How to manage two jobs, three families, and a dog after turning 70.
It’s 8PM on a Thursday evening, Jadwiga Komos has finished work exactly 75 minutes ago. Since then, she already managed to pick up a parcel on her way home, shop for groceries, walk her dog, feed her husband, and make us some tea. Now she is on the phone with her oldest daughter, explaining how to deal with a tummy ache of a 2 year old and whether it could be appendicitis.
“It’s nice to know you’re needed,” she says as the conversation finishes. “My children call me up to five times a day and ask the weirdest question sometimes. How to get a blueberry stain off a white t-shirt, what to do with a baby that has been crying for two hours straight, can I send you a picture of a black spot the dog got on his ear through Facebook because we are worried. People have access to the internet, all these amazing forums are around. But when there is any problem, the old people are the best Wikipedia out there”
Technology is usually the Achilles heel of older people. However, Komos admits that the social media has managed to interest her. In the little free time that she has, she is an eager user of Facebook and Skype, and recently she opened her Instagram profile. She likes to keep herself up to date offline as well as online, which is clear when you look at the modern interior of her house, an iPhone 7 in her hand and the newest eyeshadow palette that all the trendy fashion bloggers are excited about.
“After all these years, she still continuous to amaze me,” says Ewa Olszowy, Komos’ older daughter. “Somehow she manages to stay on top off all these changes in technology and lifestyle. When my kids are talking about something that came out, she is usually the interpreter as I mostly have no idea what they are on about”
At 70, Komos continues to work two jobs in addition to being a full-time grandmother and taking care of her husband who had a stroke couple of years ago. She is the head of the Animal Research Institute in Lodz, Poland and has an additional part-time job in a laboratory. On Friday evenings, she gets in the car and drives 350 kilometres north to Gdansk where her older daughter lives or 350 kilometres south to Wroclaw where her younger daughter lives to care for her grandchildren.
“I think that anybody that is around her feels intimidated,” says Paulina Bartela, the younger daughter. “You see a woman that baked three cakes, did a surgery on two rats and had a glass of wine while you’re still in your PJs. She is the definition of a super human.”
Komos was born right after the end of The Second World War in a tiny village in Central Poland. She is the youngest of four siblings, being born just 4 minutes after her twin sister. At that time, it was expected that girls would get married young and become stay-at-home mums. Higher education and moving away to bigger cities was not considered something a girl from a respectable family would do.
“I admired my parents, but I did not want the same life for me,” Komos says. “I wanted to visit other countries, study biology at the best university, become a researcher and do some great things in life. I could not see myself getting married and having kids before accomplishing all of that.’’
She did not listen to her family and followed her plan. After high school she applied to the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, with her twin sister alongside her the whole way. They both applied to study in Biology, but Jadwiga was the only one that got accepted. She deferred for a year, waiting until her sister was accepted so they could pursue their degrees together.
“There were probably 500 applicants and only 40 spots,” Komos recalls. “At that time, you had to go through an intake exam. They gave us 300 pages of notes, and anything could be an exam question. How did we get it? Well, we have the same handwriting, so we cheated, of course. We each studied half of the notes and half-way through exam, we switched our papers. I am not very proud of it, but 50 years later, we both have two jobs each so I think we turned out okay’’
After being professionally active for almost 50 years, Komos does not even want to talk about the possibility of retirement and says that she is going to work until the day she dies.
“I can not imagine siting and home and complaining about my joints aching, my heart aching, my memory getting worse,” Komos says. “Of course it’s getting worse. But instead of complaining about it, I play these strategic board games my grandchildren buy for me to keep my brain working.”
The aura of positivity around Komos is phenomenal. Throughout the whole interview, she is smiling. Everything she describes, even growing up in a very poor family during hard times, has a positive spin to make it sound humorous and optimistic. She is as far away from the stereotype of a grumpy Eastern-European as possible. When asked if there is anything that makes her upset or angry, she says:
“I don’t like the words “mature”, “autumn of my life”, “declining years”. I spent my teenage years fighting with insecurities, I spent my 20s worrying about my studies, I spent my 30s raising my kids, I spent my 40s focusing on building my career, I spent my 50s getting my children settled in their adult lives and helping them in any way I could. I finally got past all of that and I could start spending some of my money and energy on myself. Last Wednesday, me and my friend drank a whole bottle of wine. On a week day! The following day, I just called in sick and didn’t go to work. I am the boss so it’s not like they’re going to fire me. Now, why would anyone call it declining years?”
Most people Komos’ age are not nearly as active due to the lack of energy or health problems. How does she manage? “Funerals,” she says laughing.
“ Every year, I have to attend funerals and every year I realise I am too busy to die. Seeing people my age and younger dying shows me that it goes by quickly and that I still have a whole lot to do here”