FREE OR AT LEAST VERY CHEAP

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The best thing about retirement is not working. It may sound obvious, but not as much as you think. Not these days when many people either start a new career when they “retire,” or need to take some kind of crappy job to supplement social security which isn’t enough to live on.

There are plenty of other life changes that come with retirement. Not working is only one of them, but it’s my favorite. Pity it means giving up a steady paycheck, but if you can do it … not working is wonderful. It’s particularly wonderful for those of us who have hobbies and never had the time to pursue them while we worked.

After you stop working, you never know what you will be doing in the future, but you know what you won’t be doing.

You won’t be slaving long hours for an unappreciative boss.Getting up at the crack of dawn to scrape ice from the windshield. Driving 60 miles through bumper-to-bumper traffic to be restless and bored for 10 hours. Then getting back in the car and driving another sixty miles in the other direction in the dark when you’re already beat. You may well be perpetually short of money, but you won’t be fighting traffic or grinding your teeth wondering if you’re going to get dumped for a younger, cheaper worker. Discover your job’s been eliminated to improve someone’s bottom line.

You never have to call in sick again, not because you are really sick or if you need a day to take care of a child, business, or just a day off.

Ever learn you’ve lost your job by reading the headlines in the newspaper? I did. Twice. It takes the savor out of that morning brew.

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Retirement is the good part of being older. It’s the payoff. You get to own your life. For most of us, it’s the first time we’ve been free.

When you’re a child, everyone owns you. Parents, teachers, strangers. You have to be clever, sneaky and lucky to get to do what you want. Then you go to college and work — often both at the same time — and your boss and professors own you. Deadlines, time clocks and ambition drive you  onward to goals you believe will make you happy. Maybe they will — for a while. Then again, maybe not as much as you thought or hoped.

You marry. Have children. And find yourself treading water in an ocean of obligations and responsibility. Children are a lifelong committment. Long after your legal responsibility ends, your emotional responsibility continues. You want to be there for your kids, then your grandkids. That’s the way it should be.

If you don’t have to work while you do it? It’s better. Much better. Did you know half the kids in the U.S. are being raised by grandparents? Parents are busy with work or whatever — unable, unwilling or unfit — to raise their own.  There are lots worse things that can happen to a kid than being raised by gramps and gran, but many of us find ourselves reliving the parenting years just when we though we’d finished with all that. Being retired makes parenting much less stressful.  You get to stay home. You aren’t imprisoned by commuting and The Schedule. You can finally take a trip to the zoo, help with homework. Play a game, talk about life. There’s time for fun, not just work.

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If you aren’t taking care of grandchildren? You have the gift of time and it’s no small thing. Be a blogger. Be a photographer. Sleep late. Stay up till the wee hours watching movies, reading, writing the novel you always wanted to write but never had time. Rediscover music. Join a choir. Retired people are busy people. I’ve been retired for quite a while and I have yet to be bored.

Do I miss work?

I miss the salary. Every once in a while, I miss the camaraderie of a good office environment. But most offices weren’t all that great. Many were thoroughly unpleasant.

I served my time. Whatever I have left, long or short, belongs to me and mine.

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HERE’S TO US … WE MADE IT!

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the 1950s, but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a very different world. Play meant using imagination. It mean physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stick ball (no one owned a real bat). Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys and indians. Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a real thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe.

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

Marilyn - Senior YearYou didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

My son commented the other day we are raising — speaking of my granddaughter’s generation — a bunch of weenies. We are protecting from them everything, effectively from acquiring the coping skills they will need to survive when mommy isn’t there to bail them out.

I said this to my granddaughter too, because she needs to hear it:. No one gets a free pass. Even being rich doesn’t guarantee bad stuff won’t happen, that you won’t get sick, lose a loved one, a child, or for that matter, your own health. Nothing prevents life from happening. Pain is part of the package. Learning to deal with adversity is called “growing up.” If you don’t learn to fight your own battles, when you get “out there,” you won’t survive.

Just about every family has some members who didn’t make it. The ones who never got a real job, formed a serious relationship, accomplished anything much. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong … and usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. It’s what we did too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring. Nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment. But I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

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So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost. The subjects we barely passed or actually failed and had to take again. The bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switch blades, wondering if you can talk your way out of this one.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid in a school full of people who don’t like you. Getting through it and out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do those dances and never had the right clothing or hairdo.

Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now the cool people to know. Magically, we were suddenly part of the “in crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer were we outsiders. What had made us misfits were now the qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic. Especially if you weren’t middle class, white and Christian. Yet it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom. We had time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having far fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. Many of us felt lucky to have one crappy black and white television with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope, and simultaneously, learned to achieve. We weren’t scared to try. We screwed up enough to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again.

When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into the laughingly so-called golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them.