We were at a dinner party the other night, and something a friend said made me insanely envious. I asked how she was finding retirement, and she said, with a look both serious and satisfied, “ I’m finding that I do the same things I’ve always done, but I now I can take more time with them.” No more rushing through her daily exercise, no more pretending not to notice friends in the grocery store because she didn’t have time to talk. Things that once were chores now feel like choices.
If I can say this without sounding like the Lady of the Manor, sometimes I think I was meant to live that kind of life long before I reach the ever-retreating age of retirement. My mother, after all, only worked 3 months after she married. She certainly kept busy, cooking, cleaning house, raising two daughters, sewing, taking power naps, traveling with my father. I don’t know how happy she was, and I don’t know how accomplished I would feel not getting up every day and racing to work. I do like my job and the people I interact with there. It’s just that I wouldn’t have any trouble keeping busy if I didn’t have to pull in a paycheck.
Unlike a cousin of mine who shall remain nameless, I do not have a list of things I would buy if I won the lottery. Instead, I have a list of things I will do if and when I can cast off the bonds of work with a capital W. It’s funny how long these three things have been on my list. It’s not a bucket list – nothing like jumping out of an airplane or seeing the Taj Mahal or swimming with dolphins. Except for visiting the Taj or any other kind of travel (I’m a travel junkie), those kind of one-shot wonders aren’t the kind of things I put on my life list.
My wish list is more of a compilation of things I want to relearn how to do, and do well, and spend a lot more time on, when I have more time and still have my health and my wits about me. They are things I began to do when I was much younger, and they are all so simple they might just underwhelm you when you learn what they are. Here goes:
Swimming: When I was young, from about the age of seven to sixteen, my extended family trekked from Davenport to Pine Lake, a little town in Minnesota, for two weeks every July. We lived in rustic cabins, messed around in fishing boats, lived on fresh-caught walleyes and bullheads, and swam in Lake Ada, the most pristine body of water you could hope to splash around in. Splash around was mostly what I did. I managed a decent side stroke, but never went beyond the drop-off unless I was on my air mattress. It was ridiculous. Much later, after the birth of my first child, I managed to learn to swim, but then things got busy and I stopped practicing. I haven’t been back in the water again, even though I received a personal invitation from some lovely people I met on the Internet with a cabin on Lake Ada to visit them any time.
Sewing: My mother, as I mentioned, was a seamstress, and was so good at it she could have set up shop. Her friends would buy clothes two sizes too big because they knew “Iona can make it fit.” She taught me to follow a pattern, and I made all the curtains at my last house, but today I can hardly fix a rip in a pair of jeans. I’d really prefer to sew my own skirts and dresses, considering what J. Jill and Garnet Hill charge for their wares, but I know I’d make a hash of it.
Cooking: Speaking of hash, it’s also about time I gave my long suffering husband a break and cooked dinner at least once a week, don’t you think? When we set up our household, I confessed piteously that after being a single mother for 20 years I simply could not bear to think up what to make for dinner one more time, let alone make sure the corresponding ingredients were in the pantry, and then clatter around in the kitchen after dragging myself through the back door after an exhausting day at work. He’s been doing it ever since. I do like to make big pots of things for company, but I know this doesn’t count. This is like the father who never changes a diaper but wants credit for taking the kid for his first haircut. Nice try. Besides, I’ve been saving recipes for decades. And my husband is so pathetically grateful those rare nights when I do somehow manage to rustle up some grub, I really ought to do it more often. And I will, I really will, when I have nothing else to do.
Of course that’s not all I’ll do when I’m retired. I’ll write more poems, take more walks, have more lunches with friends (and that aforementioned husband), organize my photos, have a vegetable garden again, and write emails when my eyes are less bleary. Those are things I do now, but like my retired friend, I would just like to do when without that sense of urgency, of sneaking time out to do them while the hands of the clock are breathing down my neck. I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but you’ll have to forgive me – I don’t have time to write it any better.