When I retired, I pictured my days as scenes from a nineteenth century novel, relaxing as the lady of a British manor might. I pictured that I would sit most mornings and linger over my coffee, watching the birds feeding outside my window, until I could name them, each and every one. My coffee would stay hot, of course, no matter how long I lingered. I pictured my dogs and I taking long and lazy walks often. I pictured all the leisure time I’d spend pulling rascal weeds from around my innocent flowers, and that I’d croon over my plantings until they bloomed their biggest and brightest simply to make me happy. Of course, I’d wear a fashionable floppy hat with a hatband that matched my gardening gloves. In my retirement the weeds would never dare return. I’d be that vigilante. I pictured that my house would remain pleasantly in order so that it wouldn’t take all that much from me to keep it that way. I pictured laundry done and put away in a timely fashion. After all, I was retired now. I pictured nary a dirty dish in the sink- ever. I pictured that when my husband, lord of the manor, walked in the door each afternoon, he would return home to me, relaxed and serene, and a heart-healthy home-cooked meal. I pictured wrong.
Retirement can be those things, I suppose, but I’m no lady of a manor. I have no servants to do my bidding, and most of the time I don’t mind that fact. Here’s the rub. I am finding the longer I’m retired, much to my disappointment, the more I develop the nasty habit of overscheduling myself much worse than I ever did when working. Working gave me boundaries! What a discovery! When I was working, I knew my time was finite. I said no to certain invitations, denied myself some opportunities, and it seems knew my limitations. Here, in my new life of retirement, I’ve discovered I don’t do well without boundaries. How was I to know? I have forgotten how to say no. I’ve also forgotten a life without the Internet or cell phones. Time for a wake-up call to myself.
As if I’m some superwoman (choose your favorite character), I start each day with a list, either mental or written, of all the tasks I will accomplish, all the people I will call or visit, all the bills I will pay (online), all the cards I will send to those in need of cheering, having birthdays, etc., all the laundry I will fold, all the dishes I will unload from the dishwasher and load again, all the floors I will sweep or vacuum, all the surfaces I will dust, all the mail I will separate into tidy files, all the appointments I will make on time, all the drawers and closets I will straighten, all the toilets I will swish, all the meals I will cook for today and to freeze, and on and on and on. In my head, as I compose my list, I’m singing along to my favorite songs while performing these tasks, my version of whistling while I work. Oh, and what about those nasty, pesky weeds and things yet planted? What about my pet birds? squirrels? Let’s not forget the memorable moments I want to spend with my grandchildren and daughters. What about the treadmill upstairs, the one beckoning to me each time I enter its room and throw a garment across it? Throw in the occasional lunch with a friend, and I’m a goner.
What does my list do? Does it help me to stay on track? Maybe sometimes, but more often it causes endless angst when, every single day, it not only is unfinished…….it is hardly started. It causes GUILT.
Completing those tasks may have been possible – no, that much in one day would never have been possible – before the internet, before I had all my toys, before I knew how to log on. I find myself carrying my cell phone and either pad or laptop up the down staircase all day long. I don’t watch much television during the daytime hours, but how can I be far from my connections to the outside world? What if someone needs me? What if I rudely ignore a text on my phone, or a comment on Facebook, or (God forbid) an email. That isn’t me. I don’t ignore people, not me. Lately, I realize I’m just plain too much plugged in to ever accomplish much of anything. Lately I realize I’m reading less, much to my horror.
I’ve blamed telephone interruptions, unplanned drop-in visitors, my dogs, and whatever or whomever else I can think to blame. The plain truth is that if I remained unplugged longer, spent fewer hours texting, or typing, or surfing, maybe the unexpected phone call or visit (which I always enjoy) would be okay. Maybe going about my day without a list would be okay. Hard, but okay. It wouldn’t mean that nothing would ever be accomplished. It might mean less guilt, which is a good thing. A good compromise might be a shorter list? Truth be told, those interruptions are what make the day.
Here’s a realization. My way of dealing with the need to be less plugged in is to think about it, ponder it here, and sometimes to commiserate with my friends (on FB, of course). Close the laptop? Hardly.