The Beauty Of Retirement


Ah, what a day.

OK, so there were those moments where Ellie wanted to sit on the potty, get off the potty, wipe her own bottom, sit back on the potty, get off the potty, wipe her own bottom…..and the puppy wanted to chew the towels, sniff said bottom, chew more towels, sniff again… and the old dog was aghast at such behavior and stood in the doorway to the bathroom saying “woof!” every four seconds…..

Still. It was a lovely, lovely day.

It was pouring out. It was foggy. It was raw.

I wasn’t commuting 37.5 miles to work, as I did for 22 years. I wasn’t dealing with indoor recess. I wasn’t trying to regulate the heat in my classroom by putting wet paper towels on the register to tell it that it was cool, and that we needed it a lot warmer.

Nope.

Today I was in my house. Wearing flannel pj pants ALL day. I had some Christmas lights on, and the pellet stove roaring.

Ellie and puppy Lennie played together. We all danced to our favorite music (except for old dog Tucker, who lay on the floor monitoring our every move.)

Today I was retired.

Ellie took a long nap on my bed, and I sat beside her, reading and answering emails and writing about politics to make a little money.

We had turkey soup for lunch. It was nice and hot.

I didn’t have to scarf down a Luna bar on my way to a meeting.

Come to think of it, I haven’t even been to a meeting in a year and a half.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of retirement. I had the time and the patience to watch my granddaughter climb on and off the potty 500 times. I had time to scroll through two days of tweets from Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

I made myself tea at 2 pm and I let the water come to a full boil.

Retirement is fabulous.

I hope you all get to try it one of these days!

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Listen to Christmas Carols on a rainy day.

Earning a Living in the Modern World


Money, money.

How I hate you!  How I need you!  How I wish I had a big giant huge humungous pile of you that I could rely on for the rest of my life!

Yup.

I’m a pretty typical modern human.  I need money.  But I refuse to bow down to the crass need for said money.

Here’s the thing.   I loved having a career where helping children was more important than getting rich.  I loved living modestly but comfortably.

I was proud of those years when I saved up for a pair of 6 dollar sneakers for the boys.  I lived frugally, and I made do.  I bought whole chickens and roasted them and served them to the family. Then I boiled the bones for soup and chicken pot pie.  I reused my ziploc bags.   I bought one pair of jeans a year and used them until the knees wore out.

But here I am, supposedly in my golden years.  I was pushed out left teaching much earlier than I should have.  So my pension is way less than it should have been.

And I need money.

And you can’t make money staying home and being a nice older lady and reading a lot and cooking for your dogs.   I know.   Crazy, huh?  Why can’t I make a decent living by keeping my leather sofa basically dirt free?

So.  Here I am.

Faced with a dilemma.

I need to earn my keep. I’d love to think I could write the Great American Novel, but I’m not completely delusional.

I have chosen a slightly easier path.

I am going to accept ads on my blog.

Please don’t throw tomatoes!  Please don’t stop coming here to read my wonderfully pithy insights!   I couldn’t help myself.  I may be a huge supporter of Bernie Sanders and a confirmed Socialist, but a person’s gotta eat, right? And so do her dogs.

So I’ll keep on writing, and I’ll keep on lighting up with joy every time one of you tells me that you read my words.  But sometimes I’ll include a little promo for a product or two. Or three.

What can I say?  Capitalism has won this round.

But I’m still planning to wear my Bernie shirt every single time I leave my house.

 

The End.


It is the tail end of summer.

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No more heat, no more barbecue, no more beach days.

And yet……

I am retired this year!  “Fall” doesn’t actually start on the first day of school.  “Fall” doesn’t start until it gets to cool to swim. It won’t be here until the frost.  Until the leaves turn golden. Until we switch from fresh lettuce to fresh squash.

For the first time in many, many years, for me summer won’t end until baseball is over!  Until (if God truly loves us) the Cubs have surprised everyone.

For the first time in oh, so very long, summer is not defined by the first day of school. Summer for me will last until I feel cold.  Until the frost is literally on the pumpkin.

For the first time in my life, I think, I am heading off to the beach for a weekend in the fall!  Paul and I will be going down to the Cape on Friday, taking a ferry to Oak Bluffs to meet our wonderful, generous, boat-owning friends.  We are going to spend the very first weekend of meteorological autumn on the ocean, on a boat, on Martha’s Vineyard.

I am SO PSYCHED.  I am beyond delighted. I am ecstatic.  I can’t even breathe, I am so happy.

School is in session. Kids are reviewing math facts and choosing “just right books.”  And I don’t care.

I am free. I am liberated.

I will spend the beginning of “the end” soaking up the last rays of the sun on the deck, sharing a good bottle of wine with my pals, watching the sun set over the island.

It may be the “end” of summer, but for the first time in more than two decades, it isn’t “the end” of my freedom.

You gotta love retirement.

Let the Autumn Come


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It was a September Tuesday.  It should have been fresh and brisk outside.  Our small New England town should have been feeling the oncoming change of seasons.

It was nearly 90 degrees outside, and as humid as a typical July day in Massachusetts.  My friend and I, both retired as of July 1st, decided to spend the day kayaking on a local lake. When we made the plan, of course, we knew that it would be a “weather permitting” event.

Well.  The weather certainly permitted today!

I woke up early, showered, dressed in a bathing suit and shorts, cleaned out my kayak, and found my paddles and jacket.  I filled a water bottle, walked the dogs, and waited for Lesley to arrive.

So funny!  My dear friend, with her graying hair that matches mine, arrived in a big old pickup truck, her kayak tied safely into the back. We did what ladies our age always do (we used the bathroom before we left), then piled into the truck and headed to the lake.

The place where I took my friend is a good sized lake about ten minutes from my house. It is common in that it is a lake in a region of many lakes. It is unusual in that it is nearly uninhabited, except for a big boy scout camp on one side.

Because it is September, and schools have opened, the camp was empty when we arrived. We parked the truck, unloaded our kayaks and happily headed out into the beautiful green waters of the lake.  We paddled our way around the cove, passing the boarded up camp cabins.  We made our way to a few of the small islands that dot the lake.

We let ourselves float for a bit, watching a family of loons as they fished in the cool water.  We looked at an abandoned beaver lodge, admired the water lilies, watched a graceful blue heron groom his wings.

The sun beat down on our backs.  The sky was a perfectly clear, dry blue.  The water kept calling us.

We put the boats ashore at a tiny beach that was most likely part of the Scout Camp. We let ourselves fall into the cool, clear water.  We floated.

There were no other humans in sight.  We heard only the loons, the gently lapping waves, and breeze in the pines.

How did we get so lucky, we kept asking ourselves, grinning at each other as we lay on our backs in the middle of the lake.  How did we ever find ourselves in such a perfect place, on such a perfect day?

We closed our eyes.  We let the water carry us.  We smelled the metallic herbal tang of the water all around us.  We watched a hawk circle, high over head.

My friend and I, two women who have worked together for many years, allowed ourselves to steep in the perfect heat and cool of the moment.  We paddled our way back to shore.  We loaded the boats and went home for lunch.

Let Autumn come, we told each other.  Today was the most perfect celebration of the Summer.

Ambivalent


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“Ambivalent”

If I were still teaching fifth grade, I would point out to my students how this word comes from two Latin roots. “Ambi”, I would tell them.  “It means both or all around.” I would circle the first root for them.   “Valent”, I’d say, looking at their faces. “Does anyone see a familiar word part in there? Do you recognize anything?”

I would wait a bit, let them think or talk a bit.  If no one responded, I’d let my marker underline the letter “v-a-l”.  Someone would raise a hand and say, “value?” with a rising tone to show uncertainty.  If I was lucky, someone would have noticed the similarity between “valent” and “equivalent”.

If I were still teaching, I’d guide them to the realization that “ambivalent” means “two values” or “two measures”.  I would then give them a lesson in using context cues to derive the meaning of this new word, now that they understood its roots.

“Let me put it in a sentence for you, guys”, I’d say. “I am ambivalent about the start of the school year.”

If I were still teaching, this sentence would make us all laugh.

If I were still teaching, my ambivalence would be of a different sort than it is this year.

I am not teaching any more.  I am not setting up my classroom, planning the first few “get to know you” activities or ordering new books for the classroom library.  I’m sad. I should be spending the last two weeks of August memorizing the names of my new kids, in alphabetical order.  I should be sending out that “Welcome to Room 210!” letter where I tell them to relax, to bring in a book to read and a good snack to get them through the morning. I should be sending them my email address, and encouraging them to write to me.

I should be buying some new clothes and new pair of Dansko clogs.  I’m sad.

But this year, summer will not end for me on August 31st. This year, summer will last until the first frost.  For the first time in so many years, I’ll be able to walk in the sunshine in September, go to the beach after Labor Day, continue to visit the farm stand while the tomatoes wane and the pumpkins come into season.

I’m so delighted!

I feel free for the first time since I can remember. If I want to take a drive to the Berkshires to see my boys, I can do it!  If I decide to stay home and bake pies all day, I can do that, too.

No more rubrics.  No more correcting.  No more gathering of upset children in the hall outside my door to help them cope with hurt feelings. No more recess, no more permission slips, no more lunch count.

No more standardized tests.  Ever.

I am the embodiment of ambivalence. I will miss my school friends so much that I can hardly stand it.  How will I get by without my morning hugs from my teaching buddies? Where will I go to share stories, to share laughs, to swap ideas?

And after six years of working and commuting with my daughter, what will I do without those long rides to share ideas and thoughts and lesson plans?  What will I do when I can’t talk to her every day?

And, God how I’ll miss the kids.  I am at my best in a room full of ten year olds.  They challenge me, they make me laugh, they reflect back the warmth and love that I give to them.  When I’m teaching, I feel alive. I feel validated. I feel useful.   I’m sad.

But this year is my “do over” year; I will spend the cool days of late fall and the icy days of winter and the melting, muddy days of spring with my beautiful baby granddaughter in my house.  She’ll be there when I bake cookies, she’ll snuggle in my arms while I read to her, she’ll look out the window at the falling rain with me.  My heart is bursting with joy.

“Ambivalent”, I will whisper into her soft dark hair. “I am full of too many conflicting feelings to be able to put them into words.”  I’ll hold her closer and close my eyes and breathe in her baby scent.

I am ambivalent.

Reinventing Myself. Again.


So I have been retired for all of four days now.

I don’t feel any different.  I still see books about teaching and think, “Oooh, next year…..”

I still watch the weather report, thinking, “I have to get to the beach!  Summer is so short! I have to get to the beach!”

I still feel like a teacher.

I still talk to the young lady at the grocery store register, swapping stories about how wintergreen mints make sparks in your mouth on a dark night.  I still tell her, “I’m a fifth grade teacher!”

I still smile at the kids in the mall, wondering which ones are fifth grade age.

I haven’t yet shed my teacher skin.

But slowly, oh, so very slowly, I am coming to the dawning realization that my summer vacation will not end on August 31st.  I am gradually, painstakingly grasping the concept of Fall as simply another season in an ongoing flow of seasons.  “September” no longer means “Lack of sleep”.  “September” now means more days of glorious sunshine, and maybe some quiet days on those beaches that I love so much.

I remember so clearly when my children were very young.  The summer would speed by in a rush of doctors visits, dental check ups, shopping for new clothes and the occasional day at the beach.  All too soon, I would find myself faced with the sad reality of trying to manage a household of five people with different demanding schedules.  I remember laying out the “first day of school clothes”, setting up the coffee, packing my own work bag and pulling out the crock pot.

I remember looking at Paul and saying, “There goes Swifty”, a reference to the mechanical rabbit that took off in an endless loop to lure the greyhounds at the dog track into a pointless chase.

I remember how much I felt like one of those greyhounds on that last day of summer, about to begin my own never ending race to get myself around the track, knowing that I would never even come close to that pretend rabbit.

I remember it so well.

But now I need to look beyond that race, beyond the idea of life as a series of school years.  September will no longer be my beginning.  June will no longer be my end.

For the first time in so many years, maybe I can begin to see my life as an unfolding road, rather than a circle running around and around in the same narrow track.  Maybe this year I can learn to love the warm golden days of October, and to embrace the coming of winter.

Maybe I can focus on the harvest, instead of the classroom assessments.

Slowly, carefully, hopefully, perhaps I can reinvent myself yet again, and find myself a spectator, rather than a racer on that endless repeating track of school days and holidays and school vacations.  Maybe I can detach myself just a bit from that world, and find myself at home in a slower paced walk along the path that meanders from year to year.

Maybe I will be able to reinvent myself once again.

I hope so.

Teaching as baseball…. a metaphor


MLB 2013: Yankees vs Dodgers JUL 30

The cool thing about Derek Jeter is that he went out while he was still on top. He was still “Derek Jeter”. You know?  He wasn’t a has-been. He wasn’t that sad old guy that made everyone feel bad when he came up to bat.

The same is true of Michael Jordan. He was still “Michael”.  Sigh.  Best looking basketball player since Gerald Henderson.  He was Michael. He was a basketball GOD.

Maybe teaching should be the same.  Maybe those of us who were stars back in the day should learn how to gracefully step aside while we are still “My Favorite Teacher!”   Maybe we should accept the fact that time goes by, teaching trends shift, expectations change.

Today I had a very emotional day.  The PTSO came to show me the books that were purchased in my name for the school library. I read the words: “In appreciation for the many years of service”.  I teared up, big time. I imagined years of children pulling the books off the shelf and seeing my name.

I pictured them asking each other, “Who’s this?”

I suddenly understood: if the old guard doesn’t step aside, the new stars cannot emerge.

I was really good at my job.  Oh, I was no Derek Jeter, but I was a pretty good utility infielder.  I had my time. And now that time is over.

I want to be Derek Jeter. I want to go out gracefully, maybe with a home run to celebrate the end of my career.

I don’t want to be Brett Favre.  I don’t want the young people to feel sad when they see me desperately trying to hang on to my glory days.

Today I met the young man who will be joining our team in my place.  He is alert, energetic, excited.  He is smart and happy and ready to go.

He is the new star.

I need to wish him well, hand over my favorite bat, and bow out gracefully.

For once in my non-athletic life, I need to share something with the admirable Derek Jeter.

Letting go, moving on…..


It’s the very end of the year.

I always try to let the kids help me as I pack up the classroom for the summer. I know that some teachers feel that its too hard on the kids to watch their classroom being taken apart in these final days.

But as a teacher of those tender, smart, observant fifth graders, I have always felt that it is a healthy part of saying “goodbye” to have the kids participate as I “close up shop”.   We work together, my kids and I, taking down posters and finding the dried up markers.  We organize the books, we clean out the supplies.

I think that it is helpful for them to thoughtfully pack away the sweet memories of our time together.  We laugh, we sigh, we carefully fold up the year and put it into a safe place.

Usually, this process brings me a bittersweet joy.  Usually, it helps me to think, “Good bye, beautiful children!  Hello, next crop of kids!”

This year, though, is very different.

This year I am carefully packing away every little bit of my teaching life. Every single item pulls at my heart.  Every tiny objects presents a small dilemma.  Do I leave this little woven basket to the colleague who will follow me?  What about this old book of Civil War photos?  What did I buy with my own money, years ago?  What belongs to my school?

I carefully wrap up the little blue pinch pot that my first born child made for me some 15 years ago.  For all those years, it has held paperclips for the class to use.  Now it will come home, to rest in empty sadness on my shelf.   I pick up my brass recess bell, rubbing my thumb along its worn edge. How many kids have raced into line at the sound of its pealing voice?  I sigh, putting it down in the pile of things to leave.  I will have no more use of that quintessential symbol of elementary school.  I leave it for the young woman who will take my place here in the fall.

I am calm and relatively serene as I slowly pack my personal items in my bag. I am ready to go. It is time. It is most likely past time.  I am strong, and resolute.  I am ready.

Then I raise my eyes to the back of my bookshelf. To the place where my most special items have been stored.  And I see this:

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My little boys gave me this paper, on my birthday, 14 years ago.

I picture their sweet, smiling faces, presenting me with this birthday card. I can feel myself hugging them close, so touched at the tender words.  I can feel their pride, see them grinning at me.

I carefully, slowly, take my precious birthday card down from the bookshelf.

I sit at my desk, just for a moment, seeing my little boys.  Seeing the long parade of children who have made me laugh and made me so proud after all these years of teaching.

I reach for a tissue, pull myself together. I carefully pack up my beautiful birthday gift and place it in my workbag to take home.

Its a “Do Over”.


Happy Nonni

Happy Nonni

Did you ever see the movie “City Slickers”?  You know the part where one of the guys is telling the other guy that his divorce isn’t the end of the world? He tells his friend, “It’s like you’re getting a do over.”

That’s how I feel right now.

I feel like I am getting a “do over”.

Next November, I will become the daily caregiver for my very first grandchild, a little girl who will be born sometime in August.

I am incredibly excited about having the chance to take care of her, and to be able to help my daughter and son-in-law with the struggles of working parents.

I am so lucky!

And I’m scared to pieces.

What if I don’t remember how to rock a baby with an earache?  My own baby is 23, for God’s sake!  What if I can’t calm her down?  What if I forget how to soothe a baby through the teething stages?  What if she doesn’t like me? What if I don’t have the stamina for this?

Oh, brother.  Thus runs the mind of a true neurotic.

At 3AM I convince myself that I am a hopeless excuse for a Nonni.

At 7AM, all I can think of is this: “I am getting a do over!”

I picture a day in early winter.  The cold rain is pouring down outside, but the house is cozy.  There is a big pot of stew on the stove, enough for Paul and I and enough to send home to Kate and Sam.  I have bread dough rising, and I am sitting in the rocker with the baby asleep in my arms.  A warm fleece blanket is draped over us both.   I am humming a song, soft and low, and my cheek is resting on hers.

It is a do over.  A chance to revisit my very best days.  A chance to hold and cuddle and nurture one more life.

When my own babies were little, I had to drop them off at daycare. I had to rush out the door, into the wintery winds.  I had to leave the rocking and the singing to others.

Now I have a chance to do it over again.  Now I can relax, and stay at home, and give myself to the little one.  All the love and caring that has gone into my 25 students can now be poured into her.

I am getting a do over.

I am so very, very lucky.

I can’t wait.

When I Go


Serene me.

What is my next adventure?

When I go, when I finally leave my school behind, what will I be thinking?

After 21 Septembers of coming to this school on opening day, what will I be feeling on that September morning when I don’t?

Who will I be, when I’m no longer that “nice teacher” at my school?

What will I miss?

What will I be so happy to have escaped?

Well.

I will NOT miss: the copier, with its insatiable need to eat fifth grade math worksheets.       I will not miss the pencils all over the floor, or the crayons on the heater.    I will most assuredly not miss the sound of my own tired voice, saying “If you can hear my voice, clap once!” or “In line, please!”

I will not miss having to wait until 1 o’clock for lunch, even though breakfast was a banana at 6 AM.

I will NOT miss my commute.  I don’t know why so many people feel it necessary to careen down the highway at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone.  I don’t know why they think it is acceptable to flash me the finger as they do.

I will not miss the early morning wake ups.  The older I get, the less I sleep.  That 6 AM alarm gets earlier every year.

I will not miss the testing, the data, the measurement, the standards, the strands, the Common Core or the stupid shiny boxed kits of curriculum.  I will not miss the mini-lessons, the anchor charts, the obnoxious rubrics or the jargon. I will not miss the buzzwords, the best practices or the formative and summative assessments.

I absolutely, positively will not miss one single thing that reduces a child to a number, a level, a score or a leveled group.

So.

What will I miss in three short weeks, when I leave my teaching career behind me?

I will miss all of those incredible moments with children, when I look at them and they look at me, and when we both realize that a new goal has been reached.

i will miss watching a student with serious learning disabilities as he decodes a four syllable word on his own,  then looks at me with his blue eyes gleaming. I will miss hearing him say, “I did it!”

For sure, I will miss those mornings when I find myself at my desk surrounded by eager children who want to tell me about some little event in their lives. “Karen!  Last night my Dad said the funniest thing!”  or “My puppy was sick last night.” or “I tried to do the homework, but I’m not sure I got it right. Can you help me?”

I will so miss being asked to help.  I will desperately miss the end-of-the day hugs, and the cries of “See you tomorrow!”

I will miss seeing them grow for ten months. They will grow taller, and more confident and more skilled. The boys will begin to show knuckles on their hands and jawbones in their faces.  The girls will grow more beautiful as they approach their adult selves.  And I won’t be there to record it, or comment on it, or help them to come to grips with it.

I will miss those moments when they know that they have written a wonderful story. I will miss the excitement that they’ll feel when they figure out one of the metaphors from “The City of Ember.”

I’ll miss reading “The Liberation of Gabriel King” and “Granny Torelli Makes Soup”.

I will miss them.  I will miss them all so much.

Its time to go, and I know it.

Still, I will miss those beautiful faces so very much.