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Nana time is the latest response to coronavirus disruptions

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday August 30, 2020

For those in their bonus years, the shift to retirement is one of the most important transitions they will make.  Especially today because ours is the first generation to reach its bonus years with the likelihood of living an additional 20-30 years – many to age 90-plus. 

Increasing longevity is why a life plan to guide the wise use of our time and talent – and not just a financial plan to manage our treasure – should be front and center on our agenda.  Indeed, for most, there’s a lot of life to live before we check out.

Last week I learned about the commitment of Annapolitan Betty Fields to go about developing a life plan in a deliberate manner – the way we all should do it.  It happened this way.

Fields is new to our neighborhood.  Around Christmas last year, I learned she was planning to retire from her position as a special education teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville. 

Soon after, she told me she would retire in June 2020 and then “take a time-out” to think through a plan for the next chapters in her life.

Afterwards, I thought, “Now there’s a woman who’s approaching retirement the way it should be done.  Take a time-out. Spend as much time as you need to think through a life plan, to envision the next years of your life.”

That process includes identifying what you want to discard from your old life, what you want to save or continue, and what new objectives or experiences you want to incorporate into your new life – and then to make it all happen. This is a deliberate transition where you get all your ducks lined up as you venture into your post-career life.

That was eight or nine months ago.  Last week, as I was leaving home, I drove by Fields as she was returning from her daily walk, so I stopped and asked, “Are you making progress on your plan for the next chapter in the life of Betty Fields?”

“Oh, no,” she replied. “The coronavirus has changed everything.” 

Before I could finish telling her I was sorry, she said, “Don’t be sorry.  It is all for the good” – a response that whetted my appetite for more, so I asked if we could sit down and talk about it.

Fields’ story is one that underscores the truth that even the best laid plans will often be amended by a spoiler. 

In Fields’ case, the spoilers were closures, delays, hybrid classes and other school decisions prompted by the pandemic that affected her older granddaughter, age two.

These decisions also created a new opportunity for Fields.

Because of Fields’ background in education plus her desire to bond with her first grandchild, the award-winning teacher was able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.  Here’s the story.

Fields was born in Williamson, West Virginia – in the beautiful Allegheny mountains.  She earned her undergraduate degree in education and history at Virginia’s Radford College in 1979.

That’s also where she met Gene Fields – now a CPA accountant, her husband of 37 years, and the father of their two adult children. After many years with a Big Eight accounting firm, the avid golfer who loves his work, established Fields & Nevarez in 1999, a Catonsville-based firm specializing in taxes.

Daughter Katie is a nurse at St. Agnes in Baltimore; son Ryan is an accountant at Annapolis-based Hannon Armstrong, the first US public company solely dedicated to investments in climate change solutions.

After graduating from Radford, Fields landed a one-year teaching assignment in Franklin County, Virginia, before moving to Catonsville to take a teaching job at the Good Shepherd (Catholic) School in Halethorpe, Maryland, where she stayed for 11 years – before moving to Hillcrest elementary school in Catonsville, from which she retired last June.

When Fields taught at Good Shepherd, it was a residential school for troubled high school girls. 

“I wasn’t fully prepared to deal with these young women who had so many special needs.  However, I loved it, and the principal told me I could continue if I would get an advanced degree in special education. So, I did, earning my master’s in special ed at Loyola University in Baltimore in 1985.”

“My years at Good Shepherd had a big impact on me.  For one, they made me very sensitive to the challenges faced by the underdog, the less privileged and ‘differently-abled’ young people.  Today, there are kids with no adult at home to help with homework.  No access to the Internet.  Inadequate nutrition. Health impairments. Specific learning disabilities. You name it.  Those concerns and sensitivities are still with me.”

Though Fields had planned to devote the rest of 2020 to think through the next chapters of her life plan, public policy measures to tamp down the pandemic intervened, taking her off the track. 

Reluctant to see her first grandchild return to school given the pandemic, Fields, now retired, reverted to her first love, teaching. With daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, and son, Ryan, about to welcome a second baby, “Nana” offered to “hold school” in her living room so that granddaughter No.1, a two-year-old, could spend mornings at Nana’s house with Nana teaching her the ways of the world in a face-to-face setting. 

Fields is now all in.  With her teaching and grandparenting impulses at full throttle, she sidelines her furniture on Nana Days to make room for children’s books and other teaching aids – such as objects like balls in a cup to teach sorting and classification; objects to teach shapes, such as a hula-hoop for circles; and materials such as Play-Doh to teach touch, texture and creative arts. 

“I wouldn’t trade the past month for anything in the world. Can you even imagine what it’s like to interact and bond with your child’s child?”

She continued, “The opportunity to be an integral part of my granddaughter’s life is a joy beyond description.  I know her favorite drink, favorite colors and favorite Teddy bear. I can see which birds she recognizes as they fly by our ‘classroom’ every day.  I am exhausted when she leaves, but it’s less than an hour before I’m looking forward to her return.”

I must say, my time with Fields left me exhausted.  It has been a long time since I have witnessed the energy, smarts, strength of conviction and dedication to family, including adult children and grandchildren, that I experienced in my conversation with Betty Fields.

Fields epitomizes the concept of “generativity”, a term coined by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote “a concern for nurturing and guiding the next generation.”  Because “generativity” and “stagnation” are the two dominant approaches to later life in Erikson’s way of thinking, there is absolutely no ambiguity in identifying the location of Betty Fields.

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  1. Alida Widner on September 3, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    What a blessing Betty Fields is to her children and granddaughter.
    I have witnessed many grandparents “nurturing and guiding the next generation”. With both parents working in today’s world, “generativity” is a wonderful gift not only to the very young, but also to those in their senior years. Both sides win.
    God bless Betty.

  2. Debbie Elliott on September 3, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    What an upbeat article! It left me smiling to think of the many friends that pouring into the lives of their grandchildren.

  3. Rhonda Jackson on November 9, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    It warms my heart to see people giving back to help someone else, no matter if they are family or not. So many people today only think about self.
    Perhaps conv is away to make us see it’s not all about self.
    One small example before conv , we use to help around 10 low income families with babies in needs. Now we are up to 60 babies and have to turn some away. The need is so great. The joy and happiness is overwhelming from the families.
    I am so happy that Betty family is important to her. It’s so good to make good memories.

    Thanks for sharing…..