That question was on many lips when I took an early retirement at the age of 60, two years ahead of schedule. I am one of the lucky women who could afford to do that. Not because my pension is high: far from it. I was a teacher for 27 years and my pension is just above minimum wages, and my last salary was just over the average wages. So thank god for successful husbands, I say (touch wood)….
Why did I choose to retire?
Having worked for six years as a computer programmer during my military service (in my twenties), and after completing my bachelor degree in the field (maths and computer sciences) I could have had a fine career in the field (we are talking early 1980s). However, after my two children were born, relying on all sorts of considerations, we elected to live in the small town of Karmi’el in Northern Israel, which was within our means and possibilities for housing. Despite many advantages, it had one major disadvantage for me: little options for professional advancements. It provided very few jobs and was remote from higher education opportunities. So, I made a choice that many women make in this situation, and found a more ‘convenient’ job: teaching. I was soon to learn that the working hours were far more than I expected, in the afternoons as well as in the mornings, but the alternatives were practically non-existent for me.
I believe that in the last few years of my career I was quite a good teacher. The last year was a peak year in my career. I had wonderful three classes (10th grade to 12th grade). My students gave me a farewell party and some of them shed tears… I was very moved. So why did I choose to retire?
The 4-5 years before I retired were very difficult: in November 2011, a teacher on my professional team (computer science) tragically passed away, and I found myself facing grieving students (16-18 year olds) who were quite shocked. Not only finding a replacement was close to impossible, but introducing one so soon was unthinkable. Under those circumstances, another teacher on my team and myself accepted the (over)load for that year. At the same time, my mother had a health problem that needed attention for a few months ( I am her only living child). It was a very difficult year.
The next year, as the team leader, I accepted a new teacher – or I should say, a computer Science graduate who was completing his studies for a teaching license. He assisted me in project-consulting for senior students. The year after that he began to consult his own group, under my supervision and we were still working very tightly. I was teaching over 100% of a full time job. By September 2014, I was good and ready to retire… It was not a moment too soon.
What have I been doing since I retired, 21 months ago?
I had, and still have, many plans. I truly needed the rest, and for a while, I literally did only one thing: I worked on my Master’s thesis. More on that further down. My children came to visit from abroad (my daughter from the United States, she was at MIT at the time, now at McGill); and my son from Vienna, he is at the Forsyte group of TU Vienna. My husband was also making a change in his life: he also took an early retirement from his primary place of work of 28 years in Haifa, and found a new job in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering ,Ort Braude in Karmiel .
Seven months after I left school (counting summer vacation), around mid-December 2014, my mother fell in her own home, and was hospitalized in critical condition. For a month I practically lived in the hospital… For a while she wasn’t quite there physically or mentally. Then she recovered, gradually returning to herself and needed some rehabilitation: from complete independence, she was reduced to a wheel chair. She could not return home because of stairs problem. Consequently, she spent the next month in two rehabilitation centers, being very unhappy, but determined to upgrade to a walker. Naturally, I was visiting 2-3 times a week. Finally we managed to find her a place in a retirement home for senior citizens, Beit Ildan (Bayit Balev). It is one of the only two homes that I know of in Israel that has a ward for persons who are physically frail but mentally functional. This home also has protected accommodation for more independent residents, who live in their own (tiny) apartments, many times with privately hired caretakers. My mother, however, lives on the special ward. She has her own one-room apartment with a kitchenette and a roomy bathroom. The ward offers 5 meals a day, medical care, and assistance around the clock.
To make matters more interesting, we had been attempting to sell her house for a couple of years, but the market was very slow. In the same month when she moved to Beit Ildan, we completed a deal with a nice couple. Our buyers wanted to move as soon as possible, so we evacuated my mother’s belongings in a matter of two months. Not simple, since we had to make quick decisions as for what to keep, what might she still need or wish to keep, and what to do with other stuff. Luckily, our buyers were very easygoing and suggested that whatever we did not want to take with us, we can just leave in the house for them to dispose of or use (we left furniture in several room, and other stuff. We used movers to bring stuff that we were keeping to our house: my mother’s clothing, books, paintings and other decorations (oh yes, she wanted to have some of those in her room). She had a large library which is still in boxes in my storage room, a newspaper collection, and… well you get the picture.
My husband was supportive through the sale and the move, and you can only imagine what certain rooms in house look like at this time…
My elderly parent
My mother, to whom I wish health and wellbeing, is a very intelligent, authoritative, intellectually active woman, who just celebrated her 88th birthday. She has mild health problems and difficulties in some basic activities such as getting dressed and washing herself, as well as walking. She has arrived to the frustrating situation where she sometimes cannot get in time to the toilet. Using diapers or absorbent underwear was a necessity she accepted pragmatically, but not mentally. I am sure she often cries at night, when nobody sees. Most of the time, however, she works hard to make the best of a very bad bargain. She has a self-planned daily routine in a ward where most of the residents are feeble minded as well as bodily frail. Beyond the early morning shower and beyond meals, and not counting medical treatments she undergoes because of a lymphatic edema in her legs, she does the following: in the morning, she reads the daily newspaper. Then she completes some crosswords of both numerical and verbal substance. If the weather permits (and a lot of other excuses don’t stand in the way) she sits a while on the terrace. She reads a book, sometimes two (say, a novel and a more nonfiction type of book). She takes an interest in archeology and she is subscribed to a biannual magazine on the subject.
She chats mainly with the house caretakers who come to sit with her on their breaks; she has biweekly visit from the librarian of the house, who comes to discuss all sorts of intellectual discussions (1-2 hour visits). She reads the weekend supplementary, from two leading newspapers (Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz).
In addition, she supervises her bank account very closely. Only recently she suggested that maybe I should manage some of her investments (still closely supervised)… She also monitors all of her medical affairs. For those purposes and others, she manages a diary of events (a calendar diary).
In the evenings, she watches television. We registered her to a wide range of stations, including BBC, History channel, scientific channel and the obvious local channels (1,2, and 10). She etires to bed around midnight.
Naturally, we chat on the phone every day, and I try to visit at least once a week. On occasion, there are more daily chats and less visits. She is not too far, but sometimes I do not feel well enough to drive, or for a visit. Mostly, though, we have fantastic discussions on a variety of issues. There are personal matters of course. And then there is politics, actuality, family matters, archaeological discoveries, books she read, ideas for easy cooking … and lots of other subjects.
Finally, in my sixties and her almost nineties, we both have time and the energy for a close relationship!
So what will I do all day as a pensioner? Well, you will have to read part 2 to find out…