Retirement, or Mister Toad’s Wild Ride
Have you ever ridden Mister Toad’s Wild Ride? It’s just a crazy, madcap, jerky Disney World ride through a made-up maze of insanity. I have used this ride as a life metaphor many times – most recently, for my departure from the work force. My retirement didn’t happen at all the way I expected it to. It was a year and a half earlier than planned, and it was in response to a family emergency. I left work to become my adult daughter’s fulltime caregiver. She moved in with us when her health issues became overwhelmingly serious, and her marriage imploded. We picked her up on a Saturday, and by the following Friday I was retired. I left in the middle of the school year. I left my students overnight, to finish out the school year with a long term substitute teacher. Then at the end of the year when retirees are acknowledged in front of the district, I had an appointment that could not be changed. I didn’t even go to that. It’s as if I dropped off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.
The first two months my daughter was with us are now a blur. She was hospitalized twice for sepsis – the first time started with a UTI and a status seizure requiring an induced coma. The second stay began with pneumonia. Somewhere in the middle of those two hospital visits, she broke her foot and ankle during one of the many falls triggered by the weakness and balance issues that plague MS patients. There was a flurry of home visits from therapists of every tongue and creed, as well as visits from first responders in ambulances to help us get in and out of the house each time we wiped out on the temporary ramp. Our carpet was torn up and replaced with wood flooring. A ramp was built. A bedroom was created out of our office on the first floor. The paraphernalia of the disabled was installed in our home piece by piece. And I thanked God daily for the support we received from my staff, in the forms of monetary gifts and countless meals.
When life settled down into a routine that was somewhat predictable, it was full-blown summer. I was able to enjoy extra quality time spent with grandchildren. We took a family trip to Kentucky for a reunion. We celebrated birthdays and visited local parks. We helped Mom sell her house in Kentucky, and moved many treasured articles back to Michigan, the boxes piling up on the first floor. We sold our own house in Grand Rapids, as our daughter’s ex-husband moved in with his family. I got used to having my educator husband around the house on a daily basis.
Over the summer, I was privileged to meet the teacher who would replace me. She was gracious enough to have me come to her room and talk her through the district special education procedures. I knew my students were going to be in good hands. My stuff was still in boxes in the boiler room. I had one quick day over spring break to come into my classroom and rescue anything I thought I might want at home. It was all thrown into boxes, and squirreled away by the custodian, waiting for me to take it home. Thirty-three years of teaching were over in the blink of an eye, and all of my best memories were tucked away for processing.
And then, it was August. For the first time in dozens of years, I didn’t go back to school. And my husband did.
A deep, stifling, quilt of funk settled over me. My head contained a litany of questions. What did it all mean? Was I a good teacher? I made so many mistakes over the years! Was I the teacher who ruined a kids’ self image by a careless word or facial expression? Did I make a difference? Did I inspire kids to love learning? What was I going to do now? My life was too unpredictable to settle into the various roles retirees enjoy. I still had at least a couple of decades left on this earth. What was I going to do with them?
And then I remembered the advice that I usually gave to young people going off to college: you don’t have to know today what you are going to do tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Spend today doing what you need to do. Rest enough. Reflect often. Get involved. Try things out. Find what brings your passion forth. Surround yourself with good people, and life will find you.
And so, today I’m off to follow my own advice. So far I have been asked to serve on an advisory board for a family and consumer science instructor in the district where I live. It only meets a couple of times a school year, and that I can do. I have all kinds of experience to share with students who think they might want to become teachers. Right now I’m struggling just to get myself and our daughter out the door to church on time, in addition to the myriad of doctor appointments she needs. I take her to Bible study and MOPS, so she can meet other women her age. I go out to brunch with friends whenever possible. I am reorganizing my household to reflect all of the changes that have taken place in our family dynamics. My dining room and relocated office still look like an episode of a hoarding show. And that’s about all I can handle right now. This life is far different than what I’m used to. I am a homemaker again. My life is suddenly smaller than it has been in years, but in different way, just as important. I’m taking it slowly, and allowing God to reveal His plan for me step by step. I am on the reality version of a theme park ride, but I can’t wait to see where life is going to take me.
Written By Kathy Gregory