Radical Retirement Gets More So
The main reason I’ve been mostly absent from the blog this summer has been that my husband and I have been mulling over one of the most important and difficult decisions of our 20 years together.
After my daughter and granddaughter moved out of town last year, we began thinking about inviting the granddaughter to live with us so she could go to school in Austin. They are far out in the country, where there is little to do, and she had a horribly long bus ride to school each day.
In the spring I began investigating the process for grandparents to register a child in our school district. We discussed the offer with daughter and granddaughter, and we all decided to think it over and talk it over. A lot. There were some conditions that needed to be met, and for us, coming to terms with a total upheaval of our tranquil child-free life.
In July Gary and I went to a Unitarian Universalist retreat, where we had time for deep thinking and good conversations with spiritual people. But not with each other over this issue: in the car I suggested we stop talking about it for a while because I felt we had talked it to death without resolution and I was frustrated. When I brought it up on the drive home, we found we had individually come to the same conclusion: that this was something we have to do. It’s really huge for Gary, who has no children, to be willing to take on an almost full-time living arrangement with a tween (she’ll be nine in November), with all the attitude that entails. I consider him the real hero here, a childless man taking on a cantankerous step-grandchild.
I watched this child’s birth. She is bright and funny and beautiful. She can also be argumentative, defiant and has a low boredom tolerance and need for entertainment. Part of my job will be to help her be more independent, which means transforming from indulgent granny to a more disciplined parental role.
One of the conditions was family counseling, which we are doing. Another was that Chloe agree to have the upstairs “guest” bedroom that doubles as Gary’s office/studio. (She has slept on a roll-up futon mattress in our room during visits.) She resisted both for a while but eventually warmed up to the counselor. She said she’d sleep upstairs if we’d put Christmas lights in the room and take down Gary’s scary stuff. (All are “before” photos. I’ll post “after” pics when the room is ready.)
So we agreed to remove the severed heads, wigs, weapons and the strait jacket over the window. (You never know with a theater person what kind of props and costumes might be lying around.)
While Chloe spends her last week at home with her mom, we are re-purposing the room for a little girl. I bought new bedding and made curtains. We will hang Christmas lights. She has a desk/dresser, bed, table/bookcase, and her own bathroom. Gary retains a corner for his computer and a filing cabinet, plus a large bookcase and some of the closet for costumes. How many clothes does a third-grader need?
All summer I had been horribly anxious about this choice. Once the decision was made (and agreed upon by all) I felt a sense of joy and peace. I see it as a way of giving this great kid the best opportunities for a good education and a real social life. An excellent elementary school is about a mile from us. We registered her last week, and as we were leaving Chloe said, “Now that I’ve seen the school I’m starting to get excited.” Me too. I lie awake at night thinking about packing lunches and making sure homework gets done.
The best thing about retirement has been the freedom to get up when I want and putz around, take a walk, whatever, whenever, most days. Now I’ll be up early, getting breakfast and taking Chloe to school, knowing I have exactly six hours to exercise, run errands, make art, and all the other stuff I’ve been doing all day long. Her school is adjacent to a park, so I plan to drive her near the school, walk her part-way (rather than sitting in the nasty “idling” line), then take meditative walks in the park several days a week.
After more than five years of retirement, it’s time for a new “best thing,” and we both believe this is a grand adventure in this phase of our lives. We will still be able to get away; I’ve asked my daughter to plan on bringing the dog and staying here now and then so we can travel. I’m grateful we are healthy, have the financial means, family support, the maturity (that I didn’t have 45 years ago when I became a mother) and, best of all, knowing that the love I send out comes back to me.
For all my romanticizing, as I work quietly in my studio with no childish interruptions, I know there will be many moments when I say, “What was I thinking?” and many days when I’m exhausted and frustrated. Stay tuned. This will be an ongoing saga.