Oh my goodness! As the autumn draws to a close in Ontario I realize that in two more days I’ll be closing my office door for the last time. A few days ago, as my colleague Robyn (fabulous woman, committed educator, gracious leader) and I were sitting in the hotel cafe having breakfast, I realized that this was my last breakfast “on the public purse” (note I’m talking breakfast for $6.95 not $150K in high-end clothing). Soon I’ll be submitting my last expense claim. I think that I’ve already written my last briefing notes and responded to my last piece of Minister’s correspondence. Last week I attended my last English language learner team meeting. Soon – very soon – I’ll be making my last formal Ministry presentation. Lasts … at last.
This retiring thing – as well as coming replete with anxiety – can also get a little embarrassing. There’s a need, evidently, to use each celebration of retirement to say nice things about the person retiring; sort of like we need we address when we give eulogies although without the death part I hope. Do I like all of this laudatory talk? Of course there’s a part of me that does, but there’s also a great discomfort as I sit and listen to what’s actually being said. The discomfort comes from recognizing that whatever it is that I’m deemed to have achieved is a result of the amazing people I’ve been surrounded with, the great thinking and work of others that I’ve been able to build on, and the support (real/personal and virtual) that I’ve been given. So I’d like to use this posting to thank others.
I’ll start with my mother (here she is, with my sister Fran). Honoré de Balzac said that “the heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness. ” I certainly did plumb this abyss frequently as I was growing up! Without a mother who could encourage and challenge, who modelled the ability to take on whateverI wanted and “just do it” I wouldn’t be who I am today. I know my mother is worrying about whether or not I’ll have more time – or less – to spend with her once I’ve retired. It’s the comments like “if you’re not too busy when you retire” that make it pretty clear that this is another potential issue. I hope that my mother knows that I’ve always spent time with her because I love her and want to be near her and not because of any sense of obligation – or guilt; that won’t change after I retire although I suspect that – as usual – she’s right and I won’t be particularly less busy.
Next to my mother, the people I’ve known the longest are my sisters. This blog wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for my sister Molly who’s been encouraging me and doing all of the tech-related work connected with the blog. More important is that her friendship, love, encouragement, good humour, openness, kindness, straight-talk, acceptance, support, amazing skills and deep wisdom has always made my life so much richer. My sister Fran is one of my greatest champions. Having forgiven me for being such a terror growing up she always has a kind word to say and some encouragement to offer; her pride in my accomplishments has buffered me through many difficult days. I’m so grateful for that forgiveness, because although she’s just a wee bit older than I am, it would take a small tome to just summarize the ways in which I challenged and frustrated her as we were growing up. There’s a third sister who I’m not so much involved with but to whom I am grateful for continually reminding me that the most important thing we do is care for others and that a mother’s heart is a very fragile thing; compared to that, the rest is just horsefeed. As an unknown author wrote: In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips.
My children are the other people who have been in my life – of my life – my life – for a very long time. Without them I’d be very little indeed. Their love and encouragement means more to me than I can possibly express in words. Through so many of life’s travails they’ve reminded me that I “did my best” and they’ve made it clear that they love me regardless of my failures or carelessness or just plain clumsiness in living. So many times in our lives, as they grew and as I grew we’ve had to reframe our relationship; from adult-child to adult-adult. When a child becomes a parent there’s another real reframing. I think that going from being a working Mom to being a retired Mom is also going to be a bit of a challenge because, after all, if I redesign my life – as I’m hoping too and as some of you are encouraging me too – that means that those parent-child relationships will shift as well. Elizabeth Stone, a high school teacher and author, said that “making the decision to have a child is momentous. it is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” What could I possibly add to that?
As the child of holocaust survivors my extended family’s pretty small; I’ve always had so much envy for folks who could actually have family reunions that required the renting of a large hall or gathering in a park. Although I grew up with just 1 set of grandparents, 1 aunt, 1 uncle and 4 cousins I was quite astonished when I started putting together the invitation list when David and I got married 8 years ago and discovered that there were now over 50 people on my extended family list. My cousin David and I have been friends since he first arrived in Canada and we made a deal that he’d teach me yiddish and I’d teach him English; today he’s absolutely fluent in English but I don’t think he’s really kept up his end of the deal. He’s made up for that though by his endless support for me whenever I’ve had hard things to cope with; he’s the one who called every day when my first husband and I separated just to make sure I was alright. That’s a wow! My cousin Pearl is the same age as my sister Fran and so we didn’t really become friends until we became adults but her friendship is such an important part of my life. It was Pearl who took me to the airport to fly off to Africa to celebrate turning 50, sending me off with the words (as we dragged my backpack out of the car): next time, why don’t you get a suitcase with wheels like a normal person your age. Pearl, I have that suitcase now … and a backpack still. My niece Cheri is a most amazing young woman and her willingness to open to heart to me even though I’ve always been so far away is testimony to how big her heart is. David’s children have also become a part of this extended family and as we continue to get to know each other I hope that those relationships will become rich and rewarding to all of us. All of these relationships will shift as I enter this new phase of life, but I know that these will always be relationships of huge importance to me.
Friends. Heart family. Every good memory I have includes some friends. Pitching tents on the top deck of a ship on the Alaska Marine Highway (where we didn’t visit Wasilla by the way …. and still wouldn’t). Eating jujubes and drinking wine after a long day of work travel. Talking into the wee hours of the night. Dancing at each other’s children’s weddings. Crying together about their struggles (and mine). Laughing uncontrollably with tears rolling down our cheeks as we tried to stop laughing but couldn’t. Eating. Drinking. Swimming naked around the best island in Ontario. Dancing in sacred circles. Fishing at sunrise. Dreaming out loud at sunset. Paddling canoes. Going to movies and theatre. Working together – what could be better than having a heart-friend (like my friend Eleanor) that you even get to work with … while solving the problems of life? Talking into the wee hours of the night … again and again and again. Some of my friends (most of them) will still be dealing with the day-to-day of working lives while I sleep in a little later and – as Ann Selley said in a recent comment – make sure that I “not spend one day of (my) retirement doing something that makes (me) unhappy”. There will be issues to deal with I’m sure, but I’m also sure that their love for me – and my love for them – will carry us through.
There are so many colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years who mean a lot to me. I’m not going to try to name them all. Some of them (Sandra, Janice, Marilyn, Paul, Judith) I’ve worked with for years and without them I would never have lasted this long. Some of them I’ve only recently started working with (Robyn, Burns) but they’ve already made huge contributions to my life, both professionally and personally. They will continue to do the work that’s so important to me and I know that in their capable hands good things will happen. Is it easy to let go and turn files over to them? Nope! Am I happy that I’m doing it? Absolutely! I hope that although my formal working relationship with them will end that they’ll keep me as a part of their lives and that we’ll continue to have passionate discussions about education and life in general.
Those of you who have been reading and commenting on the blog have also become part of my life. I haven’t even met most of you and don’t know very much about you. Don’t for a minute, though, reduce the significance of your presence. You’ve been giving me much needed support as I work my way through this transition and I hope that you’ll stick with me in the months immediately after I retire next week so that your guidance can help me feel my way through this new territory. Do e-mail me if you’re coming to Toronto. I’m flyiing to LA on November 4th so that I can celebrate Obama’s victory – really a victory for all of us … and by all I mean worldwide all; if you live near LA and would like to have a freedom celebratory drink let me know.
I’ve left my sweetheart David to the end because everything else somehow pales just a little bit after I think about him. We met at 50. Our paths had actually crossed a number of times before that (including both being at Hebrew University studying at the same time … I was a hippy studying psychology and literature and he was working on an MBA) but fortunately we’d never really connected because until we’d both done a bit of “weathering” we’d have definitely been like oil and water. We met online (yes, I’ll admit to that) and before long realized how many friends we had in common and that we were incredibly blessed to have found each other. David Viscott said that “to love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” Being a Leo, there’s nothing that makes me happier than sun, so it’s not surprising that there’s nothing that makes me happier than David. There was a theme to our wedding: love wins! I have a LOVEWINS license plate (a gift from David) and he has a LOVEWON license plate (gift from me). I don’t for a minute think that there won’t be lots of things to sort through as he continues working and I head off on this new adventure. I know we’ll work it through – with the support of our families and our friends.
This will be my last pre-retirement posting. I had to take a deep breath after I typed those words. The next time I post I will be a retired person. Henry David Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” I’ve been thinking about, and trying to imagine, what that new life will be. In the coming few months I’ll review what I’ve been fretting about and tracking what the actual transition really is like. I’ll continue looking to you for support, advice, wisdom and good humour. In December we’re going to Antarctica; I figure that if I need to make a real break what better way than to travel to the ends of the earth? I’m trying to figure out how to keep blogging while I’m sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula; not sure that can work though (more about that as we get closer to December). October 23rd’s the big retirement bash. October 24th — well, as they say, that day …. I’m history! Or … another way to look at it … I’ll begin making new history. I’ll end with Edward R. Morrow’s words to send me on my way: “good night, and good luck!”