Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who will I be when I'm not who I was?

Retiring from a lifetime of paid work was not difficult for me. For one thing, I eased into it over a couple of years, gradually decreasing my hours and doing more work from home.

With Augie 2007: New proud grandma
More important, while I was tapering off at work, Peter had begun caring for our grandson Augie at our home while Augie's parents worked as teachers. I spent as much time as possible with Augie, and before long with little sister ViolaMae. Being a grandma and a caregiver was a big part of my identity, and I couldn't wait to be home all the time. So when I finally retired in December 2010, I jumped right into our full-time ongoing adventure. I knew it was the most rewarding work I'd ever do; BLissed-Out Grandma was more than just a blog name.

In a sense I'm retiring again. As always, the kids are at home with their parents for the summer. This fall when we start up again, we'll only be part-timers. For the first time, both kids will be in school all day. Abby will drop them off here at 6:45 for breakfast and play, and at about 8:10 we'll drive them to school. By 9 a.m. our day-care day will be over. And that takes a little adjustment.

It's delightful that we'll still see the children every weekday. And of course we'll have play dates, Facetime phone conversations, family events, and occasional full days when their parents have school and they don't.

But the truth is, Peter and I have completed our full-time commitment to care for our grandkids until they begin school. We've had a month to absorb the fact that we'll miss our full days with them, and that as of now we have more time for other things. We've consciously spent more time together, started planning some special projects, talked more seriously about all those tasks we kept putting off "until we're done with daycare."

We'll de-clutter the house (and I don't mean the kids' toys we've amassed, I mean the lifetimes of paper and clothes and would-be valuables that inhabit every room and closet). We'll plan a 100th birthday celebration for the carousel and write the carousel history we've been promising, which will occupy us well into 2014. We might travel, just a little. Peter will continue to work full-time at home, and maybe now he'll sleep more regularly. I will dance, blog, garden, take photos. We'll take care of one another and hope our health continues so we can watch the children grow for a long while yet.

With ViMae 2011: Retired and happy
What we won't be able to do is to say, perhaps a little too proudly, "We provide full-time daycare for our grandchildren." This single statement has been central to my identity and sense of purpose since before I retired.

Sometimes I think a major reason people have trouble with retirement, or other kinds of change, is this: "How will I introduce myself to someone new?" How will I answer, "Who are you and what do you do?"

I was one of those who always led with my job. It only described part of me, but it was a handy label. When that no longer fit, I was more than happy to lead with my full-time grandma-daycare role. Will I now be satisfied just to say, "I'm retired"?

I've spent a little time experiencing this feeling, and thinking about what I might say. I don't have an answer, but I have this question: Why does it matter? I don't need a label or an instant claim to fame. I'm older now, more mature. I have time to carry on a whole conversation and mutually explore what it is about me that might interest another person, and vice versa. 

So I'm not really worried, but I'm curious. As I meet new people and make conversation, I'll be defining myself to them in new ways. I wonder what that will sound like.  

"Who are you and what do you do?" How do you answer?


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