Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Maggie!

Time passes so quickly and little ones grow up so fast.

Both truisms especially describe the past two years.

On August 31, 2009, Bob and I did the final walkthrough for our brand new house here in Florence, AZ. It was a huge step toward our dream retirement. Although we had eight more months to work in Los Angeles before we could retire, our home of 29 years to sell, and a major move to make, closing on our new home here was a major event for us.

But something of even more importance to our family happened that very same day: my brother Mike and his wife Amp welcomed their daughter Grace Elizabeth McCoy -- nicknamed Maggie -- into the world.

                                        Maggie at one minute old with mother Amp

                                         Maggie with father Mike  on August 31, 2009          

She was the child my brother -- who didn't marry until he was 58 -- never imagined he would have. She was the precious daughter Amp -- and her thrilled parents in Thailand -- had longed for since Mike and Amp were married in 2007.  And she was the niece we welcomed into a nearly childless family. My sister's Nick had been the only child in the family for 19 years and was quickly growing into young adulthood. Maggie was our second chance to experience the wonder of watching a child grow up.

                                          Maggie at six months                                                    

And grow she has! How quickly a baby becomes an independent spirit -- the sweet infant becomes the toddler in what seems the blink of an eye. And there are hints of a childhood and young adulthood to come. She isn't a girly girl. She doesn't like dresses or Princess stories or dolls.  Her favorite possession is an old iPad which she navigates with confidence and amazing skill. She likes to build things with Legos. She has an ability to focus sharply and at length on a task.  She has no patience for baby talk or, in fact, much talk at all.

My brother worries that she hasn't spoken yet and looks relieved when reminded that I didn't speak until I was two-and-a-half. Then, after a lifetime of silence, I burst out with my first words in the check-out line at a supermarket, pointing at the man standing behind us and announcing loudly: "That man is picking his nose!" My sister Tai started speaking at about the same age, in full sentences. Her first words, yelled at Mike, were: "You get out!" Since both Tai and I went on to become champion talkers, my brother is reassured.

So even as her second birthday rolls around, Maggie is keeping quiet for the moment. But her spirited, bright presence has made such a difference. Mike, always a bit ambivalent about fatherhood after suffering so much abuse at the hands of his own father, has found a vast reservoir of tenderness and love in his relationship with his edgy and passionate little daughter.  He has more patience than he ever imagined. He finds incredible joy in every day living with this little one.  He and Amp, always close and loving from the moment they met, feel even more connected, more a family, than ever.

And I am still struck with wonder at Maggie's existence and with uncertainty about how our lives will intersect and how we will build a loving connection. I would love to be an aunt like my beloved Aunt Molly. But Aunt Molly was 27 when I was born. She was my father's never-married sister who spent all of her vacations with us and, after she moved back to L.A. from Ohio when I was in my early teens, every weekend with us as well. Growing up with an alcoholic, violent, mentally ill father and a terrified, depressed mother, there were times when Mike, Tai and I clung to Aunt Molly as the only reasonable adult at close range in our lives.

Maggie's young life has been very different: she has devoted parents who dearly love her and each other.   She has a mostly elderly extended family here in the U.S. I am 66, Bob 67 and Tai is 56. She doesn't yet know quite what to make of us -- these occasional visitors in her life -- her aunt and uncle who live in Arizona, her aunt who lives in Seattle.

                   Maggie with her Dad and occasional visitors - Bob and me                     

 At the moment and perhaps for always, her favorite McCoy relative is her cousin Nick who is 21. It makes sense: she and Nick have so many years to share, so many life experiences to come, long after the rest of us have become mere memories.

                                      Maggie with parents Mike and Amp, me and Bob                

She has a large and loving and significantly younger Thai family, including paternal grandparents who are not quite 50 and Amp's beautiful young sister, a recent college graduate, just turned 23. Maggie is at home in two very different places -- Los Angeles and Bangkok. She is growing up bicultural and bilingual. She already has a good understanding of both English and Thai. However, she seems happiest and most relaxed at their home in Thailand where they spend several months a year.

                                  Maggie with her maternal grandparents in Thailand    

                                 Maggie (l) with Thai family members and friends      

I wonder how we will all fit into her life as she grows up, how we can let her know, each in our own ways, how much she is loved and valued.

I wonder what her life will be like and how much of her growing up we will live to see.

She's tall for her age -- and slim as toddlers go.  I can see her father -- who is 6'4" -- in her height, in her fierce intelligence and attraction to computers. Mike is an M.D. and also an IT professional who is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and USC Medical School.  From infancy, Maggie has been fascinated by her father's laptop and iPad, eagerly watching at first, then getting more hands on. Now she has inherited his old iPad and it's her favorite toy.

                                              Maggie and her ever-present iPad  

 But I also see her lovely mother Amp when I look at Maggie. I see Amp in Maggie's face, in the sense of peace she finds in her projects, in continuing Thai traditions. Maggie responds most readily to directions and endearments in Thai. Her favorite foods are Thai. I imagine that, while she has dual citizenship, the country of her heart will be Thailand.

                                             Maggie on 4th of July, 2011              

She will grow up with a global perspective, with technological expertise from toddlerhood, financially secure and surrounded by love.  What path will she follow? What will she be like at 5? Or 15? Or 25 or 30? Will she follow her father into medicine? Or surpass his talents in technology? Or find her own career path -- perhaps a calling linked with a world and technology we can't even imagine?

                                Maggie focusing on iPad as Amp naps          

More important, will she feel the love all around her? Will she find a special person with whom to share a lifetime of love? Will she enjoy not only the caring and nurturing of her family across two continents, but also the treasure of good and true friends? Will she be happy? Will she find peace and contentment in a rapidly changing world? Will she find joy in little moments, in simply living every day of her life?

                           Maggie starting birthday at Starbucks - Aug. 31, 2011                                                 

There are so many things that are unknowable on this, her second birthday. But I wish so very much for her today and forever.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Blessing of Silence

Silence is an elusive luxury in these days of pervasive Muzak, MP3 players, and strolling cell phone raconteurs.

Not that everyone seeks it out.  The other day, a neighbor complained that he had tried lap swimming "and after swimming two lengths, I was just incredibly bored." Another friend, who does enjoy lap swimming, does her hour in the pool with a waterproof MP3 player strapped to her goggles.

When I swim my hour's worth of laps, I'm in heaven. I love the silence. It gives me the space to think, to dream, to relax and let my mind rest, banishing any worries or racing thoughts or nagging obligations. In silence, my life and my time are truly my own.

There is a freedom in silence, a chance to drift away from someone else's words and music, from the daily cacophony of national and world events. For an hour, as I slice through the water, I'm not haunted by the sinking economy, the stock market roller-coaster, the frightening realities of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, encroaching copper mines or further dental woes. In silence, I'm in the moment, living fully right now.

Bob's daily experience with silence is his half-hour of meditation each morning. He sits cross-legged at his meditation table in the bedroom, lights incense and breathes deeply. For half an hour, he concentrates on his breathing and silences the world around him. For that time, he lives fully in the moment.

But you don't need a pool or meditation table to enjoy the freedom of silence. A quiet time on the porch or patio to enjoy the sunset or the lingering warmth of a summer evening can bring similar joy. Turning off the cell phone, the t.v. and the cascading thoughts of a busy day to relax in the comfort of home can give you a sense of freedom in the moment.

And there can be wonderful variations of silence. A summer night is not totally silent, but the sounds that surround you can add to your sense of peace.  I'll never forget the long-ago languid summer nights I spent lying in the porch swing at my grandparents' farmhouse in Kansas. I would close my eyes and concentrate on the deep velvety feel of warm Midwestern evening.  The low hum of the cicadas, a train whistle wailing in the night, and the distant laughter of my grandmother, my mother and her sisters from the kitchen all combined to make me feel relaxed, connected and safe. There was a richness of feeling and experience in that silence.

Those languid evenings, like my grandparents, parents and aunts, are only memories now. But I can let my mind drift back to those delicious memories and feel the peace once again. There are so many more opportunities for quiet moments these days, either in warm memories or pleasures in the present.

There are times of quick respite, when I lie down with my cat Gus, my face nestled into his fur, oblivious to everything except the smooth, rich sound of his purring.

There are the sounds of the surf.  As a sense memory or as immediate reality, sitting quietly on a beach, smelling the salt air and listening to the timeless rhythm of the waves is freeing. It frees you from the constraints of time as you float easily from memories of childhood days at the beach to the present. The weight of years, of aging, of inescapable limits fall away in the rhythm of the surf.

This can happen, too, in savoring quiet desert nights. The temperature tops 100 degrees, but a gentle breeze blows and the air is, once again, soft velvet. And then gradually the night comes alive: with the sounds of crickets, the spectacle of heat lightening and distant thunder. And even in this strange new land, there is peace and contentment in the rich silence.

The freedom of silence and the comfort of quiet is within our reach wherever we are, limited only by our imaginations and willingness to take a step away from the din of daily living to rediscover the blessing of the stillness within. It is in this stillness that we find a sense of peace and well-being that can bring new insights and new hope to our lives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Golden vs. Olden: Balancing Your Days in Retirement

Leaving the gym one day recently, buoyed by a runner's high, Bob looked up at the cloudless sky and, in a burst of exuberance, cried  "Ah, the Golden Years!"

A few steps ahead of him, Diane, a gym regular, turned around and snapped with mock irritation: "Lose the G! These are the olden years!"

It's true that some days are, indeed, olden, despite our best efforts and life-affirming surroundings.

The Golden Years hype can be especially strong if you live in an active adult community: the community brochures as well as murals on the walls of the community center depict attractive, middle-aged, lively people pursuing sports, hobbies and social activities -- all with healthy, fit bodies and radiant smiles.

                           Wall Poster 1 at gym at Sun City Anthem Merrill Ranch

                            Wall Poster 2 from gym at Sun City Anthem Merrill Ranch

                        The view from my favorite gym treadmill at Sun City Anthem

                          The indoor lap pool where I love swimming and meditating
With such encouragement to be active, to be mellow, to have fun, how can anyone have a down day?

It may be a little harder here. The default mode seems to be happiness and contentment.

Besides the inspiring wall art and excellent work-out and recreational facilities, many days at an active adult community can, indeed, be golden. Your peers are all around the same age and are supportive of the challenges and struggles you may have with this new phase of life. You can go to the gym or, for heavens sake, the pool, and not worry about people staring at your cellulite or sagging inner thighs. Except for an occasional trophy wife or visiting daughter, no one is a babe. Acceptance and comfort are a great blessing.  If you want to be active, there are many opportunities.

But there are times, even in a community like this one, where you just don't feel like going with the program. Sometimes you don't feel so relentlessly cheery and fit. Sometimes you're tired. Sometimes you ache. Sometimes you just want to hunker down and read.

And sometimes darker thoughts intrude. You think of travel and wonder how long it will be possible. You clean your house and wonder if a smaller place might have been a more sensible choice. You wake up stiff and sore, but realize this may be the best you will ever feel.  You experience the loss of yet another friend or family member and wonder when it will be your turn.  You live with a sense of growing limitations -- physically and in terms of time. You realize with new clarity that possibilities and time aren't endless.

It's entirely reasonable to give yourself permission -- no matter how blessed your life or beautiful your surroundings -- to have an off day, to take it slow, to mourn losses, to feel mortal. You're not a spoil sport. You're simply normal.  We all have our off-days.

Even Babette, the ultimate gym rat here -- a fabulously fit 44-year-old wife of an older retiree who exercises for two hours a day at the highest settings on the treadmills and exercycles -- confessed to me the other day that she sat home for several days a few weeks back feeling burned out and listless before returning to the gym with new enthusiasm. It made me feel a little less guilty about skipping the gym for two days in a funk over recent, painful oral surgery.  My neighbor Phyllis, usually an enthusiastic Mah Jong player and a regular at the outdoor pool social circle most afternoons, has felt more like lounging on her front patio this week with a good book and Daisy, her sweet Labrador. This time alone feels just right for her right now.

The secret to making your days more golden than olden, however, is to balance this downtime with activity and involvement. Times of quiet reflection and more active, exuberant times are all important in thriving through your golden/olden years.

Taking a walk, swimming, riding a bike, hitting the gym can ease that stiffness and pain.

Spending time doing for others -- whether they are family, friends or strangers can help you feel connected and that you're still making a contribution to the world.

Exploring your passions -- working on that long-deferred novel, learning to play an instrument or a new language, learning to paint, traveling locally or to faraway places, volunteering for your favorite charity or cause, mentoring a young person, taking classes at your local community college -- can keep your mind sharp and whet your excitement for living and learning.

Counting the blessings of your life -- however changed -- is another thing that turns olden days to golden. As we age, we are blessed with wisdom and perspective, with dear friends who know us well, with families that are growing with grandchildren even as our elders pass away, with more time and freedom and courage to be ourselves, to give back and to share love with those who matter most.

And laughing -- at yourself, at the indignities of age and the absurdities of life -- can be positively therapeutic.

Aunt Molly used to tell me "Laughter is the best exercise I know. You have to have a real sense of humor to thrive through these Golden Years."

She was so right.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Mouseketeers Revisted


There was a time when life screeched to a halt every weekday at 5 p.m. as we gathered in front of our television sets to watch "The Mickey Mouse Club."  The most intriguing feature of the show was the cast: the original Disney Mouseketeers sang and danced their way into our hearts five days a week with themed shows like Fun with Music, Guest Star Day, Anything Can Happen Day, Circus Day and Talent Roundup Day.

A few of the Mouseketeers -- most notably Sharon and Lonnie -- were seasoned professionals. But most of them were typical kids who could sing and dance passably, but who were otherwise pretty much like us, growing up in a time and place where the economy was booming, kids were center stage and the possibilities seemed endless.

We experienced the era's innocence and optimism with them, singing along to songs like "Beauty is as beauty does" and listening to Jimmy Dodd's sweet homilies. We commiserated with Karen when she sang -- in her imperfect, husky little voice -- "Gee, But It's Hard to Be Eight." We were right there with them as they went through puberty on national television.  Voices cracked. Hips broadened. Faces matured. And, in the case of Annette, an entire nation of enraptured young boys watched her bosom blossom under that little Mousketeer sweater.

They were a cohesive cohort. They hung out together. They went to school on the studio lot together. They had their special songs. We could relate. Life was a song and dance, an adventure. Anything could happen, anything was possible.

The Mouseketeer concept didn't work quite as well for later reincarnations of the show. The last Mickey Mouse Club in the Nineties brought Britney Spears, Cristina Aguilara and Justin Timberlake to public attention. But these were slick professionals. They were sexy. They were always quite different from you and me. They weren't the peers we once knew and adored.

My childhood friend Mary Laing and I used to watch the show together and dreamed of joining the ranks of the Mouseketeers. We took up tap dancing and practiced our songs. But the real reason we longed to be Mouseketeers was not the promise of fame but a chance to be part of that group, to be one one of them.

One day, trolling through the phone book to see if we could find any of our friends, the Mouseketeers, listed, we came across Lonnie Burr's name. We couldn't believe our luck. Lonnie was one of our favorites. He was very talented and cute and oh, so cool. Mary called him. His mother said she'd put him on the phone and a minute later, there he was.  Mary was momentarily tongue-tied. Then she frantically improvised.  "You're our favorite Mouseketeer and we think you're so cool!" she said in a rush. "And we'd like to invite you to a party at my house next Saturday."

There was a pause on the other end. Then he said "Just a minute. I need to ask my Mom."  His mother came on the line to get directions, time and said they would be there.

Mary hung up the phone and we looked at each other in total panic. "My Mom. Oh, my God! She'll kill me!" Mary cried, burying her head in her hands. But Mary's mom Liz simply smiled beatifically at us and said "Oh, how nice. A party for Mouseketeer Lonnie. Honestly, y'all get more vivid imaginations every day."

Mary and I looked at each other with growing panic. She didn't believe us. We went to my mother and told her the news. A look of disbelief crossed her face, too. But we persisted. Finally, she grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and said "Kathleen, is what you're telling me real? You girls really have called Lonnie Burr and invited him to a party that doesn't exist? And he is coming to Mary's house next Saturday?" I nodded.  My mother sighed. Then she picked up the phone and dialed.

"Liz," she said. "We'd better get busy. We're having a Mouseketeer party next Saturday."

When Saturday came, there were decorations, a lovely cake and sandwiches and a group of excited neighborhood kids gathered on the Laing's patio.  Lonnie and his mother arrived right on time. We gasped when we saw him. The show filmed quite a few months in advance and the maturity gap was visible: Lonnie was growing into adolescence. He was more grown up -- physically and emotionally -- than we had ever imagined.  He was very gracious, especially for a thirteen year old, patiently playing party games with the smaller children, talking amiably with the older ones. Seeing how grown up he was, I suddenly felt shy and wouldn't say a word to him. Mary took up the slack and was her most charming.  Still, I'm sure it was a very long afternoon for him.

My mother sat under a tree chatting with his mother. Dorothy Burr explained that Mouseketeers stayed on the show only if they received enough fan mail and she urged my mother to encourage us all to send Lonnie fan mail so he could keep his job.  Overhearing this, I suddenly felt sorry for this talented young man and realized the corporate bottom line underlying the merry Mouseketeers. Underneath the smiles, there was pressure and competition, realities we wouldn't know until later in life.

Nevertheless, the sense of fun and camaraderie on the show was genuine.  Many years later, writing on his website, Lonnie said that he felt that the Mouseketeers were so beloved because they represented connection, belonging and family. And he has posted pictures of the gang celebrating birthdays together half a century later and coming out in force to help Annette, now totally incapacitated with MS, and her husband Glen after their house burned down earlier this year.

Indeed, the Mouseketeers really are just like the rest of us: they've had their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and disappointments, their tragedies and their limitations. And, like us, they generally have had quiet lives, with high points or low points not chronicled in the tabloids.

As the years passed and the Mickey Mouse Club became a warm, collective memory, Cubby went on to be a sought-after drummer and Tommy won an Emmy for his abilities as a make-up artist. Although Lonnie, Sharon and Bobby continued on with their show business careers -- Bobby dancing for many years on the Lawrence Welk Show, Sharon in films, television and road shows, Lonnie on Broadway, films and television -- their three year stint as Mouseketeers has remained a major part of their professional identity.  Lonnie notes on his website that if he were to win a Pulitzer prize or the Nobel or an Oscar, his future obituary would still identify him primarily as "Mouseketeer Lonnie."

Most of the Mouseketeers went back to regular life once the show ended. Most married. Some divorced. And some earned brief notoriety: Doreen posing nude for a skin magazine, Darlene arrested for a series of crimes. Annette was not the only Mouseketeer to end up in a wheelchair. While still quite young, Karen was crippled in an automobile accident -- and went on to become a counselor for the physically challenged. They found that, while anything can happen in life, some things become less possible with time. Just like the rest of us.

They didn't get a free or easy pass in life and neither did we.

And we all found, over the course of the years, that connection, belonging and family have mattered most in all our lives.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Joy of Girlfriends

                                               Mary Connolly Breiner (r) and me - 1977      

I was talking recently with a neighbor who told me "I don't like or trust women. The people I preferred to work with and my closest friends are men."

I felt sorry for her. Some of my dearest friends are men, too.  But girlfriends -- women friends -- are more numerous and especially treasured.

Our girlfriends are there in each phase of our life, to share joy and tears and growing, and some of them stay in our hearts forever.

I think of childhood friends like Pat Hill, Mary Laing and Sue Blum with whom I played and dreamed growing up -- and who remain dear to this day.

I think of high school and college friends like Eileen Loubet Adams, Suse Harper-Yates, Jeanne Nishida Yagi, Ruth Woodling, Lorri Scace, Cheryl Rennix and Georgia Watson with whom I shared and share growing experiences and new discoveries.

There have been work friends -- so many wonderful women, including just about everyone I knew at 'TEEN Magazine.

There were the friends from acting  -- Barbara Ferrell, Mura Kievman, Joyce Johnson, Barbara Brownell and Robyn Gerrard -- who commiserated and celebrated all our disappointments and triumphs during those memorable years and who are still close to my heart.

And then there are the new friends of my young old age here at Sun City Anthem: Phyllis Skurda, Kim Tuomi, Louise Putrick, Pat Cosentino, Judith Anderson, Mary Gooday and Linda Kennedy to share this latest passage as a family of friends. And then there are some new and treasured women friends in the blogging community who bring a wonderful new sense of connection.

But most of all, I think of Mary Connolly Breiner, whom I met when she joined the staff of  'TEEN Magazine, and who has been so special throughout the forty years of our friendship.

In some ways, Mary and I grew up worlds apart. She was the youngest daughter of a famous novelist and screenwriter and grew up on the beach in star-studded Malibu Colony. I grew up in decidedly more modest circumstances.

But Mary and I shared some essential experiences. Alcohol had an impact on both our families. And we found solace in faith. At one point, I had dreamed of becoming a nun.  Mary actually was a nun for ten years. Her first job post-convent was at 'TEEN. We all tip-toed around her for a week or so until her wicked, edgy sense of humor became apparent and she was, in an instant, one of the group.  We both dreamed of becoming psychotherapists, but Mary, quite wisely, acted on her dream years before I did. She attended graduate school every weekend for several years while working at 'TEEN. I watched in awe, unwilling to give up weekend fun to create a new career opportunity. Besides, writing was my present and future. But the dream stayed alive and, years later, I enrolled in graduate school at night while working full time. Mary, by that time a seasoned and successful psychotherapist, was there every step of the way with encouragement and guidance.

We supported each other through love relationships that didn't work out -- and also those that did. We stayed close at our weddings and ever after. She was by my side the day I married Bob in 1977 and I was equally present and thrilled when she married John in 1985. He was -- and is -- the love of her life. They met while working at a major corporation - he as an executive in the international division, she as a therapist in EAP. John was Catholic, a widower and had three wonderful children -- Matt and Liz in college and little Katie, 9, who was born less than a year before her mother had died of cancer. Mary embraced her instant family with joy. Even when a corporate merger early in their marriage cost them their jobs and turned their world upside down, Mary and John never wavered in their love for each other. And when he sustained a severe head injury in an accident several years ago, Mary was filled with gratitude that she didn't lose him and she eventually retired from her private practice to care for John and to enjoy the pleasure of his company full-time.

Through the years, I've often thought that our friendship isn't a typical girlfriends' relationship: we've never been shopping together or cried through a chick flick together. We have never lived close to each other and so haven't been in and out of each other's houses on a daily basis. Our friendship isn't based on doing as much as being. We will sit down together in person or on the phone and tell each other what's really happening, what we're truly feeling, memories that linger and dreams that beckon. We laugh a lot. And we're not ashamed to share our less virtuous thoughts and feelings. She knows all my faults and likes me anyway. I don't think she has any faults, but if she did, I'd still like her, too. Her love and acceptance feels unconditional. And I know I'd love her no matter what.

In those ways, I suspect that we are typical: girlfriends listen, girlfriends share feelings.

Girlfriends know when you want to vent and will be there for you without rushing in with a solution.

Girlfriends have the patience to listen to all the details of each other's lives -- and to remember.

Girlfriends are there for you in good times and the devastating times of life. Mary appeared, as if by magic, at my parents' funerals and at Aunt Molly's graveside service. At the latter, I faltered and broke into tears as I tried to read Emerson's definition of success while Aunt Molly's urn was lowered into the grave. Suddenly, there was a supportive arm around me and a voice joined with mine in reading the conclusion.. "to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." I knew it was Mary even before she spoke -- and thought how much those words applied to her as well as to Aunt Molly.

Girlfriends aren't afraid to be vulnerable and to say "I love you!"

One of the few negatives of leaving Los Angeles for Arizona last year was moving 500 miles away from dear friends -- especially Mary, whose husband needs her 24/7 and isn't strong enough to make the trip over to visit. When I visited her on her birthday this year, we hugged and cried and said "I love you!" over and over. And, since my birthday was only a week before, she had a gift for me, too: two wood carved girlfriends holding each other close.

That's what we do with our girlfriends: we hold each other close through all the changes and challenges, storms and sunshine of our lives -- even when miles apart.


Friday, August 12, 2011

New Work Expectations for Baby Boomers: An Alternate Universe

What I've been reading lately about changes in the wind for aging Baby Boomers seems positively surreal given the current economic situation. I'm talking about:

Proposals from Washington to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 and make cuts in Social Security

A profusion of articles and books stating that traditional retirement is out and that Baby Boomers are happily planning to work until age 70 or beyond, some at fabulous "encore" careers with retirement deferred until Boomers become too frail and ill to work or until sudden death intervenes.

It makes me want to scream.

The reality these days (and, actually, for quite some time) is that many thousands of older workers are being fired, not hired.  If they find themselves unemployed, they face the longest period of unemployment of all job-seekers. And a number of employers are stating these days that the unemployed need not apply for available jobs.  Even if older workers are employed, they may be discriminated against on the job and when seeking a new position.

When I read articles and books advocating foregoing retirement for the joys of working until dotage or death, I wonder about the age and circumstances of the writer. I remember being 25, a staff writer on a national magazine and scoffing at a newly established pension plan.  "I'm never going to retire," I would say to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. "Retirement is horrible. It's just sitting around waiting to die. Who would want to do that?"

What a difference time and experience makes. At 66, after 42 years of full-time work, I can well understand the allure of retirement.  And having spent more than half of those years working full-time in a career I loved and am still pursuing, I understand why some people who find satisfaction and joy in their work wouldn't want to stop just because they reach a certain age.

Working beyond the typical retirement age is fine for people who want to, most likely people who own their own businesses or have careers they love and find meaningful. There are a number of people who would gladly work into their seventies or beyond.

There are people who have to work longer than they expected due to financial problems or uncertainties or late in life children needing help with college.

And there are some people who would love to work longer, but they can't.

Some of these older workers who have been downsized out of their jobs long before they planned to stop working, would love to have the opportunity to work beyond typical retirement age if only they could get a job.

Being a throwaway in the job market can be a singular pain.

I'll never forget my Father's anguish when he lost his executive level job in a corporate merger when he was only 44. Although I always suspected that his drinking was a factor in his job loss and continuing unemployment, his spirit was destroyed by having a successful career cut short.

A dear friend's husband, with a Wharton MBA and 30 years of international corporate experience, also lost his job in a corporate merger when he was 57. Despite the fact that he had no negative traits -- didn't drink and had a solid professional reputation -- he also remained unemployed despite making job-hunting a full-time career. Although he never lost faith, and worked happily at temporary and part-time positions that paid a fraction of what he had once earned, the incredible value of his vast experience was overlooked time and time again.

Another dear friend, an award-winning journalist, was forced out of his job on the staff of a prestigious national newspaper after more than 30 years of outstanding work there because it was cheaper to hire someone younger, with less experience, to replace him.

Another journalist friend complained of the "creeping intern syndrome" where underpaid interns, working with no insurance on two year contracts, were slowly but steadily replacing seasoned reporters and editors at his newspaper. It was an arrangement that may have helped the financial bottom line -- but was a terrible thing for veteran reporters and young interns alike. My friend eventually retired early -- and hasn't looked back.

A particularly poignant workplace throwaway was Angie, who came to me as a patient when I was working at a psychiatric clinic in Los Angeles. Angie was 76 and until a few weeks before I first met her, had been working as a waitress at a popular upscale steakhouse. This was a job she loved, and she had worked at this restaurant for 45 years. She knew several generations of customers' families. She was lively, fit, attractive and looked many years younger than her age. But when new owners took over the restaurant, they decided they wanted a Hooters style waitstaff and fired Angie.  She had a lawsuit pending. But, in the meantime, she was seized by financial fears and grief at losing a job she truly loved. "I feel like I've been thrown away like a piece of trash," she told me, alternately wiping tears and wringing the Kleenex in her hands. "I don't have a husband. I don't have a family. My customers were my family."

The stories go on and on. I see neighbors here who were forced into retirement and who still mourn the loss of their careers. One man recently told me that his retirement happened when he arrived to clock in at work and found that his card didn't work. A security guard arrived to direct him to Human Resources and the news that his job was history.

If Boomers are going to be expected to wait until age 67 for Medicare and to work, quite routinely, to age 70 or beyond, something needs to change in the marketplace, and in society. Employers need to hire and retain older workers. Employers and society in general need to value the wisdom and knowledge of older people with their vast collective experience.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. These are rough times for jobseekers and workers of any age.

The job market at the moment is squeezed at the entry level with young people having great difficulty finding permanent, full-time jobs and is squeezed at the other end as people over 50 have difficulty holding onto their jobs in the face of layoffs, downsizing and off-shoring.

In the current economy, jobs are at a premium.  This is not the time to demand that Baby Boomers linger in the work place when, for some, that already is not an option and when young people are having such difficulty getting their careers established.

For some Boomers,  those who have physically demanding jobs or ones that are simply soul-numbing, continuing to work is either not possible or not palatable. Retirement is the light at the end of the tunnel.

If the expectations for aging Boomers are changing, we need real options: jobs for older people who want or need to continue working, adequate retirement benefits for those who want or need to retire.  And older people need to be valued by society whatever their choices.

The labels need to stop. Retired people are not "greedy geezers." For the most part, they are people who worked very hard for 30 or 40 years or more and who are now living on a fraction of what they once earned. Most happily embrace their downsized lives for the freedom to do as they wish -- and quite often what they wish to do is to give back to society in a variety of ways, from caring for grandchildren to doing volunteer work in a number of venues -- schools, hospitals, libraries, animal rescue organizations, foster grandparenting and more.

And older workers are not, for the most part, obsolete. They're a valuable resource with a wealth of knowledge that can only come from experience. As a cohort, Baby Boomers are the most educated elders ever -- and are still young enough to have embraced technology. They deserve a chance to show all they can do.

In the meantime, expectations need to parallel the reality of aging Boomers' lives. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I've done something I hope I don't regret: I've agreed to teach a Blogging 101 course for the Arizona State University Lifelong Learning Center here.

It began as a discussion with the director about teaching a writing class. Someone else is teaching a Writing Your Family History course.  Offering a course like Writing for Publication might be too depressing. Traditional publishing has become so difficult these days that it's hard to know what to tell an aspiring writer. But there are some wonderful alternatives, particularly blogging, as I've discovered the past eight months.

Now that I've  agreed to teach the class, I suddenly feel quite inadequate. I just started my blog late last October. So I'm still a relative novice at all this. What was I thinking???

Many of you are so much more experienced than I am in the blogging world -- and I'd love your help and suggestions.

What advice would YOU give someone who is thinking of blogging but a little nervous about it?

What do you wish you had known at the beginning?

Do any of you do private blogs for family and friends only?

What has surprised you most about blogging?

What do you enjoy most?  Least?

Those of you who have a lot of Followers: how did you get so many Followers?? Is it a matter of writing a wonderful blog that touches a lot of readers? Reaching out to others by commenting on their blog posts? How do you encourage people who regularly read your blog to become Followers?

Do any of you make money with your blogs? Or do you blog primarily for pleasure?

If you were teaching this class, what are some things you feel the students absolutely must know??

Thanks so much for any comments and suggestions you can offer!

 I truly appreciate your expertise and insights!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Five Retirement Mistakes You Could Live to Regret

Cooling down from teaching her popular aerobic dance class the other day, my friend Kim shook her head as she strolled around the gym. "Just talked to someone else who has buyer's remorse," she said, toweling down. "Can you imagine? She said they decided to buy here because they just loved one of the floor plans."

We agreed that some people spend more time planning a holiday dinner or a vacation than they do planning for the practical and emotional aspects of retirement. Where you choose to live, what you plan to do, how close you want and need to be to family and longtime friends, how you and your spouse agree or disagree on how you will retire -- all of these things are critically important. And yet, some people make major life choices without thought or planning. For some, that can spell retirement disaster.

The five most common mistakes people make in emotional retirement choices include:

1. Acting on Impulse.  Like the couple who came to look at model homes here, fell in love with a floor plan and bought immediately, some people fail to consider all aspects of a lifestyle choice.  It just makes sense to consider whether you want to move in retirement or not. And if you do, spend some time, preferably several years, before retirement, scouting out possible locations.  As well as looking at models and checking out all facilities on site, look carefully at the surrounding area. Is this a place you can live -- and be happy? What trade-offs are you willing to make?

A community like Sun City Anthem Merrill Ranch, where Kim and I live, is in rural Arizona. The closest major department store is a 20-30 minute drive.  The closest movie theater is a 40 minute drive.
We do have a grocery store, UPS store, two banks, a home decorating store, dental office and several restaurants located within this community and a quick golf cart ride away, if not walking distance, for all. Serious shoppers or movie buffs might think twice about living so far out. For Kim and me, who buy our clothes from Lands End catalogues and are mostly content to see films via Netflix, this location is just fine. For my husband Bob, a movie buff, this location is still no problem at all. Once a week, he combines a trip to the closest movie theatre with a visit to Barnes and Noble, in the same shopping center as the theatre, for a much anticipated treat. However, for others, who long for elegant restaurants, a lively nightlife and super malls, living here would definitely be less satisfactory.

If you're looking to the Sunbelt, spend time there in the summer as well as the winter before buying. Arizona heat can be a shock to the uninitiated. If you're looking to relocate to the Northwest, what is your tolerance for rain or cool, cloudy days? If you dream of spending your days on the beaches of Florida, go in the summer and see how you do with humidity and bugs.  If your dream retirement spot is in New England or the upper Midwest, make sure you spend some serious time there in January before committing to a move. In short, check out places during their worst weather months.

Buy or even subscribe to local newspapers to check out the town or surrounding areas. What are the major issues? What crimes are reported? What community activities exist? What is the political climate? The religious atmosphere?

The latter may seem a strange consideration, but it isn't when you consider the case of some friends of friends who fell in love with a big, beautiful house by a lake in Utah.  They relocated from their modest home in Los Angeles and settled happily into their spacious new home in Utah, only to find that they are the only people in their entire community who are not Mormons. It isn't a matter of being ostracized or run out of town. Their neighbors are nice people. But their lives revolve around the Mormon church and there is little room in their social lives for outsiders. That was something this couple never considered when they sought a beautiful setting and home for a relaxing retirement.

2. Acting on Assumptions:  Assumptions can really come back to bite you. If you plan to relocate, do you assume that family and friends will travel to visit with you?  If you're relocating to be closer to your adult kids, do you assume that you will be socializing with them on a daily basis?

Even if you move only a day's drive away from family and friends, chances are there will not be a rush to take you up on your invitations. Especially if most of these loved ones are still working, their time to make a several day trek to see you is limited. Spending all two weeks of their vacation time with you may not be your kids' idea of a dream vacation.

My childhood friend Mary recently shared with me her resentment that her in-laws insisted that she and her husband and kids spend every summer vacation with them at their cottage in Maine. The years slipped by and the kids grew up and Mary thinks with regret of all the trips to Disneyworld or to her old hometown of Los Angeles or to tropical islands or just camping and sailing on a nearby bay that her family never took because her husband felt obligated to please his parents. Not all adult children are as eager to please as Mary's husband. So you may not see nearly as much of your kids -- or your long-time friends -- as you would like.

Bob and I have a lovely separate guest house that I am mostly using as an office these days. In the nearly year and a half we have been here, our guest house has been occupied by guests -- my brother and his family -- for one night. We hope that we will have more guests here over time. In the meantime, it does make a great office! And we recently made the decision to take long weekend trips back to L.A. to visit with family and friends every other month -- since our time, at this stage, is more flexible than theirs. My brother has just built a guest house in his backyard to accommodate these visits.

Assuming that moving closer to your kids will mean that your social life will revolve around them can result in the painful realization that your kids have lives of their own and may not want to see you as often as you want to see them.

In some instances, too, parents have moved here to be close to their children -- and then their children had job transfers or got new jobs and had to relocate -- in some instances, several states away. And the parents are stuck in a retirement location they might not have chosen but for its proximity to their adult children.

It's important to challenge your assumptions before you make any major changes in your life -- making sure that whatever happens -- whether people visit or not, whether your kids want to socialize regularly or not, whether your kids stay in the area or move away -- you will be content with living in your chosen community.

3. Retiring Without a Plan: Even if you plan to do nothing for awhile, having that as part of your plan will free you to enjoy it.  When Bob and I retired, I made a very conscious decision to rest for the first six months. I was exhausted after working multiple jobs with mega-commutes for the last twenty years of my working life. I settled in, got to know my neighbors, hit the gym daily and enjoyed swimming every day. It was wonderful. I didn't feel a bit of guilt because it was all part of the plan.

Last October, in sync with my plan, I began to take classes, both here at the ASU facility and online, started my blog and began to think seriously about book projects. I felt new energy and excitement. I felt refreshed and delighted to be rediscovering the work I have enjoyed most throughout my working life.

Retiring with a list of things you want to do and accomplish will help structure your days and your dreams. The people who get depressed, who feel at loose ends, who don't know what to do with themselves, are those who went into retirement with no plan.

Of course, as time goes by, you will find yourself fine-tuning your plan.

Before retirement, I thought about becoming active in the theatrical society here, rediscovering a passion of my youth and a professional pursuit in my twenties. I also imagined tap-dancing as part of my fitness routine.  But I hadn't factored in the limitations of arthritic feet and a balance problem.  I hadn't considered the collision of professional expectations and amateur fun. I decided that I didn't want to make the considerable time commitment that the theatrical productions demand. And I quietly put my tap shoes on my closet shelf.  But I've found that socializing is much more important to me now than ever before. Exercise has become a daily habit and joy.  Reading is, once again, a major activity. Protesting is a pursuit I had never imagined taking up in my young old age. And blogging - who knew?

But having a basic plan for how you will take care of yourself, how you will have fun, how you will give back and reach out to others is key to a happy retirement.

4. Failing to Resolve Lifestyle Differences with Your Spouse:  It's not unusual, especially when you're just starting to think about life beyond work, for spouses to have differences about how you will live and what life will be like after retirement. Listen to your spouse without automatically dismissing his or her wishes. Even if your lifestyle dreams seem impossibly far apart, give your thoughts, wants and needs the time and space to gel into a life plan that pleases you both.

When Bob and I first began to think of our life beyond daily work, we seemed quite far apart. He was enchanted with the stark beauty of Death Valley and enjoyed the rustic small towns surrounding it. While Death Valley was more interesting than I had ever imagined, I couldn't picture myself living someplace like Pahrump, Nev., one of the closest towns to Death Valley.  I disliked the desert, the mobile homes, the signs offering free fly swatters, the remoteness from civilization.  My first inclination was somewhere near water -- a beach cottage or a cabin at a mountain lake like Lake Arrowhead. But prices at the beach -- whether in California or Maui -- were prohibitive. And Bob's arthritis didn't do well in a four-season climate, thus eliminating Lake Arrowhead.  We talked about just staying put in our lovely planned community and lived happily with that idea for awhile before deciding that we really wanted to live somewhere more rural, with less stress and less traffic.

We found our compromise in our present community: a lovely planned community (like the one we left) but in rural Arizona with a slower pace of life and very little traffic. Bob has the heat and the desert surroundings he loves. I have the water I love -- not only in the multiple lakes within the community but also with an indoor pool for serious exercise and an outdoor resort pool for fun.  We are an easy drive to either Phoenix or Tucson for professional theatre, concerts, ballet, opera, museums, so we don't feel isolated from civilization. Excellent libraries abound. We've found our little bit of paradise though sharing our dreams and finding a way to make them work together.

Not everyone enjoys such an outcome.  A neighbor of Kim's confided recently that she had really hoped to retire to a community that was more elegant and upscale than this one, with neighbors who were all of the country club set instead of the (delightful) eclectic mix we have here: some working professionals (like our new neighbors Hank, a Superior Court judge, and Mary, a K-8 vice principal), some retired doctors, college professors, lawyers, engineers and some retired union workers -- former truck drivers or mechanics or miners or retired policemen  Most seem to socialize with equal pleasure and ease, enjoying both what we share and what we don't.  This woman who wanted a more elegant life felt misled by the golf courses, swimming pools and lovely homes that her husband insisted were the hallmarks of upscale living.  She's convinced that no one here is quite in the same class as she.  "And she wonders why she can't seem to make friends!" Kim observed, rolling her eyes.

It's important to know what you want and what you are willing to let go in building your retirement lifestyle together.

5. Running Away Instead of Running To: When you're sitting in your office or cubicle, bummed that it's Monday and your boss has dropped a new rush project on you and the horrible commute had your blood pressure soaring before you even arrived at work, dreams of a secluded, serene retirement may loom large. You may think primarily in terms of getting away from traffic jams, deadlines, demanding bosses, pointless meetings and layoff anxiety. You may, in fact, be so focused on getting away from it all that you haven't had a chance to consider your destination.

The fact is, you may choose to run not to a conventional retirement, but to a personal reinvention. You may decide to run to a new career, a new occupation, either on a volunteer or paid basis. You may choose to run to the chance to give to others in a new way -- whether it is doing volunteer work with underprivileged children or rescued animals or combining part-time work with lots of self-care and play.

You may find yourself running to the pleasure of leisurely mornings and abundant gardens so carefully tended and time to savor moments with children, grandchildren and aging parents.

You may run to a lifestyle that allows you to indulge every deferred hobby you ever imagined or start that book you've always dreamed of writing.

You may find yourself running into your partner's arms after so many years of being separated by long hours at work, business trips and a myriad of distractions built into a life of work.

The secret to a happy retirement is not to see it as an escape from all the stress of your working life, but as a new phase of life -- with new challenges, to be sure, but also with an exciting array of new possibilities -- to be embraced with gratitude and joy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Joy of Protesting

It was a typical August day in Arizona: 111 degrees and humid as the sun baked the desert and thunderstorms hovered on the horizon.  The wind felt like a blow torch. Sand stung our faces. Bugs abounded. It wasn't the best weather for a demonstration, but it was just the right time and place.

We were there to protest yet another corporate move to steal our resources and trash our lives.

I have to admit, I've been spoiling for a fight, disgusted as I am with the appalling partisan spectacle in Washington over the debt ceiling. I am aghast at the prospect of Democrats and Republicans alike using Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net programs as bargaining chips while leaving the costs of unnecessary wars and tax breaks for billionaires and Big Oil off the table. I'm furious that the president we elected to bring change after the dark days of Bush II is appearing, more and more, to be a Trojan Horse, accomplishing much more for the GOP than any Republican president ever could.

But the latest outrage is happening on our doorsteps here at Anthem Merrill Ranch and it is the last straw.

Some months ago, Curis Resources, Ltd, a branch of a foreign multinational corporation purchased a parcel of land within the boundaries of the Merrill Ranch planned community outside Florence, AZ. This is a beautiful master planned community in which builders DelWebb/Pulte have invested more than $200 million in amenities and hundreds of homeowners have invested their home equity life savings. It is an integral part of the long-planned growth and revival of historic Florence.

So Curis purchased a residential parcel within the community. Then they approached the Town of Florence and applied for a zoning change. Instead of homes, they want to build a copper mine.

We've seen how copper mining has devastated communities like Superior and, in a sense, this would be even worse. Open pit copper mines are a blight. In-situ copper mines, like the one proposed here, could be a more insidious disaster. The company proposes to drill down through the aquafer that provides water to this community, the city of Florence and several surrounding towns. They would send sulfiric acid down through the aquafer to extract the copper deposits lying beneath our water supply. (There would also be a number of above ground pools of toxic waste material, some built up as high as a four story building.)  Curis can give no guarantees that their mining operation wouldn't contaminate our water supply. And recent studies by hydrologists have shown that, due to the fracture pattern in the rocks and the depth of the adjacent water table, contamination would be a real possibility.

Curis argues that their mine would create jobs. Their estimate is slightly over 100 local jobs with no guarantee that Florence residents would be hired. Still, in a community hard hit by the recession, jobs mean a lot. The master plan for Merrill Ranch, with more residential areas, major retail and a hospital (currently under construction to open this fall), would, by some estimates, create even more jobs over time, especially if the community is not blighted by a copper mine.

The prevailing sentiment among demonstrators was "Why take a chance with our water?"  This aquafier is a fragile resource and the only water we have. With many miles of empty desert land stretching throughout Arizona, building a copper mine in the middle of a residential community seems the height of insanity. It feels like yet another corporate statement that we, the people, don't matter.


So close to 40 citizens -- a number from Merrill Ranch and a good crowd of old-timers from downtown Florence -- converged this past Tuesday across the road from the winery barn where Curis was hosting a dinner for local leaders, with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as a special guest speaker.


The corporation, fearing that the citizens and town council will not be forthcoming with the zoning changes, is appealing to the governor, who has been known to override the wishes of citizens and town councils in favor of big business.


So what did we get for our efforts: standing in the blazing sun for an hour and a half along a country road? We didn't get the governor's ear. She and her entourage slipped in a distant entrance and ignored the crowd by the side of the road. The crowd chanted "Save our water! Save our future! No mines!!!"
as she walked into the dinner, never once turning her head in our direction.


But we weren't really there for her. We were looking to make a difference with the local lawmakers attending the dinner. Some of these people will be making the actual decision about the rezoning request. We got encouragement and thumbs up from some local politicians.  Police lined up around us, reminding us not to block the road, but they were largely sympathetic. The press hovered. (We made the front page of the Arizona Guardian with the headline "Angry Protestors Greet Governor Jan Brewer".) Perhaps most notably, we got the satisfaction of getting out and showing our outrage, stomping around on the soft dirt shoulder of the country road and yelling our discontent.

As we sweated and yelled, some of us felt a flashback to the Sixties and the protests that abounded back in the day. And we felt newly empowered in a time filled with frustration and despair.


It felt good to be out there yelling instead of at home grousing.  There is joy in showing a commitment to a cause. There is joy in joining with others who are outraged, too.  There is joy in trying to make a difference. Hmmm. I could really get into this. I hear there is going to be a demonstration at the office of the local Republican congressman Paul Gosar this week.  I may go do some stomping and yelling there, too!

Watch out, Paul Gosar! Watch out, Curis! This is only the beginning!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Stalled Launches and Boomerangs: The Nest That Won't Empty

There is something timeless about life at my friend Kara's house: as she has for years, she nags her daughter Emily out of bed every morning, cooks dinner with her in the evening and complains once again when Emily disappears into her room to spend more hours at her computer -- playing games and tending to her Facebook page. It may sound like any other day shared by a single mom and her teenage daughter.

But Emily is no teenager.  She's 26 years old, jobless and only intermittently attending classes at a local community college.

Kara tries to look at the bright side of her situation: "At least she's not on drugs or out drinking," she says. "And we get along pretty well most of the time. But I worry what's to become of her. Her young adulthood is dwindling away and she's going nowhere fast. She doesn't have many friends. She doesn't date. When I was 18, I could hardly wait to get out on my own and have my own life. Emily doesn't seem to care."

I've seen a number of failure to launch cases in my practice and also among families I know personally.

Of course, not every young adult living at home represents a failure to launch.

Some are reluctant boomerangs.

Many young college graduates are having a tough time finding jobs in the current economy or are at least temporarily trapped in no-pay or low-pay internships in their chosen fields and, at the same time, are saddled with student loan debt.  For economic reasons, some of these young people -- an estimated 20% of recent graduates -- are reluctantly but gratefully moving back home.

So are some young people who did launch but have hit an economic snag: the loss of a job, a divorce, a home foreclosure. Many of these, while appreciative of their parents' support, grieve for their lost independence.

There are also some young adults who live at home in order to help with or reach a financial goal.  One young man I know lived at home with his widowed mother and grandmother until he married, in his early thirties, in order to help them financially by paying rent and buying groceries. (He continued to help them financially even after moving out.) I've also met several young adults who live at home in order to pay off student loans faster or to save for a down payment on a condo or house. 

Still others stay at home due to cultural traditions that dictate that young adults live at home with their parents until they marry.

But there is another segment of the twentysomething population that is just staying put by choice, prolonging childhood and adolescence past the ages when their parents, in another era, were through school and married. 

What's going on with these young people?

Some are just comfortable at home.  For some, the comforts of home far exceed what would be possible in independence. A college dorm room or a starter apartment would be a huge step down from the comfort of life at their childhood homes. Unlike some peers, the tradeoff of freedom paired with tight budgeting and shoestring living doesn't make sense to them. 

Some feel reluctant to take on the hardships of launching themselves into the world.  They may be fearful of the demands of the outside world: dealing with professors or employers who expect so much, managing on limited funds, facing the world without the daily support of their parents. A number of members of this most hovered over and protected generation ever are in no hurry to take on the world.
They feel safe in their childhood rooms. They're in no hurry to learn to drive. This is a mind-set that some adults -- of a generation when we dreamed and fought for independence, when we got our drivers licenses on our 16th birthdays and left home at 18 -- often struggle to understand.

Some fulfill a function within their families that all are reluctant to change.  Some of these functions are unconscious but essential.  For some families, a stay-at-home adult child provides focus for parents who have grown apart. For others, the adult child is a treasured daily companion. Still others collude with a parent's need to be needed or the adult child's need to remain in prolonged adolescence.

Some have a life-limiting problem that keeps them from moving on.  A child may be chronically depressed or have some other form of mental illness and/or have a substance-abuse problem that keeps him or her from functioning in the world. 

Multi-generational living may be a temporary necessity or a chosen lifestyle for some families. It is very much a decision that parents and adult children need to make together in a spirit of love and compromise.  For some families, it is a no-brainer -- and a joy.

There can be a dark side, however. In some families, a child may be designated lifelong caregiver to an emotionally needy parent and never have his or her own life. In some families, parents may feel held hostage to a young adult child with a substance abuse problem or with a persistent disinclination to assume adult responsibilities. And sometimes, full adulthood can be postponed until it isn't possible at all.

I had a school friend I'll call Mindy who lived with her mother her entire adult life. Always overweight, she was shy and had few friends.  Although she worked in clerical positions for about 20 years, she was finally disabled by her extreme obesity. From her early forties on, she just stayed home with her retired Mom.  When her mother finally died, Mindy was completely lost.  She couldn't handle independent responsibilities from finances to driving. Her cousins had to step in to help settle her mother's affairs and Mindy soon found herself in a nursing home, feeling helpless, angry and frustrated -- and that she had never really lived her life.

What can you do if you find your nest not emptying but feeling crowded with adult children who are staying put or who are boomeranging back after college, divorce or job loss?

Agree on some ground rules.  These may differ from family to family. But they might include the requirement that your adult child is progressing while home: attending AA meetings or getting therapy, actively job-hunting or going to school, for example.  Simply regressing to childhood or loafing around the house playing video games or watching t.v. is not an option.  You may require an employed adult child in residence to pay some rent or contribute to food costs.  (At your own discretion, you might bank this money to give back to them for a nest egg or first and last month's rent for an apartment as their circumstances improve.)

Let them know the limits of your ability or willingness to help.  There may be a time-limit on your ability to help. If so, discuss this as a family and come up with a reasonable plan.

A family I once counseled had two adult kids living at home with the stated intention of finishing college and launching careers.  The adult children, both in their mid-to-late twenties, lived an endless summer as they leisurely considered their educational and occupational options -- and recoiled at the thought of transitional or part-time work in the interim. The father, then nearly 70, finally let them know that they had three years to pull it together before he sold his business and retired.  The mother insisted that they do their fair share of housework and meal preparation since she was working multiple jobs and her husband spending long hours at his business in order to support the household and the expense of the kids' extended college careers. Airing expectations and setting limits helped these parents decrease their level of anger and frustration and also served as a reality check for the adult children for whom time had been standing still. 

If your adult child suffers from emotional problems, mental illness or a substance abuse problem, find and insist on professional help.  This can be difficult with an adult child but it may make the difference between your child's life progressing in a positive way -- or a lifetime of dependence. Examine ways you may be enabling an addiction or failure to launch -- and perhaps seek help yourself in changing the family dynamics. These changes are far from easy and the challenge of overcoming a life-limiting addiction or living productively with a mental illness can be daunting. However, seeking help sooner rather than later may well prevent the sad scenario of years passing as your adult child languishes in the comfort of home and makes no progress in dealing with his or her problems.

The whole point, after all, is to see your children grow up and build satisfying, productive lives.  And that, most likely, will take them out of the nest and into jobs, relationships and homes of their own.

The best case scenario is not the perpetually empty nest, but a nest that fills again briefly time and time again, as your adult children come back to visit, bringing new loves, life partners and grandchildren and as you share a lifetime of love and delight in each other.