Should Your Kids Take Care Of You?

Last week I contacted my attorney’s firm to make an appointment with him to review our wills. He was no longer with the firm. He gave up his practice and moved cross-country to help his aging parents. What a good son we would all say. And, boy oh boy, is he! He now gets to start over building a legal practice after he passes the bar in another state. Perhaps there is more to the story than what is readily apparent.

But, this reminded me of another day when I sat at lunch with two friends — two childless friends. Somehow the subject of assisted living came up. To my surprise, as we discussed the concept, my lunch mates mentioned how they would be living in such a community one day.

“I plan on aging in place.” I chirped. “Hopefully, I won’t ever go to any type of assisted living.”

Almost simultaneously they both turned to me and said, “Well, of course you won’t. You have children to take care of you.”

Huh? What? Their expectation that my children would care for me was equally surprising. I certainly didn’t have that expectation. My children are my family, part of my emotional support system, but I didn’t have them so they could take care of me in old age.

The primary reason for my planning for independence is my children. I’d like for them to live unfettered with my care. They have their own lives, spouses, children and now, my oldest daughter, has her very first grandchild. Taking care of myself is the best gift I can give them.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be involved in their lives. It means I do everything in my power to remain independent physically, mentally and financially. Contrary to my friends’ assumptions, people with children are no different, than those of us without children. Expecting a child to care for you in old age is expecting them to give up a part of their independence for you.

I grew up knowing a woman who did not have a career, marry or have friends of her own as she spent much of her adult life caring for her parents and a niece who lived with them. Even as a child, I could see she was unhappy with her life. All the neighborhood kids called her “Aunt Ann”.  Even that didn’t bring a smile to her face. Eventually, the niece grew up and moved out. The woman’s father and then her mother passed away. People asked her what she would do now. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died before she could answer that question. I’m sure this childhood experience colored my view of remaining independent.

We, as parents, should never expect our kids to resign from their lives to care for us. It is up to us to care for us. We owe it to our children to stay physically active, to eat a healthy diet, to pursue our passions, to stay mentally sharp, to develop a community of friends of our own, to stay spiritually true to ourselves. And, if necessary, live in an assisted living community.  That is the best legacy we can leave them.

The Downside of Downsizing

Tiny Home Plan

One of the truths about retirement is, if you are a homeowner, the maintenance on your house does not retire with you. After a week of cleaning out gutters, touching up paint, having our roof inspected after a neighbor had to replace theirs due to hale damage, we ended the week with a Friday night emergency electrician call. Our hard wired smoke alarm sounded for over three hours. Putting in fresh batteries didn’t silence it. Neither did turning off the breakers. Martin and I were tempted to pull the detectors out of the ceiling. The sound was deafening.

Fortunately, our roof will last another seven to twelve years barring another hale storm. Who knew smoke detectors are only good for seven to ten years? Ours were thirteen so no surprise they failed, but did they have to malfunction on Friday night? After the electrician pulled them out of the ceiling, he’ll be back on Monday to replace them.

Tired of what seems like a constant repair or replace at the house and just plain curious, coming back from a shopping trip on Saturday, we swung into Lake Walk, a tiny home community. As a rule, we don’t shop on Saturdays. That’s the kind of week we’d had. Between the regular homeowner chores like mowing the field, picking blueberries, deadheading spent flowers and the additional maintenance on the house, a tiny home situated on a local lake with walking trails was tempting. We’d at least take a look to see what this growing trend was all about.

Martin and I were greeted by Randy, the developer and owner of the project. He explained that the residents would buy a tiny home and rent the lot from him for $450 a month. There would be forty-three tiny homes in all on four acres, with an additional eleven acres of trails and a central gathering place for residents to enjoy an evening visiting neighbors on a deck or around an outdoor fire. Set among towering oaks and other hardwoods, it all looked and sounded appealing. He had already sold three tiny homes, including two singles selling their larger houses to move to Lake Walk.

The largest home at 350 square feet plus a, yes, tiny loft, was inviting. Complete with hardwood floors, granite countertops, a fireplace fed by propane and lots of windows providing natural light, I envisioned myself living there — if I had to.

With just about everything built in, gone would be all of our furniture, some of which I’m admittedly attached to. The two bedroom closets would hold my clothes. I didn’t know where Martin would put his. And where would we do our art projects? Keep our art supplies? I suppose we could rent a studio someplace. Ditto for the exercise equipment —gone — to be replaced with a gym membership.

And where would I garden? As if reading my mind, Randy told us there would be community gardens for anyone wanting a space to grow vegetables or flowers. Hmmm…that sweetened the idea. However, there are no garages with tiny homes. Our tools, cars, Martin’s motorcycle and, oh, his bicycle, all outside waiting for hale storm damage in addition to the roof. Ugh! I didn’t like that picture at all.

Although the tiny homes were pretty, the woodsy setting beside the lake serene, I’d seen enough to know this was not for me, not yet. I didn’t even bother to ask if pets were welcome. As someone with seven cats, I thought that would be an issue just because of the numbers. Where would I house four litter boxes in 350 square feet? What about the three that are semi-feral cats used to being outside? The cats, like me, would probably be bored before long in such a tiny space. Then, Martin and I would be complaining about paying rent, neighbors too close for comfort, driving to the gym, paying rent, instead of walking through a door at our house, paying rent for an art studio and me without landscaping opportunities.

Everything has its pluses and minuses. Life is never without a downside and an upside. While caring for a large property and a not so large house takes work and money, where I am right now is where I want to be right now. The tiny home will have to wait.

Can You FaceTime Me?

 

“Can you face time me and iMessage me to sometimes please?”

In today’s technology filled world such a text may not seem unusual. But, it was coming from my youngest grandchild, who recently turned seven. For her birthday, she received an iPod Touch. I don’t remember what I received for my seventh birthday. I do know it had nothing to do with technology. It was probably a doll. On second thought, Betsy Wetsy was a big hit at the time so maybe there was some very primitive technology involved.

In an era when having a television in the house was a status symbol, when I was seven, I never thought I would be conversing with my grandchildren on a machine that fit in the palm of my hand. Yet, here we are. Time marches on and so does technology.

One of my grandmothers lived on the next street over. I would run through the neighbor’s yard to watch Lawrence Welk with her on many a Saturday evening. Sitting cross-legged at her feet as she snipped pieces of cloth to make a quilt , I would take each segment dropping it in a paper bag at the side of her chair — fond memories.

Five of my grandchildren, including the youngest, live nearly eight hundred miles away. None of them will come skipping through a neighbor’s yard to visit me. They do text me and FaceTime with me. The three oldest, teens and twenties, are on FaceBook with me along with my two daughters. Technology then becomes a lifeline to the future, a bridge for a long distance relationship. I embrace it, revel in it, welcome it. There are snippets of their lives; my life. And pictures galore.

Technology has its downside. Some complain it is a way of disconnecting with others. Some people seem almost addicted to it, unable to put down the phone or stop texting. It can be expensive, but so were TVs and phones when we were kids. And how many had parents who complained about the time we spent talking on the phone or plopped in front of the TV, forcing time limits to be imposed? Oh, and the cars, riding ‘The Circuit’ in Asbury Park on a Friday night instead of doing something constructive with our teenage time.

Everything has an upside and a downside. As always, life is a balancing act. While technology exposes us to the wider world, there is also a time to shut it off. There is a time to let quiet enter and to just be. Technology is a tool, like money, like the coffeemaker or the electric drill or anything else we use to enhance our lives.

Yes, dear grandchild, I will FaceTime and iMessage you, too, sometimes. I love you bunches and bunches and I love hearing from you and I love that technology makes it possible to instantly see you and talk to you. I love receiving messages that say, “I love you so much and can’t stop saying it. You and popa are right in my heart.” And, you are right in mine.

Freedom

A flag watches over the grape vines

 

This week the United States celebrates another birthday. Since the 4th falls on a Tuesday, it is a long weekend for those workers lucky enough to also take Monday off. Last Thursday as I did my usual grocery shopping for the next month, I passed displays of beach towels and flipflops, towers of soda and beer, end caps filled with backpacks, American flags and fireworks. People frantically rushing to gather goodies for the holiday clogged the aisles. I was reminded of the days when I, in my suit and heels, also rushed through a store at lunch hour or after work to grab last minute Independence Day necessities.

After viewing this scene from my retired perch, I decided I’m also celebrating the personal freedom retirement brought me. For the first time in my life I am not bound to do what society expects of us. Even as a child I did not enjoy the freedom retirement affords me.

Today, there are no parents, managers or other authority figures dictating how I spend my time. The suits and heels are long gone. OK I have one suit and two pair of heels left in my closet for special occasions. But, my wardrobe of choice these days is jeans and t-shirts with loafers, sandals or sneakers. The suit hangs in a breathable bag; the heels are boxed high on a shelf.

Oh, I still have responsibilities. I have to pay the utilities on time, keep a watchful eye on my investments and adhere to a self-imposed budget lest I become a bag lady at ninety. I have to be a good citizen and mind the laws of my state and country, get my drivers license renewed and pay my taxes. But, how I spend my days is up to me. That is a huge responsibility in and of itself. Ingrained in the workaholic boomer generation is the idea that leisure time is wasted time. Freedom just may come with an emotional price.

However, that’s not for me either. I learned a long, long time ago when my workaholic ways caved in upon me, that every life needs balance. I accomplish a lot in my freedom filled life. I also give myself permission to just sit and be for a time each day. Piddling, as my dad called it, is good for the mind and the soul. Taking time to watch birds flutter around the feeders in the back yard while I enjoy my morning coffee is not wasted time.

Accomplishments in retirement are not the same as accomplishments in my past work life. In June I spent a morning trimming grape vines within an inch of their lives. This task is necessary so the vines put their energy into the clusters of grapes. I consider that an accomplishment. Not one that will get me a promotion or a raise, but one that gives me pleasure knowing I will pick clusters of deep purple grapes come fall.

After a day working in my gardens, I always, ALWAYS take a garden tour, strolling leisurely while I admire the beauty. I also consider that an accomplishment. We all need a moment to stop and smell the roses. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

This week while workers take a long weekend crowding beaches and camp grounds, turning out for spectacular fireworks displays and enjoying a cold beer around the barbecue, I’m celebrating my successful transition to retirement freedom. Now that is an accomplishment!

 

Summer Camp For Adults

JCC Historical Registry Sign at Keith House

A couple of weeks ago I made a second escape to John C. Campbell Folk School (JCC), this time with my longtime friend, Anne. As we sat at lunch the first day, we met Laura, who was on vacation. When Anne asked her how she found the school, Laura said, “I put in summer camp for adults on my computer and this came up.”

When I Googled summer camp for adults, lots of alternatives popped up — camps for horseback riding, canoeing, camps reliving childhood with crafts during the day and bonfires at night, camps with open bars. JCC is a camp any time of the year for artists or aspiring artists or people just wanting to do something different for vacation.  You won’t find any open bars at JCC.  Learning about or improving upon an artistic pursuit is the focus. A side benefit is meeting other people and having fun. John Campbell is what I would call a working camp experience.

Since I often hear retirees saying they need a vacation (I guess everyone needs a break from routine), I decided to write a second post about this unusual school where the focus is learning folk art. Yet there is a certain building of community throughout the week. After hours and hours spent with teachers and fellow artists and three shared meals a day, you can’t help making new friends. By the time evening arrives, you may be too bushed to engage in the night time entertainment of dancing, singing and storytelling. The first night I took a hot shower and hit the sack at 8:15 p.m.

My birdhouse using an old tin can for the roof

This time around I took Tin Can Art – Anne’s choice, but I ended the week in love with this art form – hauling two large garbage bags of raw materials, gleaned from local antique and junk shops, with me in my SUV. At least six hours a day are spent learning your chosen art form with most teachers opening their studio in the evenings as well. Two extracurricular evenings was more than enough for me. Our outgoing, buoyant instructor, resident artist Trish Nicholas, gave us more than our money’s worth in techniques, tools and projects. By days end I was too tired to even say so.

On my first visit with Martin, we shared a private room and bath. This time, I had the private room, but shared a separate bath with another student in the Bidstrup House. I also took a coffee maker with me, especially since I didn’t have Martin to fetch coffee from the Keith House each morning. The spartan accommodations are clean, but as staffer Tammy tells you at orientation, “It’s not the Hampton Inn.” There is no TV, coffee maker, blow dryer or phone in your room. You won’t find an ice machine in the hallway. No one makes your bed each morning unless you do. I didn’t bother. Quiet time is designated as 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and it is plenty quiet. Set in the woods around the corner from the vegetable gardens, I encountered a rooster each morning as I left Bidstrup House to walk through the rhododendron filled woods to the dining hall.

Native rhododendrons in bloom

 

Unlike my visit in February the flower gardens were in full bloom. I took several walks just to enjoy the sights and smells of day lilies, yarrow and herbs. For anyone with aching muscles (or not) the school also provides chair and foot massages at $20 for 20 minutes. Sign up early as the time slots fill up fast!  A glass of wine or a beer in your room is o.k.  So, is reading on a porch or in a common living room at any of the houses.  Or just enjoying the mountain views.  Ahhh wilderness and relaxation.

 

 

 

While going to summer camp may not be for everyone, it is certainly a fresh experience for some of us. I’ve enjoyed my time at John Campbell Folk School and will most likely return in the future — silk making is calling my name. For anyone looking for something different to do this summer besides the usual travel sightseeing, check out summer camp for adults. You just may enjoy something out of the ordinary.

 

 

Fathers

Dad and me circa 1957

My Dad died in 1989. Yet, he is with me every day.

I see his dimples in my cheeks as well as in the faces of my daughters and grandchildren. I see his love of gardening in the landscape around my house as well as in my children’s love of gardening, which they are passing on to yet another generation. I hear him in my grandson’s guitar playing.  Last week I visited John Campbell Folk School. I was taking tinsmithing, but had occasion to go to the wood working shop. As I watched my birdhouse being cut out on the bandsaw, with the smell of fresh wood shavings filling the air like it did in my Dad’s workshop, his presence poured into my heart.

A father’s influence lasts a lifetime. To all our fathers:

Happy Father’s Day!

Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

The woman looked at me with what I can only describe as pity as she said, “Getting old sucks.” I started to counter her assumption.  I found it condescending.  Then I closed my mouth. I was already in the middle of a disagreement with her; I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.

Getting old does not suck. What sucks is the view our society holds about getting old.

We all knew people who didn’t make it this far in life — relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who passed away at a younger age, perhaps even as children. People who didn’t get to fall in love, have a career, reach their full potential, buy a house, the first car, go to college, have children or see children grow or enjoy grandchildren.

No, getting old does not suck. It’s a privilege, a gift.

Yet, people still young, as well as some our age, look at aging as if it’s a disease, at the very least a time of decline, both physically and mentally. I have my share of infirmities, but most are not the result of old age. I had polio at three, which surfaces years later as post-polio syndrome. I also have occasional pain in my lower back, the result of lifting something too heavy for me when I was a mere nineteen. We all have health issues, some worsening from aging. Eventually, the parts will wear out. However, when I see a YouTube of an 89 year-old gymnast vaulting and landing on her feet, I realize the old adage of use it or lose it certainly applies.

Cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research and studies at most major universities around the world have shown the adult mind can continue to grow. The brain has plasticity meaning it can form new synaptic connections. We often think of children and young adults as the ones with growing minds. But adults at any age can continue to grow mentally if they exhibit the same curiosity, sense of adventure and learn new things just as they did earlier in life.  These discoveries are changing the view of aging, albeit slowly.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is at the forefront of changing the stereotypes of what it means to get old. We all age. My grandchildren are aging. With kids, we refer to them as ‘growing up’; with over 60’s, we refer to them as aging. We suddenly become seniors, the elderly, the aged, old codgers. We also begin to be talked to as if we were the children, condescending talk.  Talk as if we are incompetent.  Or worse yet, we are ignored. Since I stopped coloring my hair, letting it go to its natural gray, I’m suddenly dear, sweetie, young lady and on and on or I’m invisible altogether.

I took Applewhite’s cue and used a situation as a teaching moment for an early twenties server at a restaurant. I noticed the couple at the next table who appeared to be in their late thirties were called ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I’d finally had enough of being called ‘dear’ so I told the server not to call me that. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Why?” My reply, “Because my name is Kathy, not dear. If I were your age, would you call me dear?” She didn’t know what to say. Maybe I raised her consciousness; maybe she thought I was just a crabby old lady. I don’t know. But if we are to change the way old age is viewed, the change starts with us.

Our society views aging as something to be cured or fought as in anti-aging creams and makeups, botox injections, plastic surgery and medications to combat normal body changes that come with maturity. One woman, upon seeing my graying hair, told me, “If I stopped coloring my hair, my husband would divorce me.” I have no idea if their relationship is that superficial, but in our youth obsessed culture, not dying has apparently been known to spark a divorce. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more gray haired models like Cindy Joseph, defying the idea that old is washed up, has been and not beautiful.

Getting old does not suck. Attitudes suck. Do not pity me, feel sorry for me or patronize me. I’m having a good time being old and retired.  You, too will be here someday. And, when you are, stay engaged with the world, realize that your brain still works and can grow, endeavor to try new activities, learn something. Realize you are still beautiful and vibrant. Stay physically active. Recognize ageism and use teachable moments to change attitudes. You are one of the lucky ones. Getting old is a gift. Do not squander it by believing in stereotypes.

 

 

 

Retired Spouse Syndrome

Last Wednesday I joined a small class of Furman University students along with Professor Lorraine DeJong and other retired adults in an intergenerational course about what it’s like to be a “senior” in today’s society. Members of Furman’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) were asked to participate voluntarily in order to bring the experience to life for the students. I signed up for a couple of classes. The subject for the class I attended last week was relationships. While we discussed family, adult children, grandchildren and friends, the segment that caught my eye was retired spouse syndrome.

Researching retired spouse syndrome, I found many articles as well as research in both Japan and Italy referring to it as retired husband syndrome. It’s no secret men have a more difficult time than women when leaving the workplace behind. More of a man’s identity is tied up in his job description and title.

Conversely, women have taken many roles throughout their lives from work to being the main caregiver of children, perhaps even staying at home for a few years while raising them. Women also are more apt to be the caregiver of parents in their later years. And, for most couples women are the ones who maintain the social calendar. As a result women are more flexible about identity.

That said, I experienced unexpected feelings of sadness and loss when I left work. Those feelings were repeated when Martin retired as I also had many ties with his co-workers over his long career at a single company. Admittedly part of my identity was immersed in his identity. When he retired I was no longer the wife of the vice-president.

As Professor Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota and author of numerous books, points out, the first two years of retirement can be a time of enormous stress on a marriage. Both men and women experience the strain as they struggle to create new identities, both as a couple and as individuals. While single men and women also struggle, they may or may not have a partner to consider.

Shortly after Martin retired, I had to remind him I was not going to be his only employee for the rest of his life. Suddenly, the way I filled the dishwasher and the time of day I put clothes in the washer was all wrong. Mind you, we have had a marriage of equal partnership where he washed clothes and did dishes, too. We both cook. It was our habit that whoever cooked dinner that night, the other one of us did the kitchen clean-up. This arrangement worked for decades without comment until retirement.

As I have chronicled in these pages, when we retire, our world shrinks. As it becomes smaller, we are sometimes caught up in minutiae. As I’ve also pointed out, it takes about two years to adjust to a new life and discard the old identity. Avoiding retired spouse syndrome requires an awareness of it in the first place. Once you are aware of it, then it takes commitment and communication as a couple to create the identity you envision for yourselves, together and individually.

Oftentimes, we forget the us factor. Us doesn’t mean we are joined at the hip 24/7; it means we honor and respect each other as we forge new identities. Listening is part of the communication, perhaps the most important aspect. One of the tools Martin and I used was the bucket list. We’d made bucket lists before retirement. We made others after retirement. Then we compared lists. It helped to ignite an honest discussion of who we were and who we wanted to be and whether or not our wants meshed. They did.

As for the dishwasher? Martin loads it — every night.  Renewed purpose takes many forms.  And we do laundry whenever we need to.

A Wrinkle In Time

Getting ready for work one morning in my late twenties, I noticed my first wrinkle. There it was right between my eyebrows, just a faint vertical line looking back at me from the mirror.

With my New Jersey Shore upbringing, I expected wrinkles, lots of them. I grew up when SPF wasn’t seen anywhere on a tanning lotion bottle. In fact, that’s what it was called — tanning lotion. Who ever heard of sunscreen in the 1960’s? Not me. In high school my friends and I made a concoction of baby oil and iodine to slather on our bodies as we soaked up hours and hours of ultraviolet rays in our quest for the deepest tan. Now it was payback time.

I rubbed the wrinkle between my brows with foundation. It didn’t go away. I was aging. Ugh!

As part of the generation who embraced Jack Weinberg’s saying, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”, my thirtieth birthday passed without even a footnote. It was my 35th that arrived with the mournful recognition I was definitely aging. By then I had encountered my first grey hair. Despite receiving advice in the form of an old wives’ tail not to pluck it lest I get twenty more, I plucked it. And, I did get twenty more, but I suspect that would have happened anyway. I was aging.

Today I have lots of wrinkles, though not as many as expected. When I found that first wrinkle between my brows, I knew a woman about twenty years older than me with a face that reminded me of an old baseball glove. Chasing the sun has been much kinder to me, most probably because I stopped chasing it. Living life is another matter. My hair is nearly all grey with some hints of white where most of hairs have lost their original dark brown color. Yes, I have aged. I have also lived.

No longer concerned with the wrinkles or grey hair, I accepted that fact a long, long time ago. Living life results in wrinkles and grey hair. My fortieth birthday, with someone giving me dead flowers and an ‘over the hill’ black balloon, didn’t phase me. That’s when I knew we all age from the time we are born. Change in our bodies is inevitable just like change in our lives.

Despite the increased aches and pains and the decreased stamina, overall I don’t feel any different, than I did on those days when I lolled around the sand covered in my baby oil concoction. My mind is still sharp and curious. I still look to the horizon with anticipation of what may materialize in my life. I do not mourn my looks or what might have been.

There is a story about actress Anna Magnani telling her makeup man, who was diligently trying to conceal her wrinkles, “Don’t take a single one. I paid for them.” That about sums it up for me. Each line on my face tells a story. The ones around my mouth mean I smiled a lot. The furrows between my brows mean I frowned a lot, too. The ones across my forehead are undoubtedly from a severe sunburn as well as heredity.

They are my wrinkles and my life and there is no amount of night cream to make them disappear nor do I want them to.

Mothers

My Mother

Many of us think of Mother’s Day as being a celebration of our mothers or our mothering of our children. But, there are many kinds of mothers and mothering. There are even some men who mother. Mothers are caring, loving, giving nurturers of all kinds.

A friend without children mentioned her husband was taking her out to dinner for Mother’s Day. I should say without human children as she mothers six furry kids, three dogs and three cats. One of the dogs, a sweet little Sheltie, is trained as a hospice dog. Together he and my friend visit a local hospice weekly to comfort people who are dying and bring a moment of cheer to their families.

I know people who are caregivers of an infirm parent. Roles have been reversed with the child mothering their mother or father.

Some of you have written to me about raising grandchildren. That reminds me of the man behind the counter at a store I frequent. He recently revealed how his daughter died in a car accident and he, a widower, is raising his grandchild as both mother and father.

Many of us retire to find ourselves mothering an ill spouse. We take on most, if not all, of the day to day responsibilities of running the household as well as caring for our partner.

There are even those of us who mother Mother Earth, tenderly caring for gardens, watching seedlings grow to mature plants with the pride of any mother watching a child grow into a fine human being.

Yes, there are mothers of all kinds caring, loving, giving and nurturing.  And we honor all of them today.

To mothers everywhere, no matter your gender or who or what your charge,

Happy Mother’s Day!