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By Gayle Kerman

As a school librarian for 33 years, I have always espoused the philosophy of lifelong learning, even if that learning is difficult or takes you out of your comfort zone.

I’m not talking about learning rocket science or molecular biology, but simply about dealing with everyday living. Specifically, I’m talking about role reversal and a newfound appreciation and understanding of what others do for us, spouses in particular.

I recently retired and wanted to spend a month in the warmth and sunshine of Florida. My husband, not retired, could not afford that much time off. We decided that he would spend the first and last weeks with me and we’d go solo for the midweeks.

All of our married life, my husband has done the driving when we are together. He enjoys driving and, having grown up in Brooklyn, nothing fazes him. I, on the other hand, grew up in a one-light town, and driving in urban and unfamiliar places completely unnerves me. I freak out, as our four grown kids would say, even with the benefit of GPS technology.

After our first week together in Florida, my husband flew back to Buffalo. My choices regarding the next two weeks were to sit in the condo, walk everywhere or, as they say, put on my big girl panties and deal with the anxiety.

If I say so myself, I’ve done all right. I’ve driven a radius of 20 miles or so in various directions to restaurants and shopping. I’ve gotten lost and found my way. However, I must also admit that I did turn down a free ticket to see a well-known comedienne in Miami, much to my husband’s chagrin.

It was too far and there are too many crazy drivers! Those stories you hear about elderly, slow drivers in Florida? I haven’t seen one. Instead it’s more like drivers think Interstate 95 signifies the speed limit. For now, baby steps. I’m learning, slowly.

Meanwhile, on the home front, my husband is also being pushed out of his comfort zone. I’ve had numerous and repeated texts and calls about stain removal, birthday gifts for 1-year-olds and what dish to make and take to a Super Bowl party. These were things I had always handled throughout our marriage.

Regarding the birthday gift, he didn’t trust his instincts any more than I trusted GPS to never be wrong. Through modern technology, he called me from the store, sent me photos of what he was considering and did an awesome job deciding on a Sabres sweatshirt and a Curious George book. Of course, the follow-up resulted in more texts about where to locate gift boxes and wrapping paper in our house.

As for the Super Bowl dish, he could have bought something prepared but we rarely ever did that. Homemade was always our way. I gave him the idea of baked Brie, knowing that all of the ingredients were in the house, and he was more than willing to work his way through it. However, I could tell he was stressed by the repeated questions. But, baby steps. He was learning.

In our two weeks apart, I think we’ve both come to realize how something that seems so simple to one person can cause undue stress to another. We’ve come to understand and appreciate the efforts of each other and that our relationship is symbiotic and complementary.

Most importantly, we’ve come to realize that we can, and should, step out of our comfort zones and learn new things, no matter how mundane, no matter our age. Lifelong learning is the key.

Gayle Kerman, a retired school librarian, lives in Getzville. She and her husband, Larry, will celebrate 35 years of marriage in August.

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