A few days ago, a group of us treated ourselves to cocktails, dinner and Magic Mike XL. I’m not usually a male stripper kind of person, but after seeing Mr. Tatum’s performance in Magic Mike #1, there was a zero percent chance of missing a redux. As we sat drinking our margaritas, each of us shared the high and low points of our summers thus far. It was remarkable how fundamentally similar our situations were. We truly are in the “sandwich” phase : we are the meat of an aging parent + raising young children sando.
Our parents really didn’t experience this the same way. They had kids at a younger age, so by the time their parents were at the critical point, the kiddos were all growds up, and likely out of the house.
But us? Today? Not so much. We got married later, we likely had kids later, and as a result… it’s happening all at once. Young kids and aging parents, yes, but also let’s not forget trying to keep our careers on point, and our marriages humming and satisfying. It’s no wonder so many of us numb ourselves with wine and TV every night. We are exhausted and anxious. And guilty. GOD the guilt!
This is bigger than just a “balancing act." This phase of life forcibly dismantles old beliefs. Magical thinking. Avoidance behavior. It’s all out the window. The sandwich being served is big fat reality sandwich.
For example, I’m quite fond of this long held belief. Perhaps you are familiar with it as well:
“If I work hard, keep my little patch of life high and tight and organized, nothing bad will ever happen!!!”
In other words, if I exercise and eat right, no cancer!! If I’m financially conservative, no unpleasant and unexpected money issues will come my way!! If I read all the right parenting books, I won’t screw up my kids!!!
But this phase of life seems to be ripping out that old belief and replacing it with a new one:
There are no guarantees, and we are all doing the best we can.
In other words, there’s no magical force field protecting your house from the proverbial wrecking ball of a rapidly deteriorating situation with an aging parent, or loved one. Or a marriage.
This belief also robs you of that smug satisfaction of judging someone else’s poor choices that lead to a bankruptcy, or a teenager hooked on drugs, or the IRS garnishing wages due to lack of payment. Because no matter how hard any of us try, or how “mindfully” we live, shit happens in ways we are completely blindsided by.
There are no guarantees and we are all doing the best we can.
This belief is painful and disorienting. In fact, it feels like free fall. And I’m not a huge fan of that sensation. It makes me feel like my heart will beat out of my chest, and land on this here keyboard. But it also makes me think of Alice down the rabbit hole. After she had been falling for a while, she started to notice her surroundings. She had time to muse, and wonder, and even grabbed a book off of a passing bookshelf as she fell. She reached this moment of “Ok, this is happening to me. Now what?”
This thought gives me some measure of comfort. I’m beginning to see that the “sandwich” phase is perhaps misnamed. This phase of life has far more in common with falling down the rabbit hole - where the people who were once infallible and indestructible become vulnerable. Delicate. Dependent. It’s a place where time seems to pass in alarming bursts and then slows to a sickening, nightmarish crawl. It’s a place where the person you thought you were transmutes into something less clear cut, but potentially more interesting. It’s a place where logic and fairness barely enter into it, but surrender and acceptance become immediate lifelines, while empathy and patience your only means of long term survival.
It makes you realize that you have always been falling. You were just too busy making choices to notice.
That night out with my girlfriends was the perfect way to spend an evening in the Rabbit Hole. If Alice had been lucky enough to have some pals with her as she fell, they probably would have linked up like skydivers and made a groovy formation in mid air.
Doing the best we can sometimes means linking arms, telling our stories, drinking margs, laughing and strutting into a dark theater to watch Channing Tatum (noun) Channing Tatum (verb). It turned out the theater was filled with other women, linked in groovy formations.
Sometimes, when you find yourself in the Rabbit Hole, the best thing to do is to find your people, link up and fall together.
(Dedicated to my GTP - getcher hands up!)