My mother has decided to finally retire.
We've discussed the pros and cons countless times: the ability to network, the access to technology at the office, the stimulation of new challenges every day versus the ability to travel, the luxury of reading the paper cover to cover and going to the library just to sit and glance through magazines. But she loves meeting new people of all ages and hates being ghettoized as an old person which she feels tends to happen when you give up your job.
My mother will be eighty years old in January.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the percentage of women working and staying in the work force through age 75 in the last twenty years is plus 2 percent as compared to men in the same category which is up 2.6 percent. But just below her age, the women trump the men in almost every age category. And that means that women are staying at their jobs well past menopause, well past child rearing, and doing what we all have always said we would do: focus on our own lives when we finally could. Because once you get a taste of it.....it's ambrosia.
Of course, many women are simply working because they have to, or because they are used to having a second income. But men are not living as long, so many of the women are working because they are self-supporting, or, like my mother, they simply cannot bear the thought of being cooped up in their apartments or houses all day without the stimulation of the "get" or the deal.
She's by no means a workaholic. My mother goes out to the theater or to hear music every night. She takes advantages of free performances in the parks, at Lincoln Center, and in all the public libraries in addition to having subscriptions to the various theaters which she attends with her 86 year old boyfriend. She says she doesn't know how "singles" in rural or suburban areas cope: she hasn't driven for at least fifteen years and finds a way to take public transportation, including the subways at all hours, everywhere she goes.
But she does love her work. As a fifties mom, she didn't enter the work force until we were grown, at first going back to the things she remembered from before she was married: writing and illustrating. But once she and my father were divorced, she got her real estate license and it was full speed ahead for the next thirty years. My mother is beautiful and vivacious and she enjoys people and although she isn't the most aggressive agent, her customers adore her and have used her repeatedly over the years as their own family needs and circumstances have changed.
My sons were all employed for the first time this summer and I was prouder of that stat than when they were all in college. But percentages of male employment are down in all of their categories: my two sons, (20-24) by 3.7 percent and my two stepsons, (25-29 and 30-34) by 1.3 and .1 percent respectively. As forty becomes the new thirty and thirty, the new twenty, it's taking them longer to figure it out. And the baby boomer parents are mostly able to give them that luxury.
As the Times puts it, "She works, her Grandson doesn't". My mother hasn't been happy about that state of affairs. Her nervousness about not being employed is not exclusive to her and extends to her grandchildren. As far as she's concerned, how much you work and how much you make is still a very relevant question to ask at family dinners. My mother is trying to understand why after she's helped pay for all the expensive private school educations, the children aren't leaping out into the world. The only employment category for women that does go into negative territory is age 20-24 where it's minus six percent. That's still less than the males, but bears out my personal, non scientific experience: ALL of the kids are taking longer to figure it out.
Just last week, we gave her an "unbirthday" party. She hates her birthday no matter how old she is, so we got everyone together when she least expected it; our plan is to fete her throughout the rest of the year so it's not such a shock when it actually happens.
She can't believe she's turning eighty, and I understand: I, too, resent the hell out of each added year. But since I've been in a union now for a while, Labor Day has taken on new resonance for me and I think it's a good thing for her to be able to stop and smell the roses or the coffee or quite frankly, just the top of a newborn great- grandchild's head when that time comes.
Her company won't really take a big financial hit when she retires. But they will be losing a gracious lady who really cares about her customers and who treats them as her friends. Because, by now, most of them are. If they're lucky, she'll invite them along with her weekend walking group or to grab a standing room ticket with her at the Metropolitan Opera. Her work ethic, the important one, the one that reveres close attention and doing your best at whatever you do, will not leave her simply because she is leaving her job.