January 25, 2012

A 5 Year Old Teaches Me About Retirement

My grandson is an amazing 5 year old. He started reading almost 2 years ago and is now, even before starting kindergarten, at a second grade reading level. He is as comfortable figuring out computer games as he is solving math problems more appropriate for an 8 year old. Show him a book about woodworking and he wants to build something. Have him look at a cribbage board and he wants to know how to play. Leave a chess board lying around and he insists on knowing how the pieces move. If he sees a star map of the sky he wants to draw the entire thing...now.

I think I remember having a mind somewhat like that. Everything was a challenge to be solved or an experience to be lived.  My mind was an empty slate waiting to be filled with whatever I didn't understand. Now, almost 58 years later I need Josh to remind me of some of what is too easy to forget.

Finding Joy in Everything

He can find joy and excitement in the most common of daily activities. There is almost nothing that doesn't cause him to smile, gush enthusiasm, or run toward whatever it is that has captured his attention. He has yet to unlearn the precious belief that every moment of every day can bring a new adventure.

Sometime in the next few years he will probably lose some of this innate sense of joy. Disappointments, a bully at school, a friend who says unkind things, or a clearer understanding of the existence of bad things in the world will cause him to exercise caution. He will moderate his enthusiasm and be a little less free with hugs and smiles. He, his family, and our world will be a little less sunny when that happens.

Even so I doubt he will ever stop being the guy who asks why or how. That curiosity and eye of wonder we are all born with are easy to lose as we age, if we allow it. But joy and satisfaction are all around us. We simply have to shut off the negatives and allow the positives to find space in our life again.

Show Respect for Others

Something that used to be quite common in America but now is often restricted to the very young is respect for one's elders. He speaks with respect to his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. He listens when one of us is talking. He acknowledges our presence. He says, "excuse me" (no kidding!) when he would like to insert himself in the conversation.

Respect for experience and for gaining some perspective are attributes that come with age. Respecting what someone older than you can teach you is a missing part of our society's character. As I move through the elder stages I must remember there will almost always be someone older or with more experience than me. In a such a situation I must listen and learn.

Politeness Matters

Being polite gets you farther than being nasty. Josh can overpower his little sisters (who are also absolute gems!) and take what he wants or return to being the center of attention. But, he is learning the consequences aren't worth it. By asking politely to share more often than not he gets what he wants. By allowing others to shine for a little bit, his star is not diminished. Honey does get  more than vinegar.

The public discourse in our country has become quite unpleasant. Polite exchanges of honest differences of opinion are out of favor. Yelling and name-calling are more our style. Those who don't agree with us are not simply misinformed, they are probably evil. Politeness has become a weakness and we are the worse for it. We need to listen and learn from the children.

Money is often overrated

Money is completely unnecessary for many of life's greatest pleasures. I have yet to see my grandson decide not to explore something or taste something or do something because he has no money. He loves watching trains. He adores family picnics. He goes crazy over dinosaurs. He knows every character in the Cars movies. He plays for hours by himself or with his sisters. He doesn't miss any of this just because he has no wallet.

I'd contend that many of the sweetest experiences in life are absolutely free. A glorious sunset, a conversation with a friend, a cup of coffee on the back porch, a hand-in-hand walk with someone you love are still untaxed, unregulated, and available to you. 5 year olds have no concept of limiting their joy because of finances. We would benefit from remembering that lesson.

Control your own schedule

Eat when you are hungry. Nap when you are tired. Stop doing something when it bores you. Don't worry. My grandson has these guidelines pretty much figured out. Sometime he'll lose the freedom to act on them whenever he wants. But, for now he has life by the tail. He does not have a to-do list, except to-do everything.

I wish I were a little less controlled by the clock, the to-do list, and my schedule. I use these to help me navigate my day. Too often they dictate my day.

I must add that his 3 year old sister is quickly growing into her own, too. She has the drive and temperament to be an artist. Give her a box of crayons, or some paint and a brush, and she is quite content to go to her work space and lose herself. She loves her brother dearly but is beginning to find her own self and is not afraid to carve out the space she needs. There is a lesson there, too. Know yourself and feed yourself that what completes you.

I wonder what lessons my 20 month old granddaughter  will teach me when she is just a bit older! I can see several years worth of posts just waiting to be written.

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  1. Grandchildren are amazing! It's wonderful watching each of them grow into real people. They do teach us a lot about living in the moment and enjoying life. That's what's so great about being around them-it rubs off and pretty soon we are enjoying the moment too-and leaving most of the worrying to their parents-lol

    1. Good morning, Joan,

      It is very tough for me to visit the 3 kids and not be energized. If I am having an off day, a trip to see them is just what the doctor ordered.

  2. Great post. I'm preparing for a big meeting here at work that likely will determine whether or not I decide to keep working or go to full retirement. Working has lost its pleasure for me for the most part, but full retirement is very intimidating. Money isn't the issue thankfully, it's how I'd fill my days meaningfully (I'm 60).

    I really enjoy the blog Bob. This particular post reminds me how as Abraham Lincoln (I believe it was him) said that most folks are about as happy as they make up their mind to be. All a matter of attitude. Hope everyone has a great day!

    1. Well, you are visiting here on what could be a milestone day for you, Allan. Thank you and I hope you feel good about whatever decision you make. Deciding to retire is a major step, but I think you can tell I have had the best 10+ years of my life since I took the step in 2001. I loved my career and the industry I had chosen for over 35 years, but it was time.

      Filling your days is crucial. Men, in particular, struggle with what to do after work. I hope you've had the chance to read several of the posts I have written about that very subject. If not, let me know by e-mail and I'll be glad to send you direct links to some that might make you feel a bit more secure.

  3. Dear Readers & Commenters,

    You've noticed I've changed my comment appearance so I can reply directly after the original comment. And, importantly, if you want to, you then add a comment to that discussion string by hitting reply. Or, start a new comment in the normal manner.

    What do you think? Do you like this new look, or would you prefer I go back to the separate pop-up window for comments? Leave you answer by using the "reply" link below. If it isn't important to you one way or the other, then simply go directly to the comment box as usual.

    Thanks for your feedback and indulgence as I "experiment" with what I hope is an improvement.

    1. I think the format is much easier to follow. I like it....

    2. Nice format for your replies. Good also that others can reply to commenters -- may expand the range of thought even more


    3. We will see how it works, but I like the ability to respond directly to a comment.

    4. I have done the same on mine. I like being able to respond directly to a comment.

  4. It sounds like you have quite a grandson there Bob. Use your wisdom to help him determine where is place is in life. Don't let him settle for second best. On always being interested in small things, that might be because at that age everything is new. At our age we have to go searching for "new".

    As I have mentioned several times I have spent my life asking "why" but you have to remember that sometimes that gets you in trouble. You also gotta know when to keep your mouth shut (ha). Enjoy your grandkids. I wish I had some in my life but that ended up not being the case.

    1. RJ,

      Every grandparent probably believes theirs are the best and brightest ever born..but in my case it is true!!!!

      I feel as much responsibility being a positive force in their lives as I did raising my own daughters. Their mom, my oldest, is an absolutely perfect mom and role model. She and her husband are doing a first rate job and we are very proud of them

  5. Bob, This is a great post. Kids really do have it figured out, don't they? Then we teach them a whole new set of guidelines that they are forced into until they get old enough to remember what they know when they were five!

    About the money, when my son James was a toddler, we lived in West Africa, in the Ivory Coast. When I was home in the US, I bought all these educational toys and paid to send them home to Abidjan. And what did he play with all day? Sticks and rocks. And chasing lizards. The expensive toys sat gathering dust on the shelves.

    1. An empty box becomes a spaceship, a card table with a blanket over the top becomes a tent or a fort, and a paper towel roll is a rocket launcher...who knew? Little kids.

      Thanks, Galen.


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