Tag: Parents (page 1 of 3)

Kids packing for college? You’ll be okay.

Dear Readers,

Two years ago this week, my youngest child was in the final stages of getting ready to leave for her first year of college…and I was, how shall we put this, freaking the hell out. Continue reading

My so-called empty nest

Dear Wendy,

alt="IMAGE-empty-nest-revolving-door-after-the-kids-leave"It seems a little bit strange to be writing about the empty nest when my youngest kid is sitting next to me playing Sims on her computer, but summer’s almost half over, and the new school year is only a month away.

Last year at this time I remember musing about my first year with no kids living at home—Adrian had been living on his own for about 10 years, Rachel had finished her first year of college, and I was feeling kind of cocky about having survived that dreaded first plunge into childlessness.

Well, temporary childlessness.

Because, as I now know, they come back. That was actually Lesson 1: this whole “going away to college” thing isn’t the real thing. Sure, we call it “the empty nest,” but it’s really more like “the temporary lull.” The real empty nest will happen in a few more years, when degrees have been handed out, jobs and first apartments acquired.

I know this, but I’m not thinking about it too hard. Call it denial, but I prefer to think of it as “living in the moment.”

Empty nest, full nest

Right now we’re in the revolving door stage, at least with our youngest child.

Our year has a particular rhythm now: we spend the summer preparing for the new school year. In early September we drive to Toronto and drop Rachel off at her college. This is a happy-sad time for all of us, and tears are usually involved.

On our return home, everything is suddenly intensely quiet, until Mitchell and I have time to adjust back into our “home alone” routine. But we quickly relearn what it’s like to live as a childless couple again—cooking for two, planning our days around our own schedules, running the dishwasher every couple of days. Of course, we see Adrian a couple of times each week, but he always returns to his own place afterward.

In October Rachel comes home for Thanksgiving weekend, which is always insanely hectic and much too short; then it’s a longish haul until her December break. We have a full month together, and then she’s off again, this time until mid-February, when she’s back for study break; Easter is usually about 6 weeks later; and then we’re making the trip to Toronto once more at the end of April, to bring her back home.

You see what I mean about the revolving door, right?

Right now, we’re in the middle of the pre-back-to-school planning stage, thinking about all the things we need to do before September: courses must be chosen, mountains of laundry must be washed, haircuts must be scheduled (because seriously, when you find a great hairdresser, you don’t mess around with that).

Rachel only has about 10 days left in her summer job (interning at an architectural office), and we’ll be off on a camping trip for a few days, and then it’ll be time to get packing in earnest.

For now, I’m enjoying the temporary chaos of having our youngest at home, but these days it seems that no matter whether she’s here or not, I’m aware that it won’t last long. Change, it seems, really is the only constant.





Safety versus fun: Finding the balance

Dear Wendy,

The other day I passed by the elementary school that both my kids attended. It was recess time, and I paused for a moment to watch the junior students in the fenced-in play area, as they ran about under the watchful eye of a teacher wearing a reflective orange vest.


I thought back to another early spring day, when Rachel was in Grade 2 at that school. She and Mitchell and I had been walking home one Sunday afternoon when she let out a sudden wail that nearly took my hair off: “IT’S GONE! WHERE DID IT GO?”

Sure enough, the huge, elaborate play structure that had been the centrepiece of the play yard was just…gone. The earth around it had been torn up by machinery, and all the swings, slides, monkey bars, and climbing structures had vanished as though they’d never been there.

Rachel was inconsolable, and we were mystified. The next day we found out the reason: some parents had complained that the play structure was dangerous. What if a kid were to fall off the monkey bars? Or slide down the slide too fast? Or swing too high and fall off? Won’t someone think of the children!?

They’d be replacing the old structure, the principal reassured us. Rachel wasn’t convinced, and it turned out she was right: Grade 2 came and went; Grade 3….and by the time we pulled her out of the school (for other reasons involving an abusive teacher), there was still no sign of the new play structure. Safety trumped fun, and the kids lost out.

Back when you and I were kids, adults didn’t seem to focus quite so much on child safety.


When I was 8 or 9 years old, my best friend Cindy and I would set out through a local abandoned apple orchard on sunny Saturday afternoons. We’d gather apples (small and sour, but we didn’t care), and shove them into our pockets to eat at our destination: an old wooden barn, deserted and decrepit. We’d climb up to the roof via a ladder with several rungs missing, and sit in the sunshine, gossiping and munching on our apples as we looked out over the gnarled apple trees and tried to spot the roofs of our own houses.

Could we have been hurt? Of course! That old barn was full of dangers: rusty nails sticking out of walls, elderly wood that could fall apart under our weight. And who would have heard us if anything had happened?

Yet our parents seemed to take a cavalier attitude to all the dangers that could have befallen us—and in my case, often did. There was the time I fell during a game of tag and gashed my knee on a piece of rusty paint tin. Cindy and her brother Dougie bundled met into her wagon and raced down the hill to our house with me in tow, bleeding profusely and feeling slightly important to be receiving all that attention. Mum took one look at the cut, gave me a handful of tissues to press against it, and drove me to the hospital for several stitches. She didn’t seem distressed, only mildly inconvenienced, as I’d interrupted her day.

I’d like to say I long for the old days, when parents let kids do all sorts of insanely dangerous things: I climbed trees, rode my bike to distant parks, played in partially constructed houses, stepped on nails, and on one memorable occasion, fell into a fire, burning my hands and knees. Such injuries were just the price we paid for being active kids.

But then I think of some of the truly terrible things that have happened, sometimes to children I know: a friend’s son was riding on his father’s shoulders, slipped backward, and fell to the concrete sidewalk. He suffered a severe concussion, with lasting effects. I’ve seen children fall from play structures and break arms; and Mitchell once watched a young child stand up in her mother’s grocery cart, then topple out with a sickening crack as her little head hit the floor.

So as much as I’d like to argue for a return to the carefree days when kids could be kids, I have to admit that our modern focus on safety has a lot of merit. Seat belts and car seats (properly fitted) save lives; baby equipment must meet safety standards; bike helmets prevent concussions; latched gates keep kids away from swimming pools and accidental drowning. All good things.

Still, now and again I think about the thrill of climbing up that old rotting barn to eat pilfered apples with my best friend…and I wish our kids could have the same kind of adventures.

Just, you know, safely.




Our parents: A fairytale romance with a tragic ending

Dear Karen,

About 12 years ago, I became the High Priestess of Irving Family Artifacts.

Continue reading

And baby makes 3

Dear Karen,

How was your summer? Ours was pretty good, full of buzzing activity, great weather and long periods of sloth-like behaviour. Here’s a re-cap of some of the things we did this summer which were fun, interesting or meaningful:

Michael became a chef for 6 months. He invited us to his restaurant on the final night of his apprenticeship and we had the most delicious dinner. He learned a lot as a chef and it makes me very happy to know he can now handle himself in a kitchen. His future wife will be thrilled to know he can make a beautiful omelette, pour a decadent martini and can clear a table of dirty dishes, glasses and cutlery in less than a minute.


I love this photo, even if it’s slightly blurry. It’s my son as he really is, not posed or frozen in front of the camera.

I went to a rugby tournament, to support a very worthwhile charity, and I discovered that standing right beside the pitch, watching the players slam into each other, is a lot better than being on the pitch and seeing a 200 lb side of meat come charging at you, intent upon taking you down and murdelising you.


Marie Curie Rugby Tournament – look ma, no helmets, pads or protection of any kind!

A friend came to visit and after a scary morning visiting the London Dungeon, we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. I can’t show you the food we ate because you’d get jealous. Next time you come for a visit, though, we’re definitely going there.


Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason’s, Piccadilly.

Walking through Regent’s Park has been a treat all summer long. Last weekend, I saw a very elegant bird, balancing on an impossibly thin branch over the Boating Pond. He sat there, swaying in the light breeze. It looked so effortless and calm.


It’s a big, long bird, sitting on a bough. That’s as ornithological as I can get, I’m afraid.

I walked into the Conran shop in Marylebone and found this, the best scratching pad in the world. Ever.


Flashmaster DJ Kitty von Cattenhoff, scratching out some tunes.

In the run up to Rosh Hashana, my friend and I went to Harry Morgan’s in St John’s Wood and had a delicious, artery-hardening lunch. We ate everything on our plates, and finished our meal with chicken soup because there was still 1 cubic cm of spare space left in our stomachs.


Chopped liver, calves’ foot jelly and gefilte fish – exquisite! And this was just the 1st course.

Gillian is enjoying her work in Shoreditch and it’s so nice to have her stay with us. She’s great fun to have around, cleans out the dishwasher, pats the kittens and, when she’s not busy with all the exciting things in her life, doesn’t mind hanging out with us. I like that in a child.


I also like that Miss Piggy is her heroine and that her company holds the coolest parties ever.

I had the funniest Google+ Hangout with you; we tried out the various weird apps on the menu and I discovered you could change yourself into a a party-hatted hipster, a cat or a droopy-eared dog. I think I liked the dog best, probably because you wouldn’t let me take a photo of you in the other masks. Next time, just one pic of you as a cat, please? Thanks.


I can’t tell you how much I adore this photo, except to say, a lot.

We finally left the warmer temperatures and sunshine and, oh blessed relief, entered Autumn. I know lots of people love it, but Summer leaves me cold.


And suddenly, it’s Summer no more. Hallay-fricking-lu-ya.

This final photo was taken in 2007, with our eldest daughter. We were messing around on a walk and we decided it’d be really amusing to pretend she was pregnant. It all seemed funny at the time.


Is this what she’ll look like soon? We will have to re-stage this photo in a few months!

6 years later, though, I’m happy to report she’s pregnant for reals, and is due in early March. We’re over the moon and know this child is so lucky to have parents as loving as Kirsten and Aaron.

It’s been a very happy summer. Can’t wait for what next summer brings, but hopefully a lot of babysitting is on my agenda!



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