The end of February brought another anniversary. I have now been retired from Genesis for three years and from Rosecrance for two.
On my 68th birthday, Julie noted that I had retired well, and I agree with her assessment. COVID has undoubtedly impacted me during this last year, but it hasn’t all been negative. As I have said many times, events are neither bad nor good; they just are.
So, where is my life, and how is it different from what I imagined?
When COVID reared its ugly head Julie and I had just become empty nesters. We had gone on a few trips, and we were coming to terms with our changing roles. Julie was now the worker, and I was the stay-at-home partner.
Friends and family had voiced concerns that it would be difficult for me to transition from a high-stress professional career to a suburban homemaker’s role. However, that change was not at all difficult for me. I had never had a problem doing domestic tasks—my life before I remarried required that I have a comfort level with cooking and cleaning.
Just as I was fully embracing our new couple’s life, COVID hit, and our three youngest children returned home. I was delighted to have them back in the safety of Naperville. Still, I now had to adjust to having a family of 5 adults living under one roof.
I was strictly compliant with the stay-at-home mandate for its first few weeks. Surprisingly those restrictions harmed my mental health. I say surprisingly, as our house was full of people, plus I’m an introvert. However, it was clear that I needed to gently and safely broaden my social circle, and that was precisely what I did.
I also started to challenge myself with my endless lists of shoulds I “should” be more productive. I “should” continue hobbies that no longer interest me. I “should” tackle odious home projects. I reached a point during this last year where I decided that my life could be about more than always working towards goals. Especially when those goals had little real meaning.
During this last year, I continued to accept that I’m an obsessive person who comes from a long line of driven people. I like hyper-focusing on a particular topic. I love becoming an expert on trivial things. Such actions excite me. In the past, I viewed my behaviors with a certain amount of shame. Shame that my obsessiveness was odd or different. However, I now celebrate that difference. My actions harm no one and enrich me.
A recent visit to my primary care physician resulted in his suggestion that I monitor my blood pressure. This launched an obsessive interest in home blood pressure technology that has occupied me for the last few weeks. Others may think that such actions are crazy, but why should that concern me? I am in the process of compiling my findings in a post that may be helpful to others, and that is enough of a reason for my continued attention. I know that this short-term interest won’t last, but there is always something new on the horizon to catch my eye.
Some of my obsessions last much longer, but COVID has forced me to temper them. My passion for photography continues, but many of my photographing opportunities have not. COVID has robbed me of my small town visits, family get-togethers, and professional gigs. However, I continue to take photos for my friend Tom’s blog, and I genuinely enjoy helping him.
My passion for camping and minimalism has also been altered because of COVID. Before I go any further, I understand that those who know me are probably snickering that I connected myself with the term “minimalism.” I freely admit that I am an owner of things. I am a collector who is fascinated by the difference between similar objects. I am a person who has a house that is full of junk. Dear reader, I am a complex human, not a one-dimensional caricature. There is a part of me that likes stuff and a part of me that wants simplicity. When I am camping, I travel with very little, and I love the freedom that this brings me.
I did go on a few trips, but less than what I had hoped to do. I also spent a week of urban camping in Violet the campervan. Julie had a COVID quarantine, and I was concerned about my health. Despite what you may hear on YouTube hipster channels, urban camping sucks. I am grateful to have experienced it so I could sensibly develop that conclusion.
I mentioned that my three youngest kids returned home as soon as I had become comfortable with our empty nest. I am happy to report that I did adjust to my kids’ return. They came back to us as adults, but all of the shelter-in-place restrictions brought back a bygone time when our family was less diluted by other social obligations. We played games again, binge-watched TV shows, and (my favorite) cooked meals together. It was such a delight to go on long “adventure” walks with my kids. Something that I used to do with them when they were in elementary school. These times were wonderful gifts from COVID.
My Kathyrn left home when she was a sophomore in high school to attend IMSA. She then matriculated to the University of Arizona. When she graduated college, she joined the Peace Corps and moved to Africa. When COVID hit, she was evacuated back home. I have always had a good relationship with Kathryn, but it was still a bit distant. She connected well with Julie, and for that, I was grateful.
Over this year, my two youngest returned to college, and with Julie working, it was often just Kathryn and me. Over time we have become a team and a good one at that. Kathryn helps me clean the house, we grocery shop together, and we make and eat many meals together. I am a good teacher but a terrible driving instructor, but Kathryn needed to get her driver’s license, so we worked that out. Along with doing the tasks of life comes conversation, and along with talking comes connection. I don’t think that I have ever felt closer to her—another COVID blessing.
The year continued to educate me about my need to be connected with others. I am definitely not a person who needs to be the most popular kid on the block. I don’t need to have a million friends. I don’t need to be the center of attention. However, I do need connections. This last year I have strengthened many of my existing relationships. Naturally, that includes Julie and the kids. It also includes my relations with my extended family.
During much of my marriage, I was solely concentrated on my immediate family and my professional life. Over the last years, I have realized the importance of having male friendships in my life. This last year, I have strengthened my connection with the handful of men I call real friends, and I have been rewarded by their wisdom and caring. It has been a tremendous growth experience.
Has this year of COVID retirement impacted me? In ways opposite of what I could have expected. Many people have suffered because COVID has isolated them and diluted the connections they had with others. For me, it has had the opposite effect. I find that fact both interesting and remarkable.
This last year has allowed me to slow down and to stay in the moment. It has shown me how significant relationships are in my life. It has allowed me to rely on others and to ask for help. Something that I would have found impossible to do even a decade ago. Miracles can happen.
This has not been a “lost year,’ as some feel. It has been a different year. Remember, different doesn’t mean bad.
I move into my next year with anticipation and excitement. I wish the same to you.