Saturday, December 15, 2007

The "R" Word: Retirement!

This word has been ringing through my head lately. Dave's brother is about to retire. My brother, after thirty-five years of being an elementary school teacher, has turned in his letter. Friends of mine from Colorado are looking for a place to retire with mountains and water and have asked me my thoughts since we are surrounded by water and mountains in the Puget Sound area.

The other evening we attended a UW Christmas party at the faculty club. We were sitting at the old timers table. The other tables were filled with young professors and students. Our good friends were across from us. One couple had retired and the other couple was beginning to think about it. Party attendees were asking the retired professor and his wife how they were enjoying themselves. Believe me, their response made me feel like a slug and corroborated those commercials with Dennis Hopper about how baby boomers are not retiring like our parents did. Nope, no couch potatoes in this crowd.

Dave's friend, all tan, slim, fit and handsome, explained how he had given up their sail boat but had replaced it with something bigger and less subject to the weather. Not only that but he had taken up diving. He was advising my husband where to take lessons and become certified. I heard Dave say he might think about looking into scuba diving since he loves to snorkel. A frown of disbelief appeared on my face as I joined the conversation. "But, Dave! You get extremely claustrophobic at the dentist if they put anything over your face."

Handsome retired man grinned, "Don't you hate it when our wives know us better than we know ourselves?" In the mean time, our other friend, one of the leading toxicologists and risk specialists in the nation, started rambling about how even putting your toe in salt water any where in the world turned you into shark bait. He couldn't see wading in the waves in Hawaii, let alone diving the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. Shark bait! Whoa! Jim is pathologically afraid of sharks. I was amazed.

Tan retired man continued. He told us about his annual skiing vacations. His wife added that she doesn't downhill anymore but still does cross country. Oh, and they mountain bike and were disgruntled in Las Vegas when the Mandolay Bay would not let them park their Subaru with the bikes on the top next to the Ferraris and Porsches out front. It wouldn't fit in the parking garage. At least we had something in common. They hated Las Vegas. They spent 18 hours there; they had never been there before; and they were never going back. I guess when you retire, you have to try Las Vegas at least once.

After the party, my husband and I discussed activities besides shuffle board that we should take up so we could enter our retirement years properly. We need to do justice to our baby boomer generation. I am not going to mountain bike. I will not under any circumstances take up scuba diving. I am afraid of water and now I am afraid of sharks. I am not athletic enough or brave enough to downhill ski. Rock climbing scares the bejeebers out of me. Wolves and grizzly bears have been reintroduced into wilderness so backpacking no longer appeals to me. I feel the same about bears as our friend Jim feels about sharks.

Observation. Yes, I like to observe----if I am comfortable. My goal is to visit all of the National Parks in the United States. We have a good start. Finding unusual rock formations could easily become my hobby. I could add hiking a few miles to each visit. I love to watch animals in the wild. Perhaps a photo safari to Africa would be appropriate. Checking out the polar bears in Churchill, Canada before they become extinct is something I could add to the list of baby boomer approved adventures. Digging for dinosaur bones at excavation sites in Montana is another possibility.

The point is we should refuse to succumb to old age and keep active and healthy. Actually, I learn a lot from the AARP magazine. Some people, like my children, probably think that joining AARP and receiving the magazine is succumbing to old age but it is just the opposite. The articles are positive and inspiring. I quit reading the women's magazines years ago because of the negativity. You know, the magazines at the grocery store check out stand with articles such as "You May Have This Disease and Not Even Know It: The Disturbing Signs and Quiet Symptoms" or "Can This Marriage Be Saved? Hidden Signs Your Marriage is Doomed" or "The Heartbreak of this Unknown Childhood Disease. Your Child May be Dying Without You Even Knowing." Talk about stress. I'd be shaking by the time I got to the cookie recipe at the end.

In the issue of AARP with Caroline Kennedy as cover girl, I skipped over the funeral scams and came across an article about regrets, entitled "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda." Evidently, our generation is plagued with regrets.

For example, women have decided to work and delay having children until they discover it is too late. Or others have continued to play and avoid responsibility only to find at 50, you can no longer say, "someday I'll settle down." It is scary to realize the future is here and in our faces. We have to get "it" right now. The "hit parade" of greatest regrets in life is:

1. Education. People delay finishing up their college degree or they dream about graduate school but never go. Luckily, I do not have this regret but my education has taught me one never stops learning. Just the other day, I figured out Sudoku.

2. Career. People get in a rut in a job they do not necessarily like until it is too late to change. For me, I wonder what my life would be like if I had left my kids in day care and continued the law firm zoom to the top. I'd be making $300,000.00 at least per year. I admit. I think about it.

3. Romance. I guess people regret destroyed marriages more than making an effort to stay together. I feel lucky on this one. My marriage has never been difficult. My husband puts up with a wife who reveals his claustrophia at Christmas parties.

4. Family. No huge regrets here. Dave and I were good parents and we get along with both of our families. Naturally, there are specific instances in my moments as Mom that I regret. I wish I had discovered my son's love of music 5 years earlier and I wish I had realized my daughter's low blood sugar connection to her irritable times.

5. The self. Too many people are couch potatoes. My husband is not a couch potato but he is a computer turnip. He is a workaholic and this may pose some issues when he decides to retire. He could use a heavier dose of weight control, exercise, and plain old fun. As for me, I do not think I have used my gifts and talents to the ultimate.

The answer according to the magazine is that it is never too late to start anew. Forget the past. It cannot be changed. Think about the positives and how things could have been worse. Keep a journal (or a blog) and write about problems. And turn a regret around by doing something about it--write that book or take the class or go back to school. Add a 20 minute walk to your day.

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A true couch potato. (photo taken two nights ago)

Make a list of items you intend to accomplish during retirement that you enjoy. Don't forget to donate time and money to help those in need.

And the list does not have to include scuba diving.