Learning to Share Space

I've got a dear, dear friend who has been my mentor for years. She didn't technically sign up for the job, but as a dumb young wife and mother I was desperate for help. I clung to her like a kid hanging onto her mama's lower legs. She was a great choice because

#1 she was about twenty years ahead of me in life, and wiser, having already experienced whatever I was going through (I don't think she was EVER dumb...)

#2 she'd raised three full-spirited boys so I knew she was made of tough stuff

#3 our lives were very similar so what worked for her would work for me too

 #4 she was practical, frugal, and loved feathering her nest

#5 her husband was the love of her life and I knew she'd steer me right in that area (the number one way I judge a possible friendship is how a woman talks about and to her husband. Call me old fashioned, but a happily married, respectful wife will make a happy, respectful friend.)

She taught me to hang wallpaper, to give myself and Cub Sweetheart an allowance, she gave me recipes, she gave me advice, she taught me what battenburg lace was and to protect your dining room table from hot or damp dishes, she stood in as a grandparent when our kids needed someone there for Brownie or Cub  Scout days. She was the perfect mother, mother-in-law and grandmother all rolled into one, filling in the gaps in my life caused by distance of miles or otherwise.

I've since stopped putting up wallpaper, but even retired we each get an allowance that, actually, hasn't increased that much over the years. I still cook her sausage stew and bake her cookies made from a cake mix. She taught me so much, in so many ways and I'm more than grateful for every one of those lessons. I needed them all desperately.

I still remember her talking to me, on a visit, as we were getting ready to retire, about what it would be like for CS and me to be together 24/7, after 34 years of not so much. For as long as we'd been married, he'd either worked shifts or left the house by 6:30 six days a week, carrying his lunch and a goodbye kiss with him.

We'd planned for retirement a good number of years; but much like bringing home that first baby, or saying goodbye to a loved one long in years, you're never quite ready. One decision we made was to start over completely. To move away from where we were, leave all our friends and family behind, and start over together, just the two of us. We thought that would make for a smoother transition than him all of a sudden being home, trying to fit into my life that had been full of housekeeping, Bible study, lunches with girlfriends, etc. His had been full of work and he was going to leave that behind. I didn't want him trying to fit into MY life or MY kitchen- I wanted us to have a life together.

So we sold the house, lived in a two bedroom condo for 9 months before he finally had his last day at work. We laughed, we cried, we said goodbye to everyone, and off we drove,  headed south 1200 miles to a house on a lake, in the middle of nowhere. Most of the people who lived around us were weekenders so it was pretty much scorpions, snakes, fire ants and the two of us. We didn't know a soul within an hour of us. We had two married kids in the DFW metroplex, but they were all busy raising kids, holding down jobs, etc. so most of our time we had just each other to look at. When we wanted to go to dinner, we drove 45 minutes to eat catfish at the gas station, on the other side of the lake.

The transition wasn't easy. We argued more those first two years of retirement than we had in the 30 before, over big things like who was going to set the sprinkler system program.

We didn't argue over relatives, money or sex which are supposedly the three hottest buttons couples push with each other (although he might have made a comment about expecting that homemade breakfast and hanky panky would occur more often as a normal part of retirement and he found himself wondering about both. I may have responded that I found myself wondering why on earth he thought such a thing?) *

Him being retired, us being together all the time, was an awkward dance for longer than either of us expected. I sat, feeling sorry for myself, in the bathtub a few times, and he likely muttered some colorful words under his breath as he rode on that John Deere, up and down the lawn - the only break he could get from relentlessly present me. That may explain why he mowed at least twice a week...

Our lake house had a little screened in porch on the back side of it. There we began having what we called 'wine-thirty' most evenings; it was more than instrumental in putting us back together, as a new, better version. We talked and talked and talked through the issues, as we came up with different ways to do things. We figured out how to carve space for each other, to be sure we were taking time to play, to be honest about hurt feelings, concerns, feeling lonely and a bit lost in this new venture. The more we talked, the more we grew together into a better, new version of us.

Six plus years into this season of life, I can't even imagine him getting up and leaving in the morning. I would miss him so! We enjoy being together, but we also allow each other space. I get up an hour before he does, and when he gets up he reads the paper for an hour while I try not to talk to him; (*he makes his own breakfast most mornings and once in awhile we go out for omelets. As to the other expectation, some things are best held close to one's chest.) I generally go to bed an hour before he does; he works out three days a week, spends time caring for the yard and pool, grocery shops weekly for us, and volunteers. I don't do any of those things - rather I do yoga upstairs and walk the dog. I sew in a room just for me, I soak in the tub every single night for an hour with a book, and about once a week I leave for a block of time to go to the library, Target, etc. so he can be in the house without me underfoot.

We also have a date day at least one a week - usually a matinee with senior discount, a big tub of popcorn and a shared coke. Lunch out weekly, and occasional drives here and there to get out of suburbia a bit. We remind ourselves we both worked long and hard to get to this stage of life, and it's supposed to be fun! Together! We didn't retire to be productive all the time, so we're not.

As usual, there was wisdom in my friend's words - we were up for big changes, and learning to adjust to them would be a process we'd  have to wade through together. I've got several friends who joke that their husbands will never completely retire. I expect there's some hopefulness in that statement, but the truth is, they will. Life consists of seasons, and each takes some adjusting to on everybody's part. Much like our first stage - the one full of crying babies up in the night, diapers, and then the one with sassy teenagers full of angst, and then the nest emptying out, retirement is just another one. They all took some getting used to. I would never, ever want CS to feel like he was intruding into my time, my space, my life by finally retiring after supporting our family for over three decades. Rather I hope he feels like our home is made better by him being in it with me, 24/7 with a little space for each of us here and there.

We're in the season of life where there is only one stage left ahead for us - when one of us leaves the other behind. Realizing that makes it a lot easier to not get my panties in a wad when I feel like he's intruding into 'my space', or he feels like he could benefit from an acre of grass and a riding mower. We're blessed to still be bumping into each other, working through it all, and waiting in the dark for the other one to pull their hand out of the popcorn tub. 


Karen said…
Oh goodness, so much wisdom in this post. We're facing that in a few years, and already have been learning to "be in each other's space" as his job has changed and allowed for more time at home. How wonderful for you to have had a sweet mentor and friend. That's rare, anymore.
Kathy said…
I think this is my favorite post of yours I've read. As Karen said, there is so much wisdom. 5 years ago my husband and I moved from our starter home into our "retirement home". Nowhere near retirement (him 38 and me 40 at the time), but a few acres of our own, one wonderful neighbor and 35+ miles away from our friends and jobs. We have fought more in these past five years than the 19 preceding them (with the exception of the first couple of years). Along the way we became empty nesters after very challenging teenage years, went through several job changes, and health challenges. I am very much the nurturer, one who does get up early to make him coffee and bring it to him in bed, make his breakfast, pack his lunch, etc. A few months ago, just after a huge fight that we really had not resolved, I broke my ankle and needed surgery. For the next month he became the caretaker, bringing me coffee, water, food, etc. while I was confined to bed. He worked from home to be by my side. Thankfully we came out the other side stronger, but it has made me think more about our future and how we will co-exist spending more time together. Even now, I am thinking how I can come along side him to work for a common goal.
Bev said…
Kathy, loved reading your words. Sounds like God has graciously allowed you two to have a time of adjusting, and you did. I'm sure having the tables turned - him caring for you - was good for both in many ways. I think we're often given opportunities to grow, but we rarely 'come out the other side stronger'. If I could give young couples only one piece of advice, I'd tell them, 'forever remember they chose you out of everyone in the entire world, and they'll do the same!' Thanks for saying hello.

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