Grandma Minnie always had a jar of chocolate chip cookies on hand. If you dropped by her house and she wasn’t home, Mr. Burling next door, or Cora across the street, always knew where she was—and they would offer you a lemonade, so you could go sit on her porch swing and wait for her to return. She always had a lap to sit on, an ear to lend, and good advice if you asked her for it. For as long as I can remember, she sold Avon door to door in her little town of 580 people. A talker, she exchanged more conversation than products, but my dad and my uncles had her back financially, so the Avon was mostly to make her feel independent.
Grandma didn’t retire at a specific point, because she had never really worked outside the house. She raised a family, and after my grandfather died she found ways to stay valuable. She took in boarders, volunteered at the church, and would take any of her nine grandchildren for a weekend or so to take the burden off their families. I was lucky enough to earn that honor quite often. And in those days, I vowed to be just like her when I became a grandma. It seemed like she had all the time in the world, and no matter how busy she was, you could always get her attention.
Flash forward. After decades of editorial deadlines and juggling work, kids, household chores, and personal needs, I wake up wired for activity. That is after three years of being retired! Sometimes I dream about all the things I must accomplish during the day, just as I used to do when I was responsible for 15 weekly newspapers and a staff of a dozen people. In the morning, my partner, also retired, does the crossword puzzle with his coffee, while I read a few pages of my current novel. Then we hit the ground running. We often skip breakfast because it takes too much time.
Three days a week, we babysit his three grandchildren. One day a week, I take one of my grandchildren for the day. We often take kids to their doctor’s or dental appointments or run errands for our children who are at work. We have a beautiful yard, a garden, and a koi pond that require a lot of maintenance. We take the dog to the dog park almost daily. My partner does taekwondo, I exercise, we walk a lot. I freelance for the local paper and two other clients. We also have a beach house in Old Lyme, which is about an hour away. In the summer, we try to get down there as often as we can—and, of course, it requires regular maintenance, as well as our home. Are you exhausted yet?
The other day, it occurred to me that we are working so hard at retirement we aren’t enjoying it. We’ve just turned it into another job. Many of our retired friends are just like us, so I have determined that it is a real “thing.” We need to chill out. But how? All these responsibilities are valid, and I don’t see them going anywhere. What needs to change, I have decided, is our mindset.
Most of us gauge our value in life by what we accomplish. We pride ourselves on being able to juggle activities. And my generation wants to remain vital and self-reliant for as long as we can. “Use it or lose it” is our motto. I think we are afraid to stop and smell the roses. But if not now, when?
I can’t help contrasting my lifestyle with my grandmother’s. She got just as much done, but she wasn’t neurotic about it. And I think the difference is that her generation didn’t feel guilty about renewing themselves. After mowing the grass, Grandma might sit on the front porch for an hour or more with a magazine, or a neighbor, or maybe singing silly songs with one of us kids if we were there. She could lose herself playing the piano for half the afternoon. Work ended with dinner dishes. Sundays were for family entertainment: ballgames, the movies, a picnic in the backyard. The ebb and flow of life for her was not goal-oriented, it was grounded in common sense. Relaxation was part of that.
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This is Not Your Grandma's Retirement