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If you are considering the transition to a retirement village, but you are also a grandparent, find out how high your village scores on the family-fun-o-meter first.
You have seen the ads on TV. You may have even seen a glossy brochure. All the silver foxes, ageing gracefully, smiling at each other while they clink glasses or enjoy a game of bowls. Retirement villages promise everything you hoped for in your twilight years – fun, a beautiful environment and community. It’s tempting, even though you are going to need to sell the family home to afford this.
The retirement village pool was resort worthy. Fun times lay ahead. What could go wrong? Credit: iStock
My father built his family home, his “castle”, about 55 years ago. In its time the house had been host to hundreds of family functions. The equivalent of a “pool room” had been built out the back to cater for our growing family as the number of grandchildren increased. But all halcyon days must come to an end: Dad had lost his driver’s licence and mum’s health needs were increasing. They both needed support.
So, just over a year ago, my brother and I accompanied our parents on a tour of a retirement village. One of the key attractions was the shared space – an enormous building with a huge dining and lounge area, a games room, surrounded by manicured gardens, a barbecue, pool, lawn bowls, and tennis court. But the icing on the cake, and just what we were looking for, was being told that the dining, lounge and outside areas were available to be used for family gatherings. Mum and Dad would have a small unit, but we would still be able to gather with them in this beautiful, shared space. The grandchildren of the residents enjoyed the pool, the salesperson assured us. It was indeed spectacular: sparkling, heated and surrounded by palm trees. Resort worthy.
What could go wrong? Fun times lay ahead.
We encouraged Dad and Mum to go ahead with the purchase, and thus the sale of their house.
As the months passed by, Mum became wheelchair-bound and moved into the adjacent nursing home. But occasional family gatherings were still possible because of the shared spaces. The strata fees were exorbitant, but worth it.
Fast-forward to Easter 2023, I wheeled my mother into the barbecue area, and joined 28 family members for lunch, a swim, and an egg hunt in the surrounding garden. As if that wasn’t wholesome enough, afterwards, when we headed into the lounge area for coffee, a few of the teenage grandchildren, who had recently been learning swing dancing, played some Frank Sinatra hits and other golden oldies on their little Bluetooth speaker while demonstrating some of their moves for their grandparents. A few residents walked past as this was happening. Lucky them, I thought, getting to share in the joy of some good old-fashioned fun.
Afterwards, we packed the dishwasher, found the tablets in a nearby drawer, popped one in and turned it on. We left all the areas spotless. Well done, we thought. Another great family get together.
Not so, said the members of the strata committee. A week later, Dad received his ban.
Beware the retirement village fun police when celebrating a family occasion.Credit: iStock
According to strata, several bylaws were breached at the Easter Sunday gathering. Apparently, we could not have put a tablet in the dishwasher because they were locked away, therefore, we breached the food safety plan.
We also “commandeered” the coffee machine and other residents did not feel they could use the kitchen because of us. Children were dancing and playing music and thus causing a disturbance. We took up far too many plastic outdoor chairs. A gathering of 30 was far too large. Additionally, a child was seen bombing in the pool. Utter chaos.
The letter stated that because of the breach of the bylaws, and other unspecified complaints in the past, the strata committee had no choice but to ban any future family gatherings in the shared facilities. No warnings required apparently. The fun police had spoken.
Easter-Sunday-Gate brought back memories of growing up one of six children. There was never any shortage of raised eyebrows and judgmental comments when people heard how many of us there were.
The retirement village ban brought back that painful sense that there are too many of us, that we are a repulsive in our number.
What to do now? To ask for another chance? To apologise that there are so many of us?
How to appease the silver foxes?
A meeting with management confirmed what I expected: there are too many of us. When I called the centre to say we would be having a family gathering the week before Easter, I forgot to tell them how obscenely numerous we are. The silver foxes felt that we had taken over the joint. I had no defence against what was clearly “the vibe” of the place.
A compromise was reached, and pending approval of the strata committee, groups of four or five might be permitted to gather with Dad in the shared spaces. I assured them that although my children and I would never set foot on the premises again, any family members willing to be subjected to dirty looks and hostility would be glad to hear it.
Future family gatherings will now be held elsewhere. Mum will need expensive wheelchair taxis to transport her, and Dad will continue to pay for facilities he thought he could share with his family. But peace will return to the village.
So, grandparents, beware. Check out “the vibe” of the village before you buy in. It may not be the paradise it seems.
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