JAM – Just About Managing
JAM – Just About Managing
Not only am I part of the ‘sandwich’ generation, but I’ve just found out I’m JAM (Just About Managing) too. Thanks to Theresa May, my life sounds like a Famous Five picnic hamper – except in the 2016 adventure (Five Go Budgeting) the ginger beer needs to be alcoholic.
At forty four, we’re not skint skint (the husband and I) – but we’re miles off minted. The house is in a ‘decent’ area of West Yorkshire – but it’s terraced. We can go on holiday – but it’s Wales or France at a push. The family car is a brown Zafira and though the kids would love a labradoodle, they’re making do with guinea pigs called Nibble and Munch.
This was my own choice (I keep telling myself). While other mums were ‘leaning in’ I couldn’t have angled more outwards, giving up a staff job at the BBC – swapping Boden for Barnardos and Waitrose for whatever was on special offer at Morrisons.
I don’t regret it (I keep telling myself). OK, I wouldn’t have sniffed at a regular haircut or a few more new tops – and can’t deny I wasn’t jealous when other families booked Alpine ski trips with built-in child care as I saved The Sun tokens for a Haven mini-break in October. But it was my choice.
Once we got past potty training though, I cracked. I called on nepotism and showed folk round houses for my brother-in-law’s letting agency a couple of mornings a week. I also took my kit off for life drawing classes on an evening. Well, it was cash in hand and fit round Tumble Tots…
This half-life gave me time to witness most of the children’s ‘firsts’ – walking, talking, reflux, chickenpox, tantrums, non-specific viral infections, worms and head injuries various. But when I clocked the constant smell of baby wipes was coming from me – I knew I needed to get my proper job back. Nobody cared less if I cooked Annabel Karmel or threw or Alphabetti Spaghetti on the table for tea.
Through luck and a bit of management I worked my way back to the Beeb. God I’d missed it. I’d forgotten how much I loved the creativity, camaraderie – and cash! I bought shoes. I talked about news. I ate sushi from M&S for lunch. Once more I was living the dream…
Until my parents got ill, FFS.
Dad had prostate cancer and mum was diagnosed with dementia – a right double whammy. They don’t advertise that in the ‘What to Expect When Your Forty’ brochure do they? So I dropped a day at Auntie’s and Wednesdays became ‘what will we do with the olds?’ day.
This time last year, dad was on the oncology ward at Leeds General Infirmary and mum was in Airedale with a broken hip. Neither of them made it back home. They had a few weeks together in a nursing home before dad passed away. Mum’s still there and ain’t moving anywhere fast.
So now work is even more important – because it’s solace as well as income. Catching the 0721 train every morning provides structure in turmoil. Colleagues have become friends – and the nature of my job (Producing The Big Yorkshire Phone-In on BBC Radio Leeds) means my head is full of headlines for most of the day. It puts everything into perspective and gives me a purpose other than just caring for my young or infirm.
Also, when the girls fly the nest and mum’s far off with the fairies, I won’t be left wondering what to do. Manic as things are some days, I’m pleased to be a working part of the sandwich generation – not least because care home fees are so extortionate that it’s looking like I’ll be JAM until I’m brown bread!