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Live life in the present perfect

retired1
We’ve earned it!

Jane Fonda chronicled her life in three acts in her best-selling autobiography Prime Time, with her current stage of life being Act Three.  We each have different ways of remembering, analysing and categorizing our lives to make sense of our journey. Retirement has also been broken down into three stages. The first, where many early Boomers are now, is when we have the resources to do what we’ve waited our entire lives for. This may include traveling, playing lots of golf or tennis, ladies white wine lunches or simply relaxing on the patio, in your LaZGirl chair or on the dock with a good book.

During the second stage of retirement we slow down a bit. The inconvenience of travel has diminished its lustre, we’ve seen most of the places on our bucket list and we really prefer to sleep in our own beds at night. Our energy levels are compromised and we’re starting to get a bit creaky which requires more visits to the doctor with its associated blood tests and various hard-to-pronounce scans. Our spending is reduced and we’re content in smaller, more efficient single-level accommodation close to friends, family and services. Our lives centre around comfortable routines and rituals like a daily walk, regular meal times, watching the news or playing cards with friends.

We'll need to be creative about how we spend our retirement years.
We need to be creative about how we spend our retirement years.

The third stage of retirement is the most difficult and least rewarding. Some of us may be fit and able enough to still live in our own homes or apartments but the majority of us will require some level of care. Then our expenses will rise again as assisted living and chronic care facilities are not cheap. Depending on where you live and the level of service you require, costs can range from $2,000.00 to $5,000.00 per month, per person. We’ll be eating through our nest eggs pretty fast at those rates. I expect Boomers will be getting creative about our living arrangements by then (à la Golden Girls). Many of us are already discussing communal or clustered living with friends and hiring a cook, driver, cleaner, gardener or whatever support services we need to keep us rockin’ and out of the “home”.

christiane1The number of years associated with each of these three stages of retirement is fluid depending on the individual. I see my own life as now being in the first trimester of my third trimester. Then, I happened to see Dr. Christiane Northrup (the definitive authority on women’s health issues and menopause) on PBS the other day that has me rethinking the cycle. She was promoting Goddesses Never Age and her other books and DVDs, but her message is always solid and dependable.

We tend to think of our journey through life as a linear progression from baby to old age, then death. It can also be viewed as a circle in which we rotate from being fed, diapered and cared for as dependent babies to being fed, diapered and cared for as dependent seniors. When I first moved to Toronto at the age of seventeen to start work, I moved into Willard Hall, a girls boarding residence. My life’s possessions were contained in one suitcase and a train case and I shared a spartan dormitory room with another girl. How long will it be before I repeat that experience when I move into an assisted living or chronic care facility with one suitcase filled with nightgowns, slippers, track pants, toiletries and contraband bottles of Pinot Grigio, coming full circle over a lifetime.

life2Dr. Northrup suggested another way of looking at our lives that has a less negative connotation. Instead of perceiving of our journey as a linear progression with diminishing returns, consider the possibility that we are simply occupying space not time. That concept is reminiscent of Ekhart Tolle’s philosphy of living life in the moment. We are what we are, where we are in current time only. I rather like that concept. Occupying an abstract chunk of space in the universe sounds much more appealing than following a finite timeline that is running out.

A major bonus of embracing our lives as abstract chunks of space is that as Baby Boomers, it’s very likely we’re in the best space now that we’ve ever been in before; we’re more financially comfortable than we have ever been now that the mortgage is paid off or we’re living in an affordable rental space that we like; the kids are launched, literally and financially (we hope); we don’t have to get up and endure the stress of rush-hour traffic in snow storms to get to work on time and be lashed to our work stations until the clock says it’s time go to home; we’re as healthy as we’ll ever be (Boomers are the healthiest generation in history) and we can still do whatever we want. We get seniors’ discounts on movies, public transit, certain retail purchases and we’re finally our own boss. I’d say the present is a pretty perfect time to be who we are in the circle of life.

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The joy of menopause . . . the honest-to-goodness truth

The book begins slowly and builds to a multiple orgasm at the end.
The book begins slowly and builds to a multiple orgasm at the end.

Last week as I was watching Bill Maher on HBO, he invited author, speaker and performance artist Sandra Tsing Loh to join the panel at the half-way point in the show. This is usually when the new guest often has a book to promote. More than once I’ve enjoyed this part of the show so much I’ve gone on-line and ordered the book immediately and that’s exactly what happened when I downloaded Tsing Loh’s The Madwoman in the Volvo on to my Kindle before the show was even over.

Subtitled My Year of Raging Hormones, the book describes Loh’s midlife struggle with combining motherhood, overseeing an aging father, a marriage breakup and new relationship and depression while entering that dicey time of life known as menopause. She describes her daily life in terms any working woman can relate to. Driving children to various functions in the midst of domestic chaos, stressing about work deadlines, trying to keep a marriage viable with creative meals and date nights and coping with a difficult aging parent are life scenarios most women can relate to. Loh’s situation is further complicated by having two children who are still in elementary school at an age when most women are seeing their progeny off to college. She finds herself ill-equipped to deal with the noise, the demands and the sheer physical energy required to keep all the plates spinning while she’s experiencing hot flashes, depression, anger, resentment and loss of libido.

maxineAs I started reading I found myself thinking, “This is just another one of those books about how life is demanding, not always rewarding and sometimes you just want to give up. Ho hum, nothing different here.” What makes this book different and so incredibly special is her stark honesty about her shortcomings and coping mechanisms. We can sympathize and empathize with her often hilarious descriptions of dealing with her 88-year-old Chinese father’s issues and the day-to-day challenges of family, work and marriage. Things really picked up in the latter half of the book where she looks deeper into the harsh truths about her own makeup and how she turns things around. She exposes her barnacles and gives us permission to do whatever works for each of us to get rid of them and find our joy. From the halfway point the book just gets better, moving with a nice rhythm, picking up speed and climaxing at the end in a wonderful multiple orgasm of wisdom and support. It’s almost as if you should read the book from back to front.

northrupHappily, The Madwoman in the Volvo is not encumbered with pages and pages of footnotes and bibliography material. It is not a rehash of other people’s research and studies. The only major book she references  is Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause, a hefty tome that is universally read and respected as the definitive word on menopause issues.  Loh’s book is a wonderfully subjective, humorous recounting of her own experience and recommendations. We are not told to choke down eight glasses of slimy green liquid every day, subject our bodies to yoga and pilates or live on a diet of kale, broccoli and boiled chicken. In fact, trying to add these disciplines to our already-busy lives can often add to our stress levels when we’re barely holding ourselves together.

dwarfsOne of the most interesting things I learned is that our estrogen-fuelled years between puberty and menopause are actually the “unusual” years because we are pumped up with a temporary supply of  hormones (estrogen, progesterone) to cope with mating, child-bearing, mothering, and nurturing. When we hit menopause, our hormone levels actually return to where they were before puberty so we are in fact once again our authentic selves. That’s why she maintains there’s nothing wrong with telling the kids to make their own lunch, leave home or simply grow up. She gives us permission to get more sleep, hire help around the house if we want to and treat ourselves with a little TLC.  Don’t beat yourself up because you’re a few pounds overweight – after all, we didn’t have waistlines when we were ten years old either. After all those years of putting everyone else first, menopause brings us back to square one where it’s natural and not unhealthy to make ourselves a priority. Isn’t that wonderful? No need to feel guilty.  We’re vindicated. Girlfriend—you nailed it. I’d give Madwoman in the Volvo 10 out of 10.

 

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