by Leah Vetter
My mother was a marvelous knitter and crocheter. A king-size bed cover which she crocheted is a family treasure. She did not teach me those skills because her vision of my future did not include domesticity. I was so smart that my life would be one based on and celebrated because of my intellect (“Smart is seriously overrated,” says my very smart son – not the only carpenter in Seattle with a Ph.D.). My self-concept formed by this vision, I went to college, expecting a career in academia.
However, life is sometimes surprising. When it became necessary for me to quickly find a way to support myself and my children, I embarked on a career, in education, for which I had no academic training. As it turned out, I was very good at it and very successful and my self-concept changed – not an academic but an educator.
Now, after a serious illness, I have been forced by my children to live in a retirement community. At first, I required assistance but no longer do so. I have not yet developed a new self-concept. If I am not working in education, am I still an educator? The first question most Americans ask a new acquaintance is ,“What do you do?” Is, “I’m retired,” what I do?
I very much wanted to stay in my own home but had no choice. Moving from home to a retirement community is like changing schools. The new school has a history and culture which take time to learn and to make your own. No one asks “What do you do?“ and everyone is anxious to tell you what he or she did. As with a school, there are cliques, and more or less open groups, and existing close friendships. You need to allow yourself time and patience and realize that you, and everyone else, is older and finds establishing relationships less easy than when we were young.
My community has a plethora of activities and shared interests and time spent together are the basis of developing friendships. Who would have thought that cardio drumming would become my favorite activity? I love play reading and allow my vanity to be tickled by the admiration of my fellow actors. I’ve just started to work in a pea patch with beds elevated to belly button height. Thank goodness for generous horticulturists ready and willing to advise a newbie. I’m glad that we have transportation to the symphony, though not as often as I would like and I’m agitating for forming groups to go to the ballet and the opera. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that there was no choir. I spoke to the staff member in charge of activities and voila! We now have a choir of about 20 people.
Many people know my name and greet me in passing or at activities (I have a name remembrance problem myself). Nevertheless, I am aware that I am not often sought out to join a group at dinner. I try to ask people if they would like to join me. I’ve been here about six months and hope that another six months will make my self-concept as a retiree more comfortable and more supported by friendships.