A garden indoors

Flowers really do intoxicate me.” — Vita Sackville West

Seasoned Michigan gardeners agree that mid-May is fickle — always a bit of a teaser. My neighbors and I are itching to get to the local nurseries to shop for annuals, but we know from past experience that it’s best to wait another week or so, when the real danger of frost is past.

Meanwhile, Mother’s Day weekend brought a beautiful surprise.

Nate and his fiancee, Andrea, sent the me a flower arrangement (photo at left) that will brighten the rest of my week. Best of all, it warmed my heart to see two names on the Mother’s Day card that was included with the arrangement — a reminder that I’ll gain a very dear daughter this fall.  I hope your Mother’s Day was just as sweet.

New chapter for Mom

Research is confirming what many mothers have been discovering—that “empty nest” syndrome isn’t so empty after all.” — Naomi Barr

It’s going to be a roller coaster season for a friend whose youngest child graduates from high school this month, then heads off to college in August. Working through her conflicting emotions, my friend gets a little teary at the thought of one less place setting at the dinner table, yet she’s thrilled at the prospect of gaining an extra bedroom this fall.

My sons last year in high school was a bittersweet time for me, too. Like Janus, the ancient Roman god of gateways, beginnings, and endings, I found myself looking forward and backward when Nate closed the door on Shrine Catholic High School and prepared for his new life at the University of Notre Dame.

When I wasnt caught up in the May-June whirlwind of award banquets and graduation parties, I spent a lot of time wondering where my boy’s childhood had flown. I’d search for it in a family album crammed with precious photos of birthday parties, camping trips, Christmas mornings, and Halloween nights.

Around that time, it also hit me that one of the sweetest gifts of midlife is the maternal amnesia that blurs the other memories of infancy and childhood — the exploding diapers; the marathon temper tantrums. Not to mention those snarky adolescent insults. When our kids prepare to leave home for college, after all, we tend to focus mainly on the Hallmark moments.

All of this reminiscing seems a bit maudlin to me now. But revisiting the highlights of my sons childhood helped soothe my empty-nest blues.

I also learned that grieving isnt unusual in the early weeks of empty nesting. Raising children gives us a sense of mooring and purpose — which suddenly disappears when they move out.

“I rarely found a parent who didn’t feel a sense of uneasiness when approaching this new phase,” write Margo Woodacre Bane in I’ll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students (Sourcebooks). “Whether the parent faces the departure of an only child, a first child, or a last child, the realization begins to take on a new dimension.”

Yet few parents I know are comfortable with the term “empty nest.”

“A word signifying a void or a vacuum is an unfair way to describe a time when life can be full of growth possibilities,” note Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt in The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life (Three Rivers Press).

But even more important than finding a new catchphrase for “the empty nest” is shifting our focus to the fresh opportunities awaiting our kids. Our job, after all, is to help them learn how to leave us; to let them go.

It’s also our job to get on with our own lives. Just as we hope our kids will thrive without our supervision, they need to believe we’ll be just fine, too. When Nate was in college, he was relieved to discover that his dad and I were filling our free time with art projects and other hobbies we’d neglected in the trenches of parenthood.

In the long run, helicopter parenting doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, even if your kids aren’t leaving home this year, it’s not too early to sign up for those ballet lessons you’ve postponed for ages. Or to rediscover the sport or the craft that kept you juiced up and inspired before your name was Mom. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. A new season of parenting will unfold.  Happy Mothers Day! — Cindy La Ferle

-Original collage (top illustration) by Cindy La Ferle. Bottom photo: Cindy and son Nate. —

Why manners matter

I place a high moral value on the way people behave. I think it’s repellent to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word – politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit.” –Fran Lebowitz

Drivers run us off the road and shout obscenities. Children throw tantrums in nice restaurants while their parents chat on cell phones. Salespeople act as if they’re doing us a favor when they ring up our merchandise. Meanwhile, since few people bother to write thank-you notes anymore, we’re never quite sure if our recipients received the lovely gifts we sent.

Not that things are any better in cyberspace. Just for starters, clueless colleagues fail to acknowledge our emails — but manage to bombard us with mind-numbing Facebook status updates every 10 minutes.

Have good manners have gone the way of the manual typewriter? Well, Donald McCullough, author of Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another (Perigee Books) insists we can do better.

Extolling the virtues of not-so-common courtesy, McCullough pleads a strong case for reviving civility. Hes not talking about the “Emily Post etiquette” we drag out for the holidays and quickly stash away with the crystal stemware. Instead, McCullough hopes to salvage the basic human courtesies that help smooth out the rough edges of our daily encounters — and safeguard our relationships.

“Our lives are built one small brick at a time, ordinary day by ordinary day,” McCullough writes. “With each little expression of thoughtfulness we create something of immense significance – character, both our own and that of others.”

A former Presbyterian pastor and theology professor, the author is hardly a stuffed shirt; his guide to practical manners is as fresh today as it was when I first reviewed it for my local paper a few years go. Irreverent humor sparkles throughout 36 essays covering such topics as the importance of paying what you owe, arriving on time, returning favors, and not passing gas in public.

If you mourn the demise of handwritten letters, or you’re simply exhausted from daily encounters with rude people, this is the book you’ll wish everyone would read and share with others.

After all, even the smallest offense ultimately chips away at our humanity, McCullough says, suggesting that Americas boorish lack of manners is partly due to our inflated sense of individual entitlement.

“If something wonderful happens, we hardly pause to give thanks,” he writes. “We had it coming to us, after all.” On the other hand, we feel cheated when things dont go our way. We rant, rave, or point a finger in blame – quite often, the middle finger.

McCullough asks us to imagine how different life would be if everyone started practicing deliberate acts of civility — apologizing for mistakes, expressing sincere gratitude, and refraining from interrupting others who are trying to get a word in edgewise. Glory be!

My own faith was partly restored when I received a note from a teenager whose high school graduation party Id attended recently. He expressed sincere appreciation for the check Id written, adding, “But more than getting a check, I was glad to see you at my party.” Handwritten on monogrammed stationery, the note was short and sweet — but I couldnt have been more pleasantly surprised. I almost sent that kid a thank-you note for making my day.

How about you? Have you noticed an increase in rude behavior in recent years? Does it matter? — Cindy La Ferle

Walking for the future

Most of us don’t need a psychiatrist as much as a friend to be silly with.” — Robert Brault

The Mad Hatters showed up in style for the 2012 “Walk for the Future” to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of South Oakland County. Doug and I are grateful to the wonderful friends who sported silly hats on behalf of the youth in our community. (Amazing, isn’t it, what your best pals will do for you?) So far, our team has raised close to $2,500 for the Boys and Girls Club. Final figures aren’t in — but this year’s walk already earned well over $100,000 for the Club. Big thanks to everyone who made donations! As promised, here are a few photos from the walk at Memorial Park and Mike Ripinski’s coverage of the event.