Goodbye commuting. Hello flex time on the porch.

For a number of years, I donned my corporate attire, got in my car in the dark, slipped a thermal carafe of coffee into the holder, and headed south to the city for work. I didn’t mind the commute, I told myself. In fact I enjoyed it. It was time to think. Time alone. Time to decompress. Then along came baby.

September 13, 2010 | | Autumn 2010 | Back Issues | Community | Departments | Headwaters Nest | In Every Issue

In the first hazy days of parenthood, I didn’t think much about “work” at all. I was busy recovering and my brain was struggling to maintain some semblance of order.

Everything I knew had been thrown out the window. My efforts centred on the cycle of sleeping, feeding and cleaning. Emails, project documents and approval processes just didn’t fit with this new reality. I tried to get my son to approve of a bottle, sent emails to friends in desperation for connection to my old life. And I tried to document every moment of my parental progress.

Eventually, my brain settled down as I settled into new patterns. But I missed my office, my co-workers and the intellectual challenges that the corporate world had given me.

Over that first year, I made a few visits to my old office. On the first one, I brought my son to introduce him to my co-workers. Panic set in when I realized that he needed changing. There was no baby change table in the washroom, so a co-worker offered up his desk. Unfortunately, it was one of those, um, “messy” changes, and not quite … contained.

It just so happened that the desk belonged to the germ-o-phobe of the office. Deeply embarrassed, I cleaned up and warned another co-worker that perhaps the janitors should be called to swab the decks. I handed in my temporary security pass and slunk out of the building. Ugh, it makes me cringe even now. The juxtaposition of suits and shiny floors with the very human element of my son’s messy bum made quite an impact on me.

Needless to say, for the next few visits I arranged for babysitting and drove to the city on my own.

As maternity leave, which at first seemed infinite, began to draw quickly to a close, I entertained the thought of a new way of working.

Could I make a living and not travel to the city? Would I be intellectually challenged? Would I miss the benefits and security of the people and projects that I knew?

The answers turned out to be yes. And no. Well, it depends on the day that you ask.

I decided not to return to my old position. One of the hardest things I had to do was return the salary top-up that my position provided. If you didn’t return for a minimum of six months, you had to pay it back. Ugh, again. But I knew that if I went back, I would never leave.

So I struggled into a new way of working. I thought creatively about how I could work and live and parent and play here in the hills. But like parenting itself, in the world of self-employment, there isn’t much you can know before you just go ahead and do it. So I dove in.

Illustration: Shelagh Armstrong

Illustration: Shelagh Armstrong

I have made mistakes along the way: I over-promised and under-delivered, I relied on my son never to be sick, and I definitely have worked too hard for too little.

But I also have had successes: I spend an amazing amount of time with my son instead of on the road. I have time to exercise with him here in the hills every day. And I have worked on some fabulous projects that twisted my neural pathways into jungle gyms I’d never imagined possible. I have been paid and have been able to maintain a comfortable living, though don’t be shocked when I tell you that money doesn’t grow on these countryside trees.

My day no longer revolves around the quality of the coffee in the cup holder, though as I write this, I am sitting in one of Orangeville’s finest coffee houses with a large and lovely steaming cup by my side. There is a real estate deal happening next to me, and on my other side a personal trainer is prepping his client for a workout. The friendly white noise is just enough for me to get some work done. Sometimes I write here, sometimes I write late at night on my back porch while the neighbourhood sleeps.

I have generally found (after almost six years) a fluid mix of work and pleasure, and even how to combine the two. I have honestly had very productive work discussions with clients while hiking the Bruce Trail, and successful morning sessions with other flexible workers while our kids tobogganed in the backyard.

The freedom to look out my window and see my son at play, while I’m making a living? Well, I’m pretty sure that my time alone in the car, “thinking and decompressing,” has been replaced.


Orangeville writer Bethany Lee is the online editor of, a sister site to

Fall Events for Kids In the Hills

Come to the Fair!

The formation of agricultural societies and their associated fall fairs spread throughout Ontario in the 1800s. They are still a highlight of the harvest season and a great way to introduce your kids to local farmers, farm animals and crops, to see their friends in the 4H club in action – and, of course, to have fun on the midway.

Local fairs still to come this season are:
• Shelburne September 17 – 19
• Albion/Bolton September 23 – 26
• Grand Valley September 24 – 26
• Erin October 8 – 11

Hallowe’en fun in the light of day?

You bet! Downtown Orangeville is a safe place to let your little ones run around in their costumes, collecting treats, visiting with ghosts and goblins, and crawling all over the giant hay spider that usually makes her appearance at the town hall. This date also marks the final farmers’ market for the season. Saturday, October 23, 10am – 2pm

Dufferin Town & Country Farm Tour

This self-guided tour visits farms and agribusinesses in East Garafraxa. Families can visit beef, dairy and sheep farms, an equestrian facility, and a grain crop/elevator business, with added attractions and activities for children along the way.

Pick up passports and driving maps on tour day at the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Information Centre at highways 9 and 10 in Orangeville. A donation to the local food bank is your admission. Saturday, October 2, 9am – 4pm; 519-941-0454; thehillsof

Dufferin Parenting Support Network Workshops

A series of evening workshops support parents of school-aged children. Topics include discipline, communication, healthy anger and stress management.

All workshops are free, but registration is required and seating is limited. The workshops run various dates from September through December, 7 – 9pm; 519-940-8678,

Hoppee The Mascot

Whether your kids line up for the school bus or make the trek to school on foot, we have some great online ideas to “green your routine” in ways that help both the environment and your pocketbook.

Also this fall, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a “Hoppee The Mascot” pin on a friend. We’re giving away limited edition collector pins to kids in the hills at several local events – so come on up and say hi!

Your comments on our blogs are always welcome and help build a strong community for families living in the hills.


About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.


1 Comment

  1. I did the same thing, Bethany. When my kids came along, I left a full time office job for a life of working from home. The misconception that being a stay at home Mom is all about Kraft Dinner and Oprah still makes me laugh. I have spent more time at my kitchen sink than I ever could’ve been braced for. But, I have been able to earn a decent wage and be there for my kids while I’m doing it. Just this year they both launched into full time school — Wow — and I don’t regret my decision. As they say: Long days, short years. I am so very grateful that I didn’t miss a moment of those early days with my kids.

    RW on Oct 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Reply

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