When I was in elementary school in the early 1970s, my mama was one of the few moms who worked. (She was also one of the even fewer divorced women in our small town, but that is a subject for another essay.) Although I was proud of my mama for having a job as a secretary (because, obviously, what other employment was available for women in the 60s and 70s?), I was admittedly a bit envious of the girls whose moms were at home at the end of the school day, those moms who had the coveted titles of “grade mothers,” who helped with class parties and whatnot, the moms who picked their children up from school and undoubtedly had freshly baked cookies awaiting them at home and who sat down at the kitchen table to help them with their homework.
I had my house key in my shoe, relied on a neighbor’s mom for transportation, made my own snack, and did my own homework when I got home.
Don’t get me wrong. I did not dislike my life; I just thought it could be better with a stay-at-home mom at home. (“Stay-at-home mom” was not even a thing back then; the proper word was “housewife,” so technically that doesn’t fit for a divorcee, but you get what I’m saying, right? I was a brat.)
Now that I am retired from my career as a high school English teacher, I am starting to view those housewives/stay-at-home moms a bit differently. When I reminisce about Mrs. Barnes, who was always so sweet and hospitable when her daughter Frances invited me to their house to do homework after school sometimes, our neighbor/carpool driver Mrs. Owens, Mrs. Parramore (whose husband owned a freaking oil company!), and Mrs. Gillette (whose husband was practically famous because of his job at the local recreation department), what I wish I could ask them is…
What in the hell did you do all day??
Having been retired for almost two years now, I am certain I am slowly losing my mind. Even with a part-time jobette (two classes a week) at our local college yes, I am still Losing. My. Mind. Granted, educating (and entertaining) sixty cell-phone addicted teenagers a day and having only seventeen minutes to eat lunch (much less to find time to pee!) had its challenges, but Lord. I was writing letters of recommendation galore to get those kids admitted to prestigious colleges. I was adding to their repertoire of knowledge by discussing LITERATURE that opened their minds to some real life stuff. We were discussing issues like the subjugation of women in The Handmaid’s Tale and iambic pentameter in Robert Frost’s poetry. I was helping them make crucial life decisions like what major to pursue in college, which prom dress to buy, and what their Instagram caption should be. I was teaching them how to use a comma after an introductory subordinate clause. I was changing lives, do you hear me?
Now I find myself talking to Alexa. (And since all the suggestions on Twitter that Alexa records everything we say anyway, I think she actually listens to me, which could be nice if I am really feeling lonely but creepy nonetheless).
Now I have time to look for hairstyles on Pinterest, and that little confession is not something I am proud of, y’all. Now I get my nails done — A LOT. True, I know some women have done that forever, but to me, getting my nails done was #1 – a luxury for rich people only and #2 – waste of time when you have sixty freaking essays to grade in one night. I would never be one of those women who went to nail salons, for Heaven’s sakes. I was too busy.
I have MOPPED my kitchen floor almost every single day this week. Is that even normal? I have ordered so many household ideas from Amazon and Wayfair that the delivery people probably know my dogs’ names as well as mine. The other day I was using this admittedly amazing cleaning product called Bee’s Wax and found myself thinking, “Wow, I should tell people about this product!” and then had this little epiphany, “Oh My God. I have become one of THOSE women, those women who measure their worth by their hairstyle, their clean house, their nail color.” (Well, that may be a little harsh because it is perfectly okay to love Keratin hair and Essie’s Winning Streak nail polish, but getting on my hands and knees to clean the floors more than once a year before people come for Christmas seems a bit obsessive compulsive to me. I mean, really, is there anything wrong with seeing our two dogs’ footprints on the hardwood?)
I know there are people who envy the fact that I am retired and do not have to get up early every morning and do not even have to leave my house all day or put on real clothes if I don’t want to. (Okay, maybe I LOVE the sleeping in part, but I digress.) My husband, who has to get up at 5:30 every morning and run a company (with real people and real problems besides nail polish colors) is one of those people. So is my best friend Rhonda, who is ten years younger than I am and probably rethinking our best friend-dom since we are at such different places in our lives right now. She is drowning in grading English essays, educating and entertaining teenagers all day, and probably wondering WTF I am whining about. I mean, I do get eight hours of sleep every night.
The thing is, retirement comes at the wrong time in our lives. Emma Jane and Dawson don’t need me to be at home all day baking cookies and waiting for their triumphant return home from school so I can help them with their homework and whatnot. They are nineteen and twenty-one. I don’t need to have the time to bake slutty brownies and (today’s dish) Paula Deen’s cream cheese caramel brownies. I am on WeightWatchers.
And while I am certain my children appreciate from the bottom of their hearts my “What are you doing today?” texts and all the pictures and videos I send them of the dogs and the food I am cooking and links to articles about dogs, I bet deep down they are thinking, “Thank God Mom worked while we were growing up; she would have driven us crazy!”
So for me, retirement is a journey of figuring out this stage of life. Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God, said, “You got tuh go there tuh know there.” What I have learned through this retirement journey so far is we really don’t know what something is going to be like until we are in the midst of it. I thought I would love being able to sleep in, read, write, play with the dogs, go to Target, look at Pinterest and Wayfair and Amazon, try new recipes, go to Target, write real letters, clean the house, watch “Fixer Upper” marathons, make fabulous meals, go to Target, and keep in touch with/bug my kids with my constant texts, but what I have found is that – besides the sleeping-in part – life has to mean something. If it doesn’t, what is the point? I suppose there are some people who can spend all day long on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and not feel guilty about it. Good for them, I guess, but to me, looking at how other people are (supposedly) living is a meaningless way to live our own lives. Plus, from my personal experience, spending so much time on Wayfair, Pinterest, Target, Amazon, or [Insert Any Other Shopping Obsession] can use up all of that hard-earned retirement money pretty quickly.
True, maybe I am particularly analytical about retirement because I used to spend my days analyzing things like a (scandalous?) pear tree scene in a novel, an author’s use of a certain color to convey a message, or why in the world Robert Frost sometimes used iambic pentameter, so finding MEANING is in my soul. Perhaps retirement gives me a little too much time (Did I say that??) to think, to analyze, to look for meaning. Even the word “re-TIRE” has a different meaning for me now that I am actually experiencing it. One thing it definitely means is that it may be time for this retired woman to figure out the next step of this journey, a step that probably doesn’t include the best furniture polish for no wax buildup. (But still, that Bee’s Wax is awesome and even works on granite. Did I just say that?).
It also makes me realize those 1970s moms whom I used to think had it made were probably just as bored as I am. And bless them, they didn’t even have Target.