because my parents can't remember the password for their Internet service so I'm texting times and dates on my phone instead of emailing a calendar. These are the same people that Paul Ryan would have switch to a health insurance voucher system. Voucher being code for: just one more thing my sister and I will need to do for our parents. On top of that, I myself am a parent of a child with congenital birth defects. By age four, he'd had enough surgical reconstructions (thankfully successful) that he'd reached a third of his lifetime cap, so I've had problems with my own insurance. It would be enough to drive me to drink, but because the kid still has only one kidney and may need mine one day, so I can't even do that!
Everyone from the surgeon to the clerical staff is helpful at the hospital and because of my parents' Medicare, the out of pocket cost will probably be only several hundred dollars. When the orderly, Juan, a sweet nursing student, hears I work in comedy, he says, "Say something funny," as he wheels my mother on the gurney into the pre-op room. My mom is chattering on and on about relatives who are no longer alive, relatives she is no longer in touch with, and relatives who are no longer in their right minds. She's nervous. Juan looks at me, expectantly. "My mom's brain surgery was easier to deal with, she was sedated longer," I say. The hallway at Mount Sinai Hospital is a tough venue at which to come up with hilarious retorts.
It was startling how quickly the surgery is over and my mother is up and walking around only hours later. In fact, by 10 p.m. we're told she'll be going home the next day. That's when I get the idea that I might be able to make it home in time to accompany my son to the indie rock festival he's pinning to attend. So with the help of some delicious Cuban café con leche, I pull another all-nighter. I purchase tickets online and begin making lists for my sister who is scheduled to fly in and take over after my departure: when the sutures come out, how to empty the drainage tubes that collect blood below the incision, times and dates of support groups for cancer patients, and the contact numbers for mom's home health care provider. The next evening, after I have emptied the tubes -- I've taken my son to see the spate of recent vampire flicks so the sight of blood doesn't phase me, thank you Stephenie Meyer -- I feel satisfied that I can leave my mother and I head to the airport.
The red eye lands at midnight and after stopping for gas I accidentally drive over a small concrete island and knock off one hubcap, but my mother had her boob lopped off, so I'm able to shrug that off without too much fuss. A few hours into the next day, my son and I head to downtown L.A. for the festival. It's dusty, loud and about 90-something degrees. We snake through long lines of tattooed and pierced twenty-somethings until we make it to the entrance, only to find out that in my exhaustion, I purchased tickets for the wrong day.
"Please let us use the tickets today," I beg the security person. "I'm 50, you couldn't pay me to come back and use these tickets again tomorrow." My teenage son is mortified. I get the silent treatment until I agree to drop him off the next day. It takes a full two days for me to even feel human again. By then it's time for the 6 a.m. wake-up for school, But we all survived, my kid got a picture with Father John Misty and I know I'm so lucky to have my kind of first world problems.
All in all, it's another case of the good, bad and the ugly.
The good: at least my mother's hospital room had a nice view of Biscayne Bay. The bad: I spent $170 on concert tickets. The ugly: the outlook for families in The Sandwich.
We sandwiches are directly impacted by policies on all sides of each issue. We need our country to invest in our kids' futures, help protect our parents, and oh yeah, there's the matter of our underemployment just we are edging closer and closer to the age that once meant retirement and now means "reinvention," or in Mitt's world, future Staples serfdom. So when I hear reporters asking delegates if they think people are energized to re-elect President Obama, I have to think that many of his once fervent supporters, like me, are just a little... tired, that's all. But we will have to find a way to rally. It will take some café con leche and a lot of Sandwiches to keep him in the White House.