Misfitting In

In some ways, retirement represents a return to the “real me.” 

In my childhood and young adulthood, I was naturally inclined to shyness, quiet, and observation.  Rather than joining groups of people or chiming in on conversations, I tended to stay on my own and listen covertly.  I avoided attending social activities and putting myself in situations where interaction was necessary.  I would “parallel play” my way through daily life- perfectly content to work side-by-side with others, but preferring to not collaborate.

At one point, I considered that I might actually be agoraphobic since there were some days when I literally could not leave the house to go to school and other times when I drove to a party or event, but could not make myself go inside.  Then, I realized that agoraphobia was not my problem.  It wasn’t open spaces of which I was afraid.  It was people.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate with people or even that I did it badly.  In fact, I have always been good at putting my thoughts into words, both in speaking and in writing.  I also have decent empathy with others, good intuition about what the other person is thinking or feeling (must be all that listening over the years!) and a nimble ability to choose communication strategies likely to appeal to and engage the other person.  I just always kind of chose not to do so, except with people with whom I had long term positive relationships.   I used to say I have a slow emotional transmission.  It takes me a long time to get into a relationship gear and then I find it almost impossible to let go of that gear when it is time to part.

Once I started working, my natural sense of duty kicked in.  It struck me that it was my responsibility to take the lead when communicating with customers and employees.  I worked for a federal agency from which most people would be happy to never hear.  Customers were often frightened, upset, and irate, often for good reason.  It was my job to help them feel better and more comfortable dealing with their issues.  As I advanced in the leadership ranks, I recognized that it was my job to communicate well and to create an environment where my employees could feel safe and thrive.  I once heard that my job was basically to hold conversations and I think that was probably correct.

 As time went on, I made conscious efforts to use the communication skills and personal qualities I possessed in all my interactions.  I tried to “pretend until I was” outgoing.  While it got easier to pretend and sometimes I even thought I might be achieving outgoingness, I don’t think I ever actually got there.   I often enjoyed who I was when I pretended to be outgoing, but it took a lot out of me.   I was successful in doing the things that would make me appear warm, outgoing, approachable, trustworthy, and confident in my communication. It was my job.  I did it.  I did it well.  I was exhausted.

Now that I am no longer working, I have reverted to my natural preferences.  As much as I looked forward to joining the book club in my new community, I have somehow not found the time to attend any meetings.  When trying to arrange for vendors or contractors to take care of things around the house, I try very hard to find a way to accomplish my task by email.  When our new next door neighbors invited us to a Christmas party at their home, we went out to dinner first and “stopped by” for only half an hour or so.  I only managed that because I thought it would be rude to decline the invitation. When I go to the water aerobics class, I don’t fold into the little groups of two or three that form in the pool. 

I am finding this opportunity to slide back into observation mode to be very restful.  I am enjoying the blissful silence of my own thoughts, the absence of my frenzied mind spinning around trying to succeed in my charge of advancing the flag of conversation.  I listen and horde the little nuggets I hear inside my brain, turning them over and admiring them in the safety of my quietness. 

Still, this welcome isolation does have its downside.  I feel a bit removed and apart from my surroundings and community.  I have no sense of “belonging.” I initially thought this might be the age difference between me and most of the people around me, but I think it might be more my retirement from forced extroversion. 

The other day, Max asked me if I missed work at all.  I replied that I didn’t miss work, but that I didn’t feel like I “fit in” anymore.  He asked a very insightful question, “Do you want to?” Obviously, after over 30 years of basically communicating and forging relationships for a living, I know what to do to create those connections for myself.  I suppose when I want to fit in badly enough, I will find my niche in the relationship networks in my new life.  I recently offered a piece of advice to one of the women in the pool who I heard talking about her upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon.  I volunteered to help with the photography for the community’s new directory. I will probably go to the book club when it starts again in the fall. I have started to make friends.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the quiet and the nourishment I get from the enduring friendships that had their genesis in my working years.   These “forever friendships” were not dependent on the very intentional strategies and techniques I practiced to push myself into appearing outgoing.  Those friendships teach me that my natural self, with all its introversion, is enough.  I’m enough to fit into the hearts of those people I love. 

So what do you think?  How do you forge new relationships in a new life?  How do you balance friendship and introversion?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Thanks for letting me fit in with you!

Terri 🙂


God’s Waiting Room

I think I may be too young to live in a retirement community.  When I was still living in the working world in my old state, even though I had stopped working, my brain sort of defined my retirement as “I’m being rewarded for working so hard and doing such a good job.”  When I moved to my new state, to a community where the average resident is probably a generation older than I am, my brain quickly started defining my retirement as “I’m too old to work.” 

It is a little odd.  I have almost always been the youngest in whatever circle I have orbited… at the workplace, amongst my friends, in my extended family.  As a result, I’ve usually felt even younger than I actually was.  I had just started feeling a bit wizened when I retired and moved to my over 55 community, which I lovingly refer to as “God’s waiting room.”  I thought that this return to being the youngest kid on the block might bolster up that youthful feeling, but no such luck.  I am actually feeling older.  I’m not sure why, because the folks in this community are incredibly active, involved, and energetic.  They play tennis, power through exercise classes, volunteer, run countless activities and events at the community clubhouse, and always seem to be popping out somewhere in their souped up golf carts. 

The friends I left in my old state are starting to refer to themselves as my “young friends,” even though they are older than I am.

The truth about my retirement is probably somewhere in between.  The good people of the United States are paying me a lifetime pension as part of my long term employment contract, not as a special reward for doing a really good job.  While I don’t believe I (or most anyone else, for that matter) is incapable of work after age 55, I do believe that we are each born with some finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance for frustration and obstacles.  I think mine was just about depleted.  I could feel my “bounce back” mechanism getting a little less bouncy over the past couple of years, but I don’t think I realized how low the tank was really getting.  I shudder to think how that paucity of patience must have manifested itself under the daily schedule of frustrations that simply just exist on any job.  When I moved and began dealing with the myriad of issues related to a major life change, it became clear to me that the slightest little setback caused me to react with disproportionate frustration.  Any little thing that didn’t go exactly as I planned might start me crying and plummeting down the road to despair. 

I’ve had numerous opportunities to observe this reaction, as there have been so many setbacks in dealing with the house, the lawn, moving my mother to her new home, getting a new washer and dryer, etc., etc., etc.  It isn’t pretty and I’ve noticed my mother is starting to be afraid to open the mail or take a phone call because she is sure the communication will mean some new setback that will cause me to disintegrate before her very eyes. 

I’ve taken to purposefully maintaining a calm, albeit artificial, exterior over everything I can now.  I’m no idiot and I could see that my freak outs were not doing any good and just feeding into the frenzy of everyone around me, like my mother and Max.  I am embracing the mantra, “pretend until you are” and acting like I’m mildly amused rather than completely freaked out when something isn’t happening the way I think it should.  It is hard work and I’m not sure I’m succeeding, but maybe I’ll improve with practice. 

And maybe that finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance of frustration and obstacles will regenerate itself when I finally stop drawing from it on an hourly basis, as I did while I was working.  Keep your fingers crossed!

So what do you think?  Is it possible to regenerate stresshardiness?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Finding My Way

I finally made it to the beach.

One of my critical deciding factors for where I would move in retirement was that I must be able to comfortably drive to the beach.  I grew up within a frisbee’s throw from Surf City, USA.  I spent a lot of time in my childhood playing on the beaches of Southern California.  As an adult, I lived about 10 miles from the beach.  Life got in the way and I never was the type to spend hours and hours sunbathing on a regular basis.  My father used to say I was whiter than a nun’s belly.  Still, the beach always held an allure for me.  I would usually spend a few hours there at least a couple of times a year.  It was the place I felt most relaxed.  It was the place I did my clearest thinking.  There is absolutely nothing in this world like walking on the beach, feeling the sun on my shoulders, wet sand under my feet, and ocean breeze against my bare legs.  Next to the ocean, I was always somehow lighter, freer, and happier.  I even felt closer to God.

Before I bought the house in Florida, I evaluated the distance to the beach.  Once I got over the whole “the ocean is to the east” instead of “the ocean is to the west” thing, I realized that it was, theoretically, about a 90-minute drive to the Atlantic coast and a 90-minute drive to the Gulf of Mexico coast.  That was acceptable to me.  The beach criterion was met and so I was contented.

I moved to Florida seventeen months ago.  With beaches in two different directions, you would have thought I would have made it there before now, wouldn’t you?

When I first began making “I want to go to the beach” noises, it was too rainy.  Then, it was too cold.  Then, it was spring break.  Then, there was a confluence of motorcycle aficionado clubs from all over the country scheduled to be zooming around the beach communities when I finally made a specific plan to go to the beach.  Then, there was a total eclipse of the sun.  Well, maybe not that one.  Still, it began to feel like there was ALWAYS something in the way between me and the sea.  I was sure I was never going to get to the shore.

I began to wonder what was really stopping me from just getting in the car and driving the 80 miles or so to the beach.  In thinking it through, it seemed to me that the big obstacle was fear of getting lost.  As I have crafted my new life in my new state, I have had to find my way across new geography many given times.  After a lifetime of living in the same general vicinity and visiting the same places time and time again, it is kind of stressful to face the fact that every time I get into the car, I am running the very real risk of getting lost.  Even with MapQuest, GPS, and local signage pointing the way to popular tourist destinations (like, say, THE BEACH!), I feel the juices in my stomach start to churn in a rather unpleasant way when I embark on a new journey. 

I guess the same can be said for just about everything I have done in the past year and a half. I have had to find my way in all kinds of contexts- dealing with house and yard issues, taking care of my mother, living far away from the friends who are dear to me, and learning how to be active and satisfied without a job telling me I am.  I guess I could deduce that my internal compass is a bit over-used and worn from all this “way-finding” and that is the reason that going to the beach seemed more like a burden than an adventure.  On the other hand, I think the truth is actually that my internal compass is more sound and more finely-tuned from all the practice I have had.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from my old state was visiting her father who winters in a small beach town about 100 miles from where I live.  When she contacted me about meeting her for a visit somewhere halfway between her father’s beach home and my place, the planets seemed to be aligned.  I decided to carpe diem and told her I would meet her at her father’s condominium… which just happens to be situated on a beautiful stretch of beach.

I found the beach with zero trouble.  I loved seeing my friend.  I also loved walking along the beach, sliding my bare feet through the tide, and gobbling salt air.  All the reasons I love the beach came flooding back to me in an instant.  I found myself wondering why on earth I denied myself this pure pleasure just because of the fear of not finding my way. 

It was a lesson learned.  I think it is likely that, as I continue to go through life, I am often going to face situations where I need to find my way.  I can go with life’s adventure and be content with where I go.  I am likely to find my way.  If I don’t, that’s okay, too.  I’m sure to end up someplace.  Yes, something truly bad could happen if I get lost trying to find my way, but the odds are against it.  Realistically, the worst thing that is likely to happen is that I’ll just waste some time and energy getting back on track.  In those wanderings, I may even encounter some of life’s mini-miracles… beautiful places to see, fun things to do, and lovely people to know.  Who knows, I may just find a way that is better than the way I thought I wanted.

They say God draws straight, but with crooked lines.  I don’t know why I worry so much about finding my way.  I have a feeling that, no matter what crooked paths I take, I am going straight to wherever He wants me to be.

How are you finding your way?  Are you enjoying the journey?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, wandering day!

Terri 🙂

The White, White Rose of Home

There was a white rosebush outside the house where I grew up.  It grew in a stony, rocky area between the house and garage where we kept our trash cans.  Nobody paid much attention to it.  I can’t imagine that the soil was particularly nourishing.  We didn’t water it.  It was shaded by the buildings, so it didn’t get much sun.  Still, that rosebush thrived and, year after year, it yielded beautiful white blossoms at Christmas.  White roses were more of a Christmas tradition at our house than poinsettias and holly. 

After we moved out of the house, I made sure my mother had white roses at Christmas every year.  Sometimes, it was a table arrangement.  Sometimes, it was a corsage.  Sometimes, the roses were artificial.  Sometimes they were real.  Sometimes, when I was particularly poor, it was just a Christmas card with white roses on it.  No matter what, there was some form of white rose for my mother at Christmas.

In November this year, my mother announced that she did not want me to buy her white roses.  She felt they were too costly, especially for something that didn’t last very long.  Instead, she said, she wanted me to wait until spring when the stores were selling those sad looking dormant rosebushes (or maybe “rose sticks” might be an appropriate name) with the roots in a bag and plant her one of those.

“Oh crap, something else I have to figure out how to do,” I said.  On the inside.  On the outside, I smiled and said, “okay.”  At least I figured I had a few months before spring to read up on rose resuscitation techniques.  Who knows, maybe she would forget the whole idea.

A couple of weeks later, we were at Big Lots and a group of cub scouts were selling small plants for a couple of bucks.  You guessed it.  They had one small white rosebush, with a few little buds on it.  My mother thought it was a sign from God that we should take it home and I should transplant it.

We took it home and I googled “how to transplant a rosebush.”  There was a pretty explicit, lengthy set of instructions.  Instead of trying to integrate the whole magilla, I focused on the first step, which was to wait until spring in order to prevent frost from killing the newly transplanted rose. Google-sanctioned procrastination!  Right up my alley. I explained this to my mother, who seemed good with waiting until spring.  On the outside.  I started working up to my new project by moving the potted rosebush from outside to inside. 

A couple of weeks went by and the rosebush was looking pretty rough.  The term “scraggly” comes to mind.  I put it back outside, hoping some sun would help.  No luck.  Every time my mother mentioned transplanting it, I brought up the Google instructions.  Finally, though, the rosebush seemed terminal and extraordinary measures were warranted.  My mother pointed out that it was unlikely that we would have frost in central Florida.  Back I went to Google to refresh myself on the rest of the long list of directions.  Armed with a print of the page, I went to the local home store and tried to purchase mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  When I came face-to-face with the bags of these items, I discovered that I couldn’t even pick up the smallest bag of each of them without the aid of a chiropractor.  Not to mention that the cost and quantity seemed to be pretty much overkill for one tiny rose plant.  As I tried to figure out how I was going to explain to my mother that transplanting this rosebush was not cost-effective and was possibly hazardous to my health, I noticed a small bag of something called “potting mix” a few shelves over from the gargantuan bags of mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  Sensing a conspiracy, I checked out the label and discovered that the $5 bag of “potting mix” contained…. mulch, potting soil, and peat moss!  What a bonanza! I purchased the potting mix, feeling very accomplished.  I was starting to get the hang of this gardening stuff. 

Since I was on a roll, I went over to my mother’s mobile home and starting digging the hole.  I followed the directions from Google and stuck that little rosebush right into the ground.  Filling the hole back up, I just said a prayer and hoped for the best. 

Two nights later, there were record low temperatures.  And frost.

God must have sent angels to blanket that rosebush, though.  Against all odds and despite my complete ineptitude, it flourished.  Within a couple of weeks, new buds started to blossom.  The bush is growing and roses keep on blooming! 

It strikes me that this rosebush might be a microcosm of all the caretaking tasks I have taken on for my mother. 

I won’t say that there are not real challenges and difficulties associated with caring for my aging parent.  Cleaning and medicating her feet and legs took some getting used to.  Doing her taxes wasn’t high up on my wish list of things to do. Fighting with the wheelchair to get it in and out of the trunk of the car everywhere we go wears me down some days.  Navigating around crowded theme parks and stores can be very frustrating.  Opening doors to restaurants using my backside is an acrobatic skill I never really aspired to learn.  Cleaning her bathroom is not a pleasant task.  Coordinating and attending doctors’ appointments can suck up a day like thirsty kindergarteners suck down juice boxes.  Even the thought of comparing insurance companies can cause my eyes to cross.  Dealing with the various contractors I’ve arranged to do work at her house at least doubles the burden involved with dealing with the various contractors at my own house. 

These are all very real challenges and I wish it wasn’t necessary to deal with these challenges.  I wish my mother was healthy and hearty enough to do all these things herself.  Still, I love that I can do these things for her.  If I can add to the happiness and freedom in her life, I want to do it.  My mother has always put me before herself.  Now, it is a gift to give.   The time I spend with her while helping her is also a gift.  We have a lot of fun together.  I am learning things about her and her past that I never knew. My mom and I have always been close, but there is now a new dimension and richness in my understanding of her and of our relationship.  We are playing a different kind of music together now, my mother and I, and I am enjoying the new song.  Yes, there are days when I may get a little overwhelmed, but, for the most part, it is great.  The real challenges involved with the help I provide are actually no big deal. 

The biggest difficulty and stressor, though, is much less tangible.  The biggest difficulty and stressor is my fear of doing something wrong.  It feels like a big responsibility to be such a strong influence on the way someone else lives, spends money, and gets medical care.  I want my mother to make her own decisions about her own life on her own terms as much as possible.  I always want to do what I can to relieve her of any undue burden. I try very hard to find the right balance to preserve her independence and autonomy while also doing things to reduce any difficulties in her life.  Still, I know that, more and more, she is relying on me to present her with the best options, give her good advice, and implement the decisions.  The idea that I might do the wrong thing is really where the burden of caretaking comes in for me.  It kind of haunts my thoughts.  What if I lead her to a decision that costs her more money than she can afford?  What if I recommend a doctor or insurance plan that means she gets inferior health care?  What if my complete lack of mechanical ability and visual reasoning means her home isn’t as safe or as comfortable as it could be for her? 

What if I can’t make her roses grow?

Yes, I think I should take a lesson from my adventure with transplanting the rosebush.  Maybe all I need to do is just the best I can with all the decisions and projects that my mother needs.  Continue trying, with whatever ability I can muster, to help her lead the happiest, most comfortable, and most independent life she can.  Then, all I can do is trust God to take my efforts and make them blossom into roses!

Most of us believe that every day is a great time to build our relationships and demonstrate our love to those who are important to us.  This weekend we have an extra special opportunity to honor our moms and those people who have been mother figures in our lives.  Happy Mothers’ Day, all you  moms! 

So what are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement.com.

Have a wonderful day and stop and smell the roses!

Terri 🙂