Tag: family (page 1 of 22)

Happy Birthday, Lars!

Dear Karen,

Today is Lars’ 60th birthday.  On 14 August, Lars Lykke was born, weighing in at 2.5kg and 45 cm long. Continue reading

Off to the Glengarry Highland Games!

Dear Wendy,

After your trip to Scotland you might not believe this, but I spent Saturday at the one of the largest highland games in North America—the Glengarry Highland Games at Maxville, about an hour from Ottawa. Continue reading

Early careers: The programmer and the artist

Dear Wendy,

This morning I was reading a post on Diane Tolley’s blog, about a little fellow whose aptitude for things mechanical started showing through at an early age.

It got me thinking about my own kids (because of course it did!), and I realized that both of them began their early careers before they were even out of diapers.

The little programmer

alt="IMAGE-fixed-computer-early-careers-after-the-kids-leave"When Adrian was about 2 years old, Mitchell acquired a “word processor.” (This is what they used to call home computers, in case you’d forgotten.) A brand new shiny Kaypro4, with not one, but two floppy disk drives! Wowzas.

Now, you must remember that back in the early 1980s, a “portable computer” was a gigantic metal box of a thing, and should have come with a “some assembly required” label. Oh, and it cost a bleeding fortune…because the idea of a personal computer was practically brand new.

We’d only had the Kaypro a few days, when we got up bright and early one morning to find that Adrian was already wide awake. He’d unpacked the Kaypro from its zipped carrying case, laid it out carefully on the floor, unhooked the keyboard from the monitor, and plugged the thing in.

When we found him, he looked up, eyes full of the wonder of the thing, and pointed a chubby little finger at the blinking green cursor.

“Look at the beep-beep!” he exclaimed, delighted at his new find.

Mitchell freaked out. I gathered up our little programmer and hustled him off for breakfast, while Mitch reassembled the precious equipment (which, I should mention, powered our home business for the next couple of years).

Four years later, the Kaypro4 was toast; we’d graduated to the next Big Thing in computing, the PC. Adrian had never lost his interest in computers, though, and Mitchell and I were constantly shooing him away from our work stations, where he’d hover as though drawn by the hum of the machines.

Then one morning, I turned on the computer, only to find it doing…odd things. On the formerly blank opening screen, a tiny digital clock was blinking back at me. There was now a calendar at the bottom of the screen, and somehow the type looked larger and clearer.

When Adrian got home from school, I asked him whether he knew anything about it.

“Oh, yes!” he beamed. “I went into DOS and added some things to make it easier for you to work. Do you like it?”

Um. “How did you figure out where the opening menu was?” I asked (since I had no idea, myself).

“I just poked at it until I figured it out,” he replied.

Well, sure you did.

The small artist

alt="IMAGE-artist-early-careers-after-the-kids-leave"Rachel wasn’t much interested in the inner workings of computers, but like her big brother, she showed herself early.

From the time she was about 2 (this seems to be the magic age?) she would draw or paint on any available surface: paper, walls, her own stomach….

To save our walls (and my sanity) we bought her what we later realized was the Best Gift Ever: a wooden easel from IKEA, with a giant roll of foolscap so Rachel could pull down as much paper as she wanted.

That easel was a godsend. Many mornings I’d wake up and discover that our little artist had been busy during the night—her tempera paints would be open, her brushes wet, and a new creation would be on display on the easel.

When she was about 4, Rachel, Mitchell, and I were walking through a local mall. The place was under renovation, so some walls had been replaced with sheets of plywood. As we walked past, we realized that the artist was covering the ugly plywood with murals: a painting of the Rideau River, some swans, some people riding past on bicycles. Rachel insisted that we stay to watch, so we waited patiently while she watched the artist at work.

She asked him something about his brushes, and he smiled, obviously pleased that this cute little girl was interested.

“You know,” he said, “one of these days when you grow up, you might decide to become an artist!”

Rachel’s smile froze. She drew herself up to her full height. Looked at him sternly, her blue eyes steely with indignation.

I already am an artist,” she declared.

Well, then. Of course you are.

Fast forward….

Of course, you know where both kids ended up.

Adrian’s official title is “Senior Developer/Operations” at Shopify, though I’m damned if I have even the slightest clue what his job entails. When I asked one of his co-workers a couple of years back, the best answer I received was, “He makes everything go.”

Right. Good enough for me.

Rachel is about to enter her third year in her Bachelor of Interior Design (and woe betide you if you call it “interior decorating”), and has started thinking about a master’s in architecture.

The Kaypro II and that old wooden easel are both long gone, but I think of them fondly now as precursors to greater things—the beginning points of a couple of early careers.





Mother’s Day Memories

Dear Karen,

When I was about 7, Mother’s Day rolled around and our class dutifully made cards for our mothers, using cupcake-paper flowers,  pipe-cleaner stems, dry macaroni borders and clumsy writing on the inside, usually along the lines of

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
You’re a great mother
Shooby-doo, Shooby-doo

Or something like that.

Anyway, in the run-up to the big Sunday, I remember asking Mum why we celebrated Mother’s Day.  I was kind of jealous, because I only got my birthday and Christmas as big gift days, whereas Mum was getting those 2 plus one more!


I thought long and hard about this inequity and came up with a brilliant solution.

“Why”, I asked, “isn’t there such thing as Children’s Day?  That only seems fair.”

She calmly took a drag on her cigarette, and on the exhale, looking me straight in the eye through the haze, uttered words I’ve not forgotten in the 45 years since:

“Wendy.  Every day is Children’s Day.”

With that, she picked up her newspaper and effectively stopped the conversation in its tracks.

Her brevity of answer left me thinking.

Mothers get their day of appreciation, full of flowers, cards, dishes washed and flowery poems.  But the very next day, it’s back to business.  Mum obviously thought we kids had the unfair advantage in the “spoil me rotten” stakes, and maybe she was right.

Now, all these years later, I’m still not sure if she had a valid point or not.

Running the emotional gamut from A to B

My own memories of Mother’s Day from her side of the fence have been full of love, laughter and intense fear, starting with all the beautiful cards my children used to make for me.  I’ve saved them all, and of course they’re in storage so I can’t show them to you but you’ll have to trust me.

I do have a flower vase, made out of a used tennis ball sleeve, which I treasure the way the Queen does her crown jewels.  Long-stemmed paper flowers were included in this gift, along with handy instructions written on the side, to help me figure out this vase’s many alternate uses.


Priceless work of art, from my Gillian.

What do you mean, you don’t know where she is??

About 21 years ago, I flew in to Hong Kong after a long-haul flight and I was exhausted.  I was thrilled to be met at the airport by my family, but when I came into arrivals, one of them was missing:  Kirsten, our eldest.

I hugged the 2 children on offer, and asked Lars where she was.  He looked at me and replied, “isn’t she with you?  She said she wanted to be in the front so she could see you when you came in”.

Panic Stations.

I won’t take you through the whole half hour we spent searching, but suffice it to say, I was ready to kill my husband, tear my hair out and contact the papers to issue a “Have you seen this child?” photo.  With these thoughts whirling through my mind, Kirsten’s younger sister came up to me and told me, as only a 4 year old can, “Mummy, I’m tired now.  Can we go home now and look for her tomorrow?”.

Torn between crying and laughing, I caught sight of our missing child, holding her father’s hand, totally unaware of the chaos going on around her.

I have no photos from the old airport, but here’s a video to show you how insane the landings were.  Watching this might help you understand my frame of mind that day!

Isn’t this what Elvis died of?

On yet another Mother’s Day, I was again flying home and on arrival, was greeted  at the airport.  My eldest gave me roses.  My second gave me Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  And my third gave me 2 jars of what, at first glance, looked like sweets.

“How thoughtful”, I said to myself, “Lars has obviously taken them out and helped them choose a gift for me.  That’s adorable!”

On the drive back home, I took a closer look at the jars and first thing I noticed was, they were bought on a “2 for 1″ sale.  Well, that’s okay, it’s always nice to get a bargain.

Then I looked at the actual label: GUAVA TABLETS TO CURE CONSTIPATION

How…um…thoughtful.  And hilarious.  Moving, even.  My son kept urging me to eat them, unaware of their natural consequences. How could I refuse a toddler?  So I ate a few, but made sure my husband (no doubt the brains behind this gift) had some as well, just to be polite.

Delicious as a juice, but beware when given in tablet form!
(photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

Having been a mother for close to 29 years, I can say with great assurance that while every day might be children’s day, I think most days are mother’s (and father’s) days as well.

I’ve been lucky.  And I know it.


Understanding your family’s past is a key to knowing yourself

Dear Wendy,

I feel like I’m still coming down from our week of sorting out our family’s ridiculously large repository of photos, letters, and memorabilia.

I don’t know about you, but I found it an intensely emotional experience—looking back over 150 years of Irving history brought feelings of nostalgia, anger, sorrow, and the occasional giggle.

Certain images really jumped out at me: our grandfather, age 6, dressed in miniature military garb, brandishing a rifle over his head and looking fierce as only 6-year-olds can.

Could his parents have known, when they posed him for this photograph, how profoundly his personality would be altered and distorted by the largest armed conflict the world had ever seen? Or how his war-induced demons would spread throughout our family like a silent, unspoken cancer?

alt="IMAGE-old-pictures-grandfather-as-boy"When Grandpa was about 12, he was sent from his home in Victoria, B.C. to Charterhouse School in England, for his prep school education. According to his headmaster, a Mr. Ramsbotham, it’s pretty clear he wasn’t a model student:

I am afraid the reports show but little improvement upon last quarter’s; evidently Mr. Huxley thinks that the boy could do better if he tried. I am not quite so clear about it myself; it is very difficult to determine how far his failure is due to idleness and how far to inability. But it is clear that he is not going to make good progress, and I wish that he would realize that he is not likely to pass his Army exams without real hard work.

Eventually he left Charterhouse for Repton, another venerable British school; and next thing we know, he’s at Canada’s Royal Military College, and then (inexplicably) in the northern woods of Quebec, where he seems to have worked with a lumbering company.

And then came World War 1. Grandpa signed up immediately with the rank of major—after all, he was now 29, and he’d devoted his early years to preparing to become a soldier. We found very little about his experiences during the war, but we do know that on April 9, 1917, the day after his 32nd birthday, he participated in the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge.

Then in December 1918, World War 1 just a month in the past, we find our grandfather embarking with the 259th Battalion, 16th Infantry Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force (Siberia). They were off to Vladivostok, Russia, to fight the Reds.

When he returned from war, Grandpa was…different. He’d become a heavy drinker, his behaviour was erratic and often self-destructive. He was touchy, easily roused to rage. His first wife divorced him when he began to hit their son. He joined the B.C. Provincial Police, but was fired following an incident involving drinking on the job.

These days we might say he suffered from PTSD. And although he remarried and fathered 2 more children (only one of whom, our father, lived), Grandpa’s moodiness and alcoholism just kept getting worse. He abandoned his second wife and son, couldn’t hold onto any job longer than a few months. As Nana told his sister, he seemed to live in a world of his own, shared by no one.

And yet, when he wasn’t in the grip of his demons, he was a funny, intelligent man, able to charm almost anyone. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders in Victoria, teaching me to read by spelling out the letters on street signs. He used to take me with him when he went to visit his war buddies, and once incurred Mum’s wrath by leaving me in the care of the Salvation Army man while he went into the liquor store to buy his weekly supply.

Despite their stormy marriage, he and Nana never divorced—she admitted to me once that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

As I read the letters and sorted and labelled photos, it became clearer and clearer how our entire family had been affected by our grandfather’s pain and inability to control his emotions.

Our grandmother, who’d grown up expecting a very different life, became bitter and disillusioned. Our father, who’d never known any kind of stable, healthy father himself, had no chance to learn the skills he’d need to nurture a young family. And when the going got tough, he did the only thing he knew how to do: he started drinking heavily.

Grandpa died a month after you were born, so you never knew him, and yet you, too, felt the repercussions of his life. We were all changed and influenced by this man’s experiences, 40 or 50 years before we were even thought of! Who would have imagined that a war fought in Europe in 1914 could reverberate 100 years into the future?

As we explored the pictures and words left over from Grandpa’s life, it struck me again just how profoundly you and I (and now our own children) are connected to, and shaped by, a past we can glimpse, but can’t even begin to know.




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