Living With Kids: Catherine Ouellet-Cummings

Meet Catherine Ouellet-Cummings who lives with her partner and her son in a duplex in a suburb of Montreal. Not only do the two of them work from home (they publish their own children’s magazine and do graphic design work), but Catherine’s mother lives in the apartment above them. Work, family and grandma all under one roof! It seems like it could be complicated, but Catherine and her partner are thriving and making life happen. Welcome, Catherine.

My name is Catherine Ouellet-Cummings. I’m 33 and I live with my partner, Julien, and our 10 year-old son, Henri. We live in a duplex that we bought together with my mom. She lives in the apartment on the second floor but we almost live together, as we see each other multiple times each day! We also have a rabbit named Sapin (as you may know, a rabbit in French is a “lapin” and “sapin” is a fir tree… not that our rabbit is named after a fir tree, but we played on the sound of both words for it’s name), and two fishes. Both of them have been fished by Henri.

Julien and I met in Cégep (a type of college in Quebec) at 17 years old (!). We had a video class together and we had to work together on a school project. “Had to” is the key word here: our teacher made us work together and I must confess that the first thing that I ever said to him was “Sorry, I know we don’t have any choice, but I really don’t want to work with you!” Still to this day, I don’t understand why he wasn’t angry about that, and soon enough we became very close friends and we fell in love pretty fast.

At 19 years old, we travelled a few months to Eastern Europe and to India, making little videos about what we saw that we sent back to the cégep. We didn’t really know then what we wanted to do job wise, but we knew that we wanted to work together. We founded our company, L’abricot, a graphic design, writing and printing studio, in 2007. Henri was born in 2008. Having a child changed the way we worked and the kind of projects we work on. In 2014, we created Grilled Cheese Magazine, a risograph printed bilingual (French and English) magazine for kids aged 2-4 years old and 5-10 years old, that we publish three times a year. 

As for Henri, he is a charming, curious, intelligent and creative kid. He is really into music and he takes ukulele lessons. He reads a lot and he talks a lot. He has things to say on almost everything!

We live in Montreal, in Ville-Émard, a small neighbourhood in Le Sud-Ouest borough. It’s a neighbourhood that we didn’t know before moving in but that we learned to love. It is very kid and family friendly.

Although, we are at a walking distance from the Angrignon Park, which is a very big park with a small forest and a pond and from the Canal Lachine, on which we can also canoe, we can be in the city center in less than 20 minutes by metro, and we can easily get there by bike as well. The school is also just around the corner.

I have to admit that our neighbourhood is not the most lively one in Montreal, and I would not necessarily recommend a visit there on your first trip to the city, but it really is a great place to live. Although the prices of the houses are starting to climb (as it does everywhere, it seems), it was still affordable when we bought our house (around 400,000 Canadian dollars).

We were renters in another part of the city and our landlord wanted to sell the house we lived in. We knew we would have to move out sooner or later and, as we already had our studio in the basement, with our letterpress and our first risograph, we tried to look up for a new place rapidly in order to find something suitable before being forced to move out.

At the same time, my mother who lived in Montreal’s suburb, wanted to come back to the city where she was born, and the idea of living all together came up early and, I should say, quite effortlessly.

I didn’t enjoy at all the process of finding and buying the house. It was stressful and I had mixed feelings about moving to a new neighbourhood as I loved the one we were leaving, but once we found the house, all of that stress went away. We looked at about 10 houses before finding ours — one of my cousins had told me that once I would find the right house I would know. She was right!

The house was occupied by a whole family. The great-grand-mother lived on the first floor (where we live) with her daughter and her husband. Their daughter lived on the second floor with her two teens. They were all moving together somewhere else as we were moving in and the great-grand-mother told us that she was sad to sell her house where she had lived more than 50 years but happy that we bought it, so it was really heart-warming for us.

The house was in really good shape so we didn’t do a lot of renovations, except in the basement where we built our studio. We had to tear away the floor and the walls to create an open space and we opened up the staircase. In the kitchen, we wanted to open up the pantry and we discovered a magnificent brick chimney hidden inside the wall. We then chose to let it in plain view. We also did a bit of work in my mother’s apartment.

Julien likes to renovate the house (and he is really good at it) and we did most of the work together. He is a big fan of scavenging materials and he keeps a lot of things, so we were able to use old wood and old doors when we constructed the studio and the stairs. Same thing in my mother’s apartment, where we built a new wardrobe with some old wood that we found one morning on our way to our son’s school.

It is a fun, ecological and economical way to renovate a house. Plus, it is coherent with the architecture of the house and its story (it was built in the 1950s).

If you want to do the same, I suggest that you store your findings in an organised way, in order to be able to find quickly what you need. Also, always keep an open eye when you’re walking around your neighbourhood. You never know what treasure you can find!

I don’t think that living in a multi-generational home is very common in Montreal, but for us, it made sense. I should say that, before moving in together, my mother lived 20 minutes away from us and we saw each other almost every day and spoke on the phone every day. We always had a good relationship built on mutual respect and communication, and my partner felt the same way about my mother (they also used to speak on the phone almost everyday!).

We’ve been living together for four years now and we get along perfectly. The best part is that we have a lot of fun! We eat together 4-5 times a week, we do our grocery shopping together, we cook together… Plus, Henri has a very close and beautiful relationship with his grandmother, which is very moving to watch.

Working with Julien is almost always a lot of fun. I think that we work well together because our strengths are different and so is the work we do (he is a graphic designer and illustrator, and I work in texts and in project management).

The hardest part, but I guess that will apply to everyone working from home or as freelancers, is that it is almost impossible to let go of the job. It seems that there is always something to discuss or to do. We do talk about our work minutes before going to sleep! On the other hand, as we are both passionate about what we do, there are no frustrations there.

As for our parenting style, working from home together allows both of us to have a lot of time with our son (we often stop working when he comes home at around 3:45, but we start again when he goes to sleep), and he is really involved in what we do.

When he can, he comes with us to meet clients or to participate in fairs or launches. Being so close to the school also allows us to volunteer frequently at the school (we did screen printing and linocut printing workshops, we built benches for the schoolyard, and I volunteer in the school library), which is inspiring for us.

I would say that I am a good listener. I don’t take for granted that my son wants to talk to me and I cherish almost every second of it (remember that he speaks A LOT!). There is nothing more important to me than being able to be there for him and to listen to what he has to say. 

I hope he remembers how simple and fun it is to live together and I hope that he remembers that meaningful relationships are based on respect and communication. I don’t want to sound cliché but there is nothing that I hope he forgets because everything is a part of life and we can learn from it, particularly from our mistakes.

I am not a nostalgic person (mainly because nostalgia makes me feel very depressed and I avoid the feeling whenever it’s possible), and I tend to look forward instead of looking back, so there are not really things, parenting-wise, that I miss already, as I feel that beautiful things are still coming up everyday.

My absolute favourite thing about living with my kid would be the opportunity to see him develop his identity. He is a big fan of playing music and that really comes from him. It is an honour to see him develop his talent and persevere in that field. I love to meet his friends and to see what he loves and what interests him.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that everything would work out fine when my son was a baby. I feel that I was stressed a lot and I would have loved to be more relaxed with him and to listen to my gut more. I feel that I chose to do some things based on what “should be” instead of what I felt would be the best.

But in the end, even if looking back I know I would have done things differently, it turned out fine. So, yeah, everything works out fine in the end.

—-

Thank you, Catherine! You can tell a really creative family lives in this home. I love all of the art and art supplies and books everywhere. It feels like if you wanted to pull up a seat and work on something creative, everything you might need would be right at hand. It’s really inspiring and I am sure Henri is able to express his creativity in a lot of ways.

There is also something so inspiring about sharing a space with your Mother/Mother-In-Law. I think for some people it would never work. (Some of us might have better relationships with our parents when we see them less frequently.) But how wonderful for them that it does work. Henri gets to have a great relationship with his Grandma, and Catherine and Julien can share a bit of the burden of parenthood with someone they love and trust, literally just upstairs. It’s lovely.

Do you think you could live with a close family member? Even if you had your own personal space would the proximity be hard or easy for you? How do you manage your time and relationships with family?

SOURCES

Bunny rabbit on the bed

Chicago poster

Flower print


You can check out Catherine’s magazine here. You can also follow them on Instagram here or here or on Facebook. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

16 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Catherine Ouellet-Cummings”

  1. I remember being so embarrassed when I found out, well into high school, that “Hallelujah” was a very famous song by Leonard Cohen and didn’t originate on the Shrek soundtrack as I had believed up until that moment!

  2. Catherine is a very dear friend of mine. It was fun for me to read her words (I hear her voice!) and see the pictures of her house, where we had so many good teas, great conversations, artsy project and the kids playing together. Everything she said about her mom is true! Catherine and Julien are among the greatest and inspiring people I know and I can feel it through the reading. I am lucky to have them in my life, their support and their friendship is a gift.

  3. so wonderful to see people who live like this – different from the – two parents, two kids, 1-2 jobs suburban life of so many in North America. Would love to see more like this, people doing creative jobs, or just living creatively.

  4. I enjoyed this for many reasons, but what I am thinking about now is how many people would be able to work for themselves in creative and entrepreneurial ways if health care wasn’t tied to employment in the US.

    1. You are so right. That’s not something that I thought about and I realise that I take free health care for all for granted. I didn’t mention either that, when our son was born, I had a year of paid maternal leave, even though we are both entrepreneurs working from home, which was so much helpful (I cannot emphasize this enough). Free health care and paid parental leaves should be available everywhere.

    2. There are ways around this – many US universities have affordable and excellent healthcare plans for which any student can sign up, and you can be a student at any age, even if you only take 1 class/semester. You can be on your parent’s plan if they have healthcare until age 27. You can get a full-time job with great benefits and negotiate working part-time, or working mostly from home so you have time to “live more creatively”. Countries with free healthcare (e.g. Europe) often have heavy tax burdens even on tiny entrepreneurs which makes it that much harder to turn a fun side project into a full-time gig. Let’s not argue for our limitations :)

      1. I’m not buying it. Here in the US, I am fighting debt collectors over remaining disputed medical bills of more than $20,000 resulting from my daughter’s complicated birth, which was supposed to be covered by my employer-provided health insurance (and was in fact mostly covered). I can only imagine if I had given birth while on some measly semester-to-semester insurance through a university. And what about my daughter being born with a “preexisting condition” caused by her birth injury? Under the current iteration of US health care law, she can’t be denied coverage, but with the employee mandate made toothless and the system collapsing economically and under constant fire politically, I am truly afraid for her ability to have stable health care over the course of her life. And if I had needed to quit my job to take care of her? Well then we’d have already lost our insurance, since my husband is self-employed.

      2. Jenna, are you joking? Can I assume you get your insurance through your work or your spouse’s work? As someone who has been self-employed for over a decade, and has thoroughly explored every insurance option out there, I can assure you there are truly zero good workarounds. Insurance being tied to being an employee is not a workable, enduring system.

      3. Jenna!!! I have been a graphic designer for 19 years at the same company and even though I may need to work from home from time to time because of personal appointments, there is NO WAY my employer would let me just “work from home” whenever I want to, even with my seniority. As MANY companies and types of jobs do not allow this. Most companies want your butts in the chair they are paying for and be available for client interaction along with getting your job done. This includes creative companies, where I am employed. Are you a millennial? Or a Gen Z who often want to work on their own (what’s collaboration?) away from people and to get the job done? As we hire people fresh out of college I am amazed at what they ask (demand) in the hiring process and I feel kind of sorry for them as we have to set expectations. Working from home to have “creative freedom” is not for everyone either and there is nothing wrong with this. Guess I don’t understand your mentality to “find ways around it.”

        1. maybe these comments could be the topics of future blog posts… if my comment is inappropriate or disrespectful, please delete @DesignMOM. It’s not my intention to cause ire, and I understand that flexible work situations/healthcare are not yet possible for a great number of people. But I see value in a diversity of opinions and in opening up the discussion to the possibilities we would like to live – and potential options to make them come to life (even if they feel ridiculously out of reach at the moment) – rather than feeling victimized by the current state of affairs/policies. And so many people around the US ARE making it work, ARE working freelance/part-time/from home, ARE managing even with young children or birth/post-natal care costs. Perhaps, if @DesignMom is up for it, we can hear from them, on this blog that already provides so much valuable content.

          1. I would love to hear more about this too. My son just graduated with a degree in music composition and is starting his masters. I worry more than I probably should about what his future will look like.

          2. Coming from Europe, I am genuinely curious to know why you think paying less in taxes, but not having universal healthcare and social care coverage is so much adventageous? This is really a thing I fail to understand…
            (Not that health insurance is paid through taxes in my country anyway; we have a double payer health and social care system that is based on your income.)
            I honestly never minded at all paying a small part of my income every month, knowing that if I am ever in need, I will be immediately taken great care of, no questions asked. Having medical problems or losing your job is stressful enough; why would you ever want to add the stress of worrying about how you are going able to afford being ill or unemployed (or both)?
            I also like the aspect of solidarity and non-discrimination on which the system is based. I know the money I’ve paid into the system have helped many people who wouldn’t be able to pay for healthcare themselves. And I would hardly be able to enjoy my paid 3-year maternity leave if it weren’t for others who contribute now.

  5. So much personality in this house! Love the brick in the kitchen, the wooden flag banner, the library, and the stairs in the exterior shot.

  6. I totally get where your comment is coming from. It doesn’t come across as disrespectful, it’s just that it’s such a personal subject for people with expensive premiums, high deductibles, high co-pays, restrictions on care, etc. Plus, we are all worried about possible changes our President might make. It’s frightening! Do you follow the PF or FIRE movement? So many great blogs of people living and thriving in all sorts of different financial situations. The one common thread is serious drive to save money, live frugally, and enjoy life. They are not for everyone … a lot of them are written by high earners (we can’t always relate to the upper crust, right?), but I have found them highly motivating. Mr. Money Mustache writes about insurance, and his forum has lots of conversations about it as well. Might be a good place to start.

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