Many retirees I know claim to be retired, but their life resembles a 40 hour work week. At a thrift shop where I volunteer twice a month, there are several retirees who work 4 or 5 days a week. They are in charge of departments—jewelry, furniture, house wares etc. Nobody made them an official boss, but they seem to have slipped into roles perhaps similar to their previous ones including the hassles that accompany it. Recently a friend told me she feels like a widow because her husband volunteers for the SPCA for over 30 hours a week. My neighbor across the street was ecstatic for the first three months of her retirement, but she just returned to work as principal at a charter school. She leaves the house at 6:30 am and returns about 6:30 pm. She said she was bored out of mind and that she welcomed the challenge.
When I taught school full time my brain was constantly in overload and I had trouble shutting it off. Exhausted every evening, I watched Wheel of Fortune in a recliner. Now that I don’t have to work, it is a foreign experience to allow my brain to think about whatever it chooses. Yet too often I relive the past or wonder about the future because living in the present moment requires effort.
Adjusting to retirement for many of us takes time, experimentation, and self-reflection. So far I have taken classes in basketry, water color, writing poetry, the creative process, and song lyrics from the 1940s to the present. I attend yoga and TRX classes, ride my bike and volunteer for a number of charities. I travel.
Finally I have time to write! My column Retirement 101 appears bi-monthly in the community newspaper, The Cape Gazette, and I have published articles for The Washington Post (My father, My son, March 19, 2011) and also for Delaware Beach Life Magazine. (October, 2013 and April, 2014.) Yet interestingly enough it wasn’t until I began writing and teaching again that I felt truly happy. Thirty years of teaching meant thirty years of feeling like I was important because I was contributing to society. My revelation: I need to work. Today I teach memoir classes part-time for the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild and plan to teach classes at Delaware Tech University. I don’t have to worry about feeling lost or bored.
My husband, a retired aerospace engineer, misses talking about airplanes because I overhear conversations whenever we meet someone who was in a related field. His eyes begin to twinkle and he becomes animated. It’s like he has found his former self again and he knows what to say and how to feel. He is not as animated about his golf game. I know he is exploring his new identity just like I am, and I can’t really help him on this journey because we are very different in our approach to problem solving. So he has signed up to become a docent at The University of Delaware, at the Lewes campus.
What is important to do with my new freedom? For many of my friends it is spending time with their grandchildren. Our close friends who abhor the cold moved to Boston so they could spend two days a week hosting daycare in their basement. I hear so many people tell me that their grandkids grow up so fast that they feel it is critical to be involved in their lives as much as possible. My husband and I have yet to learn how we will feel but will become will become grandparents for the first time this summer. Will we move closer? What if they change jobs and move too? I miss my adult children so much at times, but I know they are happy living independent lives. My focus should be with my husband at this new stage of our lives and not about waiting for the phone to ring or a text to ding.
Working or retired, we all deserve to enjoy the different stages in our lives and to respect each other’s choices which might be different than our own. I was surprised that I wasn’t happy immediately with no agenda. I didn’t think I wanted a part-time job or that I would miss a paycheck, but I did. My mother always used to say, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” There is definitely more time to mow it. Or fertilize it. Or maybe I could plant a forsythia bush?