Shout-out to the middle people
We "got it" even though we don't get it
I was in my third grocery store hunting for the last item on my list.
Walking down a side aisle, I saw a middle-aged woman talking low to an older version of herself perched on the seat of her walker.
I couldn’t hear their conversation and wasn’t trying to, but I understood the context. The mom wasn’t feeling well, and the daughter was coaxing her to get up so they could leave. It was a private conversation in a crowded market.
I detoured around, but the item I needed was in an aisle close enough to see their first attempt to get mom on her feet. It didn’t work. The mom remained on her perch. The daughter closed her eyes in a brief moment of frustration.
I felt her.
Right now, I’m taking care of my 21-year-old who just had a tonsillectomy. The shopping list included liquids, food, and medicine I hoped would soften her rough recovery. The day before her surgery, I was with my mother-in-law who is battling cancer from home now. That shopping list included sheets for a soon-to-be delivered hospital bed she didn’t want.
Middle age is full of middles, the most uncomfortable of which is where to stand when our adult children and aging parents are in pain. A middle person is not a superior or a subordinate. They are invested but not invited. They are an advocate at best, a nag at worst, a dance partner with two left feet.
When you become a parent, you understand the job – the carrying, the worrying, the negotiating when your children must do something they hate, the suffering when you force them to do it anyway. When your parents enter their twilight years, you find yourself doing these things for them. It’s an uncomfortable position but enduring that discomfort may be the only way to repay an unpayable debt.
There is no letting go of a child. No matter how old they get, your knee-jerk reaction is to protect and correct when pain comes. Mastering that knee-jerk response is difficult. Letting go even more so. It may be the ultimate sacrifice in raising a child, one so immense it requires a child’s adulthood to get it done. Still, when your kid calls, you come running, biting your tongue and offering your hand.
I thought of my daughter when she came out of surgery, dopey and vulnerable, and how I smoothed the hair from her brow out of habit. I thought of my mother-in-law, who looked the same way as I helped her to bed, how I smoothed the hair from her brow for the first time in my life.
I couldn’t find the last item on my list. I would have to try another store.
I turned to leave, but the mother and daughter remained, their status unchanged. I watched them get ready for another attempt. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure if “helping” was giving them privacy or an extra set of hands. Plucking up my courage, I decided to ask.
The daughter looked at me, face as flushed as mine, two middle-aged women in the middle of the market. I stammered that I had a similar situation, which made her smile.
“We got it.”
I know you do.
And I headed for the door.