So I've been up since 6, snuggled in my big leather armchair, pencil in hand, reading my way through Thomas King's The Inconvenient Truth which I need to reread before discussing it with my students on Tuesday. Trying to ignore the research proposals stacked nearby, reminding myself that I plan to mark those this afternoon. Reassuring myself that I did, after all, work my way through a stack of 1st-year assignments in little pockets of time between Thursday and Saturday afternoon (they did such a good job on their Annotated Bibliographies -- I honestly found them a pleasure to mark!). Somewhere between anxious and panicked about two 90-minute classes I need to plan for tomorrow afternoon, at least one of which will required reading a few articles.
And it's been a gnarly week! Besides the young visitors, the ramping up of my Marathon training is demanding that I sleep 8 hours nightly or crash unexpectedly at inopportune times. These last three weeks of term bring the end in sight, but they also mean a speeding up of the treadmill as I prepare to teach one last major text for each of three courses. And while I was really pleased to get/accept a dinner invitation from a good friend we somehow hadn't seen in a year (!), as Friday approached, part of me just wanted a free evening at home instead. . . . (Nola was thrilled to accompany us -- these friends have goats, a horse, a real barn -- and the best little outdoor playhouse she could imagine! and my friend makes a mean Ricotta Cheesecake)
So what? Why air my particular tedium of to-dos when you all have your own? Because, I think, it's something of a surprise to me that this question of a work-life balance persists at 60, almost 61. And that seems worth pausing at. An article in the regional news recently presented a Senior whose Wifi signal had been hijacked to the ka-ching of $800, and the Service Provider was being accused of heartlessness in billing this supposedly Poor Old Woman who couldn't possibly know enough about technology to protect herself. Readers, she was 65! Ouch! I think we need a few competing images of Women Beyond 60! So I'm offering up my own version of that age as a Working Woman, juggling, dropping the occasional ball, not as differently from when I was 45 or 50 than what I might have imagined 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
I know that many of you will want to say that I could solve the question by retiring. I could, yes. My personal pension is always going to be limited as I only started earning it this millenium. But even though my income will be reduced with my husband's eventual death (which, of course, may not even happen in my lifetime), I would certainly have enough to manage in reasonable comfort. Still, it means something to my sense of independence to build up my own pension by working as long as suits me. My mother-in-law retired too early at my father-in-law's insistence and she has, so far, had 30 years to remark on the fact. Neither Pater nor I want to live three decades with that kind of regret.
And so far, I still enjoy so much of my work. I don't like its rhythms, some of the year, and I wish fervently that it were possible to take a week or two of vacation at some point during the late winter. I weary often of teaching required courses to students with no interest and little aptitude. But I still love the contact with (mostly) young people able and often willing to be transformed by new ideas -- and, in turn, offering me transformed ideas. I tire of the performance demands, 13 weeks in a row of putting together eight 90-minute classes, keeping 30 students engaged, from the dreaded 8:30a.m. time slot right through the deadly 4-5:30 period (the last few years, I've been Just Saying No to teaching 3-hour evening classes). But part of me still thrives
I can feel myself moving incrementally closer, year by year, to the day when I will know it's time to let go, to move to all the other activities I want to devote more time to. But I'm so glad I didn't give into last year's exhaustion, when dealing with my mom's illness and death brought me close to quitting work. While fatigue made that option seem credible, desirable, at the time, I suspect I'd be regretting it by now. Instead, current plans are for me to work next year full-time, and then take a term off (an Unassisted Leave, for which I will pay my own benefits, keeping up my pension and health plan contributions). I look forward to that term both because it will give me a taste of how I'll do with the unscheduled shape of four whole months and because I suspect it will energize me to go back and do at least one more year full-time.
Meanwhile, I'm juggling, just as I have done for almost 40 years, juggling the pleasures and obligations of family and work. Thanks to this juggling, my course preparation was interrupted half an hour ago by the sound of my office door opening, and my little granddaughter tiptoed out of "her" room. As I began to put my book down, ready for our morning cuddle, she tiptoed straight to the next room, quietly opening the door, shutting it equally quietly behind her and, presumably, snuggling into bed with her mother, who joined the party last night. They've been apart for almost a week, Mom doing her own version of juggling work and family -- we were overjoyed to have her make the ferry trip over to spend a day with us before taking Nola home. But between them, they've stolen more of my working hours than I care to count this weekend and over the last week. I'm so lucky!
Because I'm playing catch-up with a very long list, I'll stop this meditation on Work-Life Balance at 60 here. I think it's necessary, though, to clarify that I have deliberately curtailed my career in ways that would take up at least another post. I definitely don't "have it all" in terms of career and family, and it's always been obvious to me that no one does.
Yes, I'm aware that despite my claims of having so much (paid) work to catch up on, I'm taking time to write this post. All I can say is that I do this for me, and I'm worth it. Our conversations energize me, from both sides of the screen. So tell me, does any of my thinking here resonate with you? Do you, for instance, get impatient when you see 65 or other such numbers offered by the media as an explanation for some silly behaviour or other? Are you surprised by how busy you continue to be at an age your younger self assumed would be devoted to crocheting doilies? And I'm happy to hear from those of you who have made that leap into Retirement -- feel free to reassure me about what riches I will find there, even if I'm not yet ready to open that gate. . . .