I am 99% certain the nurses made some sort of mistake with my wristband when I was born. They must have switched mine with another pruny little baby’s when they were bathing us. Sounds like a movie, I know, but I cannot otherwise explain the fact that my mother and I are two very different people.
She is a wonderful woman and an ideal mother, don’t misunderstand, but we have very little in common. From a young age I challenged her; by the time I hit high school I’m fairly certain she’d made some discreet inquiries into the white slave trade. Honestly, I can’t blame her. I never passed up the chance to try her patience, sometimes unintentionally but quite often on purpose. You know all those mothers who say their child was a “delight” to raise? My mom chokes on her coffee whenever she hears that.
As an adult, I didn’t make her life any less stressful, making essentially the opposite of every decision she made for herself. My mom and dad have been together since the British Invasion, while I lasted seven years in a marriage before my spectacularly dramatic divorce. My mom devoted her life to raising a child, staying home with me until I went into middle school. I look at babies with a detached curiosity at best. My mom has worked at the same doctor’s office for 29 years, while I held more than 29 jobs before settling on the less-than-secure career of “freelance writer.”
She retires Friday, ending almost 30 years of haggling with insurance companies, doctors, and people who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t pay their medical bills. She’s leaving a job where they received memos about what types of snack foods they could bring to work. She’s leaving the sort of place where she had a new boss about every year. She’s leaving the world of the working, where you have to get to bed at a reasonable hour because you’ve got to get up the next day and do it all again. Think Office Space with doctors and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of her job, and she gets to walk away forever Friday afternoon.
I don’t envy her.
It’s not just that I can’t see a time in my life when I will retire – one, I love what I do and two, I hear 401K and I think “really long footrace” – it’s that I don’t think she’s expecting all that time.
You see, the one thing we have in common is that neither of us gets bored. The difference is I don’t get bored because when I’m not working I take the dog for a walk on the beach, hop in my kayak, or go bug my friends.
My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t get bored because she hasn’t had time. She’s worked full-time since I was in 6th grade, and, her being a good wife and my dad being a proper Italian husband, she still does most of the cooking, cleaning, and shopping, even after my dad retired almost nine years ago. I’m not quite certain how she’s going to handle 40 extra hours to do laundry and shop for the best deal on milk.
My dad’s also not exactly sure what to think. Since his retirement almost 10 years ago he’s carved out a rigorous schedule of sleeping and watching TV, and he and I are both pretty sure my mom has other plans for him. I’ve already discovered she wants to take a more active part in local government, and there’s also been talk of volunteering her dogs as reading dogs at the local library. The poor dogs will never know what hit them… one moment they’re dozing in the sunlight, the next minute they’re caught up in a flurry of activity.
I make fun, but, really, no matter what she does, she’s earned it. I remember when I started kindergarten I fretted about what my mom would do all day without me – I thought she’d be bored. She told me not to worry, she’d simply sit around and have ice cream sodas. I was jealous, yes, but secretly still worried she’d be lonely. Of course, I was four, but here we are again, only I’m 35 years older and I’m still worried my mother’s going to be bored.
Well, if she is, that’s her right. My dad worked so I could have what I needed; she worked so I could have the things I wanted, like a car or a special stone in my class ring, or clothes that hid the physical shortcomings – real or imagined – of a high school freshman. Because my dad worked, I could attend college; because my mom worked I didn’t have to hold a job while going to school full time. What did I give her in return? Sleepless nights and every gray hair on her head.
On a selfish note, I look forward to her not working. I’ve already asked her if we could do certain things together, like playing Scrabble (yes, I know how to party) with friends who play or having lunch with my friends. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind – I love her and she loves me but we still mix like a pigheaded German (I say that with great affection, mom!) and a wise-ass kid who knows better than she does – and just says, “Don’t make plans for me.”
So, OK, I won’t. I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s going to be bored out of her skull, driving my dad crazy, and inventing projects to fill her spare time, but hey, that’s her right, isn’t it?
After all, she’s earned it.