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The Non-Stop Fun of Retiring in the Middle of a Pandemic

Mary Kay Fleming made fun of her husband's ungraceful transition into retirement. But after retiring during COVID, she learned that karma's a bitch.

My first thought today on discovering I was one week early for a video lunch date was Damn, I did my hair for nothing. Disappointment at having wasted five minutes with a curling iron was the latest sign I may be on the verge of giving up. I’m not the only one.

When the coronavirus quarantine took effect in March, I finished teaching my classes remotely, video-chatting with college students who appeared to have crawled out of a laundry hamper. Many wore pajamas, some stayed in bed, and only a few spent any time on their hair.

Then I retired from the university, joining my husband who retired five years earlier. I have jokingly compared his daily agenda to that of a potted plant and apparently, it’s true what they say about karma. The joke was no sooner out of my mouth than the virus hit, and I became the one rooted in place withering in the corner.

With restaurants shuttered, my retirement party had to be scrapped. Instead, my coworkers surprised me with a 15-car parade up and down my street. Like me, they all looked giddy to have escaped house arrest for a few moments. Horns honked, congratulatory cards flew out of car windows, and signs suggested we retirees take up day drinking. The banner my husband liked most was a bold “Good Luck Mary Kay” with my name crossed out, replaced with his. That coworker might meet a little karma of her own when the time comes.

Read More: My Retirement Fantasy is a Beach House With Girlfriends. Is That Too Much to Ask?

No More Dress-Up

With no office and no businesses to visit, it was almost inevitable I would go to seed. I stopped wearing shoes or zippered pants. I learned this from my husband, whose wardrobe consists of two pairs of “shorts” but I swear one of them is swim trunks. The other is a pair of cargo shorts that stand in the corner when he takes them off. I’m no better. My last week’s laundry contained only four shirts, all of them over 15 years old. I was too frightened to count the underpants.

My friend stopped wearing a bra, but I refuse to collude with gravity on that project.

I called a friend to confess wearing ratty T-shirts all the time, and she was still in pajamas at 4 pm so maybe I’m trying too hard. She stopped wearing a bra, too, but I refuse to collude with gravity on that project.

The pandemic has caused many of us to take Casual Fridays to the extreme. Nationwide, sweatpants, and yoga pants are more popular than ever while sales of dress shoes and makeup have collapsed. Most people who work remotely dress only from the waist up for meetings. If Marie Kondo visited people’s homes right now, she’d find very little joy and a whole lot of bathrobes, flip-flops, and two-day old ponytails.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Several months into quarantine, the hubby announced he was getting a haircut, one way or the other. I knew his plan involved me when he gathered his trimmer and extension cord, and plopped himself on a lawn chair in the middle of the backyard. Personally, I wouldn’t let anyone but a professional cut my hair, but I guess you lower your standards when you only have a few hairs left and most of them are on your neck. I ran the clippers over everything from his shoulders up, letting the wisps blow away in the breeze. Even the squirrels and rabbits looked on with scorn.

When Salons reopened the following month, I made a beeline for my beloved hairdresser. I showed up looking like Nick Nolte’s mugshot and left two pounds lighter with a style worthy of the tailored wardrobe I no longer wear. See why I love my hairdresser?

Read More: The Trial Retirement: Are You Really Ready to Stop Working?

The Daily Grind

Without work to monopolize my agenda, I’ve resurrected my old habit of watching Days of Our Lives in the afternoon. Occasionally, Hubby comments on the riveting plot twists: “Wait, why is that guy wearing an eye patch? I thought his eye grew back,” and “Is the police commissioner’s daughter really marrying a serial killer?” But he doesn’t fool me. Pretty soon he’ll be looking over my shoulder when I read next week’s spoilers online.

I’m not proud of investing my time in a soap opera, but it could be worse. My friend is watching reruns of National Geographic specials which she describes as animal porn. None of the waterfalls and mountains she hoped for – just bison, bears, and bighorn sheep doing the deed in national parks.

The leisurely lunches with friends I used to enjoy so much are impossible now while there’s a virus trying to kill us all. So, we settle for the occasional “driveway lunch,” parking ourselves on folding chairs ten feet apart and shouting to each other that we’d practically kill for a restaurant meal.

During the quarantine, most of us have prepared all of our own food and I’ve embraced baking with gusto. I’m on my fourth bag of flour since March. In addition to helping us survive while restaurants were closed, all this home-cooking led me to discover a new and rather disturbing law of physics: For every five pounds of flour consumed, the human body produces at least ten pounds of thighs. No wonder we’re all living in pajama pants.

After we’re all vaccinated and back to our normal lives, I may need a rehabilitation program to reintroduce me to polite society where people fix their hair, zip their pants, and socialize in large groups. Until then, please call ahead if you’d like to video-chat or eat lunch on my driveway. For you, I’ll find my dressy bathrobe.

By Mary Kay Fleming


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