I meant to update my retirement posts on the one year anniversary in August. Except life was busy. There was a trip or two. My husband’s surgery. Babysitting. And by that you can take away the fact that this retirement thing is just swell! I’ve had the time and energy and presence of mind to attend to life’s joys–and life’s challenges.
But let’s be honest. Over the past year, I have had a few bugbears to face down. These are the top contenders.
Solitude has been a friendly companion, but I expected that and made sure I was ready to embrace its company. To a teacher, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. After dealing with the personalities of 100 plus students and 30 staff members day in and day out every year–solitude looked pretty damn good.
But my retirement experience is shadowed by the fact that in many ways I live the life of a single. My husband’s schedule stretches into the evenings and weekends, and most days we are ships passing in the night, except for conversations like, “There’s a plate in the ‘frig if you need to eat” and “Does the dog need to be let out?”
I am my own best activity director.
And I keep myself engaged in the world around me: writing, workshops, classes, volunteering, grand babies, coffee dates, and the occasional happy hour. But that’s because from Day #1 of retirement I was mindful about my days. Writer Annie Dillard sees a schedule as “a net for catching days” and “a haven set into the wreck of time”. It has been for me. The snow and ice last winter wrecked havoc with my days and I’m not going to lie and tell you I didn’t cry one day in January when I couldn’t go to tai chi class because of the weather. And when I locked myself out of the garage in March and couldn’t get my car to attend a St. Paddy’s Day party, I might have called an Uber.
Because the situational ebb and flow of human interaction that exists in the work world is gone, a game plan keeps me from floating aimlessly. Again, Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”
And I want a life well spent.
Because I no longer grade papers, plan lessons, write curriculum, email parents, students, and staff, attend meetings and parent-teacher conferences, and make copies, then come home to collapse before I take on dinner, kids, pets, and housework, I have plenty of time to cogitate–ruminate on–kick around and otherwise ponder all of the coulda-woulda-shouldas of life.
And since most folks retire in their sixties, we’ve plenty of years to look back on. Retirees (depending on their age) are in those last stages of life that Erik Erikson wrote about: generativity vs. stagnation and ego integrity vs. despair. What will I leave behind? Do I look back on my life and regret those coulda-woulda-shouldas? Or can I come to terms with how life has unfolded? I’ve returned to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves to remind myself how life is an unfolding of age-old stories and that my own stories embody wisdom and truth. I am fortunate to have years of therapy and doing the work under my belt, so I have made my peace. But I can only imagine the wallop that emotional baggage would deal a person who hadn’t.
Deal with your crap, people.
Coin. Loot. Cash. All four-letter-words, if you didn’t notice–and a kind of conversational taboo. Pre-retirement it’s all anyone talks about; post, not so much.
I knew going into retirement that my financial picture wouldn’t make ad copy for Morgan Stanley. College at age 32, a late start in my profession, years as a single parent, and my husband’s commitment to his small business determined that destiny. Vacation home or cruises or trips around the world? Not. in. the. cards. Retirement for me had to be about something different–that ego integration and wisdom to which Erikson referred. And paying my bills, of course! If I could do both of those things, retirement would be a success.
And it is.
But after years having some measure of expendable income, I’m sometimes startled when I remember I must be more mindful, that it’s probably not wise to drop cash on a whim just because I need that new high end mascara from Ulta. Just because I want to replace my in-perfect-condition summer sandals for this year’s style. Just because dinner and drinks at that new place downtown sounds like fun. Those situations don’t bother me as much as they surprise me. It takes some time to get used to this fixed income thing.
Your scary shit may well be different–we’ve all got those things that nibble around the edges at 3 AM, don’t we? But those are mine.
At least for now.
[If you’d like a my favorite perspective on retirement, read Ernie Zalinski’s How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. Zalinski believes that you will never have enough money squirreled away to retire if that’s your measure, so the book isn’t about finances, but everything else–the creative and emotional and social. It helped mold my sense of what retirement could be and gave me the courage to pursue it.]