Tag Archives: age

Reflections on Retirement, Six Months In

And now we have arrived at what Germans call  die Zeit zwischen den Jahren, or “the time between the years,” that quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s when we sit back, munch cookies, burp, and reflect on the glories and challenges of the past year, while planning our goals for the next.

2014 was a truly momentous year for me: I retired after a 27-year teaching career; I came back to the U.S. after living in Germany for nearly 30 years; I married a very good man and acquired a most excellent extended family; I made some real progress toward my long-frustrated goals and desires. Holy cow!

Duncan & Rhonda get married

2015 will be the first calendar year in which I’m fully retired – well, from teaching – well, for money. I’ll soon begin volunteering at a family literacy program that helps adults – in this case, mothers – reach their goal of a high school diploma and, for some, preparation for college. There are so many good causes here that need volunteers; a retired person could easily fill her days with satisfying work outside the home if she so desired. I don’t. Part of my transition into retirement has been lolling about in my jammies, enjoying my newfound freedom like a pig rolling in luscious mud. After so many years of doing for others, I’ve been enjoying this unrepentant selfishness. I still wake up most mornings, realize that I don’t have to get out of bed until I’m good and ready, and grin in amazement and delight.

Time is really what we sell when we work, and what we long for during those working years – time in abundance, time to fulfill our plans, write our novels, paint our tableaux, build our homes, explore the world, take care of ourselves the way we’ve taken care of children and clients and students and pets and… And the dominant note of this phase of life – sweet, blessed retirement from daily paid work – is the keen awareness that time is limited. I’ll be active and healthy for – what? – maybe twenty more years? A bit more if I’m lucky, but I’ve also entered the phase of life in which friends my age begin to die of cancer, heart disease, the various ailments that take us away too soon. So I try not to waste this precious, vital time on mindless time-sucks like TV marathons, errands, or too much social media. Wow – what could I have accomplished if I’d take this attitude twenty years earlier?

Recently I spent some time with some people in their 30s and early 40s, and what I took away from that exchange is that they’re terrified – of growing older, of no longer being the cool kids, of losing their youthful invincibility, of entering that slide into – what? What are you so afraid of, kiddos? Clearly, these bright, lovely young people fear some terrible fate that awaits when they are no longer wired in to the latest electronic gadgets, when they no longer dance ‘til dawn, when their knees and backs complain after athletic feats of derring-do. I want to take them in my arms and reassure them that life is indeed worth living past youth – that their older years will most likely be a blast! But they wouldn’t believe me, so indoctrinated are they by the Cool Kids’ Creed. (It must be posted somewhere on some social media site I’m too old and uncool to access.)

So the best I can do for these frightened young people is to give them a good example of an older woman having fun in retirement. I’ve no intention of trying to crack the Cool Kids’ Code – after all, it’s intended to keep my ilk out of the clubhouse, and I would look mighty silly in one of those floppy hipster beanies. But soon these youngsters will venture a look out of the clubhouse and notice that – can it be? – there are older people out there having fun! That’s a good goal for 2015, I think: I shall set a good example of a retired person enjoying her life. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 

In Search of Inspiration

The other day, an old friend asked me why I was writing a blog. Hmm. I started this blog because I aspire to be a published writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. Alas, I don’t do well without some kind of deadline, and the act of announcing my blog to friends and family motivates me to add to it regularly. Then my friend asked what my blog was about. I’m interested in so many topics, and it’s been a struggle to pin that down the main focus for this blog – but here goes:

  1. Fitting the good life into this busy life. As I mentioned in the “about me” bit of this blog, I have a demanding, full-time job, as most of us do, and I find it a real challenge to fit in creative self-expression, exercise, fun times with friends, alone time for contemplation and writing, travel – in other words, all the good stuff – given my limited time, money, and energy. But I refuse to be just a working drudge who spends her evenings vegging in front of the TV. Time is all we have, and I want to go to bed each night having done something that was personally satisfying – beyond doing my best at work.
  2. Doing this age well. I’m currently 51, and am determined to make the most of this decade. Sure, age is just a number, time is a man-made construct, blah blah blah, but this mature, post-childrearing age is new to me, and it presents opportunities that I want to fully explore.

 That said, I’m always looking for role models – women around this age or older who are meeting the above two goals. So, what does it mean to “do 50 well”? The women this age whom I admire and to whose example I aspire are:

  • Fit. Yes, our skin will be looser in our fifties, but there’s no reason why the muscles beneath can’t be firm and fit.
  • Slim – not skinny, but reasonably slim. This depends upon height and build, of course; I feel happy and attractive around a size ten. Getting and staying there is not easy, but it can be done.
  • Well-groomed and comfortable in their own skin. They do not hide their mature beauty behind layers of makeup and stiffly-styled hair, but they adorn themselves in a way that enhances their best features.
  • They behave like ladies in public. No yelling except in cases of extreme provocation, no braying laughter, no squawking, no cursing (see above re: extreme provocation). They are polite. They are kind and respectful to the people they meet throughout the day. They do not behave or dress ostentatiously. They have some class.
  • They dress with flair, be it snazzy, artistic, classic, or modern – but never schlumpy or slutty.
  • They have something interesting to say. They are not walking clichés.
  • They do something interesting and worthwhile with their time – not just shopping, television and gossip.
  • They are interested in the world around them. They think for themselves.
  • They are open to new experiences, but not swept up by fads and trends.

 Your list might be quite different, but if I meet these goals during my fifties, I will consider it a decade well spent.

 In July, I embarked on a month-long visit to the U.S., with stops in the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Oregon, Tacoma, Washington, and Pacific Beach, near San Diego. From the moment I set foot in Frankfurt Airport, my point of departure, until the moment I settled gratefully back into our car for the drive back home, I looked for these role models: women who look good, show some style, are full of spunk and seem to be enjoying life – the kind of woman I aspire to be. Of course, it’s not possible to tell whether a passing stranger or a brief acquaintance meets all of the above criteria, but I did look everywhere for inspiration. I saw a few admirably fit 50-somethings, some slim and well-dressed ones, some artistic and intriguing ones, and a lot of schlumpy, overweight women who appeared to be doing their mommy and grandma thing on automatic pilot. Please don’t misunderstand me: taking care of children is incredibly important – not just for the children involved, but for all of us. But if that becomes your whole focus, to the point where you neglect maintaining any identity of your own other than generic mommy/grandma person, and when you neglect taking care of yourself, well – that’s a waste of your God-given individuality and a poor example for your female offspring.

 What did I learn from this trip? In my own lovely sister I saw an example of grace and generosity, and I admired again her feminine style and attention to little details. I also admired my old friend’s frankness, intelligence and poise, my aunt’s spiffy style, my mother’s strength and polish, my future sister-in-law’s colorful wardrobe and playful sexiness – so I do have some wonderful role models for female maturity. And from the many mature ladies in Mom’s neighborhood, I learned about the polish that a bit of good jewelry adds to an ordinary outfit. My outdoorsy sisters in the Northwest reminded me of the power of exercise to improve one’s posture, appearance and energy. (I didn’t learn much about well-lived maturity in Pacific Beach, since that area attracts such a young crowd, but it was amusing watching the young girls try to figure out their own style.) And when I returned to Europe, I admired the polish and chic style of some of my German Schwestern, with their tailored, feminine outfits, well-coifed hair and good posture. Our European sisters have a lot to teach us Yanks about how to be a mature woman with style.

 My studies continue…