Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Has it Really Been Ten Years?

  Last night, I couldn't fall asleep. As I lay in bed, the myriad things I needed to do, organize, tidy, and put together running through my head, I determined that today would be a day when at least one of those projects took precedence. 

This morning, I decided it would be my desk. 

I allotted half an hour to sort through a pile of papers that I'd been moving from surface to surface for several days, but quickly decided that clearing off my desk was more important, and therefore worth extending the time. 

Two hours later, the desk looked beautiful -- well, almost. I had to stop working to head to an appointment, but  Unfortunately, several other surfaces look worse because organizing the desk meant clearing it off, and some of the things that I opted not to return to the desk are now taking up space on other surfaces until I find them new homes.

This is the way nearly every project this month has gone. Thus, my sleepless night, as I approach the one-week-until-the-semester-starts zone on the calendar.

What does that have to do with this post? The plaque below, a gift from my husband when I retired in 2012, still has a place of honor on my desk. While it's not (yet) quite accurate because one job in education replaced another, I'm finding myself daydreaming of a day when it does hold true, and when a project I don't fully complete one day can be picked up seamlessly the next. 

This post was originally written four years after I retired. Today seemed like a good day to look back from my current vantage point, ten years down the road. 

Ten years ago at this time, I'd just turned in my letter of intent as the first step in my retirement  journey. Things were emotional, to say the least. My family was less than thrilled with my decision -- the part of my family that lived in my house, anyway -- and I was alternately exhilarated and terrified. I was just beginning to share the news with my colleagues, very few of whom had seen it coming, as I was about a decade younger than retirement age. I was crying a lot, praying a lot and trying to act as though everything was normal, when, in fact, it was about as far from normal as my professional life had ever been.

Four years later, things were different. I still worried about money -- but I knew very few parents of high school seniors that weren't thinking about money. These days, I no longer think about money for college -- that ship has sailed -- but my husband and I are having a lot more conversations about money and actual retirement. 

A lot of other things have changed, too -- nearly all for the better.

Four years ago, my daughter, who was finishing middle school when I made the decision to retire early, was finishing high school, and on the cusp of changes of her own. In the intervening four years, I got to spend much more time with her than I would have if I'd stayed where I was. I'm was at home every morning when she left for school, and accessible nearly every day after school. I was around most days when she and her friends came by for lunch, and though I made myself scarce so they could have their privacy, I loved that I was here. 

Over Christmas, my daughter and those same friends went out to dinner and ended up back at our house afterward. As their laughter and bits of conversation floated through the house, I was reminded of those lunches, and once again grateful -- for the fact that my daughter has excellent taste in friends, for the fact that she feels comfortable bringing them here, and for those four golden years I would not have had if I'd stayed where I was.

My job is different, yet the same. I always thought I'd continue to work part time as a counselor, but when that door closed, I was more surprised than sad. As it turned out, being an educator was rooted in me more deeply. While I initially sought out jobs in community education to earn an additional paycheck because that was what I knew, once I got back into the classroom, I realized it was a part of who I am as well. And, though a part of me always thought it would be fun to teach at the college level, I never imagined leaving elementary education behind. Then again, I never imagined it would look the way it does today.

Ten years into "retirement" and eight years into my adjunct gig, I feel more at home in the college classroom. COVID messed that up rather substantially for a bit, but I look forward to a maskless spring semester, even if it's with a bit of trepidation. I've learned how to be myself in a way that fits with young adult audiences, and how to care less when I don't.

My writing is an enormous part of my life, which came as a surprise to no one. When I shared my intention to retire, all of my colleagues asked me if I planned to write. I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a full-time writer -- I'm used to the stimulation and interaction teaching brings -- but I love that writing of some kind happens nearly every day in this no-longer-new lifestyle. While I've been blogging for close to a decade, I didn't blog regularly until I retired. Though I had two nonfiction books published while I was working, I didn't publish a novel until after I retired -- and then, I had two out within two years. The combination of writing and teaching fills -- and drains -- the creative part of my personality.

My schedule is much more within my control. The first year, I had almost too much time on my hands, and in my early semesters of teaching, I had almost none. But the pace of the days is up to me much more than it every was. This is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes not. Again, a post-COVID world has found me seeking balance between work and play.
We never know for sure the impact of the decisions we're making when we make them. We can hope, pray and project, but every new choice carries new risk -- risk that inspires fear we can overcome only in the face of deadlines that force us to choose. Sink or swim. Now or never.

Maybe there's something to be said for the magic wands and crystal balls of fairy tales.

Or maybe they unnecessarily complicate leaps of faith.

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