CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

When I started this blog, the post I am about to write was not the kind of post I had in mind. This is not meant to start any kind of political debate. Nor is it meant to place blame. It is simply something which has been on my mind due to what I’m seeing in the news. Just like every post I write, these are simply my thoughts put in writing. That said, if you have constructive thoughts you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a few stories in the news and read some posts on other blogs and list serves about sexism and ageism in America. The views range from Sheryl Sandberg’s view that women must rid themselves of the internal barriers to gaining power in the workplace to male nurses are paid more than female nurses because, well, because they are male. Reading through the conversations on a senior forum, the answers behind the question of ageism from this group of mainly professionals, seems to be the mindset of both the general public as well as workers in the senior care professions. As someone who is categorized as one of the point women fueling the feminist movement of the 1970’s, I say we’ve come along way, baby, but the consciousness raising ain’t done. Mindset on both counts.

So, how is mindset changed? And why is it important to change it? Well, the first answer is the old-fashioned (yes, the tools of the 1970’s are now old-fashioned) consciousness raising is what changes mindset. I’m not talking about what is politically correct here. I’m talking about our internal beliefs brought to life each and every day through our words and action. I’m also talking about changing those internal beliefs because it’s practical to change. That brings me to my answer on the second question. I see sexism and ageism as being linked. And, it’s important to change the attitudes because our society has evolved but our mindset hasn’t kept pace with the evolution.

It’s no secret. In general, women still outlive men. Yet, women, and their partners, don’t take their working and saving and, yes, contributing to Social Security, as seriously as they should. The majority of women work today. We are also still the parent who puts aside career in favor of raising our children to a certain age before we head back to work. As a working mother, I know first hand how hard that is and how important that is. From a practical standpoint, I also know, currently, the Social Security Administration will take your 35 highest income years to compute your Social Security benefit. I have also met many women who forego maxing out their retirement contribution in favor of their spouse’s plan. Why? Mindset. The reason many women live their old age in poverty is because they tend to take care of others before taking care of themselves.

So, in many ways, I have to agree with Sheryl Sandberg. The change in mindset starts with women just as it did in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It’s up to women to demand equal pay for equal work. The fact that John Doe has been on the job longer is a red herring if Mary Doe is up to the same speed. You might even say, if Mary can rev her engine at the same rpm’s as John, without the years, then Mary may be the better qualified employee. It’s also up to Mary to start taking care of Mary by saying to her partner, “I’m putting as much in my retirement fund as you are, Honey”. And, by the way, I need 35 years in the workforce making as much as I can so if you die first and leave me alone, or, if we’re among the 60% who divorce, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from in my old age.

Reading the comments on ageism, I found it interesting how several people thought our society needed a Gloria Steinem or a Rosa Parks to make a stand and raise our consciousness about ageism. As someone who watched Gloria Steinem on the evening news way back in the late 1960’s, I must say she was an influence on the direction my mindset took. However, the real work was done by everyday people with the courage to stand up in the face of societal norms and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.” Well, people don’t age the way they used to. The reason Social Security and Medicare are in trouble isn’t because of any federal deficit or economic downturn. While the reason is a lot more complicated than this, the short and the long of it is we are living longer. We have better medical care. We have more options available to us. Seniors are more active, more involved than ever. When seniors leave the workforce, if they do at all, they aren’t going home to die. They are going on to a new, exciting leg of their life journey. Our society has changed. Retirement has evolved. Yet, we hang onto the old stereotypes of aging and the aged. Ageism. Changing the general mindset about aging starts with every day people having the courage to stand up and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.”

Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, if we want to get rid of sexism and ageism, it’s up to each of us to first get rid of the internal barriers preventing each of us from changing our mindset. We don’t need a Rosa Parks or a Gloria Steinem or a Mahatma Gandhi. After all, at one moment, each of them were just ordinary people willing to take action, to speak up. So, all we really need is the courage of our convictions. Catching up with our societal evolution depends on it.

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STUFF

There has come a time in my life when I have looked around my house and asked myself, “What am I doing with all this stuff?” That moment was about two years ago. And, like any good epiphany, I handled it by getting into my closets, taking inventory, giving away what I thought I didn’t use anymore and organizing the rest. Outside the closets I took down, picked up and boxed up and gave a few things away to my daughters or charity. But, everything else got squirreled away in, where else, but, the closets. That made me feel good for a while. I’d gotten a lifetime of clutter under control or at least it looked like it was under control. I had less stuff sitting around on tables to dust, wash or place in an attractive way. I liked my new clean look.

Much of our knickknack stuff has come in the form of gifts from family and friends or hand-me-downs, including some heirlooms, from my or Martin’s parents. Even some of our furniture has come to us in the same way. It’s been accumulated over many years. We occasionally do the clean out, give away routine and Martin has even sold some of his used motorcycle, bicycle paraphernalia on eBay. Then, there are the shelves of art we’ve produced, mostly in the form of gourd art, where we’ve carved, dyed, braided, papered and otherwise decorated gourds. There are also a couple of paintings I’ve produced recently. So, even though we haven’t purchased a lot of knickknacks, paintings and prints, we still have a house full of stuff.

Long before retirement I reached the point where I didn’t want to spend my time dusting and cleaning stuff that served no other purpose than to sit around on shelves and tables looking pretty. We also had pieces of furniture, which just didn’t fit with the overall theme and scheme of the other pieces. Our willy-nilly eclectic style sometimes annoyed me. I knew someone a few years ago who, as she and her husband prepared to downsize and retire, had held an auction to sell off their stuff, all of it. They wanted a fresh start for their new life so, like New Year’s, out with the old, in with the new. They made out really well on the money end and went on a shopping spree for the new stuff. So, as I looked around my house, I thought about what I would dump. Certainly, not all of it but I was so tired of the stuff, I thought, surely a lot of it. And, I wouldn’t be replacing any of it.

But, as I started going from room to room and thinking about what I would discard, I thought, “Well, certainly not those two old office chairs in the great room.” They are 1950’s or ’60’s and don’t go with the Italian style of the house or other furniture we have. But they are solid maple and after I picked them out of the trash (yes, that’s right, scavenger that I am, I raided somebody’s dumpster), we had them recovered and voilà!, they look fabulous. Not my grandmother’s chocolate pot or Martin’s grandmother’s carnival glass wine pitcher. Those would go to our daughters someday. Not the dish on the table given to me by a former assistant my last day on the job. Wait. What was I doing? As I looked around at all the stuff, I had another epiphany. It is the stuff with all the crazy stories or old memories evoked or the item touched by a loved one long past or the gift given from the heart, which creates the warmth of our home, the richness of our lives. The stuff isn’t just stuff after all, but symbols, artifacts of who we have been as well as who we are. Suddenly, eclectic seemed less annoying.

So, what am I doing today? Opening some boxes, unwrapping some stuff and putting it back on shelves and tables. I guess I’ll be dusting a while longer.

What’s A Senior?

I receive a monthly e-newsletter from an organization called care.com. Care provides all kinds of services…babysitting, tutors, pet sitters, senior care, housekeeping and more. I originally signed up with them for pet sitting for when we are away on our jaunts. Until recently I didn’t pay much attention to any of the other topics. But, a couple of days ago I received their newsletter including an article titled, “A Checklist for Aging in Place”. Thinking we intend to age in place as opposed to a retirement or assisted living community, I thought this is a must read for me. But, when the author started talking about walkers, wheel chairs, tripping hazards and the inability to drive a car, I immediately jumped to, “Wow, this isn’t me! At least not yet. I’m not a senior!”

Granted, when we built our house 9 years ago, we built it with the idea of aging in place. With an eye to the far, far away future and the help of our builder, we came up with an open floor plan one story with wide hallways, a huge walk-in shower with bench, and very few steps to the outside areas. According to a 20 year study by the US Census Bureau, 90% of baby boomers are planning, just as we have, to age in place.

But, back to the article. It made me realize there is a huge expanse of years involved when we talk about seniors. My point here is there are so many different stages a person can go through during a fifty year expanse of time that the term senior cannot possibly be all-encompassing. In fact, the dictionaries I checked all define seniors as being elderly, on a pension and over either 60 or 65 years of age. Elderly is further defined by Merriam-Webster as “rather old” with synonyms like aged, geriatric, unyoung, ancient, over-the-hill (really!). As someone who goes out on my property and cuts down trees with a chainsaw, I do not consider myself elderly! Further, I know people in their seventies and eighties who I wouldn’t look upon as elderly. And, I doubt they view themselves as elderly.

Before age 50 I always thought of seniors as 17 or 18 year olds in their last year of high school. Then, when I reached 50 and saw how many times in our societal order of things, age 50 is referred to as being “senior” I thought this is too young an age to be considered a senior. Ditto for age 55. Now that I’m 60 and hitting my stride, I question the entire use of the terms senior and elderly just as I do retiree and retirement. As Bob Dylan, once crooned, the times, folks, they are a changin’. According to the last census, it’s estimated by 2017 there will be more 65 year olds in the US than kids under 5. And, by mid-century there will be about 600,000 centenarians. So, if you become a senior at 50 and live to be 100, that’s your second half of life — a fifty year span!  Instead of seniors, retirees, elderly, this age group should be called “second lifers”. Or, maybe we shouldn’t be defined at all.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Tell me, what do you think a senior is?

WHO AM I?

As a kid my friends and I played a game called ‘Who Am I?’ One child was the guesser. The rest of us would pretend we were teachers or firemen or train conductors or nurses or doctors or some other type of worker. The guesser would have to ask the rest of us kids questions one at a time, questions such as, “Do you wear a hat?”. If the answer was yes, then the guesser asked the next child if the hat was black or red or white or whatever color they chose until they guessed the correct color. After I grew up, at business functions and social gatherings alike, the question changed to “What do you do?” as people sought to find common ground with a new acquaintance. Now, “What do you do?” has once again become “Who am I?” as I grapple with my retired self’s identity.

I’m still asked the inevitable question of “What do you do?” as was the case a few weeks ago when I met someone for the first time. When I answered with, “I’m retired”, my new acquaintance uttered, “Retired?” The question was accompanied by a look of puzzlement on his face followed by nothing more than a simple, non-committal, “Oh.” I hurriedly told him how I “used to be” a real estate broker and banker. But, this, too, fell flat as it was obvious he wasn’t impressed by who I used to be. Apparently, he wanted to know who I am now. So, who am I? Without an occupation, am I anything less than who I used to be? Many retirees struggle with these questions in much the same way I am now. They also struggle to find value and worth without the occupational title they held for so long.

Recently, a friend challenged me to fine another word for retirement. Believe me, I’ve searched for that other word. And while our perception of retirement is changing, all the dictionaries I checked still define it as a withdrawal from active working life, ceasing to work, a termination or end. Synonyms include withdrawal, pullback, receding. How dreary. Finding a word which adequately defines the breadth and depth of possibilities laying before retirees today, is, indeed, a challenge. Retirement may be the end, the termination of our career but it is also the beginning of a life full of endless possibilities.

Perhaps, the bigger challenge is the question we must each answer for ourselves. What is it that creates our sense of value and worth? What is it that gives us a sense of purpose in our lives? Isn’t it really a matter of our own perceptions of ourselves? Our perceptions often confuse what we do for a living with who we actually are. When we’re younger, we’re always running the race for more money, more recognition, more promotions, more clients, more accomplishments to add to our resume. The last several weeks I’ve come to realize I’m not what I did for a living and never have been. Regardless of the word we use to describe it, retirement is, in fact, an opportunity to become more of who you already are rather than what you did for a living. In retirement who I am…wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, gourmet cook, gardener, motorcycle Mama, artist, writer, blogger, volunteer…is no longer overshadowed by an occupation induced persona. Retirement has made clear what I am at my core without the external trappings of a career.

In retirement, folks, we can relax. We can appreciate and enjoy what really matters. We can be curious as we explore new interests. We can tackle a newly discovered hobby with the zeal of full time attention. We can choose to introduce ourselves to an ever widening array of activities or stay with what we know. We can be kids again playing a grown up version of “Who Am I?”.