Beating the post-retirement blues

My mother is oftentimes not the most typical kind of woman. She hates weddings and Chinese New Year, hates having her photo taken, refuses to wear makeup unless it’s for family photoshoots, and declares that only women (and here she pronounces the word with unadulterated contempt) drive barefoot and have no sense of direction.

I think it’s also her lack of femininity that led her to swear she was not born to work in the home and therefore she must go out to work (“I will not be one of those women who’s only good enough to be a housewife“). And because she goes out to work and revels in gassing people out, she is now worried about what will happen to her when she’s no longer fit for medicine (“I can’t be knocking people out if I can’t even see well enough to set their IV lines”).

So last week, we discussed the things she can do to take up her time when she is retired and desperate to prevent what she calls brain death. She finally narrowed it down to three possibilities:

I could take up gardening. “But I can’t crouch down all day so I’ll have to buy one of those little stools to sit on while I pull out every weed by hand. And I’ll wear a giant straw hat so I don’t turn out red as a lobster. I don’t know how much gardening I can do though; everything I ever grew died after a few days. It’s amazing you’re still alive.”

I’ll start knitting again. My mother has never been very good with needlework, and knows just enough to get by, such as the fixing of buttons, zippers and hems. So, after reminding her that she once spent an entire year knitting me a cardigan, I suggested she do crocheting instead, which she can do fairly well if she could just make her tension knots consistent. And after convincing her that it’s far too hot in this country to wear anything crocheted, I told her she could crochet doilies and placemats, provided the maid can keep them clean.

I can go dancing again. Inspired by my great-aunt, who took up all manner of dancing after she retired and to this day still attends classes at the Penang Senior Citizens Association. To be fair, my mother did do a lot of dancing when she was (much) younger, but now she’s become more particular about it, especially when it concerns a partner. “You want one who will be there regularly so that you know what each other does, and one who’s at least good at it, because if you’re stuck with one who has two left feet, you might as well be dancing by yourself.”

Nowhere in this discussion did she ever mention helping to care for any grandchildren she may have in the future, which is something I realize a lot of my friends’ mothers and mothers-in-law do. And when I brought it up, she gave me a blank stare and said, “Oh, ya. Ya… no. No. I’m not going to spend all day every day taking care of someone. I would never have time for myself. I might as well go back to work.”

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