Not long ago, my husband and I paid a visit to the financial planner at our bank. He reviewed our current situation, ‘crunched the numbers’ and announced – in all seriousness – that with our assets (home, cars, pensions, savings) and a sound investment strategy, our net worth would be ‘more than a million dollars’ by the time we die (he gave us a generous life expectancy of 100 years). I laughed and told him he was wrong. I expect to be worth next to nothing by the time I die – because I’m planning to spend most of what I’ve earned and saved for 60+ years well before then!
When I was growing up, money was scarce. My father was self employed (except for one two-year stint working for a firm in ‘The City’ when I was in my teens). Since he never knew exactly when work might come his way, or when a client might finally settle his bill, my mother was very careful with her ‘household allowance’. I don’t recall ever feeling deprived as a child, but meals were simple – meat, potatoes, and vegetables, with larger items (hams, roasts of beef, turkey) being stretched over several days – or spaghetti with meat sauce (my favourite), basic mac and cheese, or soup and sandwiches. Leftovers were always ‘tomorrow night’s dinner’ (if Dad didn’t get to them first).
When it came to items like school supplies, clothing, and household goods, Mom shopped frugally. Clothing was either handed down from my older sisters (or Mom’s best friend’s daughter) to me (being the youngest), homemade (a skill I was taught when I was around twelve so that most of my teenage wardrobe was ‘made by Margo’), or purchased from the ‘sale’ racks at local stores (even special occasion items like party dresses and snow suits were bought a size ‘up’ in the off season and saved for when we grew into them the following year). Furniture was reupholstered rather than replaced, and most of the ‘decor’ items in our house were purchased from Broadbent’s second-hand store or from the ‘50% off’ shelves that were always located at the back of the shops along the main street. Dad drove second hand cars (which he maintained himself), Mom walked to the shops and home again (taking a taxi only when the weather was so bad that carrying a half dozen sacks of groceries home made it impossible or dangerous), my brothers and sisters and I walked to school and took the local bus (at 10 cents per trip) to wherever we needed to go.
We never took expensive vacations (the only ‘trip’ we went on as a family was to Montreal in 1967 – for Expo ‘67 – and that was only because my father was coordinating a conference for the Economics School he was managing at the time and there was room for the family at the university residence where he was billeted), we rarely ate out (now and then we’d go to Creston’s Restaurant downtown for pancakes after church, or order Chinese takeout from the Red Dragon, but those were very rare occasions indeed), and we knew not to ask for things we didn’t ‘need’ (my father was very clear on the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’ – and if you ever pondered whether or not you could ‘afford’ something in either category out of your meagre allowance, his counsel was always the same: If you don’t have the money in your pocket or in the bank to pay for it, then you can’t afford it.)
As I entered adulthood (landed my first full time job, got married, bought a house), I followed my mother’s example (as well as my father’s advice): I shopped frugally (sale racks, liquidation outlets, the ‘scratch and dent’ areas of appliance stores, second hand shops), stayed within my ‘budget’ for groceries and cooked simple meals, spent only what was necessary to live comfortably (but not lavishly), didn’t incur debt, and saved what I could. For the first three years of our marriage, we paid our bills on time, travelled everywhere by bus or bicycle (choosing to buy a house over a car seemed the prudent thing to do at the time; we didn’t want to continue throwing money away on apartment rents), and took only one vacation (a guided bus tour of California and the west coast of Canada). Eventually we both moved into better jobs, ‘traded up’ to a much bigger house, took a couple of vacations to exotic places, and settled down to start a family. I combined being a daytime ‘stay at home mom’ with teaching night school (and later teaching part-time around the boys’ schedules), saved for both the boys’ post secondary education and my own eventual retirement, and continued ‘pinching pennies’ so we could afford the special things we wanted most for the children (particular Christmas and birthday presents, annual trips to Walt Disney World, a safe, happy and comfortable home). During it all, we never overspent or carried any debt other than the mortgage (which we paid off in fifteen years).
Fast forward another fifteen years. That first marriage had ended, the boys were grown and gone, I’d been teaching full time for more than a decade, and my second husband (who lived by the same ‘if you don’t have the money, you can’t afford it’ credo) and I had paid off the home we’d bought together in just nine years and socked a goodly amount into our retirement savings plans (with visions of retiring early from our increasingly stressful jobs as College professors dancing in our heads). Last year (just around this time) it all came together – we found our dream home in the country, sold our house in the city (for nearly triple what we’d paid for it, leaving a nice lump sum ‘left over’ for any modifications we wanted to make to the new place), my husband was teaching his last semester’s worth of classes, and we had a enough savings tucked aside to live ‘happily ever after’. We were set!
But 60+ years of frugal living has been a hard habit to break. Despite having the necessary funds to do all the things we want to do, each purchase decision is met with no small measure of angst (after buying a new all-wheel drive car – an absolute necessity in the winter out here in the wilds of southern Ontario – I didn’t sleep for a week) . We still check for sales on items we need (kudos to me for finding the living room furniture I wanted – complete with custom upholstery – 50% off), postpone major expenditures (we can wait another six months before renovating the upstairs bathroom and closet), and second guess full-price purchases we know are essential (like the outrageously expensive but back-saving gliding shelves for the kitchen). It ‘goes against the grain’ to buy something we need (we’re pretty much past the ‘want’ stage of our lives; we purged a good deal of excess ‘baggage’ when we moved) without thoroughly exploring all the (financial) options. We’re loath to spend ‘all that money’ (i.e., pay full price) for items that ‘might’ go on sale later or be available elsewhere for less, even though we have the money sitting in the bank, begging to be spent. We needed a serious shift in perspective.
Fortunately, I experienced an ‘aha moment’ not long before our visit to the bank. I’d come across a comment that basically suggested that ‘selfless’ people tend to deprive themselves of things they want (or need) because they believe that ‘taking for themselves’ somehow deprives others of abundance (I tend to think a lot about how much I could ‘help’ my kids get what they ‘want’ by giving them money – instead of how I could be spending it on myself instead). I had to remind myself (by taking a common sense assessment of the situation) that I had worked hard for 40+ years to earn a decent living so my family could ‘live well’ (not extravagantly, mind you – but they certainly never ‘went without’), saved judiciously (both for their futures and mine), never carried debt (except for mortgages and two car loans), and arrived in this comfortable retirement situation because I was conscientious, careful, and responsible with my finances. I realized that if I don’t spend it, it will just sit in the bank (and, yes, eventually go to the kids – and while I love them with all my heart and have given them a financial ‘boost’ here and there, it’s really up to them to follow my example and spend judiciously and save for their own futures, rather than hope I’ll leave them something substantial at the end).
So I won’t be worth more than a million dollars when I did. I’ll spend the kids’ inheritance (as my Dad used to always tell me he was doing – and I’d say ‘Go for it, Dad. It’s your money and you should spend it any way you want!’) because I have the ‘right’ to buy what I want (and what I want is custom-built shelving for my living room, a beamed mantle over the fireplace, a western facing deck at the front of the house with a gazebo at the corner, and a kick-ass master bathroom with a giant soaker tub and a glassed-in shower big enough that I won’t bang my elbows every time I turn around.) It’s now or never!
I’m going to spend my hard earned money on things I want AND need in order to really LIVE here on … the other side of 55.
There are a thousand benefits to country living (or more; we’ve only been here five months, so we’re still learning). One of the strangest effects I’ve noticed, however, is something I’ve come to think of as ‘the time-distance paradox’.
To get pretty much anywhere from our home here in the country, we have to travel further than we had to in the city. And while it seems like we’ve been driving for a much longer period of time, we usually get where we’re going in the same (or a much shorter) amount of time. It’s a very odd sensation.
For example, when we lived in the big, busy city, we were just 2 miles (3.1 km) from the nearest grocery store. Google Maps states the trip should take ‘6 minutes without traffic’ (at the stated speed limit of 30 mph / 50 kph). However, the journey was never ‘without traffic’ (even during the early morning hours, I would be one of hundreds of drivers navigating the busy residential streets and major east-west arteries that led to where I was going; I also had to get through two four-way stops and four sets of traffic lights on the way). I might have averaged 15 mph (if I was lucky), and would arrive fifteen or twenty minutes after pulling out of the driveway (it took much longer than that during the mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and all day Saturday rush periods).
The nearest grocery store here is in the next town, 5.1 miles (8.1 km) away. The posted speed limit on the major east-west artery leading there (that sees maybe two dozen vehicles an hour passing along it) is 50 mph / 80 kph. Google Maps states the trip should take ‘7 minutes without traffic’. I can be there in six (provided I don’t have to stop at the single traffic light in the centre of town); oftentimes I don’t see a single other car on the road as I drive there and back (and the scenery is fantastic!) The drive ‘seems’ much longer than it did in the city (admittedly, I am covering more than twice the distance, but I’m going much faster), yet I get there in a third of the time. It’s a bit disconcerting.
Similarly, the nearest Walmart to my former city home was 2.4 miles (3.8 km) away; I had to get through two four-way stops and seven sets of traffic lights to get there (all the while being squeezed on all sides by hundreds of other cars and drivers, all in a mad rush to get somewhere, but inevitably travelling at not much more than a snail’s pace). The trip nearly always took at least twenty minutes (and then there was the lengthy walk across the parking lot past a hundred or more cars that had arrived ahead of me, and the crush of hundreds of shoppers inside the store to deal with).
The closest Walmart to me now is in a city 20 miles (32 km) away. Again, the posted speed limit is 50 mph / 80 kph (mostly; I do have to slow down when I pass through the town where I do my grocery shopping, and two more small communities along the way; there’s a total of three traffic lights on the journey). If I don’t get too distracted by the gorgeous scenery along the rural roads between here and there, I can pull into the parking lot (where there might be 20 or 30 cars parked at most) in around 25 minutes. That’s five minutes longer to go nearly ten times the distance. And while it seems like it’s taken much longer (I suspect the illusion has to do with the scenic aspect of the drive – the wide open spaces and lack of traffic), I can honestly say it is always an enjoyable journey getting there (and shopping – fewer people means fewer headaches and more choice of goods available, especially around Christmas-time).
I am gradually getting used to the idea of travelling ‘great distances’ (which really aren’t that ‘great’ if you think about it) to get to where I need to go (shopping centres, the hardware store, the drugstore) and to getting there in less time than it would have taken me to drive a shorter distance to similar stores in my ‘previous life’ (as I think of it now), even though it seems longer. Still, it seems like it should be taking me longer to go further, not the other way around. (And pretty much everything we need is within a 20 minute drive – to one of two city centres [each city being less than one-quarter the size of the one we moved from] or two lovely little towns with delightful main streets and unique shops). Yes, I am putting more miles (kilometers) on my car, but my blood pressure is certainly much lower and I’m actually enjoying the experience of ‘going shopping’, instead of returning home totally stressed out and determined never to venture out again.
SPECIAL NOTE: as an ‘added shopping experience bonus’ to living where we are now, stores are far less crowded and the people who work in them are infinitely more friendly and helpful than what we experienced in the city. For instance, last year, I went to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario – our government-controlled liquor store) a week before Christmas to pick up some wine for dinner, and a couple of ‘sample packs’ of craft beer for the boys as gifts. The store was packed and even through all six cash registers were open, there are seven or eight people lined up at each one (most of whom were grumbling or complaining about the crowds, the cost, the lack of inventory …); it took me almost forty minutes to buy the four items I wanted.
And when I went to the grocery store on Christmas Eve (early in the morning!) to pick up a few last minute items for Christmas dinner and Boxing Day brunch, I couldn’t even get into the parking lot (cars were lined up on the street, waiting for someone to pull out). I ended up driving to another grocery store (that is rarely busy), parking at the very farthest end of the parking lot, and spending almost a half hour in line trying to get through the check out!
This year, I went to the little LCBO in the next town a week before Christmas and I was the only person in the store (except for the exceptionally friendly lady who works there, who chatted with me for several minutes about the advantages of living and shopping in small towns). The grocery store on Christmas Eve WAS busy – there were perhaps fifteen people TOTAL in the store and two or three people customers in line at each of the two check outs. I was in and out in half the time it took me a year ago just to get through the check out! And everyone said ‘Hello’ or ‘Merry Christmas’; you didn’t hear a single person grumbling or complaining about anything.
We knew (years ago) it was time to get out of the city and find ‘our place’ in the country. We knew there would be challenges and discoveries and unexpected hurdles to face. However, we didn’t expect quite so many wondrous experiences (or truly scenic drives). It makes me wish we’d made the move long before we’d reached … the other side of 55.
I watched the first episode of the new Netflix series, “The Crown” the other night (if you haven’t heard of it, or seen it, it’s the fictionalized story of events in the life of Queen Elizabeth II from the death of her father, King George V, through her ascension to the throne and beyond. Known events [personal and political] are given a ‘behind the scenes’ treatment that is part soap opera, part reality-show, part reverie. Nearly everything that is ‘revealed’, however, is pure fabrication; there is no evidence that what we hear coming out of the actors’ mouths, or what we see them doing, has any basis in fact. Little is known about the actual personal lives of the Royals and the producers take full advantage of that fact to make up their own version of ‘the truth’ and present it as if it’s a factual portrayal of what really happened.) While the show had its merits (the costumes and set pieces were sumptuous; the actors portrayed their famous counterparts admirably), I came away feeling slightly ‘dirty’ for having watched it. It took me a couple of days to figure out why.
A number of years ago, an individual (related, but not close; curious about my life, but not concerned for me; living some distance away but in regular contact with other family members and friends of the family) decided to rewrite the narrative of events taking place in my life (a promotion, a divorce, a business opportunity, an invitation to my then 13 year old son to travel unaccompanied to another country, a new job, a new relationship, a change in my parents’ circumstances and living arrangements) in her own words. She neither cared to check the veracity of her ‘assumptions’ with me, nor to change her version of ‘events’ when inaccuracies and blatant untruths were pointed out to her. Rather, she continued to fabricate stories, tell lies, and spread rumors about me that were both insensitive and hurtful (a good number of which I wasn’t even aware of until years later!) When I begged her to stop, to listen to the truth, to apologize for the harm she’d caused, she refused. By that time, I believe she’d actually convinced herself – and others who’d been party to the gossip-mongering – that her version of my life and circumstances was actually the truth. And that my ‘side of the story’ was nothing but a pack of lies.
Ultimately I had to concede that when it came to ‘me against them’, ‘they’ were always going to come out on top. After all, how does one person convince a multitude that a single truth is more factual than a pack of oft-repeated lies? You can’t. Eventually, of course, I gave up and moved on with my life, leaving this person (and a number of others who chose to accept her false version of events over my very real truths) behind. My life is better without them in it. I will always know the truth, even if they chose to believe the lies. But what happened all those years ago wasn’t easily forgotten.
And the sickness I’d felt then came back to me after watching “The Crown” the other night. Because when someone (anyone – relative, friend, stranger, Hollywood scriptwriter) takes it upon themselves to put words into the mouths of people who have no say whatsoever in what is written or said about them – who cannot attest to (or argue against) the truth of words and actions attributed to them – it is a vile and contemptible act. I’m not sure why these individuals (writers, producers, director) were allowed to create a series about the Royal family without their permission (they are, after all, still alive, fully cognizant of their surroundings, powerful yet hand-tied by protocol to say nothing about such blatant invasions of their privacy), but (in my opinion) it shouldn’t have been sanctioned (certainly not by anyone with a shred of common decency).
And, unfortunately, the viewing public, with their voracious appetite for all things salacious (reality TV being a prime example), are very likely going to believe everything they see on this series to be ‘real’. They will think the ‘stories’, the fabrications, the phony conversations, the fake interactions really took place as shown. They’ll go on to repeat them as fact (look out Wikipedia!) They – like some people in my life years ago – will assume that something told on such a grand scale (or through the exchange of local gossip or social media) must – absolutely MUST – be authentic. Regardless of who says otherwise. Despite the fact that there is no proof to hold the ‘fact’ against. In spite of the surety that no one can possible know what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ in someone else’s life (except the person or persons themselves).
I won’t be watching any more episodes of “The Crown”. I have respect for the British monarchy (even if I don’t understand how it has survived all these years, or how the family can withstand the constant barrage of harassment and tabloid publicity they face every single day); they don’t deserve this ‘Hollywood treatment’ (not a lot of it is particularly flattering). Even if this show was about a less well-known family, I couldn’t bring myself to sit down in order to ‘eavesdrop’ on their (imagined) conversations without their permission (I’ve honestly never watched ‘reality TV’ for the same reason – even if it WAS ‘real’ [and let’s be honest here, it’s all play-acting for the cameras] what goes on in those homes is NONE OF MY BUSINESS!) “The Crown” felt too much like voyeurism for me.
And I have no interest in becoming a ‘peeping Tomasina’, now or at any future time on … the other side of 55.
People drive for miles (here in Southern Ontario) to see the ever-changing colours of fall. All I have to do is step out my door! Living in the country has surpassed all our expectations. I’ve never been happier to be living life on … the other side of 55.
I have always had a mental picture of how I would spend my ‘old age’ (which, until I met my now-husband, was a rather solitary vision) – I would take up residence in an idyllic cottage with lots of windows, a generous front porch and an English-style garden, and spend my days writing and socializing with cats instead of people. As luck would have it, before I reached that point, I met a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and his vision for retirement wasn’t all that different from mine (he wanted a large plot of land somewhere in the country where he could ‘tinker with cars’ – as I call his passion for anything with an engine and four wheels – and leave the hubbub of the city behind). It didn’t take much to meld our individual dreams into a single fantasy of ‘life after work’, and we started planning –albeit unhurriedly – for that ‘someday’ eventuality.
In the beginning, our ‘perfect’ retirement property was far to the west – the Okanagan Valley area of British Columbia to be precise. The promise of wide open spaces, moderate year-round temperatures, and a view of the mountains was enticing (and 15 years ago, it was an affordable dream). But as prices in that area of the country skyrocketed, reasonably priced properties became scarce. That reality, combined with my reluctance to actually move 3,000 miles away from my two boys (who were grown but still a vital part of my life), had us shifting our focus a little closer to ‘home’.
Our next choice was the eastern shores of Lake Huron. My parents had retired to a small town there in 1981 and my boys and I had a lot of fond memories of time spent in the area. Our main focus was an area slightly north of where my parents had lived, near a community that has been called ‘Canada’s prettiest town’. I had vacationed there in 2007 and found the town charming and the people disarmingly friendly. Research showed there were properties available that met our criteria, in a price range we were comfortable with. However, the weather can be dicey (particularly in the winter when the winds whip in off Georgian Bay) and there was the genuine threat of wind turbines being built on the cliffs above the lake (something I wanted to avoid at all costs; two wind farm developments have since been approved in the area, despite protests from nearby residents about the negative impact on humans and farm animals).
So we turned our attention to properties further south – closer to Lake Erie than Lake Ontario (where we currently live). Attractive homes on generous plots of land at reasonable prices were plentiful and the weather, we knew, would be very similar to what we were used to. I kept an eye on realtor.ca (the Canadian multiple listing service site) and printed out examples of ‘perfect places’ for future reference. Unfortunately, some of the areas we were considering were also being targeted for wind farm developments, and more people seemed to be moving out of the area than into it, so we knew we would have to be very careful. But it seemed entirely do-able.
Then things changed again. In February 2015, my eldest son and his wife blessed me with my first grandchild. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. However, the reality of travelling even further than I already do to visit (I spend one day a week with my precious granddaughter; it’s a 75 minute drive each way) was daunting. So our focus shifted again – to an area a little closer to the grandbaby and her parents, but still not too far distant from son number two and his wife.
And this time, it was for real. My husband had decided he’d had enough of the rat race (I’d retired in 2010) and he moved his retirement date up a full year – to September 1 of this year. It was time to get serious about finding our perfect retirement home.
I spent quite a bit of time over the next several months looking online at properties in our ‘target zone’. Prices were a little higher than in the other areas we’d considered, and there were fewer places available (especially on several acres of land, which was a must; we wanted to distance ourselves from annoying neighbours). We debated selling first, renting something for a year, buying land and building my dream house (I have a well thumbed catalogue from Viceroy Homes – the two pages I’d ‘bookmarked’ for consideration were mid-sized houses with soaring windows and loft bedrooms that would provide clear views over our ‘country estate’) and his dream ‘shop’ (something large enough to accommodate our daily drivers as well as work-in-progress cars and all the paraphernalia that goes with his ‘hobby’). But neither of us was particularly keen on turning our lives upside down for a year or more to see that plan through. We wanted to buy something already built and move-in ready.
So, in March of this year, we decided to connect with a realtor who specialized in properties in the area and get some professional help. We made arrangements to meet for coffee on Saturday, April 2 at a restaurant in Paris (Ontario; a lovely little town central to the zone where we hoped to buy) to give her our ‘property profile’.
In order to prepare for that meeting, on the Friday I decided to expand my search criteria slightly to see if I could find something (anywhere in southern Ontario) that was approximately what we were looking for (as an example to accompany the detailed list I’d already typed up related to property size, setting, home type, number of bedrooms, etc.) I certainly didn’t expect to find a ‘perfect’ match. And I absolutely never imagined finding it a mere five minutes outside the area we’d been perusing for months. But I did.
I don’t believe in ‘coincidence’. I have faith, instead, in fate (or karma or kismet or serendipity or whatever you want to call it when miracles happen that simply cannot be explained any other way). Months ago, when my husband and I had been discussing when to start the house-hunting process, a little voice in my head said “April 1st”. I had no idea at the time what that meant, but I filed it away. As I sat in front of my computer, staring at the house of my dreams sitting next to the shop of my husband’s dreams nestled in the midst of a forest, those words came back to me in a flash. It was April 1st. I had found what I thought was an impossible dream. Months before we had anticipated being ‘lucky enough’ to even come close. And with almost no effort. Could it actually be true?
When I showed my husband the listing that evening, he asked me if it was an April Fool’s joke. “No,” I said, “It’s real.” We agreed to contact the realtor we were scheduled to meet the next day and ask if she could get us a viewing (the listing agent just happened to work for the same real estate firm she did, only out of another office). She booked us in for the Saturday at 12:30. We met her there. We fell in love immediately with the property, the house, the shop. Smartly, she suggested we go back the next day for another, less ‘emotionally-driven’ look. We did. We still loved every inch of the place. Pride of ownership was evident throughout (the seller had upgraded flooring, mechanicals, the kitchen and so much more prior to listing the property; family circumstances were forcing him to sell – he had tears in his eyes when he talked about having to move).
We couldn’t have built a more perfect house (or shop) on a more perfect property for the price he was asking. The house is a cedar chalet style with soaring windows and a loft bedroom; the shop is fully insulated with its own woodstove, three garage doors, and room for eight vehicles; the property is a heavily forested 4½ acres several miles from the nearest ‘big city’, but close enough to several smaller ones – and a couple of lovely little towns – to not feel totally isolated. It’s a 50 minute drive north to son number one’s home, and only 60 minutes east to son number two’s. Perfect doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We put in an offer that afternoon; it was accepted the next day. We take possession the end of July. We can hardly believe it. Everything we have ever wanted, hoped for, dreamed of, has come true. “Someday” has become “today”.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of our journey towards actual retirement. Now comes the hard part (packing up and prepping this house – where we’ve lived for 16 years – for sale; living ‘minimally’ while it’s on the market; adjusting our schedules to accommodate viewings; making hard decisions about what to keep and what to take and what to do with the rest) – but that’s another post altogether!
In the meantime, I’m ever so glad now (and forever more) that I’m on … the other side of 55.
In response to the challenge posed by Cindy at Mama’s Empty Nest, I’m posting my answers (three for each question) to this meme:
Three names I answer to:
Three places I’ve called home:
- Oakville, Ontario
- Burlington, Ontario
- TBA (honestly, I’ve only lived in two places, although I had three different ‘homes’ in Oakville and two in Burlington … does that count?!?!?)
Three places I’ve worked:
- Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario
- Halton Board of Education Adult Ed Department, Burlington, Ontario
- Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario
Three things I love to watch:
- My granddaughter
- Waves washing onto the shore
Three things I love to eat:
- Dark chocolate
- Potato chips (kettle cooked)
- Shortbread cookies (homemade)
Three things I’m looking forward to:
- My granddaughter’s first Christmas
- My husband’s retirement (only eight months to go!)
- The third act of my life
Three fond Christmas memories:
- 1960- the year Santa brought me the ‘articulated’ ballerina doll I’d asked for (I still have her)
- Staying up late when my boys were little to set up the one ‘big’ gift they’d asked Santa for under the tree
- Christmas 2000 – a new home, a new husband, a new life just begun
Three bloggers I follow who might like to play along too:
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Life just keeps getting better here on … the other side of 55.
When I was young, it wasn’t unusual for people to say to me, “Oh, you’re Kay and Laurie’s daughter”. We were the only family in town with our unique last name, and the fifties were a period when everyone pretty much knew everyone else!
In school, as I moved from one grade to another and one school to another, teachers would occasionally identify me as the sister of one or the other of my siblings (I had two older sisters and an older brother who’d gone to the same schools and had many of the same teachers).
Many years later, with two children of my own, I became, “Michael’s mom” and “Derek’s mother”, labels I embraced enthusiastically.
More recently, I was introduced as “the mother of the groom” at my youngest son’s wedding – an ‘identifier’ that thrilled me no end.
All of these ‘labels’ were connected to who I was related to – and therefore identified with – at the time. They had (in my mind, anyway) nothing to do with how I saw myself, or how others perceived me. I was simply a daughter, a sister, a mother.
In February of this year, I proudly took on another label – “grandmother” (or “Grammy” for short). I delight in the role and everything it encompasses; I couldn’t be happier. Except …
On October 30th, my son’s company hosted a Halloween party for the employees’ children. Pretty much everyone who works there is under forty and many have had children in the last few years. Since I was going to be taking care of my granddaughter later that evening (while her parents went to another party), I accompanied my daughter-in-law and granddaughter to the party in the afternoon.
When we joined my son and his colleagues in the boardroom, I didn’t feel at all out of place (having been a College teacher for years, I’m comfortable around people of all ages), although I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind it must have registered that I was the oldest person in the room.
I was enjoying being an observer of a ritual I hadn’t participated in for a good many years (a costume party for little ones!) when a young man dressed as Luke Skywalker came over and said, “You must be Maddie’s grandmother.” My first reaction (honestly) was to reply, “No, I’m Michael’s mother.” But, of course, he was right – I AM “Maddie’s grandmother” – I’d just never actually been ‘labelled’ that way by someone outside my own family. It took me by surprise. For despite the fact that I KNOW I’m a grandmother, I don’t really see myself that way.
I wouldn’t have thought I was biased enough to think that grandmothers are all old, grey-haired and wrinkled (like my own grandmothers were), but that’s exactly what went through my mind in that moment.
I’ve never been hung up on the idea of “anti-aging” products and I don’t really have a fear of getting older. After all, it’s inevitable. And while I admit to colouring my hair (I’ve been ‘going grey’ since I was in my teens) and upgrading my moisturizer to something with collagen and elastin in it (to help minimize those inevitable wrinkles), I recognize the inescapable reality of the years passing me by.
However, when I glance in a mirror, I expect to see the smiling face of the woman from my wedding photos (circa 2003) – not someone’s grandmother – looking back at me. And if (as the adage goes) I didn’t know how old I was and someone asked me my age, I’d probably say, “Forty” – because that’s how old I feel (some say we’ll always be a reflection of every age we’ve ever been, because of the memories we carry – I like that idea).
But, of course, I’m not forty (or eight or fifteen or twenty-one or thirty three) – I AM someone’s grandmother, and I’m definitely on … the other side of 55.