It is no secret that I turned 65 this year. The ‘normal’ age when people in America retire. On Facebook, I have seen that a number of my high school class mates who became teachers have retired. There have been dinners and celebrations. I’m happy for them.
A few weeks ago, I was at a social event talking with a 15 year old Italian student. From her innocent eyes I know I looked old. Not grand mother old, (bits of my hair are purple you know, not real Italian grandmotherly) but teacher old. She asked where I taught. I replied that I was retired, I did what I damn well pleased. She looked a little shocked at that. Not that I look that young, just the concept that I looked like I should still be working, but wasn’t. I hoped from the way I was dressed she could tell that I was not some rich American, who had landed in Italy for fun.
All of this led me to think about retirement. And my long time friend who is retiring from teaching. I think. For some reason she doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. Maybe she is one of those who is scared of the change. What will she do in August when she doesn’t have to start getting up at the crack of dawn, drive her long commute, maintain a post of vigilance and struggle to keep order in her class room of uninterested, unmotivated, unruly teenage students? What will she do when she no longer has anyone to impart the years of learning, the wisdom of seeing the bigger picture and being able to draw parallels to today? What will she do? My answer, ‘whatever she damn well pleases’. So if this means she wants to stay in her house and read all day she can. If she wants to go out to walk through a park or visit a museum, she can. No longer will these activities have to be relegated to the weekends, holiday breaks, summer vacations. She can do these things whenever she damn well pleases.
Ben and I took my parents as our role models for retirement. When my father was first able to retire, he did. Before he turned 65. So did we. Ben was 62 when he stopped working, I was 56. We moved here. And for a few years before Ben’s physical condition started to be an issue we did pretty much what we damn well pleased, within our budget. Now with more physical limitations we do less. But we are still able to enjoy ourselves every day. I am grateful that we have this time together. That I have this time so that if I want to sit in my garden and watch lizards chase each other around the tree trunk I can.
On the other hand we have friends who are older than we are and have been retired for a number of years, who maintain a large two foot by three foot monthly calendar, with 4” square blocks for each day so they can fill in all their scheduled activities. I also know that on their last trip abroad, they faced a very steep learning curve. As in the past, they had oodles of activities planned for each day but were lucky to get through 1 or 2 a day. Doing about 1/4 of what they had hoped to do on the trip. And besides the physical limitations that are beginning to slow them down, I hear of their many colds, allergy attacks and other minor illnesses. Within a week or two of arrival of the many friends who commute back and forth between North America and Italy, I hear, ‘Oh, we can’t, I have a horrible cold.’ Now we are not house bound or quarantined . We do get out every week at least once a week, ( I am out much more often than Ben). We just don’t have the colds and minor illnesses that all these friends seem to have. (touch wood) Just saying…
Another friend who is just turning 65, has been working part time as a school guidance counselor for a number of years now. I asked him if he was considering full retirement and his response was that he liked what he did, it was not overly demanding, his work schedule allows for 4 day weekends every week and a day off during the week. He doesn’t need the money. And ‘I also like having a partial structure to my week.’
Our friends who have to maintain a calendar for activities, partial structure. those are the parts that I don’t like, the parts that stop me from volunteering or doing something… that commitment, that partial structure, the completely full days. As we transition back to America, that way of life, I wonder what will I do with my time? I won’t have a garden anymore, only a deck. Very close to where we live is a large university arboretum that I could volunteer at. The pictures of the volunteers look like folks I would want to be friends or work with. Also, I have found that the Food Bank of Raleigh accepts walk-in volunteers so that is on my radar. It would be really nice to find someone who still has a yard but just can’t do the light ornamental gardening that I am able to do and will miss so much. I won’t mind tootling by every day or two, to do a little watering, dead heading, light weeding but PLEASE no grass cutting. That is my quandary, how do I find this person?
And maybe that is why I have been giving retirement so much thought. Because of my friend who is about to retire but refuses to talk about it, but also, because when we move back to the US in December we will be entering a whole new part of retirement. How will our lives change? What will we be doing with our time? And oh my GOSH! I won’t have a garden anymore. Just like no longer having to go to work everyday I will be giving up the responsibility of maintaining a garden and checking on it everyday. I guess it’s like we are retiring all over again, retiring from our life in Italy to a new life in America. (I have already started my new blog which I am not yet ready to make public) (And I know that I will be giving up my tee shirts and jeans look, wearing my overalls more (much to many folks dismay) and dressing like Frankie on the Netflix show Grace and Frankie)
So as I try to congratulate my friend on retirement, I am also saying to her and myself that for everyone, retiring in America is different, that each of us has to find our own way, that it helps to think of retirement as an opportunity, an adventure, a new start on life. Sure it is a time of change and uncertainty, of unease about the future, not sure of my plans time…but OH MY! LOOK AT THE POSSIBILITES!
A whoop dee dooo bird (the Italian name is something like Huppa) looking for possibilities.