I always suspected that my father’s retirement contributed to my mother’s very early death.
Mom stopped working right after I was born, and remained a housewife for the rest of her life. By the time I was old enough to notice these things, it was evident she’d developed a schedule. She would get up, make breakfast, and get everyone out of the house. She’d do housework for two or three hours, while listening to the radio, and then she’d make lunch for anyone who straggled home to eat. Afterward, she’d wash the dishes and take a nap, or pull out her sewing machine and craft one of those horrible little flowered housedresses she so loved to make and wear. God, they were dreadful, but they were her pride and joy!
At three or so, as the children started coming home, she’d make snacks, make sure everyone started doing homework, and start dinner. By the time my father got home, most of us were done with our homework. The dining room table was cleared of books and set with dishes, and a mighty good dinner was served. Once this was devoured, she’d clear the table, do the dishes, and embark upon the Latin woman’s sacred duty of watching prime time telenovelas, every weeknight from eight to eleven. On Saturdays and Sundays, when the novelas weren’t on, she’d cajole one of the kids (usually me) into playing Scrabble, at which she would cheat with all the joy and hubris of a mountebank at a county fair.
Mom’s life may have been predictable, but it suited her for many years, and she was happy. Then the old man retired. He may have been physically and financially ready, but mentally and emotionally? Not a whit.
He had no hobbies. None. Oh, there’s no question that he loved classical music, but it was the constant peripheral in his life, not something on which he’d actually focus. For more than thirty years, the man had spent his working hours tending to his patients, and his leisure hours with his head buried in medical texts. So, on the day he hung up his stethoscope, he had no idea what to do.
She should have taught him how to play solitaire… but sadly, she taught him two Latin card games, “tutti” and “brisca,” both of which require a partner. He acquired his first hobby… and she picked up a parasite with a deck of cards.
“Hi, honey. Want to play?”
“Not now! I’m making breakfast…feeding the dog…making the beds…cleaning the toilets…trying to sew! Cooking! Watching my novelas! Trying to get some SLEEP!!!”
And it didn’t do any good. Everywhere she looked, there he was, looking as miserable as Grumpy Cat, holding his deck of cards and asking, “You want to play?”
It didn’t help that he sucked at these games. Good doctors are slow and meticulous people; good card players are just the opposite. As much as she loved to cheat (and I honestly think that, in most games, she preferred cheating to playing) mom knew she could beat him as soon as the cards were dealt. He presented no challenge.
Nonetheless, she gave in and played… and it sucked her little heart out, card by card, deal by deal, game by game. She created a monster and he annoyed her to death.
This is my way of telling you I need to set up a schedule. I need to create a meaningful flow to my days. I need to make time for writing…for housework (ugh)… for my husband, our kids, our pets… and yes, even for computer Scrabble (thanks, Mom) and for a little mind-numbing TV.
I don’t know that there’s any joy possible in a life without structure. If I must be “without work,” I still want to make sure my hours are filled, not “passed.” As for the hours I spend with others, I want them to be considered a treat, not an indulgence or an annoyance.
I don’t know how much time I have left… but I do want it to have some purpose.