Sunday, September 19, 2010

Retirement: The new normal

Last year, my husband and I brought out the champagne. It was our first year of not going back to teaching. Every August, I had dreaded the sound of the cicadas. I felt they were taunting me with their song that I heard as: “you must go back to work. You must go back to work.”

Last year, it was real thrill to hear the cicadas and NOT hear that grim message. It was so strange after all those years of thinking of September as back to school time not to be going back. Strange and exhilarating.

This year we hardly even noticed when back to school time rolled around. Retirement has become the new normal. I’m always a little puzzled by the question: “How are you adjusting to retirement?” The assumption seems to be that there will be some difficulty.

Probably one reason adjustment has been so easy for us is that we had so much time off when we were working. I never taught during the summer, never took overloads. Time to pursue my interests was always so much more important than extra money.

Many of my colleagues who did work over time did not do this out of economic necessity. I am always stunned when I hear people say, “ I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I weren’t working.”

Fine, if you love your job and you can't think of a better way to use your time. But there’s so much I wanted to do: political activism, writing, and gardening. My job was getting in the way of all my volunteer projects.

My only regret is that I haven’t gotten as much done as I intended: I haven’t read as many books as I planned; haven’t made as much progress with my book on second wave feminism in Philly as I had hoped; my Spanish is not a whole lot better than it as a year ago (although it is better); my garden is still far from the garden of my dreams.

I spend a lot of time hanging out with my husband and catching up with old friends, and as Rick says, isn't that what retirement’s for, the chance to take life more slowly, to enjoy just hanging out?

He’s got a point and despite nagging feelings I’m not using my time as well as I might, I love the new normal.

Rick reminded me of how surprised I was when other tourists who at first were stunned by the beauty of Machu Picchu on the return train trip quickly reverted to ignoring the scenery-- chatting away, reading, writing their postcards.

This weekend Rick and I were hanging out with some dear friends (all of us in our 60’s) and we came up with countless examples of how quickly the extraordinary can become unremarkable. We never thought we would see the election of an African-American president, the rapidly changing attitudes towards same sex marriage, and the dramatic changes in gender roles. We never thought the cold war which dominated our childhood (all those air raid drills), our youth, and early middle years would end with a whimper.

And we never thought we would become old and would adjust to this and find out that it wasn’t as bad as we had feared. That too has become the new normal.


  1. All true, by my reckoning. It'll be three years retired for me in January. Having a lot less money than we'd planned for has put a dent in our enjoyment. It means that things we used to be able to pay someone to do, we now do ourselves and those things constitute our new job. So there isn't the time, after all, to do the things we'd hoped for.

    On the plus side, we are keeping up with current events. I'm finally writing, such as it is. We're reading our heads off.

    It's just that time is speeding up, still. A day is so unbelievably short. Maybe I need a job.

  2. Having time for reading and writing counts for a lot!

    Nance, have you thought about forming a group for progressives /feminists in South Carolina?