What does it mean to be “retired”? For my husband, it means looking for work, every day. He gets up, makes his list, plans his day around volunteer gigs, hobbies, chores. He belongs to a number of environmental groups, surveying street trees and pulling up invasive plants. He acted as a docent at a local museum hosting an Anne Frank exhibit, leads little kids on naturalist tours in parks and middle and high school students through the court system in the Classroom Law Project. He’s taking guitar lessons and practices every day. A retired teacher, he tries to sub a day or two each week. He rarely drives, and riding the bus takes up a lot of his time. Every day he goes to the gym, and he spends hours walking our dogs in the hills around our Portland, Oregon home. When he pauses a moment, he dreams up travel destinations. All good things, right?
But there is something he doesn’t do. He doesn’t relax. An intellectual sort, you’d think he’d be reading all the time. Nope. Maybe the paper, and some occasional non-fiction related to his myriad interests. But sit down with a good old-fashioned novel? No sir. This sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m actually very proud of him. He’s become the retired person he envisioned for himself when he hung up his public school teacher hat two years ago.
But here’s the trouble: I am not fully retired yet, and when I am, my days will likely look very different. I’ll read lots of novels. I’ll sleep in whenever I can. I’ll sit around in the morning reading the paper, drinking coffee, writing in my journal. I’ll call friends for coffee, lunch or happy hour. I’ll go shopping. I’ll see matinees, both movies and plays. I’ll pour over recipes and make new foods. Oh, there will be industry too. I’ll plant flowers in pots, and keep my kitchen and bathrooms clean, do sewing projects and knit a little. I’ll volunteer more regularly than I do now, and I’ll exercise and walk the dogs. But it will be easy to fit all these things in, because my days will stretch ahead of me in an open, leisurely fashion. I rarely make lists now, so why start when I retire?
Really, it’s no wonder my husband and I find ourselves eyeing each other suspiciously these days. He can’t believe he never noticed how lazy I am. I can’t believe he’s so driven to fill every waking moment with activity. I keep urging him to slow down, take a load off, enjoy his retirement. He tries not to nag, but I can tell he disapproves of my rather laissez faire style.
I think marriage is a lot like contract negotiations. Every once in a while, both sides to sit down at the bargaining table in a good faith effort to come up with a working compromise. Here’s my first offer, written on a piece of paper, folded and shoved across the table: I’ll pick up the pace a bit and occasionally jump on his retirement train with a smile on my face…if he’ll put his feet up regularly and just read a book for fun — with a smile on his face. Both sides will agree to respect the other’s needs and desires, with no judgement.
I haven’t received his counter offer yet, and I hope we can avert a strike. Although, come to think of it, a work slowdown doesn’t sound too bad.