Tag: parenting (page 1 of 15)

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.





Are you ready for the empty nest?

Dear Readers,

Yes, it’s still summer, but for many families it’s a time of flux—if your offspring are heading off to their first year of college, you’re probably wondering what it’ll be like, how you’ll cope, and what your new role will be.

It’s a huge life transition, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You’ve spent the better part of the past two decades raising this person, teaching him or her how to cope with life…and now that they’re about to leave, there’s often a feeling of panic. Will they be able to deal with all the new challenges that independence brings?

And what about you? You’ve invested a huge part of yourself in being a parent. How will that change when your kids are no longer living under your roof? How will this huge transition affect your sense of self, your relationship with your partner, your sense of place in the world?

Big changes are afoot, and you’re right to be thinking in terms of “now what do I do?”

To help you prepare, emotionally and in practical terms, we’ve put together a list of blog posts on life just before, during, and after the empty nest. From Jackie DeMuro’s musings about this last summer with her daughter at home, to Sharon Greenthal on the emotional realities of the too-quiet house, to Carpool Goddess on what to buy for your kid who’s moving into a college residence…and yes, even a couple of our posts—one on what it’s like when they leave for good, and one on making a plan when your child has a chronic illness—we’re pretty sure you’ll find what you need here.

Like all our Saturday lists, this one is made on Listly, so you can vote items up or down, add comments, and even add posts of your own, or from other sites, you think should be part of the list. In fact, we hope you do!

On your way to the empty nest
KarenWendy Irving

On your way to the empty nest

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  1. 1  Being Comfortable with the Quiet of an Empty Nest

    Being Comfortable with the Quiet of an Empty Nest

    One of the most challenging things when your kids leave home is being comfortable with the quiet of an empty nest. Despite a fundamentally good marriage, there are hours...days...sometimes longer when my husband and I don't have much to say to each other.

  2. 2  Yarn and an empty nest

    Yarn and an empty nest

    I wandered into a yarn store the other day. I had no business in there, really. I don't knit and it's been at least 30 years since I crocheted anything. But it was so inviting. Out of nowhere, I was struck with thoughts of my kids who are all busily, productively, living their lives.

  3. 3  Making Ghandi Proud

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    I was so happy when my daughter, the always delightful Fangette, graduated from high school last week. Finally. All the bullshit was over. Or, so I thought. She's home this summer. She's working here and there at her movie theater job, but she's home more than she's not home.

  4. 4  Empty Nest: the final stage? - After the Kids Leave

    Empty Nest: the final stage? - After the Kids Leave

    Dear Karen, I've been giving some thought to your letter last week about the revolving door of the empty nest. As you enter one stage, I seem to be exiting, so I feel 100% qualified to tell you what you have to look forward to in the next year, after she Rachel graduates: She will leave one day, suitcases packed, perhaps a U-Haul idling in the drive with all her furniture, and she will not come back.

  5. 5  Kids Going to College: Getting Your Heart and Head Ready

    Kids Going to College: Getting Your Heart and Head Ready

    Lisa writes: When we published a post last summer about our kids going to college, we thought we had missed a most important moment and had one only chance left, when our youngest leave. We were wrong. Parenthood has two big transitions, when our children arrive and when they leave.

  6. 6  Am I Over Empty Nest? Who Am I Kidding...

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    My son Rob surprised me last weekend. Showed up Friday night when my husband and I were out having dinner, about to go the fantastic Artosphere Symphony. I became a mess. Crying. Introduced him to the waiter. " This is my son. He works in Conway. I didn't know he was coming ".

  7. 7  Empty Nest: Life Beyond Parenting - Now What?

    Empty Nest: Life Beyond Parenting - Now What?

    Right now, in homes across the country, college acceptance letters are sitting on kitchen tables. Your own children may be deciding where to go to college. Excitement is high, but the reality is also bittersweet. Why? You know that there will be an empty chair at the table.

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  9. 9  Health crises and the college student - After the Kids Leave

    Health crises and the college student - After the Kids Leave

    Dear Wendy, Well, Rachel's departure for college didn't go exactly as planned. We'd intended to set out on Sunday around noon, take a leisurely drive down Highway 401 (hahaha...

  10. 10  Advice For Parents Facing An Empty Nest

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    When stay-at-home mom Sharon Greenthal's youngest child left for college nearly four years ago, she decided to grab life by the horns and reinvent herself. She talks about the opportunities for parents once their kids fly the coop.

View more lists from KarenWendy Irving

Have a great weekend, and catch you tomorrow for our weekly video roundup,


Karen and Wendy

Teenage wasteland: Where’s the respect?

Dear Wendy,

So Rachel and I were browsing in the drugstore—she in the Makeup in Unlikely Colours section, I in the Skin Care for the Decrepit section—when the PSA interrupted the piped-in music:

“Atten-SHUN! Shoppers, did you know that prescription drugs are the the Big New Thing now? Your kids—yes, yours!—are diving into your stash of Vicodin and Valium, popping pills like there’s no tomorrow! And if they’re not gulping them down with your cooking brandy, they’re stealing them to sell to other kids! Go home immediately and stop them! Stop them NOW! These are your teenage kids we’re talking about! Come on, what are you waiting for? EVACUATE THE STORE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!! YOUR TEENS ARE ON THE RAMPAGE! DON’T COME CRYING TO US WHEN THEY WIND UP IN PRISON OR LIVING IN A GROUP HOME!”

Okay, that might not have been exactly how it went. But I think I’ve captured the essence of the message.

alt="IMAGE-we-all-want-respect-after-the-kids-leave"By the time I caught up with Rachel (who, I should point out, is exactly 2.5 months out of her own teen years, and is still a little sensitive about this kind of thing) steam was coming out her ears.

“They know there are probably teens in the store at this very moment, right?” she asked (rhetorically, as a couple of kids walked by in Uggs and short-shorts).

“Yep, pretty sure they know that,” I said.

“So what’s that all about? Do they think we’re deaf? Or just stupid? Have they ever heard the word ‘respect’?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. But apparently they think parents aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed either. For one thing, they’re assuming parents haven’t talked to their kids about drugs…”

“And they’re assuming all kids want is to get high! News flash: most of us are just keeping our heads down, trying to make it through our teens, until we get to the age where we’re actually shown a tiny bit of respect.”

“I hear you,” I said. “As I recall, that didn’t really happen until I was about 30. And even then, some old geezer in their 50s would tell me, ‘Oh, you’re just a baby yet—wait till you’re my age!'”

“So when does it happen? When do people stop judging you based on your age?”

“Um…” I thought for a minute. “I’m not entirely sure it ever does stop. When you’re young, you’re treated like a criminal in training. When you’re middle-aged, people start telling you you’re over the hill and out of touch. When you’re really old, people talk down to you like you’re some kind of quaint artifact.”

“This isn’t exactly great news,” my daughter said.

“Welcome to life,” I said. “The best you can do is treat others the way you’d like to be treated, and hope it rubs off.”

“And yell at stupid public service announcements when you hear them,” she added.

I nodded. “That too.”

And then we went home.





Luckiest Grandmother ever!

Dear Karen,

This weekend, I was the luckiest grandmother alive:  I got to babysit my grandson for the very first time, at the tender age of 2 and a half months.  Him, not me.  I’m a little older than that.

Not only did I get to take care of him, but I had total control of him for 2 nights in a row.

From bath to burp to bed.

While hanging out with him, I discovered an interesting thing about this grandmothering gig:

There was a time when I did, but that was with my own children.

I expected that I’d be offering advice like rose petals falling on a silk duvet in a honeymoon suite, and that said advice would be received with wonder and gratitude.


Now we get to bore you with advice! Yay!


Not that the parents weren’t grateful for my boring and predictable words of wisdom rose petals.  I’m sure they were overjoyed to hear them.  It’s what they did with my advice that I truly like:  they took it and added it to a little bit from this friend, a little bit from that book, and a lot from their own experience as new parents.

And guess what:  it worked.  My daughter didn’t just have a baby, she is now officially a Parent, an expert in the field when it comes to her son, his needs, sleep patterns and fascinating nappy contents.

My daughter learns a new language

She knows that this whimper means he’s happy, that little catch in his throat means he’s getting ready to break the sound barrier, and that sigh with a touch of breathiness means he’s about to fall asleep.  It’s like she’s bilingual now and has the ability to fully understand the language and culture of her son, while the rest of us struggle, much like tourists in a strange land who assume the locals speak perfect English.

She’s very cool.

So, back to me.  I was asked to read to him from what will no doubt become his favourite book when he grows up and has children of his own:  Goodnight Moon.  Little Grandson gets read to each night by his parents so of course I was to continue the trend.  I admit, I felt a little silly reading to a 2 month old, but there’s no way I wasn’t going to do it.  I had a job and I was going to see it through.

We both sat comfortably, he on my knee, in his jammies and ready for bed, me with book in one hand and glass of wine on a nearby table.  Prepped for every eventuality, I opened the book and read the little story to him in a sing-song voice.  Immediately, and I mean like straight away, he laser-beamed his focus onto the page in front of him.  He had a little smile on his face, wide, bright eyes and I could feel him relaxing into my arms.  We read the book together and with each page, I felt less silly and more fascinated by what was happening.   Obviously he couldn’t read, or understand the words and pictures, but wow, was he happy to hear the words.  I’m sure they somehow reminded him of his parents reading to him nightly.

Even now, I can’t get over how strong an impact that had on me.  

  Seriously!  Do it.  Do it right now.

Sing, sing a song

After we read, I followed up with a tradition of my own, one I did countless times with my own babies:  I sang to him.  Music truly does soothe the savage breast, and in this case, Fais Do Do soothes it quickly and effectively.  This version is the best, in my considered opinion.  It’s by Sharon, Lois and Bram, and I sang this song (minus the harmonising – what do you think I am, a miracle worker?) to them all the time.  As I recall, you gave me this album 28 years ago!

Within minutes, he was asleep and lights were turned out.  Not wanting to wake him, I sat in the semi-darkness and thought about how smart he is to have chosen my daughter and son-in-law as parents.  He was pretty spot-on in his choice of grandparents as well, I would cautiously add.

From birth to teenage years, to adulthood, to bride, and now, mother.  I’m lucky to be her mother and I feel just as lucky to be her son’s Mormor.


Never a nervous mother

Dear Wendy,

Is it obnoxious of me to admit that I am not now, nor have I ever been an uncertain, insecure, or nervous mother?

I ask this because lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts from parents—mostly mothers, now that I think of it—and a common theme seems to be, “OMG, I was so terrified when they handed me that little bundle in the hospital!” followed by a recounting of the writer’s insecurity and distress at “not knowing what she was doing.”

I totally sympathize with these writers, but I feel almost guilty admitting that I don’t share their feelings.

In fact, for me, being a mother is one of the few life experiences that I’ve approached with a sense of confidence, purpose, and certainty. Does saying that make me a bad person?

Sure, I’ve had moments of “Huh. That’s odd. I wonder how I’ll fix that?” Even “Wow, who knew babies could even do that?”

But for the most part, I marched into parenting secure in the knowledge that my kids would be okay, that I would be okay, and that I knew what I was doing.

I had every reason to be a nervous mother, and yet…


Adrian and me

In hindsight, I wonder where that self-confidence came from, especially with Adrian, who was born during an incredibly stressful, tumultuous time in my life?

Certainly not our own parents—if anything, their message to me was more along the lines of, “Don’t touch that, you’ll find some way to mess it up (subtext: ‘just like you’ve messed up everything else in your life’).” In some ways, they were right: I’d just come out of a very poorly thought-out and ultimately disastrous and abusive marriage, and I was living in poverty in a dangerous area of town. I was anxious and fearful about almost everything else in my life.

And yet, I remember feeling immensely competent when it came to caring for Adrian. In fact, parenting was my anchor of stability in a very unstable world.

When he cried, I didn’t agonize over whether to pick him up; I just did it, and (usually) he stopped crying. When he was hungry, we nursed. When he got old enough to play, we didn’t have any money to buy him “mind-stimulating activity centres”; we strung some plastic alphabet letters in a row across his crib, and let him bat at them while he giggled and cooed and kicked his little legs in delight.

When Adrian was two months old, Mitchell and I were involved in a huge public rally to protest the testing of cruise missiles in Canada. I didn’t think twice about bundling Adrian up in his Snugli (a gift from a kind friend) and carting him off to a full day of marching with thousands of other protestors. That night, we were assigned the task of supervising about 200 marchers who were to sleep in a school gymnasium; Adrian came along for that, too, and slept quite happily on the hardwood floor with us. I know mothers today who’d have a fit about such a haphazard arrangement, but I had no qualms.

Parenting isn’t always easy…or fun

This isn’t to say that my parenting has always gone without a hitch: when Rachel was born, she took an instant dislike to breastfeeding, and couldn’t be convinced (by me, by the hospital nurses, by our midwives, by a lactation consultant) to even consider latching on. And that’s how I wound up tethered to a milking machine every two hours, day and night, for the first five months of her life. Moo.

Not that I’m bitter.

There’ve been other glitches and bumps in the road, and I would be the last person to tell anyone that parenting is easy, or even fun a lot of the time. It’s messy, unpredictable, occasionally terrifying (midnight visits to the emergency room with a 2-year-old who’s turning blue from asthma are not high on my list of “Fun Parent/Child Activities”), sometimes unbelievably boring (hello, Teletubbies!)…but not really a source of self-questioning or second-guessing.


Not always great, but never a nervous mother


I think my attitude stems from a couple of things:

  1. Despite her obvious failings as a mother, our own mother never betrayed a hint of nervousness with us. She was always 100% in charge, and I suspect I absorbed her approach without really being aware of it.
  2. Long before I became a mother, I read Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. Say what you will about Dr. Spock, he knew how to convey a sense of confidence. Why, his book begins with the sentence, “You know more than you think you do.” And I believed him.

This isn’t to say I never made mistakes, either. I’ve definitely made my share, and possibly more…but overall, I feel like I’ve been up to the job of parenting. Now, let’s hope my kids agree!










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