“Am I really doing this?” I thought as I dialed the number of the Social Security Administration office in Chicago. How could I possibly be old enough to sign up for benefits?
In fact, my sixty-sixth birthday is less than three months away, so I started by filling out an application on line. It was easy to access at www.socialsecurity.gov/. As the website promised, it took about fifteen minutes to complete the app. I didn’t expect to hear anything for weeks, but surprisingly, a representative named John e-mailed that same afternoon, asking me to call him. “Oh boy,” I said. “He’s from the government and he’s here to help me!”
After two days of phone tag, I caught John in his office. He spoke in a peculiar way—very slowly, over-enunciating each word. “Does he think I’m stupid, hard of hearing, or demented?” I wondered. “Oh, right. He’s used to talking to old people!” Seriously, I was impressed with the care John took to make sure I understood everything he said.
John’s concern was that I had applied for spouse’s benefits through my husband’s account, rather than starting to draw from my own. I haven’t worked at a salaried job since 1983—I’ve done free-lance writing and volunteer work—so I’m not entitled to a big payment. Based on the contributions my husband and I made, my own entitlement was $35 higher than the spouse’s benefit. But if I wait until age seventy to claim my own benefit, the monthly checks will be $400 higher. It’s a gamble. But I’m in good health, and I’m not old, remember? I think I’ll live long enough to make deferring my benefits worthwhile. John made me state several times that I had studied the options and still wanted the spouse’s benefits. He reminded me that I will have to contact the SSA when I’m seventy; they won’t give me my own automatically. I was glad I didn’t need that extra $35 a month right now.
This all was much easier than I’d expected. Now I’m in the system, already receiving Medicare and looking forward to my first benefits check in November. So I guess I should feel old. A strange thing happened last week at the animal shelter where I volunteer. I told Sara, a new volunteer, that if she had any questions about her duties, she should ask Marian—“you know, the older lady.” Sara just stared at me. Well, she’s probably all of twenty. I suppose to her, I don’t look much different from Marian, a youthful eighty-four.
Still, I don’t feel old. Sure, my hair is gray and my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But I work out, and I climb and bend as I pick up cats at the shelter. I’m writing a second Boomer Lit book, and I jump up and down and scream like a fool when I watch the Green Bay Packers play. I’m the same person I’ve always been.
I swear I’m younger than my parents were in their sixties. No joke. A college friend put it this way: “Our parents were taught to be old. We weren’t.” Of course not—we’re from the boomer generation that protested our parents’ values and worked hard for social change. Just as we embraced change in the Sixties, our generation is destined to put a new face on old age.
I’m entitled to my check, so I’ll take it. But it doesn’t have to make me feel old. Not yet.