In Defense of the Empty Nest by a Defensive Mom

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It was at a college night meeting of  high school parents when I realized that how I felt about having an Empty Nest was not the majority view.

September of our son’s senior year in his small high school, the college counseling office held a meeting for parents. Noting that for some of us, it would be our last kid off to college, the counselor asked us how we felt about becoming empty nesters the next fall.

I was the first to respond; not a good idea in retrospect.

“Frankly I can’t wait, I’m looking forward to having time alone with my husband again.”

The other parents looked at me aghast, you would have thought I had just vividly detailed the various new sexual positions we planned to try on the first night after our son left for college. A ripple of dismay filled the room.

One by one each of the other Moms chimed in, “Really? I don’t feel that way at all. Oh, I will miss my daughters so much.” and “I am just dreading having an Empty Nest.” and “It will be so awful not having them come home from school every day.”

And the Dads spoke up, too.  “Who will I watch baseball with? I’m really going to miss my son.” and “Our family has lots of fun together on weekends. I don’t want that to change.”

I slunk a bit lower in my seat. My husband, embarrassed by my typical over-sharing, patted my hand feebly.

It has been almost a decade since that college night meeting and you would think that by now I would have gotten less defensive about my stance on the Empty Nest – but I haven’t.

This fall there’s been the usual flurry of articles offering advice on how to adjust to life in the Empty Nest. Wisdom for parents whose kids were now off to college, you will miss them like crazy, you will be sad that they don’t need you as much, your role as a Mom or Dad has changed. You and your spouse may sit in silence at night wondering what to say to each other. The articles encourage you to develop new hobbies, new interests, take up running, learn to knit, join a book club, anything to take your mind off of the dreadfully quiet house, the empty rooms, the loss of your children.

Ummm, that wasn’t my experience.

After 18 years of 24/7 parenting, I was more than ready to for some well-deserved (IMHO) time off.  And I wanted to get back to the reason I married my husband in the first place. Because I loved him, he’s smart, funny and clever; I wanted to spend more time with him. Just with him. How we used to be, before kids, if I could recall what that felt like.

I love my kids very much, just as you love yours (there goes the defensiveness again!). I loved being a Mom, all of it, from that early exhaustion of toddlers and nap time, to school days, lunch packing, spelling tests, to high school with homework stress, talking about drinking and sex, and wondering if they were listening, and worrying over college applications.

But children do fill up all of your mind space, so much so that there is little room leftover for whatever interesting conversations you may have once had with your spouse on a non-child-related subject.  Who will take David to Tae Kwan Do? Do you have time this Saturday to get Dana new sneakers? Don’t forget that next Wednesday, or maybe it is Thursday, let me check, is Back to School night? I forgot to send in the permission slip for that field trip, aaargh. Did you bring home the posterboard for the science project? And David could use another hair cut…

At least that is how it was with us. My husband was a very involved Dad. He didn’t miss a school play, coached soccer and basketball and helped with algebra. (the latter most important since my math knowledge stopped at fractions.) We spent lots of time together as a family, going on outings to museums, concerts and fairs. My husband and son went camping, my daughter and I bonded at Nordstroms. While my husband and I did spend as much time as we could as a couple, we would often find that we spent our precious hours out of the house talking about, you guessed it, the kids. One night at dinner we tried to see how long we could go in a conversation without one of us mentioning one of our kids or something kid-related. I don’t recall who won that contest. But it was over in less than three minutes.

Back to senior year in high school when I looked forward to finding out if my husband and I could be alone as a couple again.  Sure, I was worried that we wouldn’t manage so well. We didn’t have, and still don’t have, a marriage that to the outside world appears harmonious. At our wedding reception 36 years ago, many of the guests, I was later told, took bets on how long our marriage would last. Lots of yin and yang in our relationship. We squabble, we bicker, we disagree.

Once our teen daughter spent a weekend with a friend at their family’s vacation house.  I asked her when she returned how the weekend went – “Oh, Mom”, she said, “It was fine, Jessica’s parents fight just as much as you and Dad do.”

So it was with both anticipation and trepidation that I approached the Empty Nest. Of course, I missed the kids after they left for college. I was always happy to hear from them, worried when they got sick, thrilled when they visited, even content doing their mountains of laundry and dealing with the messy rooms they inevitably left behind. But I knew that they would be fine. We had prepared them as well as we could. They were off to lead their lives, as it should be.

The Empty Nest meant that we were given a chance to lead our own lives again – as husband and wife. Yes, we’d be parents forever, but just being  a couple, no guarantee. I’d seen plenty of my friends’ marriages struggle once the kids, the glue between Mom and Dad, were no longer in the house.

Thankfully our marriage thrived. It didn’t take us long to adjust to the Empty Nest. At first it felt like we were playing hookey from school. We both worked downtown, and after work one night, it occurred to us that we didn’t have to rush home. We could go out to dinner.  Downtown. On a weeknight. Imagine that. Without checking in with anyone. Just us. So we went to a restaurant that neither of our kids particularly liked. And we talked about subjects that they didn’t particularly care about. And we didn’t discuss either of them, at least not for the first 10 minutes. The Empty Nest, it turned out, was as I had thought it would be at that college night meeting, well worth waiting for. And hardly empty either. The two of us have filled it up just fine.

 

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Filed under College, Family, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships

My Wonderful Senior Year in High School. NOT. (It got better in College.)

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In high school I was that girl who was attractive enough to date the captains of the basketball and football teams (not at the same time, of course) while smart enough to be in the top honors classes. Being attractive and smart was not a good combination in 1970.  The pretty girls thought I was not cool enough to be friends with – and the smart girls thought I was too cool to be friends with. Neither fish nor fowl, I thought I was a solo specie.

By September of my senior year I could not wait for high school to be over.  Perhaps there are still girls out there like I was, nice-looking but not popular, smart but sensitive, sitting in their bedrooms writing poetry, and working on their college applications; hoping that once they reach college, they will finally find a community that fits who they are.

That is what happened to me.

My parents wanted me to go to the same college my mother had gone to – Smith College -a highly-regarded women’s college in Massachusetts. My Mom loved her time at Smith, still had many of her college friends, and happily returned every five years, dressed all in white to march in the campus reunion parade.

A women’s college? I didn’t think so. Let’s not beat around the bush here, I liked to date guys. And yes, I had a thing for athletes who happened to be smart. Maybe because I completely lacked athletic ability (always was, still am, the last to be picked for any team) so dating an athlete was the closest I could come to peer acceptance in my sports-obsessed high school where cheerleaders ruled the popularity pyramid.

The boys I dated did very well in school, too, but somehow their intelligence wasn’t seen as a social handicap as it was, at least then, for girls. We were advised by the teen magazines to hide our smarts if we wanted to keep a boyfriend. So I wrote the requisite soulful poetry holed up in my bedroom but showed it to no one; I would not have dreamed to show it to one of my boyfriends.

I applied to Smith, as I was asked to do by the parental unit but put my hopes on my applications to five other coed schools. Come April 15th, our mailbox was filled with four thick envelopes and two thin ones. The thickest one was from Smith and the thinnest one was from my first choice – a top men’s college on the cusp of its first year of co-education, telling me I was not going to be in their entering class. My parents insisted that Smith offered the best academics, and wasn’t that why I was going to college?

So off I was to a women’s college. Yes, I grudgingly admitted, the extensive course catalogue did impress me. And how hard could it be to find boys to date? I read that they regularly showed up in droves on weekends.

And surely I would find girls in my class who were attractive as well as smart and not afraid to show it to each other –  or to the boys they dated. My mother reassured me on that point too.

On the second night of college, I went with a small group of girls from my dorm, all of us new to Smith and to each other, to walk down the hill to see a movie called “Anne of A Thousand Days.” It was a British historical drama about Anne Boleyn, the wife, briefly, of King Henry the 8th, until she failed to produce a male heir to the throne and was subsequently executed. I was a big fan of British history so loved the epic story of politics, religion and romance.  My kind of thought-provoking movie; one that I never would have even suggested seeing with friends in high school.

After the movie ended, we started to walk back up the hill to campus. I waited, then said, a bit tentatively, to the girl walking next to me, “Didn’t you think that was an amazing movie?”

She quickly responded, “Oh yes, but I wonder if it was all historically accurate. Do you think the meeting between Anne and King Henry shortly before her execution really happened?

We talked about historical accuracy versus the need to make a movie appealing to the masses all the way back to the dorm. Wow, I thought, maybe I could really be my true self here in college.

High school has evolved since I was a student but some things stay the same; the athletes are still popular, the pretty girls are in demand and the smart kids join the debate team. While being a female with a good brain is no longer as uncool as it once was, I am sure that there are still many girls, and boys, who like I was, are on the social fringe, for whatever reason, afraid to really be themselves for fear their peers won’t accept them.

Let me reassure you that things do re-sort themselves once you get to college. It happened that way for me; it can happen that way for you, too.

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Filed under College, Female Friends, Moms, Relationships, Women

Late Summer Conversations with Strangers at the Beach

 

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If only we could tell strangers exactly what we really think. But we don’t.

While my friends will tell you (ask them!) that I am overly-candid when offering my opinions, I don’t go around sharing my inner thoughts with complete strangers.

Not that I wouldn’t like to do so. But probably saying “those horizontal stripes aren’t your best look”-  or “have you considered eating with your mouth closed?” would not endear me to others.

So I keep my own counsel. Mostly.

An incident at the beach last week makes me think this may be changing.

My husband and I like to spend the last week of August at the beach when it is at its uncrowded best.  During the rest of the summer, when we go on weekends, people are wedged in tightly with little room between the clusters of umbrellas and beach towels. You can hardly see patches of open sand.

But the week before Labor Day is different. School has started, college is back in session, worker-bees are at their desks.  The crowd has thinned out to some families with toddlers, couples and singles here and there. And as fascinating as overheard conversations are on a crowded beach, hearing the sound of the surf rather than the noise of human voices is lovely.

So relishing the sandy spaces, on the first day of our August vacation, my husband put up our umbrella in a wide open spot, and I settled in under the shade. He left to take a bike ride in town and I was happily alone with my book and the breaking waves.

20 minutes later, I looked up, startled when, just over my left shoulder, one of the young men who works at the umbrella rental stand stood with a woman about my age, about to plant her umbrella within a few feet of mine.

A voice arose from my inner heretofore-mostly-contained-don’t-talk-to-strangers-self.

“Umm, excuse me, but could you possibly put your umbrella a bit farther away?”

The woman turned to look at me, a shocked look on her face,

“What did you just say?”

I responded,

Since there is so much room to spread out on the beach today, if you could possibly leave more space between where my umbrella is and yours…”

The young buff umbrella rental guy stopped in his tracks, looked at the woman for umbrella planting direction, while she continued to stare at me.

Did I ask something so terrible?  There were yards and yards of open sand; she was violating an unwritten beach courtesy rule.

Isn’t there a concept of personal space even in a public place? Or shouldn’t a stranger speak up when someone breaks a rule?

The woman huffed a bit and moved away with umbrella rental guy in tow. The rest of the afternoon she kept (so I imagined without looking up from my book) looking back at me with a critical eye. I felt uncomfortable, my sense of relaxation diminished.

My husband joined me in the late afternoon.  Around 6:30 p.m., we packed up to leave; he went ahead to retrieve the car. As I was trudging up the hilly path over the dunes, I noticed a young woman trekking up the sandy path just behind me.  As she came up alongside me, she said,

Aren’t you the woman who asked that other lady to sit farther away from you with her umbrella?”

Wow, so much for non-overheard conversations.

“Yes”, I admitted, “that was me.”

The young woman hitched her beach chair higher up on her shoulder and started walking faster up the sandy path (pretty much everyone walks faster than I do these days.) She turned her head back towards me, as she was walking away, and said,

Good for you, she was going to sit way too close to you. That was gutsy of you to say.”

At least that is what I think she said.

Or she might have said,

How rude of you, why didn’t you let her sit close to you? That was nasty of you to say.”

I’m not sure which it was. The sound of the surf muffled her voice.

So just in case – to the woman about my age who I shocked by asking her to set up her temporary beach camp farther away from me last week, and to the young woman who overheard my surprising candor, I apologize, sort of.

I broke my own rule and said what I was really thinking to a complete stranger. But having my very own patch of sand to myself in late summer was well worth it.  I think I am going to like being a rule-breaker.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Communications, Midlife, Reading, Women

That Young Man Wearing Nail Polish? He’s My Son.

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I picked up my 20-something son, David, at the metro a few weeks ago.  After he got into the car, he put out his hands towards me, and asked:

“Do you like this color? Kind of a deep purple. I get a lot of compliments on it.”

Yes, David wears nail polish;  bright, glossy, frequently changing colors, nail polish. And it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like the deep purple shade.

When David first told us he was gay in his junior year in high school, my husband and I were somewhat surprised but when we thought about it, it began to make sense. At first I worried about the increased chances that he would develop AIDS and I was concerned about problems he would likely face being accepted as a gay man in the less tolerant world we lived in a decade ago. But the gay part? We had an inkling. O.K., more than an inkling. (and what parent doesn’t?).

As an avid reader and news-watcher, I did have some knowledge of the evolving gay community. I was aware of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s,  I remember when Barney Frank became the first U.S. congressman to come out as gay in 1987 and when in 1989 a New York Court ruled that it was legally possible for a same-sex couple to constitute a family.

But when our teenage son told us he was gay, my  personal knowledge of what it meant to be a gay man was, unfortunately, tainted by popular media stereotypes which told us that most gay men:

  • dressed impeccably
  • were extremely neat and well organized
  • often chose interior design or hair styling as their professions
  • had high pitched, effeminate voices
  • liked to gossip
  • had many women friends

From time to time, in my son’s late teen years, I honestly wondered if maybe he had been mistaken as to his sexual identity. After all, he was incredibly sloppy, his bed room was knee-deep in dirty clothing and he was completely disorganized. He planned to major in chemistry and disliked idle chatter.

But the years passed, as he grew into his 20’s, he stayed just as disorganized and messy, with a fervent dislike for doing laundry  – and he remained gay.

He is comfortable with his own identity. And because he is so comfortable, we are too. He has patiently explained that what I first thought I knew about gay men was all wrong. And finally the media has caught up a bit.  We hear about gay football players and (sometimes) see gay men who don’t wear stylish clothing.

Unfortunately, it still makes the news when a gay man is the first in his field or profession.

Earlier this year, when our synagogue, Temple Sinai in Washington, DC, hired a new rabbi who happened to be gay, it became a news story in the Washington Post.

“Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser recently became the first rabbi hired to fill a major pulpit in Washington who is married to someone of his own gender. But he doesn’t like to focus on that. ‘I’m gay, but I also like to scuba dive and play guitar.’ “(August 8, 2014)

So now we all know that some men who are football players, some who are messy and some who are rabbis, can all be gay. And that the fact that they have sexual partners of the same gender is not what defines them.

And there are some men who wear nail polish. And change colors frequently, and with great pleasure.

But I draw the line at mint green. A days ago David showed me his latest color, his nails were mint green. Reminded me of medical scrubs, bad memories. Better to go back to the purple or maybe try a new shade, I suggested, how about deep pink?

David looked up at me as if I was crazy, “Mom, I am not that gay”.

O.K., so I don’t totally get the gay male thing yet. But I accept it, and I accept him, purple nail polish yes, mint green no, his color choices don’t define him either.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Family, Gay Sons, LGBT, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids

Five Things New Grads Must Know About the Secret Language of 1st Job Bosses

Female lawyer working in office

In late August of 1981, when I started as a new associate at Big Law Firm, I did not realize that the senior lawyers at the firm, the Big Bosses who held my legal career in their hands, the ones who would supervise me and assign me work, spoke, like Big Bosses in businesses everywhere, in their Very Own Secret Language.

If you are soon to begin or just starting a new job as a recent graduate of college or other temple of higher learning, you may not be familiar with this Secret Language either.  And while to the uninitiated it may sound as if your new Big Bosses are actually speaking in English, and in fact may use many common English words, what they say to you does not mean what you might think it does.

What you Really Need if you are to Succeed in your First Job as a New Grad is a Dictionary of Big Boss Language.

The earlier in your career, you can correctly interpret what is being said to you by a Big Boss, the better. Here is a handy Guide to get you started on the path to office life success.

1. Your First Assignment.

After a few day of orientation as a young associate, you receive an email from Mr. Important Partner – “When you have a minute, can you please stop by my office?”

Possible Interpretation:

It is o.k. to finish your coffee, and then walk down the hall to the office of Mr. Important Partner to see what he wants.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

Get up from your chair immediately and walk as fast as you can to the office of Mr. Important Partner. Your idea of “when you have a minute” has changed forever.

2. Description of the Project.

Mr. Important Partner describes the research he needs you to do, saying “This shouldn’t take you long.”

Possible Interpretation:

This is a straightforward assignment that you should be able to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

I have just assigned you a ridiculously complex research project, similar to the kind I used to whip out in record time when I was a young associate. You better do the same if you want a future here at “Oppressed, Outstanding and Overworked.”  No pressure.

3. How Long Will it Take you to Complete the Project.

The next day, Ms. New Partner calls you in to her office, asks you to look into a question for one of her clients, and tells you “Don’t spend too much time on this.”

Possible Interpretation:

This project is not that important.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

This project is critically important but my key client always questions the amount of hours he gets billed for associate research. So you must prepare an acutely insightful analysis in response to my client’s question in the shortest possible time. Hint: Do not come back and tell me it took you six hours, I can only bill the client two hours for your work. Got it?

4. Why your New Office is Next Door to the Office of a Big Boss.

You have been assigned a Tiny Office which happens to be next door to the Very Large Corner Office of Mr. Very Senior Partner who likes to Talk Very Loudly on his speaker phone to his Very Important Clients. One afternoon you overhear him saying to a Very Important Client – “Jack, the law in this area is evolving. You make a very interesting point; let me get back to you on this.”

Possible Interpretation:

Mr. Very Senior Partner is an expert in his area of legal specialty, recognizes changing legal trends and enjoys challenging analyses.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

I have no f-ing clue what you are talking about, Mr. Very Important Client. I have not done my own legal research in years. But sitting in the Tiny Office right next to mine is a Very Young Lawyer whose name I do not know but who is going to research your absurdly difficult question as soon as possible for me so I can get back to you and take full credit for the answer.

You wait five seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, as you hear Mr. Very Senior Partner rise out of his office chair, leave his office, and then duck his head into yours and say -“uh (can’t recall your name, if he ever knew it), can you step into my office?”

5. Your Completed Project is Rarely Complete.

In your second week at Big Law Firm, with a mix of pride and trepidation, you email your first research memo to Ms. Eager Beaver I-Better-Make-Partner for her review. A few hours later, she emails you back, “I only have a few edits on your Memo. Please come by to discuss.”

Possible Interpretation:

Wow, she liked my Memo. She only made a few changes. I must be getting this Big Law Firm thing right!

Actual Big Boss Translation:

You promptly walk to her office (see lesson learned in #1 above) and she hands you back a mark-up of your draft Memo.

You see that your carefully written memo is covered in blue ink, cross-outs, x’s, deletions and so many other edits so that you can barely make out the only two sentences remaining from your original draft.  She wants it completely re-written. And it is 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and oh, by the way, she needs it revised to send out to the client tonight.

So if in the first few weeks of your new job, a partner, director or senior manager, your new Big Boss, stops you in the hall, and asks you to drop by her office so she can tell you about an exciting new project you will be working on, you can refer back to this helpful guide. And with any luck, in a decade or so, you will become a Big Boss yourself. If you have any new entries to add to the Secret Language Dictionary, do let me know.

*and good luck at your new job!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Job, Careers, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, New Grad

The Over-Communicator’s Daughter Goes to College

william college

When my daughter left for college, I was confident we would stay in close touch.  We had a good relationship, if you didn’t count the snide comments, silent eye-rolling and rather firm bedroom-door-shutting I had come to know as her senior year in high school persona.  But we had worked through the college process together and were still talking to each other, a major accomplishment.

As a would-be-college parent, I had discovered the classic book “Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years” by Karen L. Coburn and Madge Lawrence Kreeger.  In those pre-Kindle days, I kept in on my bedside table, reading a chapter each night.  The authors reassured me, that yes, it was  developmentally appropriate for teens to loosen the  parent/child bond as they go off to college. And, in turn, parents needed to “let go” so our kids could “do the work” (psychological-speak) of developing on their own. I got all that.

But couldn’t my daughter “let go” while still staying in touch?

After we dropped her off in late August, I quickly got into the habit of sending my daughter chatty emails or shorter ones with tidbits from the news. You know – “here’s an article about a new book by that author you like – hope you are doing well, love mom”. How offensive could that be? So maybe I overdid it a tad.

After all one of my radio clients in my communications lawyering days had praised me as someone who “over-communicated.” He liked that about me, keeping him well-informed. Perhaps outside the office over-communicating doesn’t translate as well? I admit, I am not Hemmingway. I do not specialize in terse, pithy language. But I swear, the emails I wrote to my daughter during the fall of her freshman year (in those pre-texting days) were as brief as I could make them. They were just rather frequent.

And she didn’t respond to any of them.

So when my husband and I would talk with her by phone – she on her scratchy-reception cell phone from her rural campus in upstate New York – and us on our landline in the DC suburbs –  on our regular Sunday night call, I would ask her about her lack of return communication.

“Mom, stop pestering me! I’m doing fine. You keep emailing me. It’s too much.”, she would say.

“O.K., I understand (but apparently I really didn’t), but can’t you please respond to just a few of my emails?”

Big sigh overheard from upstate New York.

“Mom, c’mon, please, you don’t get it.” She repeated. “I’m fine.”

After these unsatisfying phone calls, I would return to my now very well-thumbed through copy of “Letting Go”. Was it her? Was it me? She wanted me to email her like never – and I wanted her to respond like once.

Surely there could be a happy medium in this joint process of letting go?

I asked my friend, Karen, also a lawyer, used to working with clients, also on the chatty-side, how she had handled it when her son, a year older than my daughter, had first gone off to college. She said she started off the same way I did. Emails to say hello, emails to tell her son what she was doing, sending articles of interest. And her son had not responded either. (and ironically or maybe not so ironically, Karen’s son was going to be a communications major in college.). But Karen came up with what I thought was a terrific compromise.

She couldn’t stop herself from sending emails. So she wouldn’t.

Her son didn’t want to write back. So he wouldn’t.

Instead, whenever Karen sent her son an email, her son promised to respond with an email that contained a single period. Karen would write – “Josh, how are you doing? Your Dad and I are fine.  Sam seems to be enjoying  sophomore year in high school. We hope you are having fun and studying hard. Love, Mom.”

And Josh would respond:

.

That’s it. One single period in the middle of the reply email that would prove that Josh was alive and well on Planet College.  He just had to respond with one keystroke.

.

Surely I could convince my daughter to adopt this easy (for the kid) and comforting (for the parent) method of email reply?

But my daughter, an independent type from birth, would not budge.

“No, Mom, that is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. I am not going to do what Josh did! You just have to stop emailing me so much”. (a brief pause). Then she added, “If you promise to stop emailing me so much, maybe I will stay in touch more often.”

That was somewhere between blackmail and compromise. Not what I wanted. More of what she wanted. She was apparently doing much better at this letting go thing than I was. I had to learn to give up my over-communicator ways in order to let go. And my daughter didn’t have to read a book to figure that out.

After that rocky 1st semester fall, things got better. I emailed less. She emailed (slightly) more.

It’s not only children who grow up. Parents do too.

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Filed under College, Communications, Letting Go, Parenting

Why My Friend Larry May Flunk Retirement

JamesP

Two female friends of ours recently announced that they plan to retire from their jobs in September.

But not my friend, Larry.  The idea of retirement bugs him.

He is 64 and has no plans to retire anytime soon – (in part due to the recent addition of a lovely screen porch on the back of his house where he plans to relax if he ever retires but he first has to finish paying for the screen porch so he can’t retire anytime soon even if he wanted to.)

But he actually doesn’t intend to retire. Ever.

Larry likes being a lawyer. He worries about how he would fill his time once he is retired. So far he has come up with only two retirement tasks.

The first is to clean out his garage.

He and his wife, my friend, Susan, have lived in their house for 32 years where they raised two kids, now young adults, and a cat named Phil who thought he was a dog; sadly no longer with us. The clean-up of Larry’s garage is long overdue.

That should take about 10 days, he figures.

The second task is to organize a large collection of family photos. Ektachrome slides taken by his late Dad beginning in the 1950’s, color snapshots of his own family taken in the 1990’s and a jumble of more recent travel shots residing on his iPad, iPhone and various computers in his basement.

Larry thinks the photo organization project will take about two weeks.

So if he were to retire, let’s say, as of September 4, he will be done cleaning his garage and organizing his photos by about September 29th. Then Larry would go sit on his renovated porch, have an iced tea and think about what he will do for the rest of his life.

This is why Larry is concerned about retiring.

He only can think of two things to do.

He does not play golf or tennis. He does not have a man-cave to putter around in. He does not want to start a new business.  He already bikes, travels and does volunteer work.

So why retire?

I told Larry that retirement isn’t what it used to be. We aren’t supposed to sit at home, on our renovated porches or otherwise, and just rock ourselves into mental oblivion. The new thing is to reinvent ourselves upon retirement. Why not, I suggested to Larry, take a look at one of those popular web sites that encourage pre-retirees to find their passions and reconfigure the second acts of their lives.

Larry’s response: that’s a ridiculous idea. Why should I have to reinvent myself?  He has already had 40 years in his working life to invent himself and he doesn’t think he can come up with anything new. Nor does he want to.

We had a small friendly argument about this recently.

I had to retire; I was cardiologically-told that going back to DC law firm life was not a possibility. So Larry tells me –  you had to stop. I don’t. I like working for a living. My income is quite useful. Why should I give it up if I am still capable?

Maybe thinking about retirement is scary because we don’t want to face old age?

The very word “retirement” does have unpleasant connotations.  It comes from the French word retirer – “to go into seclusion”. The Oxford dictionary defines retirement as “leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” The word retirement is also said to refer to “the period between employment and death.”

Swell.

The thought of not being able to go to work every day makes Larry quake. He believes that he isn’t old enough to stop working and that (unless fate knows otherwise) he is too young to die. Larry has been leaving the house every day to go to school or work since he was five years old. He likes putting on his suit in the morning and commuting downtown to his K street law firm office. It is a big part (the main part?) of his identity.

I liked lawyering too but it didn’t define me. Like many women, I always had interests beyond my day job. As I hit my late 50’s and retirement loomed on the post-60 horizon, I could easily think of a number of productive and fun projects and activities to look forward to doing –  none of which involved cleaning out the garage or organizing my photos or even playing golf. (not that golf isn’t a fine sport, just not for me.)

So I wonder:

Do men – more than women – fear leaving their day jobs because they can’t think of what to do in the (hopefully) long pre-death stretch of years?

Larry recently had his annual physical. He told me that his female internist asked him about his future plans.  Larry told his internist that he did not intend to retire. His internist nodded in approval, “Good”, she said, “Men don’t do retirement well.”

Really?

So are some men like Larry, bound to flunk retirement?

And women of many interests like me and my friends destined to get straight A’s?

Not that it is a competition or anything.

But sometimes, according to Larry, it just seems easier to keep on going to the office everyday than to have to come up with a creative retirement plan beyond cleaning out the garage and organizing photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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