Rewind 11 Years

In the fall of 2007, our oldest son left for college. At 16, our younger son was still at home and a little dismayed about having our undivided attention. I had my marketing communications business (the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hadn’t dried up freelance work yet), but I was contemplating what the next stage might offer. Recently, while tossing old paper files, I found notes from 2007 about what I hoped my life would be like—a snapshot that surprised me.

Photo of Ireland I added to my life map — Rock of Cashel near Tipperary

 

 

 

 

 

Photo I took from the inside of the Rock of Cashel ruins

 

 

At 53, I figured I had 30 years of good health and maybe another 10 years of iffy health. It’s a little odd that I had signed up for a workshop centered around “What To Do with the Rest of Your Life” or some other dippy name. I’ve always made a lot of lists and had short-term goals like lose 5 pounds, exercise more, and write more, but my long-range goals have remained hazy. OK, the truth is that I’ve never had 5-year career plans or 5-year life plans. Mostly I’ve had vague directions and made up my life as I went along. However, with so many articles and books about the challenges of mid-life, empty nests, and retirement, I felt a pang of responsibility (like maybe I needed to act like a grownup and prepare a little), so I signed up.

The workshop focused on helping us identify our values, gifts, passions, and purpose so we could create “life maps.” The language of self-help tends to give me the vapors, but once I set aside my bad attitude, I saw that they were worthy questions, so I did my homework. Then I promptly forgot all about my life map until I recently rediscovered it.

In 2007, here’s what I envisioned—

  • Creativity – Keep writing, return to pottery and quilting, explore watercolors and stained glass. Writing, pottery, quilting—check. Watercolors and stained glass— still to come.
  • Travel – Visit Hawaii, Ireland, Paris and Provence, and return to Italy. Hawaii, Italy and Ireland – done. We plan to visit Paris next year. Provence is still to come and the list continues to grow.
  • Teaching – Instead of teaching a writing course at St. Thomas University, now I help teach immigrants English.
  • Stay close with family – Yes, definitely. However, in 2007, my parents were still in good health. I understood they were aging, but I spent no time imagining my father’s death in 2011 and my mother’s death in 2014.
  • Volunteer work – Ongoing.
  • Socializing – Continue book group – Now I participate in two of them. Have more dinner parties or start a gourmet group. Still hopeful.
  • Move to a smaller home – We have.

What surprises me is that I’ve actually done so much of what I’d envisioned, especially considering my lack of focused planning. Maybe writing out my goals helped make them more real. Maybe my goals were so modest that it wouldn’t be a stretch to complete them. Either way, I’m pleased that I’ve used my time well.

I haven’t prepared a new life map and probably won’t. However, if pressed, I would say that my long-range plans include more of the same activities and maybe some grandchildren.

Check back with me in 2029!

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Shopping? Let Me Grab My Laptop!

When I received a gift of money recently, my first impulse was to grab my laptop and shop online. Maybe there are some summer tops on sale. Wait. What? I’m going to shop online despite having a stack of 30% off and $10 off coupons from local department stores? Even though I might have to pay shipping charges? Um, yeah. For me, online clothes shopping is more fun than in-store shopping.

 

It wasn’t always this way. A long time ago, in a land far away, when my sister and I accompanied my mother on shopping trips to department stores, it was a fun excursion (for us, anyway). We all had to change out of our grubby around-the-house clothes and into something more presentable. There was a saleslady and cash register in every department. She’d help you find another color and bring the item to your dressing room—so my mother didn’t have to get completely dressed again or send my sister and me on a mission to fetch another size. Sometimes Mom would treat us to Cokes in the store’s coffee shop, while she had a cup of coffee.

Fast forward to today. On the rare occasion when I shop in-store at places like Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney, or Herberger’s, my chances of finding a sales clerk are slim. Plenty of times, I’ve zigzagged through the store before I spot one several departments away. And this bored underpaid person doesn’t look too happy to see me with my question about another size.

To be fair, I have an uneasy relationship with sales clerks. The ones I remember from my girlhood often looked down their nose at me and my teenaged girlfriends as we flipped through the racks. When I was older and clearly a serious shopper, often a saleslady’s “help” turned into pushy upsell.

Today, if I want a snack to fuel my shopping, I can buy bottled water and a candy bar at the checkout. Not exactly the same as sipping a leisurely Coke while spinning on stools at the counter with my sister and mom.

I do get that customers like me helped change the retail experience. We don’t come because it’s no fun, and it’s no fun because we don’t come.

Nevertheless, if I want to shop for clothes these days, I’m most likely to be sprawled on my bed in my nightgown. There I can happily scroll through several store websites at once, checking for clearance items and considering the possibilities. Maybe the blue patterned one. No wait, what about the green one? And my coffee’s near at hand.

It Happened Like This …

Crystel and Tio Scott Photo by Tia Anna

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how I choose to look at it, I have many personal examples when I hold employee meetings or talk with my children regarding undesirable behavior.

This past week I met with employees in Grand Forks, North Dakota to discuss profanity in the workplace. In meetings, I first try to establish that I’m not much different from who they are. My position today as a Human Resources Manager was not where I started. I began my career more than thirty years ago, running an inserting machine on the night shift, was promoted to lead person, then Supervisor.

I told the employees that when I was a supervisor, I would say,“What did you f..k up now?” when I dealt with a challenging employee who was constantly making mistakes. My boss informed me that my language was not appropriateEven so, the next night before I even knew it, before I could stop myself, I said the exact same thing to the exact same employee who once again had screwed up. This time, my boss made it clear that I would be fired if it happened again.

I had heard that profanity was a sign of a limited vocabulary. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that it took me concerted effort to stop swearing. It certainly was embedded behavior.

Juan Jose

Recently, our employee meeting was focused on hygiene in the workplace. Our manufacturing plants are Safe Quality Food certified, meaning that we are held to a high standard when it comes to conditions on our manufacturing floor. I used the example of my father coming to one of my brother’s football games without changing from his farm clothes. They laughed watching my face turn red at the memory. “Whatever you are doing before you come to work, change into your work uniform and your work shoes. Don’t bring the dirt from the fields in here.

“It happened like this,” I said, to Juan Jose and Crystel, when I was teaching them about why bullying was wrong. I began by telling them how I bullied a kid mercilessly and often was in fights in middle school. “Did you ever run away from home?” Juan asked. “Once,” I said. “I was going to hop a train. I can’t imagine you or Crystel ever running away. Even parents want to be adopted by me and Mama Jody.” I paused. Well, unless it’s drugs, alcohol, or sex, I thought but didn’t say. Then again, if that happens, we’ll deal. I’ve got examples of that too.  

 

Inventing a Life

During recent conversations with friends, I realized that each of us is considering how to reinvent our lives. One is widowed at 65. Another’s ailing father recently died, ending her time-consuming caretaking responsibilities. A third friend is trying to understand what retirement will look like. I’m contemplating how my life will change when my oldest son moves to the West Coast in a few weeks.

The widow said, “What do I do with all of the expectations I had?” Unspoken is how devastating her loss is. Her best friend is gone. Her children live out of town. This is not what she imagined for her life.

The friend whose father died now has the ability think about how she wants to use her free time. She said, “Now is the time to enlarge my circle of friends and activities. I’m going to need them as I get older.” Unspoken was the awareness that some friends might move away—to warmer climates or to be closer to grandkids—and some will get sick or die. During the next 30 years, the ranks will thin out. Better to cast a wider net.

My semi-retired friend is also considering how to enrich her next 30 years. She already has a full life—plenty of friends, her writing projects, yoga, biking and more. She asked, “What experiences do I still want to have?”

I don’t have answers for my friends, but I do understand the questions. Numerous times, I’ve had to re-envision my life.

Sometimes I’ve embraced the need for a major life change, like when my husband and I decided to downsize and move from the suburbs to the city. We eagerly searched for a new house and tried to picture ourselves in a variety of neighborhoods. We were seeking a new lifestyle, and I was excited about the possibilities.

Other major changes were thrust on me, like family illnesses. When my younger son severely injured his knee and needed to rehab with my husband and me, we all had to figure out the new dynamics.

How odd he must have felt to move into one of our spare bedrooms at 25. He’d been on his own and managing well since he was 19. While he was bedridden, we cooked for him and helped him wash up. He could make his own health care and financial decisions, but little else was under his control at first. When he wanted privacy, he even had to ask someone else to close his door.

Seeing him grimacing in pain and knowing that I couldn’t fix that was hard for me. I also had to walk the line between suitable caretaking like fetching ice packs or water and fussing too much. None of us knew what the next day or next week would bring, but I knew we’d figure it out. And we did.

Image taken by Daniel Schwen. Made available through Wikimedia Commons.

Some big changes are mixed blessings, like my oldest son moving out west. He and his significant other have dreamed about new opportunities for him and a well-regarded medical residency program for her. After months of uncertainty, their life is unfolding as they had hoped. I’m excited for them and think the Bay area will be fun to visit. But I’ll really miss them and know our time together will work differently. We won’t have the impromptu dinners and walks we all love. Instead, our future visits will be planned well in advance. We will need to create different rituals for birthdays and holidays. Inevitably, he’ll be far away and miss out on some events, like going for a beer with his brother, hearing my husband’s band perform, or attending one of my publication readings.

Whenever I’ve undergone a major life change, I’ve had to invent a life that better fits my new circumstances. That requires emotional energy, and sometimes that’s hard to find. But I’ve been separated from family before. My husband and I moved away from my Ohio family nearly 30 years ago. I know a lot about maintaining strong long distance connections.

So I’ve begun thinking about how we can use phone calls and FaceTime to maintain close ties with my son after he moves. I’ve checked out airfares. Bit by bit I’m inventing the new shape of my life.

Why March?

I’m as surprised as anybody that I’ve begun marching in support of causes I care about. I have never been an activist. For years, I was quietly passionate about my politics and causes – emphasis on quietly. I spoke about them among friends, sent letters and checks, but that was it.

Signs at Women’s March – MN

My upbringing discouraged political activism.

I was 12 in 1967 when race rioting began in Detroit and Toledo, my hometown. My father was a fire chief and reported that rioters were throwing rocks and bottles at firefighters. He was angry and I was scared. Although I didn’t agree with the violence, looting and burning, the civil rights movement made me aware that blacks were often treated unfairly, which might prompt them to anger and rioting. Despite that insight, at 12 years old, I was more worried about my father’s safety than anything else.

I was 15 on May 4, 1970, when, after days of Vietnam War protests, four students were killed and nine were wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University several hours from my home. As a WWII veteran, my father disagreed with the war protests, and at dinner on the evening of the shootings, he denounced the campus lawlessness. My mother staunchly agreed with him. My college-age brother and younger sister didn’t comment. I was in sympathy with the protesters, but kept silent.

My primary impression of protests and marches was that they could easily turn violent—something I wanted no part of.

So why at 62, did I join 100,000 like-minded people at the Women’s March in St. Paul in January? And 10,000 people for the March for Science -MN on Earth Day?

Because I can’t bear to see 40-50 years of progress—on civil rights (race, gender, religion, and country of origin), women’s rights, and environmental protections—disappear.

This just can’t be my generation’s legacy.

I know full well that marching by itself doesn’t change anything. It’s just gesture, and that gesture has to be followed up with a sustained effort to create change. I’m prepared to do that, too.

I believe that seeing the sheer numbers of marchers puts politicians on notice—we are a force to be reckoned with, and they serve us, not the other way around.

A sea of marchers on at the Women’s March – MN on 1/21/17, including my son who was on crutches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Day March for Science – St. Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that other people who share my views and values will be heartened and moved to take action too.

Marching makes me feel less powerless, more hopeful.