Saturday, February 03, 2007

When Home Isn't

Over our break, I met with the retirement counseling person on campus, and she was really helpful. She has programs that figure out what your likely income will be in X number of years, and shows how your state pension fund plan will probably look and so forth. IF social security isn't already broke by then, and IF the state isn't broke, and IF the financial stuff I've been doing works out okay, I will probably be financially okay. If social security breaks down or my state gets destroyed somehow, I'll have bigger problems to worry about.

I used to think I'd retire "home," back in the area where I grew up, or maybe in the nearby City that held my youthful fantasies. But home isn't home anymore. The extended family I grew up with is mostly scattered, and the college friends I felt closest to I've grown less close to. When I see them, it feels like old times, but they have kids and friends who are physically close enough to see frequently, and I'm an infrequent visitor.

My Mom has moved 20 miles distant from where we used to live, which is a fair distance in that area, and my sibling's family has ended up happily close to me here in the midwest for now. That will probably change, and change again.

I grew up in one of those areas that's had incredible real estate growth and will probably continue to have that sort of growth. At the urban comprehensive university I went to for a couple years, younger faculty folks tended to commute at least an hour or two, or live in tiny apartments. There's a trade-off to being in Fantasy City, of course, and folks on faculty salaries feel it in housing costs.

Now, though, I live in an area that hasn't had much growth. That means I can afford a house and all. (Well, the bank and I; why don't they ever mow their half of the lawn?) But the investment in my house will never pay off in a way that will allow me to sell it and move "home," even if home were still home.

So thinking of being here for my retirement is what I'm doing now. We academic types sometimes talk about the opportunity costs of going to grad school (forever) and taking academic jobs that we love but that don't pay well for the time we've spent preparing. But I see another cost, the cost of making that series of decisions that led me here, all of which were reasonably good decisions, but which lead me to the conclusion that I'll be here for my retirement.

There's the weather, for one thing. I hate winter. It's okay while I'm busy and working and stuff, and I'm healthy and can dig out my driveway. But I hate walking on the slippery ice, and I picture myself in my 70s worrying about slipping and feeling confined to my house or fearful of the cold and ice.

My ancestors left homes in various parts of Europe and later in the US, traveled and settled in new areas, and they did it without cars, phones, or great mail systems. I wonder if they ever looked around when they got old and wondered if leaving were such a grand idea after all.

And, of course, I've developed friendships here, but they're different than the extended family relationships or college friendships. But those aren't the same as they once were, either. I can't live in the past, and I'm weird about worrying about the future sometimes. On the other hand, some stupid truck could smack me on my way home next week, and that would be that. Or global warming could continue and Fantasy City could end up being partly under water.

I'm really in a cheerful mood, what with the cold and all. It's cold enough here that tPtB have cancelled the local swim in the ice event. That's where they break through the ice on a local lake and people with more fortitude than I jump into the water (and right back out again). Despite the local fortitude, tPtB have canceled it because they consider it dangerous.


  1. Such interesting musings, Bardiac. I think about this a lot. (Am I obsessed with retirement because of intimations of mortality, or because of sekrit desire to chuck it all? Anyway...)

    Right now, I live in a college town that's frequently touted as a great place to retire, but I can't imagine why anybody would choose to spend their least mobile years in a place where one's ice-bound all winter and totally dependent on a car. Just driving past the fancy new retirement village depresses me. The city where I had my first job, though, is definitely someplace I can see myself retiring. The climate isn't much different, but it's a city, and one where the cost of living (except for heating) is unusually low. Of course, I dream of retiring to the city where I grew up, but all the affordability issues you mention come into play. I've been thinking recently that if I don't hang onto my house in First Job City, it might make sense to buy a condo in City I Grew Up In so as to get into that market in anticipation of wanting to live there some day. But either of those choices would mean substantial compromise in my lifestyle where I am now.

    Oops, I seem to have hijacked your comments :) You definitely touched a nerve!

  2. If the world will indeed keep getting 'smaller' as they keep promising/threatening us, I'd say retire in Fiji and keep in touch with relatives via teleconferencing or whatever tech they have by the time retirement happens. I know I can't retire "home", because as it is, I can barely visit, I can no longer take cold in the least. Yes, we should get other people on the Fiji-retirement bandwagon, and have our own little literary community out there :)