Hanna Clements-Hart: Enjoying the Sandwich

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Hanna Clements-Hart is in the middle of the generational sandwich, and enjoying some unexpected gifts.

The same week that my 19-year-old daughter left for college in Illinois, my 89-year-old father moved in around the block from our home. As we settled our first-born into her dorm, it was bittersweet; so excited for her and yet we will miss her. We’re keeping her bedroom ready for her, but we know that any returns to the nest will be temporary.

And as she starts her life and in her first home away from home, her grandfather is going through a parallel process settling into what may be his last. He moved to San Francisco after spending the past nine years in a senior living facility with my mother in suburban Chicago. When she died and COVID hit, he came for an extended visit that resulted in his decision to move here and to start fresh.

Most folks express surprise that a self-described “old geezer” would move from the security and comfort of an elevator building with wrap-around services to an older walkup apartment above a pet supply store. But my dad began his life in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens and it feels like a fitting bookend on the other side of the country. He’s delighted with the place, especially his small balcony overlooking the street. In fact, within his first week, he shocked us all when he slept out there. “At night, the street below is like a stage set,” he said. He’s right. It is, though I had never noticed.

My daughter, too, shocked me a bit when she and some friends got dressed up and crashed a wedding reception, dancing and having a wonderful time. My initial alarm at their unconventional behavior pretty soon gave way to admiration for their daring and spunk.

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The sandwich generation usually refers to the burden of caring for both our children and our aging parents. But for me, the unexpected gift of this time is the joy, and even role-modeling I receive from both the younger and older generation.

With a Perspective, this is Hanna Clements-Hart.

Hanna Clements-Hart is an executive coach in San Francisco.