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Shifting Gears

By Natasha josefowitz

In February 1981, the La Jolla Light interviewed me about my new book “Paths to Power, a Woman’s Guide from First Job to Top Executive.” I was a professor of business, then teaching the first course in the country for women in management at the University of New Hampshire. Today, more than 25 years later, I have been asked to join the La Jolla Light staff as a twice-monthly columnist. I’m so glad to have this new home.

Then, my mission in life was to empower women to do whatever they wanted to do and be whoever they chose to be, whether housewife, career woman or both. Today, my mission has changed only slightly. I am 80 years old, and I still want to empower women, but this time it is to accept themselves with wrinkles and grey hair and to celebrate our added years of living. I don’t like anti-aging creams because I am pro-aging. If you don’t age it means you died young!

My title " SHIFTING GEARS?” refers to change being one of our only constants, we are forever re-inventing ourselves, becoming whoever we always wanted to be-outrageous or quiet, being there for others or living just for ourselves, with facelifts or wrinkles, with a few pounds too many or not quite enough, with aging partners, younger lovers, or alone.

The road ahead is unknown, but we will travel together holding hands and skipping together over the boulders lying inevitably on our paths and singing at the top of our voices.

A woman is standing at the door of the dining room-she checks whether the women coming in have stockings, a dress, no skirts, no sandals and whether the men are properly attired in dress shirt, tie and blazer. The year is 1958 and the place is the White Sands of La Jolla, a retirement community-and one of many retirement homes where the dress codes were strictly enforced.

The year is now 2007, jeans and shorts for breakfast and lunch, casual pants and shirts in the evening, a small attempt to look a bit more dressy for Sunday brunch, but my guest arrived in shorts and no one asked him to leave. Now some people come ready for a party and others dressed for a beach day, all of them happily eating together.

It is surprising to realize that some elder folks have never owned a pair of jeans, a sweat suit, or ever a T-shirt and would find it unthinkable to wear anything like that; they come to exercise class dressed in their street clothes. In their time each activity had its own costume: tennis whites, riding habits, bathing costumes.

But the dress codes are not the only generational differences. There are people living here who came of age during the depression era, they are in their late eighties and nineties (we also have three centenarians living here), while the newer arrivals in their late sixties and seventies have their roots in post-war prosperity. The latter want up-to-date exercise equipment like the elliptical trainer, they want a healthy diet with whole grains, root vegetables and more exotic dishes versus the old standbys of the more senior crowd who are used to meat-and-potato staples and decry the use of unfamiliar names for new dishes. They were happy with macaroni and cheese (white-flour pasta of course) verses the newer buckwheat pasta with stir fry. So now there is both.

The generation born in the second quarter of the last century, called the Silent Generation has become more vocal facing the requirements demanded by the Baby Boomers coming into their retirement years. So retirement communities have the delicate task to balance respect for tradition, such as Bible classes and morning prayers, while showing respect for different faiths or no faith and offering weight rooms, large fitness centers with personal trainers, a masseuse, a doctor’s office on the premises, yoga and tai chi. It really comes down to need of formality-being served at table versus buffet service with an emphasis on comfort, health and educational programs.

The younger retirees also want larger spaces, full kitchens and their own washer-dryers. White Sands has been combining units to fit that need. What started out as 299 small units has been transformed into 140 larger ones. Whereas White Sands’ population is now 25 percent couples, the couples coming into the new units are younger and are 65 percent of that population. Plans are for a 10-bed dementia unit and to keep the four-tier plan of independent living, a non-ambulatory floor, assisted living and skilled nursing.

Retirement communities everywhere are struggling with these inter-generational issues, and as I write this, I wonder what will my grandchildren need and wish for when they reach their retirement age - I just calculated that it will be in the mid-century and many of us won’t be here to find out. Just as well!