In order to understand where life has taken me, I think of myself as being the filling of a sandwich. On one side, there is my mother, who gave me life and nourished me. She has been a part of me since the beginning of memory. That small, shy and brave woman has been my support system, influencing me in ways I was barely aware of as I grew. When I felt empty, bewildered or battered by the experiences of a young life, or if I had exciting and happy news to share, I would go to her. When the differences of a generation put us at odds with each other, she remained loyal, showing me that mothers and daughters can and must prevail over issues. Though she has reached the harvest of her years, she is still always on my mind. I guess I shall never cease wanting her near no matter how many birthdays I celebrate.

I was not only wife and daughter, but also a motherI think of myself as being the filling of a sandwich. On the other side, there is my daughter, my beloved Debbie, who came along as child number three when I was already in my fortieth year. With that blessed addition to my family, I was not only wife and daughter, but also a mother again. I had to alter my focus since on both sides of me now, there was not only love and responsibility, but also the demands on my time, energy and a whole new world of growth, learning and possibilities for passing on the richness of my heritage to the next generation of Jewish women.

As filling in this generational sandwich, I am constantly tested as well as blessed. Both my mother and my daughter color my life in different ways. They need and want me, as I need and want them and shall continue to do so in ways I likely don't even know yet. I provide comfort and help find solutions to life's problems. My needs find less and less time for my attention. But, without these two, I am exposed and alone in life. With both there, I am held in place.

After a belated second marriage, my mother was once again widowed and on her own. Older than her husband by eight years, we thought she would be cared for and cared about well into her final stage of life. When Will died, she found herself faced with failing health, loneliness, and tasks with which she was not ready to deal. At the same time, Debra was in need of my support and attention; she was trying to adapt to life as a college freshman, away from home. My husband and I turned first to the south, where my mother lived in a small apartment, and then to the north, the college campus where Deb lived in a dormitory with new friends and a full program of credits. Both my mother and daughter were overwhelmed.

Our phones were constantly busy with requests for assistance, both financial and emotional. The problem was simple to describe… how does one person manage to be in two places at one time and still live her own life? We made trips to both, trying to put in order two lives that seemed to be in chaos and, for a time, it seemed we were succeeding.

One day, a call came from a neighbor of my mother's. "Shirley, your mother is acting strangely. The people in the building think she isn't taking her medication correctly, and you should come down here straight away." As it happened, we were scheduled to attend a family day at the university; something all the freshmen were looking forward to. Debra's "please, please, please, Mom" rang in my ears as we tried to decide what to do.

My mother was not taking her meds and her affairs were a messIt was decided that my husband would go north and I would fly south. I found chaos when I arrived. The neighbor's assessment was right on target; my mother was not taking her meds and her affairs were a mess. Ed flew south to join me in a hastily put together plan to move my mother into our home. There were many long distance calls with Debra, enlisting her understanding and support for her grandmother to occupy her room at least for the college term. I felt like a moderator seeking to keep the peace between two highly emotional and charged parties. My own health was made somewhat fragile under the stress.

I often heard myself thinking, G‑d grant me the wisdom and the ability to do what is needed of me. More and more of late, it comes to my attention that my mother cannot be my support system… she needs me to be there for her. Sometimes, I am not able to provide as she did for me. Sometimes I find that my children's needs overshadow hers and I am torn to be there for both... They clamor for attention, for answers which I have to dig deep into myself to provide. Sometimes I am so weary, and simply want to spread my wings and fly away from it all. It seems I no longer recognize myself. Which way shall I turn?

I turn to my roots, without even realizing it. I turn to the source of how I learned to be both daughter and mother. I turn to the powerful bond I had with my two grandmothers, Rachel and Bella.

They are and have been the chicken soup of my life as a Jewish woman. My good fortune in having known them as my foundation is beyond words. They taught me the meaning of a mitzvah, a good deed. If I am a warm, caring and funny person who can enrich the lives of my mother and daughter, I can trace these qualities back to my mentors and models… my grandmothers.

In a way, my mother and my daughter have switched places in terms of their needs of me. Debbie has grown into a mature, capable woman who can be very supportive as I share with her the often painful decisions I must make to see that my mother's life is a good and safe one as she ages rapidly now. At the same time, Deb has issues of her own. We share them; I let her know that, at her age, these were mine and, in the sharing, she finds the strength to come to terms in her own way. The fact is that this sandwich, flavored by the chicken soup that nourishes it, is a very complex and fascinating part of our lives as we grow.

I reside in the middle of it all. Somehow, I manage to be there for the ones I love and, at the same time, to live a full and productive life of my own. If I can be what I have come to think of as "healthfully selfish," as I nourish myself , then all of us will reap that harvest called happiness.

With both there, I am held in place to fulfill my role as a woman.