Mother’s Day “Ideals”

unnamed-1Ideals magazine was launched in 1944 with a Christmas issue compiled by Van B. Hooper, a public relations manager for a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, manufacturer. Over the years it has featured the writings of well-known authors such as Edgar Guest, Sue Monk Kidd, Chris Bohjalian, Susan Allen Toth, Garrison Keillor, and many others.

Now produced by Guideposts and edited by Melinda Rumbaugh, the magazine continues its nostalgic celebration of American holidays with timeless stories, quotations, poetry, recipes, and fine art illustrations.

Since 2008, several of my own essays (including a few from my book, Writing Home) have been published in several issues of Ideals and its hardcover gift anthologies.

This spring, my essay describing my son’s first year away from home (“Field Notes on an Empty Nest”) is included in Ideals‘ Mother’s Day 2014 issue — complete with a beautiful painting by Lee Kromschroeder. The magazine is available where books are sold, including Barnes and Noble, Costco, Target, Family Christian, Books-a-Million, and Mardel.  To purchase the magazine directly from Ideals, click here.

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. —

Motherhood and letting go

Our goal is to work ourselves out of the job we spend a lifetime perfecting.” — Ann Pleshette Murphy

Coinciding with graduation season, Mother’s Day always tugs on my heartstrings. Not only do we celebrate the women who gave us life, or raised us, but we also pause to consider what it means to be a mother.

For mothers of high school and college seniors, graduation season is the gateway to a new phase of parenting. I talk about this issue — and the art of letting go — in today’s “No Place Like Home” column on Royal Oak Patch. Click here to read it.

-In the photo above: My son Nate’s graduation day at the University of Notre Dame, May 2008. At left: Nate’s girlfriend, Andrea; Nate; my husband, Doug; and me. —

All my children

When you have raised kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts.” — Robert Brault

Today’s essay first appeared on Mother’s Day 2004 in my Sunday column in The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. At the time, my son and his longtime friends, a.k.a. “The Crew,” were preparing to graduate from high school. This piece is dear to my heart, so I’m sharing it with all of you in celebration of Mother’s Day. — CL

All My Children

When people ask me how many kids I have, I tell them I’ve lost count. This might sound strange or irresponsible to most parents, but some of you know exactly what I mean.

If, like me, you’re the parent of an only child, you’ve probably invested a lot of time scouting for playmates to foster some pseudo sibling rivalry in your own backyard. To entertain an “only,” you often have to play Pied Piper to the neighborhood kids.

But I look back fondly on the years I made our home kid-friendly and child-proof, and I like to think I became a more patient parent while getting to know and love other people’s children.

So I like to remind all of you younger moms that it’s really worth the effort to host as many playmates as you can. Keeping extra snacks on hand is always a good start. But you also need to lower your standards for house and garden.

One summer, for instance, my son and the neighborhood kids decided to build a fort out of discarded appliance boxes. Raiding parking lots and trash piles, they collected enough scrap metal and cardboard to make our entire yard look like a temporary shelter for Royal Oak’s homeless population. Occupying our property for weeks, the fort was a tribute to inventive teamwork. Still, I was amazed our neighbors never complained about its lack of curb appeal.

Later, in the middle school years, the kids developed a burning interest in chemistry, often using our home as their laboratory. There was the time my son and a buddy decided to make their own paper pulp in the basement, for instance. Using an old 10-speed blender, the boys pulverized newspaper scraps in a perilous base of water and craft glue. One of them forgot to put the top on the blender, and the resulting glop still decorates half of the basement ceiling.

Our home was also frequently chosen as a location for school video projects. I don’t recall where the kids obtained all the pyrotechnics they used for special effects, but the final footage was typically awesome. One year, after the crew filmed Macbeth for an English lit class, I spent several days picking melted candle wax from the Oriental carpet in the hallway.

Believe it or not, I’m really going to miss all of this. As the old cliche goes, kids grow up way too fast. By the time you’ve finally figured out how to spell baccalaureate, they are packing for college and you’re praying they’ll come back to mess up your house all over again.

Next Sunday I’ll be watching the graduation ceremony for Shrine Catholic High School’s Class of 2004. There will be tears and accolades and promises to keep in touch. There will be words of gratitude for teachers and school administrators — and for all the parents who created a real extended family for these kids.

Decked in cap and gown, my son will pose for photographs with the talented young people who have graced the past thirteen years of his life. I will add these to our family albums, which are already bursting with earlier photos of the same kids dressed up for Heritage Day, bike parades, Halloween contests, prom nights, and homecoming dances.

I’ve also kept a nostalgic stash of notes from these youngsters. Some are thank-you cards for special gifts, impromptu field trips, or birthday parties. There’s even a heartfelt letter of apology for the spilled candle wax from Lady Macbeth. Re-reading these notes never fails to touch me, and I couldn’t be more proud.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I’ve never doubted this maxim. But I have also grown to believe it takes a village to raise a mother. — Cindy La Ferle


Originally published on Mother’s Day 2004 in The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak, this essay was reprinted in Hometown America (Ideals/Guideposts; 2008) and is included in my own collection of essays, Writing Home.

Top photo: “The Crew” dressed for senior prom, posing on our front porch in 2004. My son is the tall guy, second from left. Bottom photo: “The Crew” at a summer BBQ in 2008, after college graduation.