Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


                                                Kids: Need I Say More?

            So our kids have left home.  For some it’s tears, for other it’s hooray, free at last. 

On one hand, it may be so lonely, we want to enroll in school with them. But on the other it’s no more student loans, no more catching them with pot under their mattress, no more worries about daughters being used as sperm banks.  Don’t have to listen to those pleadings for $500.00 Gucci shoes, no more orthodontists or shelling out money for DUIs.  Paid in full.  Right?  No wrong.  We’ve only paid the interest.  Better if I’d had to pay the interest on one of those sub prime mortgages. 

            True, even those parents sighing with relief, may be lost without their kids, as  we’re biologically programmed, from an evolutionary viewpoint (don’t put a lot of stock in that one) but regardless of where it came from, we’re programmed by someone or something, to put their needs before ours. 

            In fact, so many elderly mothers have invested so much in their kids it would be less painful for them to hear they have terminal cancer than to hear they’re a drag, and a nuisance to their kids.  They insist their counsel and advice is something their kids want and need.

For instance when their kids complain about their work they commiserate and try to lighten them psychologically, they say things like: “I know it’s hard, I’ve been through the same thing myself.”
“It’s my back.  It hurts like Hell.”

“I know, age catches up with all of us.” 

:My God, Mom, I’m not getting THAT old, can’t you do anything but pull me down?

So they are now in their 30s, 40-- or like my kids, in their 60’s, and getting Social Security themselves. To expect much loving attention from those pre-occupied ones—well, good luck.

 As for those few who have lucked out, and have kids that do everything they can to help them-- mow their lawns, show them the way out of a computer snafu, drive them to appointments and wait for them in the doctor’s office, or take care of them when they break a hip.  All I can say, as far as I’m concerned, wow, they did something right. 

For all of the rest of us who feel we bollixed the child-rearing job, we did our best with the information we received from the Dr. Spocks of that time.  So don’t let yourselves get eaten up with self-condemnation. We read all the books on how to raise kids.  We listened.  We followed.  They gave us the wrong advice.  Wish now I’d been a “tiger mom,” As their advice was permissiveness. 

We smile and swallow the criticism they lay on us.  Figure it’s a payback for all the parental advice we dished out and all the times we plunked the little twits down in front of Kapitan Kangeroo, murmuring to ourselves whew, thirty minutes of liberation. Where’s my coffee? 

Now, we can recall when we ourselves were kids and how we hated for our parents to try to be part of our lives, by spying and by questioning. 

And so, knowing we shouldn’t, knowing we’re practicing a contradiction; but unable to help ourselves, we lose it and snoop.

“So how was practice?” We inquire.


“How did the interview go?”

“Okay, I guess.”

So questioning didn’t work— now to spying.  But now our kids turn the tables on us, they know us well—maybe know us better than we know ourselves and snoop back.

            “So okay,” we defend ourselves, “I didn’t keep up my mortgage.  So sue me.” 

When our kids were little and followed us around the house getting in our way, needing rides or glasses, drinking, taking drugs, getting into trouble at school, all we wanted was to be free of those problems.  They were pests.  And now that it’s fun to be around these young adults, we’re the pests.

            So most of us didn’t amount to much.   Maybe a couple, but not most of us became CEO of that company we worked for.  We didn’t become anything. But that little twit of ours, with his IQ of 140 was supposed to.  Like I never asked my kid if they wanted to grow up to be president or First Lady, as our Depression parents did, but I expected more from  him than working as a mechanic.

            Time is running out for us, as we’ve now reached the age where we know what the Hemlock Society is all about, and spend much of our spare time agonizing, whether that pain in our chest is indigestion ora heart attack?  And those tremors in our hands.  Something has to be done about them.  They’re getting so bad we’re going to need a seismograph to scroll them.  Yeah, we’re getting up there.

            Now, those of us in our 80’s, maybe to kill time or punish ourselves, reminisce by doing lists in our head of all our lifetime mistakes: buying all those lemons, wasting too much time on that ridiculous job, neglecting and then spoiling our kids. 

            And the failures.  Why didn’t we go further on to graduate school and get that law degree?  And how about all the things we started and didn’t finish, all the money we wasted partying, buying that boat, we hardly ever used, gambling hundreds of dollars, okay, thousands of dollars away, not to mention all the time we wasted fiddling around doing nothing but watching soaps or sports.

            Now we regularly forget to put out the garbage and are so bereft of things to do and people to talk to we alternate between being a windbag to collective yawns, spending our bile at the government and all in all talking in what our tuned out listeners perceive to be Esperanto.

Something is rotten here—putting us off our feed, but what is it?  So what to do?  We turn to our kids. Dumb move.  We may get some attention, but more likely we’ll be either rejected, dismissed or have to listen to our kids firing off cannonades of our past sins as parents, until you want to fall to the floor, bow your heads in submission and beg for salvation or at least forgiveness.  But as I’ve said we like/love the little twits (well big twits now), and it’s now quite obvious, we love more than they like/love us.  So we’re stuck with this set-up. 

            On the other hand, fixated on our kids, many of us, won’t even try to relate to our age mates. ”They’re not for me,” I’ve heard several elderly friends say, “Old people are boring.”  Then add, “You couldn’t get me in that Senior Activity Center, if you paid me.” 

            There are millions, especially in Asia, that care selflessly for aging parents for years.  The old timers linger on for years with dementia, strokes, neurological problems and don’t know who’s caring for them.  These care givers deserve some kind of medal—or at least they should inherit it all.  But this is not America’s individualistic culture. And so we’re a drag on the younger generation who become exasperated with us as we recycle our old recollections one more time. But for some reason, we don’t see their exasperation.  I don’t know why we’re so oblivious to that? 

            I know once upon a time the elderly were sought out for their intelligence.  They knew the best hunting and gathering places.  Now we have colleges that tell their students where the best job hunting is.  The elderly were venerated because they had access, or at least knew. where the best watering hole were located. California and the mid-west may have some future use for that knowledge some day, but now our knowledge of watering holes extends as far as knowing where the faucet is located.

Those elders of the past knew how to remove an arrowhead with a modicum of pain. Doctors do that now. But with probably as much pain as those witch doctors. I  know of what I speak.  When I broke my arm,  it was weeks of pain.

These elders of the past were architecturally astute and could give directions on the correct measurements and structure for building a sound home.  We’ve got architects for that, although the domicile’s ability to withstand a earthquake or hurricane may not be as good as those old timers, although they sure are more luxurious.  I live in a house that’s 107 years old and it gives me less trouble than some older friends that bought a newly built house.

So maybe those old houses were better built.  Elderly women knew which plants were poisonous, but elderly women today can tell you what brand of bread, vanilla, pineapple, etc., are best.  And best of all the elders in the past knew how to mediate squabbles, how to console the depressed and how to get slackers back on the hunt. 

 We have psychological organizations for mediating conflicts and consoling the despairing. As for getting slackers back to work the hunt, well, getting slackers back to work today is still an unknown.   And as for salving that forsaken feeling with May/December romances, well, they never work out for long, unless one part (and you know who) spends an enormous amount of money or has prestige and fame.   Money wears thin after a spell.  Prestige and fame may last longer.           

We ask our kids, “What’s going on with your life?”

And on the rare occasions when they do share, we’re shocked, dismayed, worried or hurt.

 “My kid’s still a junkie?  He’s in debt over his head?  His wife’s fed up?” 

            What’s the attraction?  Do we have some fantasy that their of-the-people oratory will rub out our guilt over past infractions.  So we sit there probing, all the time feeling like a Porche on an empty street, waiting to be a Chop Shop victim, or we’re struggling along like the last walker in a marathon and looking worried we may need a walker soon.  My kids probably have a difficult time with me because they think I expected more from them and am disappointed with their lack of success.
            I hear support for our one vantage point over the young.  “We have something the young don’t have.  We have life experience.”  But experience in what?  Is it experience that will be useful.    Sure going through the Depression, we learned how to make a dime do the work of a dollar.  And we managed on an income of $2.00 a day, but in today’s world where the average income is $40,000 a year, what is the need for that experience?   Although the way the economy is going, who knows.

            Yes, we were drafted and sloughed through mud and lost arms and legs and experienced WWII.  But today’s wars are fought by computers far away, or on carriers in the middle of the ocean.

            The young don’t encounter the misery of war, as waged by industrialized countries today—only the people in small, Third World countries have to weather that misery. Our soldiers today do, indeed, struggle, plow through mud and die in wars as we did, but not by the hundred of thousands as was the case during early wars such as WWII.

            So while we may kid ourselves that we are still of value, we aren’t.  And our liability will become more conspicuous with time, especially as the baby boomers will raise the cost of our upkeep. And while we may put some pressure on our voting bloc, in the future money invested in seniors will be seen as better invested elsewhere.

            In order to supply all this money for us old codgers, the government has to stint on and deny the young and poor.  They could always cut back on the Pentagon, but that won’t happen, so it will be us.  We will become such a burdensome liability, euthanasia will become a common practice.  It isn’t science fiction to hazard that a baby will not only be given a birth date, but a death date at birth.

            Futurist claim the next class war won’t be between the bourgeois and the proletariat, but between the young and the old.  I don’t know that I agree with this as all the revolutions in the past have been between the rich and the poor. I take thata back, actually to be realistic about it,  revolutions have been between the intellectuals, and the rich.   Future revolutions will probably be the same. 

And then again, I’ve read kids today are not separating from parents, but they have 36 year old kids continuing to live in their old room.   So maybe we, who are beyond boomer age are lucky in that our kids don’t like us that much. Maybe the boomers, indulging their kids are lemmings blundering into the sea. 

Nevertheless we try the boomer’s tactics.  We seem never to be able to give up where our kids are concerned.  We try understand.

“I know it’s hard,” we say, “I’ve been through the same thing myself.”

“It’s my back.  It hurts like Hell.”

“I know, age catches up with all of us.”  As I said before we’re trying to be empathic.

“My God, Mom, I’m not getting old, can’t you do anything, but pull me down?”

So other than dispensing words of wisdom, like the above, in an effort to cover our mistakes we make further mistakes.  But maybe the youngish old aren’t doing any better.

So I’d like to make one suggestion that might help us avoid being put on an ice floe.  According to studies that have been done on young and old, the young are better than the old as just about everything, except the old are better at philosophy. So we should all try to pass on our wisdom.

            As we have nothing but the cultural lag and a fear of our voting bloc that is keeping the benefits flowing, we much find something beyond being a good consumer and a sympathetic listener and conversationalist to keep us-- when we are firing on only one piston—alive. 

My suggestion is for us is to stop coddling ourselves and letting our kids and passivity take over our lives.  I know it’s easy to coddle ourselves and try to make up for past mistakes, but as we tire easily and our efforts are usually in vain with our kids let’s see the positive. 

Raising kids humble us and it’s a struggle, but we’ve got to congratulate ourselves on getting them to adulthood with all their fingers and toes intact as it seems teir brains.  I regret terribly not being the tiger mom.  I should have been.  But it was the time of liberality iand permissiveness. 

            But in the end, and I sorry to say this.  But unless your kids were raised by nannies and tutors, you probably won’t lead their hit parade. As for living with your kids, I’d rather join the Peace Corps, so when called upon again, inquire diplomatically if money would do.   It works. Told I was a cynic.  Okay I admit it.

As a last word, I overheard my granddaughter talking to one of my elderly friends, She said, “I’m afraid if I have a kid, I’ll screw up and it might hate me.”

Elderly friend replied, “Did you say, “It MIGHT?”



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