Mom

How My Mom Got Me Coding

Do you have a Mom?

Um…don’t answer that.

As I glanced down at my calendar app on my phone it hit me, 2018 is here.  This summer I turn a year older but feel like 25 and if you ask my wife, some days I act like I am 12!! LoL.  But as I sat back, realizing my Mom is now another year older and her mental and physical health is not the best, I wanted to share how she shaped my life and got me coding when she was sharper and “on her game”.    

Dementia

Two weeks before Christmas, we had to run a number of medical tests to better understand her current health.  My Mom was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and it seems to have accelerated while her physical health begins to become a problem.  The test results were not all that encouraging and we will run the tests in about 6 months to note any changes.  At that point we will begin to make decisions on courses of action.  For now we hold steady or as steady as we can.   

I visit her almost daily, take her shopping once a week, take her to medical appointments, and manage her affairs.  I have to remember to manage the stress it brings on me as a caregiver but more importantly, remember how much she did for me as a child to introduce me to coding , provide a home that gave me so many great memories, and ultimately launch me into a career that provides so much for my family.  

I want to share this with all the moms out there and dads too or anyone who has a hand in raising young people in their homes.  

(Note: some of the links to the toys use my Amazon affiliate link. Feel free to use them or leave them alone)

“Your Dad was taken to the hospital.”

My Dad passed at age 42 in July of 1977.  It was the summer Star Wars came out in the movie theatres and I latched onto that movie.   Yes, I loved the special effects!!  But looking back it also gave me a way to simply escape a world where my Dad was no longer.   I am an only child but my Mom is one of twelve children that grew up in a poverty stricken home located in Scranton, PA.  That gave me had 5 aunts and 6 uncles right out of the gate.  As they married the numbers grew and with it I gained many cousins. We have a large family!

Being the third oldest, my Mom shared the responsibility pushed on her at a young age to help out in their house.  She graduated high school and worked in office oriented jobs most of her life. There was no money or time for her to go to college.  She met my Dad who worked for the state of Pennsylvania, they got married, built a home, and then I came along.  Life was good until that long morning in 1977 when I woke only to find my neighbors in my house.  “Your Dad was taken to the hospital.” was all I was told.  

Shortly after finishing my bowl of cereal, my Mom came in the door, walked to me, took me by my hand and we went into another room where she told me my Dad was gone.  To quote a line from one of the songs in the hit play Hamilton, “the world turned upside down”.   

An Awesome Childhood

After my Dad’s passing, she worked an abbreviated schedule to see me off to school in the morning and the be home shortly after I would get home from school.  As I got older she returned to working second shift.  I learned to become independent quicker than most kids.  While most kids were just hanging out, I would be cutting the grass, shoveling snow, and making meals when my Mom was at work. 

My childhood was still awesome and I had an amazing Mom who provided everything we needed.  We always took vacations to the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey and even made it to Walt Disney World and Walt Disney Land!   To this  point, I have become a big fan of what Walt Disney has done.  As a side note, if you ever want to bring a little bit of Disney to your day, check the podcast and blog at WDWRadio.com.  It was created by a friend Lou Mongello and he can put you back in the park via his podcast. 

Big Trak & 2-XL

2-XL
2-XL

I never felt left out, left behind, or left alone.  I had the company of many great aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. While she worked in the offices my Mom kept an eye on what was happening in the business world.  She worked as a data entry supervisor for Walsh Associates.  It was here at a local startup where she saw how computing would be an important part of my future. 

Growing up, toys were common gifts for birthday and Christmas but there would always be an educational toy of some sort or a toy where I would be building.  It started with Lincoln Logs, then some type of snap together models, then these plastic construction building pieces, Legos, an electronics kit, more models, model trains, a 2-XL Robot, Big Trak, and then my first computer which was a Timex Sinclair 1000 with a whopping 16K of RAM!  As I outgrew that, I then received a Commodore 64 computer.  

Big Trak
Big Trak

But never once, did she hang over me forcing me to play with these things and learn.  She let me discover them on my own.   I put out new video on the Sphero BB-8, It reminded me about my Big Trak tank.  You can check my coding video with the Sphero BB-8 video review here.

You programmed it to move in different directions and fire its lazer cannon.  I would sit in my room and program the steps after writing them down on paper.   Go straight for ten, turn ninety degrees, fire 5 times, turn forty-five degrees, go….   I would play with that for hours.  It is much like the Sphero toys and several other toys on the market today.  At the time, I had no idea I was ‘programming’ per se, but I was laying the foundation.  

Learning to Code – “you need to work harder”

I can remember teaching myself BASIC programming on my Timex Sinclair 1000.  The software programmer at my Mom’s office heard I was trying to learn it and he gave me a textbook on BASIC.  I can remember looking at it and thinking how cool it was that I can actually create a program.  During my freshman year of highschool me and a friend of mine would sit in my room where we coded the an adventure game using the BASIC programming language.  It didn’t have any graphics but it relied on you making decisions as you were presented with situations.  “The dragon has you cornered….do you fight or try to run?”

When it came time to study programming in college at Penn State University, I really felt comfortable.  It seemed the early concepts we covered, I already knew and that gave me confidence to stick with my computer science/math degree.  There were times, when the problems were challenging…really challenging!!  I would come home and complain to my Mom how difficult the classes were.  She would smile and simply say, they “you need to work harder”.

That was my Mom in a nutshell.

She didn’t blame the school or my teachers.  Instead she told me all I had to do was “work harder”.

Planting a seed

So here I am now with kids of my own who I am very proud and I am now taking care of my Mom who is like my fourth child.  It is funny how life brings us around full circle.  My Mom knows I still love computers and she even remembers from time to time I am a huge Star Wars fan but she is a shadow of the woman that raised me and introduced me to the world of computing.  

I don’t want you to be saddened by this story as it is part of life.  What I would hope happens after you read this and you are a parent, you realize that it is the little things that shape our kids as much as the ones we seem to focus more energy.  Maybe you did buy that Sphero BB-8 and it now sits in the corner or maybe you took them to that summer camp to learn to code and it didn’t thrill them.  

Realize, what you did was plant a seed.  

Planting seeds is what good parents and teachers do all the time.  

But when you plant that seed, remember to fertilize it.  

Fertilize it with supportive and encouraging words.  Challenge them from time to time but please try to avoid forcing things on them.  As a Dad who coached many different sports team with my own kids, I cringed seeing that parent force their kid to play a game they really had no interest.  Nothing kills a spirit faster than making a game become something more like work. 

I believe the same holds true with exploring new things.  Kids are smart and when they are ready, they will dig into something.  If they don’t, well, you might be surprised as they dig into something else that sparks their imagination.  Whatever it is, support it.

Life Catches Up To Us All

So as we begin 2018, I don’t have any idea what is in store for my Mom or for me.

Where she was once the one guiding me, quietly, but firmly, I am now guiding her.  When she can’t remember what I said two minutes earlier, I calmly repeat myself.  Surely there were many times when I challenged her as a teenager but never once do I remember her being angry with me.

If you are a caregiver, you have my deepest respect as there is nothing harder than seeing those who were once strong become worn out as life catches up to them.  Do you ever have one of those days where you just wish it was like it was a long time ago?

So if you have one or both of your parents alive, do me a favor. 

Give them a hug and say THANK YOU for all they did for you.   

We sometimes forget that.

I love you Mom

 


If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “How My Mom Got Me Coding”

  1. Wonderful story Fred. It was really moving to me. Neither of my parents lived to see me turn 50, but I am grateful for all they gave me. Encouraged me all the way.
    Also congrats on your recent award. Bet your mom is proud of you.
    You are an asset to PS Scranton!

  2. Kathryn Nemkovich

    What a beautiful story Fred! You, your mom, and your whole family have so much to be proud of . So much wisdom in what you wrote. I’ll be sure to share this out with others. Many can benefit from your experience!

  3. Barbara Nowicki

    Dear Fred,
    How wonderful that you took the time to write this reflection on how your mom influenced your life choice to work in the computer world. Such a wonderful tribute you gave her! The love and gratitude you feel really comes through. It is heart-warming to read this reflection and learn about how she nurtured you.. I really enjoyed getting to know more about your mom, too!

    1. Thank you Barbara. My Mom has done more for me than I will ever know. I share this hoping it will inspire others!

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