I never feared that I would run out of things to do when I retired. But so what if I did? Isn’t that the point of retirement? You work for 40-some years because you have to – and then you don’t. Suddenly, you can sleep in in the morning, nap in the afternoon, read a good book in between.
I wasn’t averse to a little consensual loafing.
The verdict after two years? Retirement is a blast, even though I appreciate it for different reasons than I expected. The autonomy to set my own schedule is nice, but the flexibility to wander from it is even better.
After 42 years of procrastination (45, including a hitch in the Army), I had compiled a to-do list of glacial proportions. Even global warming wasn’t going to melt it, fervently as I might hope it would.
My job and the shortage of time had been my excuse for falling further and further behind. In retirement, however, my time would be my own, and nothing should prevent me from getting matters under control.
No more rushing out the door in the morning and reassuring myself that if it weren’t for going to work I’d, oh, install that laundry-tub faucet my wife wanted, or straighten up the shop, or mow the lawn, or…
Plus, the more that retirement moved into range as a real possibility, I’d begun adding want-tos to the agenda for my idle years – explore my family tree, travel, learn to paint something other than the house, figure out how to use a smart phone.
No, boredom was not going to be a problem.
About three years ago, my wife, Oweta, and I began the conversation. We’re the same age, and we wanted to make the transition from work to retirement together – and not just to avoid turf clashes if one of us got a head start on establishing dominion on the home front, then the other retired and had to fit in. We’d heard the stories.
The decision didn’t take very long. The drawbacks to retiring were no match for the flexibility we would gain for such things as visiting our kids and grandkids on a convenient schedule. That was a strong influence on our thinking from the outset.
Grandchildren were already a big part of our lives, but our son Nathan and his family live in King County. The four-hour drive usually began about 6 on a Friday evening, a drive-through burger in one hand and a bag of fries in my lap – a driving distraction that ranks up there with texting.
Our daughter, Bryn, and her family live in Pennsylvania, a destination where the most likely travel dates are usually also the priciest.
Nathan has a son, 11, and a daughter, 15. Bryn has girls, 3 and 6, and a 10-month-old boy. Watching those kids grow from toddlers to teens and develop interests from soccer to ballet is a joy that shouldn’t have to be scheduled within the constraints of a job.
(Our daughter-in-law and son-in-law have been surprisingly gracious about our spontaneous travel decisions. They seem truthful.)
With those rewards at stake, then, we set the retirement process in motion. For Oweta, her career as a teacher effectively ended with the school year. For me it was the end of June, and with our attention focused on getting financial arrangements and health-insurance decisions nailed down, the momentous afternoon arrived with remarkable speed.
My desk was cleared and my personal belongings had been boxed up and sent home. My voicemail and Internet access had been deactivated or were about to be, along with the security card that buzzed me in and out of the newspaper building.
As of that moment, no more duties or deadlines nagged me. I could enjoy the ceremonies guilt-free – a bite of cake, a glass of punch, the good wishes of my friends and colleagues, one of whom liked to remind me that he hadn’t been born when I started work there.
Reflecting on the stunning changes in journalism since 1969, I walked out the door for the last time as an employee of The Spokesman-Review. Oweta and I drove home in a car as stuffed with generous gifts and mementoes as my head was with memories.
I had no doubt that in the week after retirement, maybe two weeks, I’d have my den and shop organized, a laundry-tub faucet installed and an energetic start on that daunting to-do list. I envisioned a distraction-free storm of activity.
Indeed, to my wife’s pleasure and surprise, the faucet was soon functional. For days, she kept mentioning it with approval, a laudable but futile effort on her part at positive reinforcement.
Sadly, my modest plumbing victory did not turn out to be the first puff of accomplishment that foretold a hurricane to come.
Other recent retirees have reported the same experience. Despite expectations, their backlogs of chores, like mine, grew rather than shrunk. All those years of trying to jam more activities into a finite time frame taught us nothing. Accommodations must be made.
Take one of my want-tos – genealogy. There’s more than one way to look at a family tree.
Tracking down my mysterious Norwegian grandfather has its fascination. Finding an old newspaper clipping or public record that fills in a blank spot in the family story is exciting.
But I’m someone’s ancestor, too. I’m a father and a grandfather, and it’s even more of a thrill to be backpacking in the Cascades or Selkirks with my son and grandson, or exploring San Francisco with my teenage granddaughter, or savoring a two-week visit from my daughter and her three kids.
That’s two weeks of going to the park, riding the Carrousel, splashing in the hot tub and engaging in general horseplay without interference from a job schedule. I could be there for every precious moment rather than merely hear about it after getting home from work.
And if a reasonable fare comes up for a flight to Pennsylvania, Oweta and I can decide whether to hop on a plane without worrying whether the available dates coincide with vacation time.
I loved my job, and I miss the friends and the engagement with events that was part of my life for 42 years. I follow the newspaper as a reader now, and in an age of shrinking newsrooms, it’s good to know my stepping aside helped make room for some other journalist to have the same opportunities.
I can’t say I never miss the job, but there’s a reason they call it a job.
The joy kicks in
A couple of weeks ago, Oweta and I were in Colorado with our grandson. Driving up a steep grade in Mesa Verde National Park, on our way to explore the ancient cliff dwellings we’d come to see, I rounded a hairpin curve to spy a large black bear lumbering across the two-lane highway about 100 yards ahead of me.
Three cubs followed her in single file, taking their time but still too quick for me.
I quickly pulled over while grasping for my cell phone. I managed to get it, turn it on and clumsily activate the camera just as the rump end of the final cub was disappearing into the roadside brush. Click.
By cropping and enlarging, I wound up with a bear picture that recorded our experience about as convincingly as those Sasquatch sightings you see on cable TV documentaries.
Dylan, Nathan and I had encountered a black bear in the wild once before during a backpacking adventure in the Cascades. But this incident illustrated both the ridiculous and the sublime themes of my retirement – ineptitude with technology and fond memories with grandchildren.
It’s a good life. I can mow the lawn when I choose. Note, I said “choose,” not “want.” The same with exercising. I’ve even managed to shed a few pounds, some of them more than once.
I still want to track down my Norwegian grandfather’s origins, but that would be easier if I could speak and read Norwegian. Thus, I picked up some books and CDs to learn the language. After all, I have the time.
And if I can manage Norwegian, there’s hope for mastering the iPhone.
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