Revolt by the Sandwich Generation

Soham and Snehal were utterly exhausted, tired to their bones. Their life was the proverbial “hectic and a mad rush”, typical of their generation.

Getting up daily at sunrise at the sound of the alarm, without a moment to spare or snooze. This is followed by an hour of jogging and Pilates at the gym. The monstrous membership fee alone pushed them to be there every day.

And then managing the madness within the multi-generation household.

Rushing back from the gym, they would nudge their two daughters out of their beds and get them ready for school. Every day a different form of theatricals evolved around this process. However hard Soham or Snehal tried to keep everything ready the night before, still there would be a missing sock or a hair band. Do these things have limbs to walk away? Or there would be a stain on the uniform. Not to mention the extreme slow-motion on the part of Riya and Halley, showing no inclination or interest whatsoever in getting ready. This would be interspersed with tears and howls and occasional fights breaking out between them. Soham would be fussing over them and imploring them to keep moving and keep getting ready.

Snehal would rush into the kitchen and start preparing their breakfast. The kids never agreed on the same things which meant preparing two different menu. Soham and Snehal tried their very best to maintain their calm, biting their lips a thousand times to stop from screaming at their children. If they do, then their grandparents would barge in and take the kids’ side and that would just stretch the morning drama a bit more. No time for that.

Once Snehal had really lost patience on Riya, and had yelled at her. Later, she got a condescending lecture from the mother-in-law (MIL), which she did her best to ignore but the event had another unexpected turn.  She got a letter from the school’s principal, a very patronizing one, which talked of how the kids should be allowed to grow in an environment full of love and tenderness; that they should not be afraid to express their thoughts and feelings, and that they should not be traumatized by the elders in the family. Snehal slapped her forehead hard. Her first instinct was to go and yell at Riya some more, but that wouldn’t have helped, so she just gritted her teeth. For the peace of the household, and for a morning free of yelling and screaming, just grit your teeth and get on with it. That had become Snehal’s and Soham’s morning mantra.

For Snehal, it is managing two sets of parents. While she had to look after the well-being of her in-laws who were staying with them for a long-term basis, she had her parents living in the sub-urban area who needed attention too.

Multi-tasking in the morning, Snehal would manage the kitchen, get several cups of tea ready for the in-laws, get breakfast of choices and lunch ready and packed, at the same time lending a hand or shoulder to Soham, as he continued to grit his teeth and struggle to get the kids ready for school.

The patriarch of the house would drink endless cups of tea, with milk and sugar, buried behind the newspaper, oblivious of the drama going on in the other room, but with his own yelps and expletives thrown in at the news. Whatever happened during those hours, natural calamity or human disaster, failed to grab his attention or budge him from his armchair in the balcony.

Next to him the matriarch sat, with her green tea, humming a devotional song, and urging the gods to give some peace and sensibility to her daughter-in-law, who apparently is totally struggling to manage a small household. She too, ignored the kids’ tantrums, and never would get up to help, except on those days when she would hear Soham or Snehal yelling at her beloved grandkids. Oh, her third cup of green tea is long due!

Really, Snehal has become so inept at managing the household. In a moment, she will dump the half-finished cooking on to her, and race off to office, the matriarch grimaced. She always knew Snehal will not cut it, and had said so to Soham, several years ago, but no one had listened to her!

On the other side, Soham and Snehal felt that they work for 48 hours in a day to keep the household and their career running.

The grand list of shopping, as the parents/in-laws did not like to shop online. The vegetables were not fresh and the groceries were overpriced according to them. Soham would have to take his mother to the local vendors for vegetable and grocery shopping. There his mother would spend several happy hours haggling with the vendors, meeting many of her friends doing the same thing and then compare prices. Grocery done, next would be the temple’s turn or maybe doctor’s clinic or just anything else.

Some days, he would have to drive his father to the banks and then wait in the car while his father pottered around the bank, and then settle down to chat with some friend or the other.

There was the driving the kids to school, ensuring their homework are done, attending parents-teachers’ meetings, taking them to extra-curricular activities during the weekends, nursing their fever, cold and tantrums. And then the two sets of parents—repeatedly teaching them the use of smartphones or laptops, meeting their demands of taking them for buying groceries, to temples, banks, post offices, doctors, friends get to gather, wherever they would prefer to be.

Thus Soham and Snehal were tired to their bones. Day in and day out. All seven days. No respite from their tedious routine. They had to cut short their last vacation as one set of parents had fallen ill. The humdrum of the house would always fall apart if one or both of them were not at the rudder.

For days, Snehal had been eyeing the Gucci vanity bag she had seen through the window, but always felt a pang of guilt and never could get herself to buy it, which she could afford easily. She earned very well but was always stricken by guilt when she bought anything for herself. She felt she was unjustly indulging on herself and then would end up spending more and buying for her daughters and also for the mother and MIL. The latter two, to keep them appeased and avoid the raised eyebrows on her expensive purchase for herself. She was vacillating about the Gucci; it would be such a nice accessory to her evening gown!

Both of them felt sandwiched between the two generations. They couldn’t express their true feelings or frustrations as that was considered to be bad, irreverential, uncool and just not the way they had been brought up.

Their office life was demanding with long and unpredictable hours as well. Pressure and demand of deliverable deadlines, the annual reviews and the rat race to the top! But there too, they had to gulp down any sense of despair or frustration and keep their feelings to themselves. Any display of emotions and they would be counselled to join a Yoga class and practice deep breathing and meditation.

Then suddenly one day, a switch flipped.

Halley did not like her cereals today. She pointed out to her Mom and then to Dad but none of them responded. She was ignored. That has never happened before. Her immediate instinct was to lie down on the floor and start pumping her fists and yell at the top of her lungs. That always yielded what she wanted. But she hesitated. Just yesterday, when she was at it, for something else, she had been bitten by a tiny ant, and thus was scared to try that feat. She gave a questioning look at her older sister, Riya. She was troubled to see a puzzled look on her sister’s face. Something seemed to be off.

His father was hiding behind the newspaper, when on other days he would be helping Halley and Riya with their breakfast and fussing over them and beseeching them to finish their food. It would start by gently nudging them out of their beds, helping them with their bath, ironing their school uniform, braiding their hair. Mom would be making lunch boxes and getting breakfast and lunch ready for the rest of the family and in between help Dad manage them. During this time, the world revolved around Halley and Riya. Just to make their exit to school smooth, they got whatever they wanted from their parents.

Actually, today, no one had woken them up or helped them get ready. Halley was too sleepy to think why so, and thus had gone through the motions of getting ready mechanically, but at the breakfast table she was now wide awake. And she felt something was amiss.

Mom was furiously peeling potatoes and not paying attention to anyone either. Not anyone at all. Gramps asked for a cup refill and was cordially ignored by both Mom and Dad. Granny seemed worried too and scuttled away to her prayer room.

Things seemed very ominous.

Halley didn’t finish her cereals neither did Riya. Her mother snatched the half-eaten bowls, dumped them in the dishwasher, and almost shoved them out of the door and into the car. The car ride to school was dreadfully silent, with both Halley and Riya trying to figure out as to what could have happened that their parents are not all over them as they used to be. The car ride would always be a fun ride for them with either of them trying ruffle each other’s hair or crumpling the uniform or just punch or pinch or tease each other.   Mom or Dad, whoever would be driving them, would keep pleading them to be quiet and behave, but between the traffic on the road and the chaos at the back seat, they would always choose to (helplessly) focus on the former. But … bewildering today!

In school, Ms Mathews asked Halley for her English homework. Halley had not done it. She instantly turned on her tried and tested little girl innocence, clutched her forehead, and whimpered to her Ms Mathews, that she had a bad headache the evening before and thus had gone to bed early. She expected full sympathy from Ms Mathews and may be also a hug. But she was startled to see a big frown on Miss’s face. Ms Mathews ordered Halley for the school diary and scribbled a complaint for her parents. Not only that, she ordered Halley to stand outside the classroom. Halley was shocked. This has never happened to her ever. She sometimes had skipped her homework and always got away easily, in the past. Not just her but everyone else in the class got full empathy when one was too sick to do a homework. But the class full of little girls and boys sat perplexed today, as they were looking at a very different Ms Mathews. Demanding and checking homework, giving surprise tests and sending students out of the classroom otherwise. The classroom, too, just like the car ride to school was deafeningly silent today.

Halley did not want to take a complaint today for her parents to sign, given what she saw in the morning, she felt it would not go well. Last time, when this had happened, after she had quarrelled with a boy in the class, her mother had gone and complained to the principal that the teacher was being unjust to Halley. Today, Halley wasn’t sure, how her Mom would react to this note.

Back at home, when the patriarch asked Halley’s father for the newspaper as it was always his unspoken fundamental right to read the paper first; he was ignored. Next, he asked his son how to Transfer Funds but was snapped at. He felt he was asking for the first time, maybe he has asked once or twice before, but was aghast to be told that he keeps asking the same questions over and over again! Not to be cornered or dismissed, as that was not what his generation tolerated, he then asked his son to take him to the Bank and was again told very curtly that it will not be possible.

Like his grandkids, he was bewildered. He always faced problems with his laptop, and Soham had always helped him patiently. He just had to say it and he would be taken to the Bank or the Post Office. Although it was always for some important work he had, he would meet so many of his friends there and stop and talk to them about how appalling the world has become. Soham wouldn’t mind and he would either sit in his car and continue with his office work on phone or would run some errands for the house, which his mother would have given. Never complaining. What has happened today?

He racked his brain to understand whether he or his wife have had any arguments of sorts or has he said something to Soham or Snehal, his daughter-in-law, which hasn’t gone well. He couldn’t think of any. His son looked very different today and so was his daughter-in-law. He didn’t get his tea refilled and had asked for sandwich for breakfast but just got buttered bread dumped in front of him.

The matriarch fervently ran her fingers through her prayer beads but continued to worry about the situation at home. The grandkids were neglected today and did not get proper food in their tummy. They will be starving the whole day. She usually takes her cups of tea in the balcony which is already laid out for her, but today she had to fetch it from the kitchen and actually pour the tea for herself and her husband. After her prayers, when she sat down to have her breakfast, she found there was none! She had to get up and toast a bread for herself because nothing else was there to eat. When she pointed out to her son, Soham, that Snehal seems to be too caught up with her office work and not paying attention to the household or her children, she was told to leave her alone! She was too stunned to respond. Her son had never talked back like that. She was an elder and she had to be respected and everybody and everything in the house should be handled the way she wanted. That was the order of the day always. After commanding everyone in the household, she would then sit in the foyer area with her crochet or knitting and soon would be joined by other ladies in the condominium. They would pass many happy hours talking of life, past and current, blaming their daughter in laws cooking skills, boasting of their sons’ growth and prosperity. There were no dearth of topics. But today she seemed to be losing control and her mind kept drifting to the very erratic behavior of her son and daughter-in-law?

She had then asked her son to take her to the vegetable market. She relished haggling with the vendors. She met many of her friends there and they would always try to outdo each other in buying vegetables in the cheapest rate. But his son ignored her, picked his bag and left for his office.

The oligarchs of the family looked at each in utter disbelief. They just had to say and it was a command for their son and daughter-in-law, but today the world seemed to have taken a different axis.

After dropping the kids, Snehal drove to her office and arrived 10 minutes late. She completely ignored her ancient boss’s frown and the look of censure and went straight to her workstation.

Snehal’s parents had called twice already when she was in a meeting. Seeing the phone beep for the third time, she was worried, and she excused herself from the meeting to take the call. Her mother wanted to know what her YouTube password was as she wanted to watch a recipe and try to it for lunch today. Exasperated, Snehal had disconnected the phone and returned to her meeting.  Her mother probably had thought the network was bad and had tried several times more, but now Snehal didn’t answer. Her mother was worried and bewildered too. At her daughter’s behavior and then how to cook lunch without knowing the recipe!

Snehal made up her mind, she will leave early today from work and get the Gucci bag, for herself, and nothing for anyone else. No guilt, she deserved to pamper herself.

In his office, Soham had walked out of a very boring meeting, amidst raised eyebrows and frowns, and was now busy booking a trekking expedition in the Andes for himself and Snehal, just for themselves. They deserved it.

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