Sunday, November 15, 2015

You're Only Old Once ~ Dr. Seuss

It’s been just a bit over a year since Dean and I walked out of the office, drove for the last time from Casper to Sheridan and began living the life of retirees.  Even though we chose to live here, it was still a bit unsettling to move to a town not knowing a soul other than Leslie and Ryan, Emerson, Myra and Pierce who are busier than ... well, I don't know anybody or anything busier than they are.  It’s taken a while, but the more activities we participate in and the more events we attend, the more often we see familiar faces and the more chances we have to visit with somebody other than each other.  And who knows, as time goes on maybe we’ll make friends too, like Angus and Baxter who go rushing up to the lady working at Home Depot when she calls out “the boys are here!” whenever she sees them.   

The first few weeks and months of retirement have been challenging in ways we hadn’t anticipated.  For example, I had no inkling that even though I could sleep as long and as late as I want, each morning I would force myself to crawl out of bed somewhere between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m. just so I can have one hour, completely alone, in a quiet house, with my coffee, a cat in my lap and a book.  And Dean, he had no idea I wouldn't want to listen to NPR 12 hours per day.

Like most newly retired people, when asked how it’s going, we say, “it’s great!  We really love it!  You should do it!” because who wants to admit that maybe the reality hasn’t quite lived up to the expectation.  I’m not saying I don’t think there is a small minority who immediately find retirement to be everything they hoped for and more.  I'm saying that I think for most people, the longed-for dream of a relaxed and contented retirement soon gives way to the reality of adjusting to changing roles, new routines, and the realization and acceptance (or not) that life has an expiration date.  No matter how much we work toward it, plan for it, want it, and think we are prepared for it, retirement is a life change.   And change – well, that’s not always easy.  It involves a lot of patience and strength and courage. 

After we moved here, each morning I would wake up feeling enveloped in an intense feeling of sadness.  It didn’t usually last long, but it sure wasn’t the way I expected to feel first thing in the morning, and it always surprised me.  I suspect retiring just days before the mighty Wyoming winter blew in with all of its sub-zero temperatures and snow and ice-covered roads wasn’t the wisest choice but I think my sadness was mostly caused by a combination of a couple of things.  One being I didn’t feel like I knew my place anymore.  I felt a bit like I was standing on the outside looking in.  And the other being that each night when I went to bed, I worried that the next day I wouldn’t be able to find enough to do to fill all those hours looming ahead of me. 

That went on for a very long time.  But then, all at once one day I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I'd awakened in a cocoon of sadness.  I wasn’t waking up worried about how to keep myself busy during the day anymore; I was waking up worried I wouldn’t have enough hours to do everything I wanted to do.  Yes, a lot of what I did involved flour and sugar and butter, but there were lots of things that didn’t.  Like crafty things.  Yep.  I got crafty.  No, not sneaky crafty like I am when I get Dean to do something for me that he really doesn’t want to do.  No.  I mean Pinterest stepping stones kind of crafty. 

We have a garden area right in front of the compost bins and I was tired of walking all the way around it with my bowl of scraps just to avoid the dirt and mud.  I wanted a mud-free path leading through the garden.  But I didn’t really want to use those boring paving stones you can get at Home Depot.  Okay.  That’s a lie.  I would have been fine with boring paving stones from Home Depot but Dean had this humongous collection of broken plates and cups and pottery cluttering up …. I mean just crying out to be used.   Plus I thought it would be a great project to do with Emerson, Myra and Pierce.  What better Nana/grandchild bonding moment could there be than letting them jam their hands into a box of broken jagged-edged pottery and then mash the pieces into some thick and gooey concrete? 

I had planned to use an old cake pan from Salvation Army, fill it with concrete, let the kids push their shards of pottery into the goo and ta da! a stepping stone.  But Dean didn’t think a cake pan would be deep enough so he cut 2x4s and screwed them together and made a form that would hold about 30 pounds of concrete.   Yes.  I’m not kidding.  30 pounds.  Per step.  Once the form was made we began breaking up the pottery and as I looked at those jagged pottery pieces it occurred to me that it would be easier to design a mosaic with nice straight-edged tiles rather than uneven bits of smashed pottery so (and I still can’t believe I said this) I suggested we buy cheap tiles from the Habitat ReStore rather than use his heap of pottery bits.  So off we went and shortly came home with a bunch of nice straight tile.

We figured it would be a good idea to make the first stepping stone by ourselves so we could fine tune the process before we let the grandkids loose on a pile of tile pieces and 30 pounds of quick-drying concrete.  So I laid out my design on a piece of cardboard which, even though I was able to use nice smooth tile, still involved a lot of trial and error.  I'd fit some pieces together and then decide I didn't like the color combination.  Or I'd find the right color of tile but it wouldn't fit.  It was a lot like putting a puzzle together.  I finally got my design looking just the way I wanted it and then I transferred the design, one piece at a time, from its cardboard base to the wet cement.  I thought it would be easy to just lay each piece on the cement and push gently down but instead I had to kind of push and wiggle each one back and forth, squishing it in far enough to cover the sides of the tile.  That, of course, displaced some concrete which would squish up toward the sides of the form and each time I pushed in another piece even more concrete was squished out and over the top of the form.  It got messy. 

That’s when we decided we should probably limit the grandkids’ involvement to just letting each of them design a mosaic.  We didn’t think Leslie and Ryan would appreciate us bringing the kids home with their fingers cemented together and chunks of cement dangling from their hair and stuck to their clothes.  Actually, Dean must not have felt like scraping anymore concrete off of me either because after the first stepping stone he took control and made five more steps all by himself using the kids’ designs as well as his own. 

We now have 180 pounds of bright, colorful stepping stones leading through the garden.  I’d like to make some more next summer for other places in our yard, but before we do we’re going to have to make some modifications because the other day, when I stepped on them after it had rained I discovered those polished tiles are slicker than snot when they get wet. 

I guess it’ll be an on-going process of adjustments.  Kind of like retirement has been.  Some parts have fit together nicely and some haven’t, but as we keep trying new things I know soon, very soon, all these parts are going to come together.  And it will be great.  And amazing.  And when we say that – we won’t be lying.



Dad said...

Have you thought about getting a part time job.

Cathy said...

Maybe at a mortuary, Dad? πŸ˜‰πŸ˜„πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰

Abby said...

Beautiful story about the realities of life.