I squint my eyes and stare at the horizon. I can barely make out the hazy outlines of my children jumping around in the waves. I close my book and stand up to shake the sand from my towel.
“I’m heading back in.”
“Leave the door unlocked if you get into the shower.”
“Will do,” and then I walk away without looking back.
A few years ago my in-laws retired and bought a condo at the beach. Every summer, they throw their doors open and let us track sand across their marble floors for a couple of weeks. Late in the evenings, as we sit around the table and sip icy limoncello, my husband and I ask them, “What do you do when we aren’t here.” We ask because we are fascinated and because we can’t imagine a life that doesn’t revolve around bedtimes and homework assignments and work deadlines. We are in the thick of things and we want to live vicariously through someone who is not. Someone who has come through and arrived on the other side.
Last year my parents followed suit, submitting their notice and loading all of their worldly goods into a car to head down south. They bought a house in Florida with a screened-in pool and an abundance of playgrounds and parks within walking distance. Again, we showed up at the front door, bags in hand, and inserted ourselves into their retirement living. Again we asked the question, “What do you do with yourselves all day?”
Now my husband and I sit across from one another at our own dining table.
“How much are you putting into your pension?”
“I dunno, maybe 15%? That seems like a lot.”
We punch the numbers into our retirement calculators and eyeball the final result. It isn’t enough. We need to do more, put away more, give up a bit more now so that we can have something for later. Something to tide us over when we’re living the golden years. We need to plan now for that mythical dream life we want to be able to have…someday…
“Where do you want to retire?”
“Maybe here? Maybe Italy? It would be nice to be near the kids.” We eye each other and look quickly away. We plod forward with our planning, “We can’t afford to keep paying a mortgage then. We’ll need to own the house free and clear.”
We keep adding and subtracting, calculating interest and taxes until we find a way to pay for food and clothing, travel, and above all, a nice house where our kids can come and visit. A home where we can sit and wait for them to show up and ask, “How do you fill your time when it’s just you two?”
And as great as it sounds to have an endless stretch of days with no responsibilities and no arguments over whose turn it is to do the school pick-ups, as amazing as it might be to know that you can pay your bills without having to work another day in your life, we can also hear the inexorable march of time pounding in our ears. The someday when our parents are gone, when our children have moved out and no longer need us for anything more than a Christmas check and a weekly Facetime, when we will watch our grandchildren grow up in photos….these are supposed to be the golden years of our life?
My husband places his hand on the table, palm up and fingers beckoning to my own. I answer, twining my fingers through his and squeezing.
“You know what I want for our golden years?”
His eyebrows quirk up like two question marks on his forehead.
“I want a comfortable house we can afford. Not too big, not too small. I want to wake up every morning looking forward to going into work. I want to groan that the children need too much and moan that they are growing up too fast and barely need us anymore.”
He nods encouragingly.
“I want to revel in their achievements, watching as they conquer math and reading, to relax because we don’t have to deal with bullies or puberty or mean girls or boyfriends. Because they are still little and yet so so big now, big enough to turn the lights off and put their shoes on, use the iPad and dig snacks out of the cupboard.”
I pause and look down at our joined hands.
“I want to know that our parents are still here, ready and waiting whenever we turn to them for help. That we can leave the kids for a few hours without needing to provide a four page guide covering every possible contingency.”
I take a deep breath before continuing on, my husband watching and waiting.
“I want to be with you, with our graying hair and wrinkled foreheads, with our knees that scream sometimes, but still carry us through runs around the block. We’ll be together, complaining about how old we are and how our good years are gone, even though we’re still in perfect health and rarely see the doctor. I want a love that is fast and furious and slow and sensual and old and comfortable like these sweatpants I’m wearing.”
I stop, abruptly, surprised and slightly embarrassed at how the words have tumbled out of my mouth.
He squeezes my hand, drawing my attention from the tabletop back up to his face.
“I think these are our golden years.”
My lip trembles and a tear slips out from my eyelid. I squeeze back. “I think you’re right.”