Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Childhood

                                     The summer of my fifth birthday we drove as an intact family over the Bourne bridge, onto Cape Cod from Greenwich, Connecticut. Six years later, my parents were divorced and we'd moved from the old Victorian house in West Falmouth to another a town away...still close enough to play with the same friends and to go to the same schools, and visit my father every other weekend. But, light years away from the magic of those times.
                                   Six years of my life that seemed so much longer. So much of what I experienced from the age of five to eleven shaped who I am. When I look back I know that I have a selective memory. And for some reason the good outweighs the bad. That gives me hope as a parent! But, I still have trouble believing HOW good it was. I can barely believe the gift I was given. And what do I do with that gift? How can I ever repay my Heavenly Father for what He gave to me? I think the one thing I can do is tell the story. It's not that unusual. That is until I think about all of the deprivation and abuse in the world that never touched me. How many children grow up feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually hungry? And I wasn't one of them. This is one attempt at a pay back. Emulating what I was given has proven to be very hard. That's another story...Here's what I remember.                       
                                         How can I explain what it was like to grow up on the Cape? I really think all of us took the nearness of the water and the opportunities that provided for granted. For me there was no reason to go anywhere for a vacation. We spent from 9am-3pm every day at Chapaquoit beach. There were the swimming lessons, the tidal pools across the street, playing with friends, flirting with lifeguards, and sometimes an excursion down the road from the beach to jump off the bridge, usually into a mass of jellyfish! There were the monotonous peanut butter and jelly or fluff sandwiches...no variation for lunch. Every day! If you were with a wealthy friend they'd get you a popsicle from the ice cream man.
                                     Winter was an exercise in waiting for summer to return. Mine was spent on "private property" across the street from my house trying to float on the icebergs that would form. Once I really thought I was a gonner.The iceberg let loose from shore and I had to jump to another and make my way back to safety. All I could think of was Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys...and Gilligan's Island! Boots were sneakers with bread wrappers lining them. Nothing stopped us from staying outside all day. On the rare day that we did stay inside we'd pull down the stairs in the hallway above the mirror and play dress-up in the attic.
                                        But, talk to any of my friends from that time and they'll remember our animals. We didn't have just a few. We had tons. We had cats who kept having kittens. At one point I remember having 15 cats and kittens. The same with the white rabbits.They were moved from a huge hutch next to the garage across the yard to the back sun porch. I was thrilled coming home from school one day to find  bales of hay with rabbits climbing them. INSIDE! They produced more rabbits as they're known to do. For years! I lost count of how many there were. But the only name they ever had was Thumper...all of them! And then there were the mice, gerbils, hamsters, and turtles, all of which were stalked and tortured by the cats and dogs. Never in front of my mom! They multiplied endlessly it seemed. Then there were the skunks and monkeys my mother adopted. Sylvester and Darby, the two skunks, lived in the walls and surfaced if we left out raw eggs in a bowl under the kitchen cabinets, or in the hole in the built-in bathroom drawers upstairs. The two spider monkeys, Bonnie and Clyde, looked cuter than their temperaments! My mom built them an outdoor cage made out of chicken wire that they escaped from within 24 hours. I couldn't believe we caught them with a banana halfway across town! One of the surprises of that phase in my life which was so incongruent with everything else was the out-and-out rejection of my friend's best birthday gift to me. A rooster. Of course the Carlsons could have a rooster! I don't know why my mother said no...in front of Lisa AND her mother! He couldn't even stay the night. No bonding was allowed!
                                      I have no idea where most of those animals went when we moved. One dog was stolen, but our dog Pepper, the remaining cats, and a couple of rabbits made the move. Then we added Princess the pony, and Noah the goat. My mother got a shed and built a corral, and I spent many a day bringing Princess back home after another romantic escapade with the stallions down the road.
                                      The lessons I learned from having those animals was huge. No, I don't think it was anything like learning responsibility by caring for them, as most parents hope. My mother helped a lot with that part. I can't put my finger on it exactly. There just wasn't any complaint from my mother about the cost to her in time, money or patience. The house was always clean. The animals were loved and looked after. I think it's that I felt like my childhood was honored because somehow my mother saw things from a child's point of view. I'll have to ask how my dad really felt about all of those animals. Back then there really wasn't a huge push on spaying and neutering your cats and dogs. And my mom had a kind heart that people picked up on when an animal needed a home.
                                       Then there are my friends from that time. There were the West Falmouth ones, Addie, Marybeth, and Lisa. Later on, when we moved Leslie was added. Not enough can be said for or about friends. We rode our bikes to George West's Market for bags of penny candy and soda. We never felt the need to check in with our parents. We'd spend hours at the beach, or in the woods exploring and making forts. At Marybeth's I learned to fold clothes, and cut a half gallon of ice cream into slices. That was so strange to me. They always had oranges, too. Such a luxury. At Addie's house I learned how to butter toast, how much I disliked lima beans, and how skiing down even a small slope in the front yard was hard! I spent a lot of time at Lisa's. We ate vanilla ice cream with creme de menthe syrup drizzled over it for breakfast. And I coaxed her into eating steak for the first time. She liked it. Lisa's house was where I was introduced to junk food. Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, and Jax and watermelon were brought to every picnic at the beach down the road from her house. In front of her house was a creek that fed into the ocean. I hated the muck. We'd swim and float in that creek for hours. I lost a gold pinkie ring there one summer. It had my initials, EKC engraved on it. We searched for it for years. I still have hopes that it'll turn up someday... sort of like my childhood. Leslie was the one that taught me how important it is to my soul to laugh. We got into so much trouble...almost. We were responsible for many brush fires and shocked drivers who were at the other end of the pebbles we threw at passing cars. Amazing that everyone, including my mom, never knew that there never were two "other" girls who were the real culprits of all those pranks! Most of what I did with Leslie was to make her laugh. To this day I love to laugh. and that's when and why it started. There's so much more to say about my friends, two that I still keep in touch with and that I consider forever friends.
                                        Lastly, my parents. I've written about my dad in another blog. He taught me by example to love to read...even if it's just to escape the rain. He taught me to play. He never raised his voice or got mad. Except for one time he accused my brothers of stealing one of his beers. It was actually me and one of my friends who drank it in the tree fort behind our garage. Never admitted that one! I let my brothers take the fall. My dad gave me a lot in those few years he lived with us.
                                       But, my mother. What a gift. Never mind making the fun times possible with a house exploding with animals. Never mind that she never raised a hand or her voice to me. She was always quietly watching to meet my needs. She'd provide art supplies and never complained about the mess. She always cleaned it up I think. Maybe she just assumed we knew how to take care of our things. That's how she is. She taught me that people are basically good and there's a reason people do the things they do. It's not laziness she saw, I'm sure, just a child focused on something REALLY important. She taught me to look beyond the surface. She was wise and knew that sometimes there were more important values to be learned in a situation. She always chose to make being creative a priority. She taught me to work hard. She doesn't remember getting an upright piano upstairs. I do. I'll always know that nothing is impossible to do because I witnessed it first-hand. She started a nursery school and ran it for 20 years. You'll have to ask her about that. She knows more than I do how to explain her unique spiritual insights that influenced a generation of children and their parents. But I got to LIVE with her! She taught me unconditional love and patience as she ministered to my sister's needs. Next to my husband, she's my best friend and encourager.
                                       At some point I have to sum it all up. How to do that except that I believe that in my childhood I was given a very strong foundation of love, peace, and a sense of my uniqueness and value in the world from two people, my parents. And from four little girls (believe me there were many more, but that story would be long!) who grew into four beautiful people I learned how important it is for me to have friends to share my life with, and how to be a friend. I learned that a lot happens for a child in a very few years...childhood IS short. I learned that you don't have to yell at a child to have him hear you. You don't have to spank a child to tell him how serious you are. I guess it boils down to being willing to create moments that become memories with the people that God gives you. More importantly, I learned that I don't want to be the ISSUE that keeps my children from experiencing life as it is meant to be experienced...full of joy and good memories. Everyone in my childhood, I know, was a gift from God. And I can't thank Him enough!

Betsy Cross 



Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Last Moment With Grandpa

                                 I was about eight when my mom told me grandpa was in the hospital in Boston. I'd only seen him when we'd visited his home on St. Thomas, and maybe a couple of times he and Mimi came to see us. I remember him politely ignoring us as he finished his bowl of cereal. Then he'd be gone for the day. It was clear he didn't really like us. At least that's how it felt.
                                  I knew he was sick. And that made me sad. So I wrote him a letter which my mom sent to Mass. General. There wasn't anything else I could do. I don't remember what I wrote in the letter, but my mom told me it had touched him when he read it. She said he read it over and over again. It was probably a simple letter. I most likely told him I loved him and I hoped he got better soon. I'd signed it, "Your friend Betsy". Maybe my mom was trying to make me feel good. All I know is that before he died I was able to connect with him...through a letter. I didn't visit him in the hospital. I was devastated when  she told me he'd died. I curled up next to her and sobbed. He was gone. And I already missed him. I had always missed him.
                                That simple moment in which my effort to connect was acknowledged taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. To tell someone that you love them and that they are your friend. No matter what. If they've made a difference in your life tell them. It's never too late. And sometimes late is best.
                                No one has to be wise, or loving, generous or kind, a mentor or a best friend. They have to have been born. That's what I'd learned from this very good moment in my life. Every one of us wants to feel loved.
                                My grandfather, Harold Kelley, gave his gift to me as he was leaving this world. He let me know that what I'd said to him in a difficult moment at the end of his life mattered.

Betsy Cross

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Dad

                                My dad hasn't been out of bed for two years. That is except for the birthday dinners that the nursing home has thrown for the residents who've had a birthday during the month. Then he dresses and gets rolled down to the dining room for dinner, cake and ice cream. Only, he rarely eats, and doesn't talk about much either.  Almost every time I visit him I leave crying and  more committed to visiting him more often.
                                  My dad has never talked much. He loves the treats we bring and the high-fives when we leave. The gap between the two is probably fifteen minutes. That's all any of us can tolerate.We are always so excited when there's a tidbit of news to share that can chase away the awkward silence. So I wonder what makes me sad? I'm pretty sure it's memories.
                                  I'm not so naive that I didn't know that there was gossip about my dad. That he didn't pay his bills like he should have, that he was a dreamer thinking the next job would be the ONE, and that he liked pretty women. Sometimes that hurt knowing that other people were looking at him, silently criticizing him. My hero.
                                 There's a reason I look at him as my hero. He loved me. He made me feel pretty. He acknowledged me when I walked in the room. "Hey Bets!" or "Hi Honey!". Such simple things to do. But they made a difference in my life. He'd wake me up at four in the morning to go lobstering or fishing. We never talked much. He didn't ask about my life or my dreams. But we shared time together. That was enough. And he never ruined that time we spent together. He never tried to teach me anything. And he never criticized me. He told me I was good luck for him because, he said, we always caught a lot of fish together. He taught me to carry them by their gills. We'd usually give our catch away to his friends at George Wests' Market on the way home. I don't remember ever keeping any. He was always so generous. Actually, I think he needed to stop in and talk, so he gave them fish when he had them. I loved those times fishing with him!
                                  When he wasn't sitting tucked into the corner of the living room couch with the latest novel or newspaper, he was either at work, working on the house or garden, or playing with us in the back yard or the beach.                               
                                   He would take us to the beach during an approaching thunderstorm. I thought that that was such an rebellious thing to do because ...well...lightning...over water. Not the best mix some would caution! My mom was a little worried. But my dad never worried openly about anything. Maybe he did worry. Now I know that adults can hide worry very well. He just never gave me that impression. Getting into the car, all sandy because one of my brothers had kicked sand in my face (an accident he claimed), my dad just told me not to make a big deal out of it. He said it with a little hug as he wiped the sand off and hustled us into our seats. There were times like that that annoyed me. I just wanted him to punish someone for something! But he never did.
                                 Free time with him was spent playing ball in the back yard. Sometimes we had a cookout. Mostly he took us to visit his friends. Some of them had kids. There was always food and beer. One cookout got a little crazy and toasting marshmallows escalated into a marshmallow fight. Shocked when one landed in my hair, my friend and I ran back to my house to get it out. When everything we tried failed, we cut the patch of hair down to the scalp. We HAD to get back to the party! I knew I was in trouble when my friend couldn't stop laughing. What were my parents going to think? It took two days for them to notice it. We were cooking out again and I stood near them on purpose, bent over the grill so that they couldn't miss it. The suspense was hard. My mother saw it first. She almost fainted as she gasped "Ohhhhh!". "What's wrong?" asked my dad. When he saw what she was pointing at with her free hand he laughed. Did he take ANYTHING seriously? I expected so much more. But that was the end of it.
                                When my baby brother died things changed. Death can make a difficult life really hard. I've found it rarely makes things better. My parents divorced around that time, and life as I'd known it ended. I sat on the front porch telling one of my friends that something REALLY bad had happened. "Did someone die?" she asked. "Worse," I said. " When I told her about the divorce I meant it. It was worse than someone dying. I was so upset and felt so helpless. I sobbed uncontrollably to my mother as she sat on my bed, tucking me in for the night. I was so desperate to have her feel my pain because I knew if she could feel what their decision was doing to my insides she'd stay with my dad. But that didn't happen. It was all matter-of fact living from that day forward. I saw him on weekends and half of each holiday day. My dad became the fun one, the one who'd buy us treats and take us on trips camping. But I missed the normalcy of having him living with us, his bedroom down the hall from mine. I missed the nightly backrubs which ended with at least two of us kids rubbing his back,waiting for the "beep" which was the signal to stop. I waited forever for the signal. He'd almost always fall asleep!
                                  When he started shipping out on oil tankers I wouldn't see him for months at a time. But he'd call ship-to-shore sometimes. I was in college when I'd get a random call from him wishing me a happy birthday or just to say hello and that he missed me. Those calls meant everything to me. Because he was my dad. No other reason. I loved hearing his voice and knowing that he'd followed through with a thought about me with a phone call.
                                    He called me often after I got married and when we moved to Maine. I hung up on him one day, two times in a row, when his speech was slurred and I thought he'd been drinking. He was actually having mini strokes which culminated in another larger one which paralyzed him on his left side. He took care of himself for years, relying heavily on my sister until she died in 2005. Two years later he started the nursing home period of his life. Which brings me back to the present.
                                     I will always claim that I believe I was given the best father in the world. I don't feel like my relationship with him lacked anything. I think that's because I always knew he was doing the best that he could. He gave me a foundation of love that I stand on often. Love was expressed simply. He taught me to laugh and to forgive. He showed me by example that worry gets you no where, and that things always work out. I feel grateful for the sweet spirit that he is. I have dreams of him in which he's whole, emotionally and physically. I like those dreams.
                                   So, I'll continue to visit him, and yes, I'll still cry when it's time to say goodbye. But I know a little better now that those tears are triggered by the wonderful memories I had of him in my childhood. They are not tears of regret of what might have been. What I was given was enough. And I feel rich.

Betsy Cross


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why a Blog?

                               Why write a blog for the people who know me? Because someday I won't be here. And I have things to say that maybe no one has time to listen to right now. Because I talk too much and I read body language too well! When I see someone start to space out, rub their forehead, or yawn...not good signs. And I like to get my thoughts out of my head to see if I really believe them. Mostly I wanted to tell you about important things. Stuff I think about that might be unique to me. I'm used to you guys rolling your eyes at some of the stuff I talk about! Or saying "Mommy! Don't SAY that!" So, this way is a better way. That's all.
                                 I have had such a good life! Every bad decision, every mistake, and every seemingly terrible thing that has ever happened to me has been turned to good. I see God's hand in all of it. I always have. I just understand things better now. Things seem clearer. Life for me has definitely improved with age. I've had to listen to those voices that ask me if I could've done more or better with my life. For a long time I wondered if I'd wasted any part of it. Did I not accomplish the stuff that only I could accomplish?
                                So, this blog is to answer that question in the telling of experiences I've had throughout my life that have made me the person that I am. You and I, at times, may have disagreed on how to go about certain things, like how many children to have, or whether or not I should've helped support the family by  getting a job. Just know that I'm happy and I think I always have been. The world and my part in it makes sense to me. Isn't that all that anyone could ask for?
                               So, in short, I'm writing to get things out of my head and out to you so  that I won't have any regrets....for not having had the courage, opportunity, or time to say them them in your presence.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I'm a Latter-Day Saint, a Mormon

                                       I never really thought to tell anyone my story. It might be interesting to me, but when people ask it's usually because they want to know what I was searching for, or what was missing in my life.
                                    I always felt close to God. I loved going to church on Sunday. I was a little scared of some of the paintings that hung on the walls, and a lot of the teachings that just didn't sit right. But it was a routine in our family. So I went. Then, before my parents divorced, and if I'm remembering correctly, around the time that my baby brother came into the world for a brief visit and just as quietly left, we stopped going. I would still talk to God as I watched clouds from the windows of my bedroom. It was a HUGE mystery how He could be UP THERE! Didn't make much sense. Children are naive but also very much in tune with truth.
                                       So I did life through the 60's and 70's, most of the time scared of adults and older teenagers and all of the crazy stuff going on in those years for everybody. I found an outlet in ballet which refocused me on taking care of my body...which meant spiritually I was healthier, too. Sitting on the Falmouth library lawn, hanging out with a group of friends I heard about Mormons for the first time. Donny Osmond and BYU. Whatever was said, it was negative. I stored the comments away until I got accepted to the U of Utah...Mormon country! My mom and I laughed how I should watch out or I'd become "one of THEM"!
                                       When I got there I watched people. For years. I worked, and I played, and I danced and I explored the magnificent canyons and parks. I still have the journal I kept at that time in my life that shows the transition I was making to be true to who I really was. I was soooo tired of superficial friendships and partying. I was tired of not feeling healthy. I was bored with parties that left me feeling empty and alone. I wrote, "All I know how to do is to live up to the truth that I have in me. I'd rather live alone and happy than settle for anything less."
                                          I went on a date to see the Salt Lake temple. I was impressed with what they called the Word of Wisdom...a health law. I was shown pictures of past and present prophets and laughed that they were all so old and had big ears! I was sent home with books to read. Even back then I loved to read. I made myself a huge bowl of popcorn and dug in. As I read I felt conflicted. On the one hand, my mind was laughing about angels and modern day prophets. On the other, I knew it was true. In an instant my world of black and white and unfinished melodies that I'd lived in changed to color and symphonies. It was like standing in a meadow of fragrant flowers feeling the warmth of the sun on my face for the first time. I couldn't have left that spot if my life had depended on it. I kept it a secret from my friends and family for a while. As soon as I started sharing my decision to join the church I felt misunderstood. I found out who my real friends were. I found out who was really listening. Eventually I moved back home to the Cape and tried to work out how to stay true to myself AND have friends. I stopped going to church for a while because I didn't drive, I was sick of asking for rides, and I just felt dark.
                                     Then I met my husband. He rekindled an almost extinguished ember in my spirit. To make what is becoming too long a story shorter, we got married and started a family. He joined the church, too. Even though he was touched by the truth of it, he had a struggle like I did trying to be himself in the same old environment. It wasn't easy. When our children started coming we used the principles we knew to be true to teach them about who they are, why they're here on this earth, and what comes next. I've learned to let go and believe that everyone that I know is doing the best that they can to live up to the light they've been given
                                    In the end, we'll all be what we are comfortable being. I  know that there is such a thing as truth. We are free to deny it if we want to. But for me, there's no growth in that. I like to face things that bother me head on. I like to feel peace. And you know, that's one of the only promises Christ gave to us in this world if we were living up to the light we've been given. Peace. Highly under-rated! I like knowing that rich or poor, healthy and full of vitality, or sick and watching death creep closer, that no matter what my experiences are in this life, I feel joy. That's what being a Latter-Day Saint has done for me...among many other things. I have people who are now my family anywhere I go in the world. We stand on common ground. And not one of them is a perfect person. But they love me.
                                  I love my children. It has been very hard to live up to the stewardship of sharing truth with them AND balancing that responsibility with the knowledge that everyone is born free to choose for themselves. I think it's normal to feel like we don't know each other sometimes. I'm emotionally invested. But, I'm learning to trust that everyone really does choose what's comfortable for them. And that is what life is all about. For me, I choose joy. And my joy is not complete without my family and friends! What more can I say but....enjoy the journey! I am!

Betsy Cross


Friday, October 15, 2010

Follow Your Passion

                                  Have you every been so engrossed with something that hours can pass without you noticing, and stopping to eat even becomes a burden? That chaos can reign around you and you don't even notice? That you can't stop smiling inside and out while you're doing IT or can't stop thinking about doing IT again? Does that thing enter your thoughts without you noticing ? And do you find it even creeping into your dreams? Have you sacrificed other things to be able to do it? If you haven't then you've never experienced passion. And therefore, haven't lived yet.
                                 I have a passion for dance. Ballet in particular. Since I was a teenager I danced. I'd ride my bike to and from the dance studio, and my mom would drive me into the city to take lessons a couple of times a week. I went away to school my senior year of high school to dance for hours every day, sometimes six days a week. I was living in Heaven! Choreographers going for a somber mood would get frustrated with me because I couldn't stop smiling and laughing as I was totally engrossed with the music, the movement and the connection I had to the other dancers. I loved the sweat, the smells, the pain, and even the mean teachers who pushed me to dig deeper and give more than I thought I had in me to give. I loved living in leotards and tights and being so hungry I'd feel lighter than air. I loved knowing I could jump higher than any basketball player, had more wind than a hockey player, and could climb a mountain without breaking a sweat! When one of my teachers suggested going to college and majoring in ballet I reluctantly agreed and went to the University of Utah. Dance AND get an education? I didn't even know that that was an option. The bubble burst pretty quickly. I was very discouraged  being assessed and graded for my dancing. It was so competitive and I was failing. I felt so pressured and out of control. I remember the moment I decided to "try" being anorexic. I could control THAT part of my life...Little did I know about the disease that nearly killed me. I just couldn't stand not dancing for the love of it. I'd lost my passion for my passion! I knew that I wasn't the best dancer. There's always someone better. My spirit just yearned to dance. Plain and simple. But I let my insecurities get to me. I gave up. I immersed myself in hours of aerobics classes every day, depleting my energy and my bank account. At least I wasn't thinking about ballet any more.
                                       Finally I went home and found a local dance company that allowed me to re-find my passion. Then I met my husband. I knew that getting married and starting a family meant entering another world. I was so excited to enter that world with him. I knew NOTHING about what the future would bring. But I knew it was a new adventure for both of us. So, all by myself, in the quiet of my mother's kitchen I had a conversation with God. He who knows me best confirmed that the choice I'd made to put dancing on hold for a while ...indefinitely...was the best one for me. I'd made up an ultimatum in my mind. It was all or nothing. I thought I could never be happy dancing unless I danced well. Or so I told myself. And that would mean at least two hours a day in class and another few added on in rehearsals. Never mind the time away for performances. What was really going on, which took me years to discover, was that I didn't know how to NOT be obsessed with something I loved doing AND my brain needed excessive exercise to feel normal. What I thought for years was a confirmation to a decision was actually God backing off and essentially saying, "You have a lot to learn about yourself. You aren't really listening. I didn't make a mistake when I gave you this gift. You just need to find that out for yourself. " Had I known that dancing was a gift from God to me that would not only bring me joy but also help me with the depression I'd secretly suffered with for years...well, who knows what would've been different? That was a very simple decision because I knew the answer before I asked it. I knew myself well. I needed to feel like I was in control. I was too concerned about how to make it all work out in the future. A future that wasn't there yet! But it seemed so unfair, too. So many people told me I could do both. I know my husband supported anything I wanted to do. But knowing yourself is important. You have to make up your own mind and live with your decisions. The little company in town let me rejoin for a year when my first daughter was old enough to stay with her dad. It was something, but I felt schizophrenic. I was so tired trying to balance everything. So I stopped again. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe I could've and should've asked for support. I know that I would've needed a lot! What a challenge it has been! I guess I just want people to know that as selfless as that choice seemed to be, like I was putting my family first, it was really a choice I had to make to stay sane. I didn't do it for anyone but myself. I truly believe every one's lives would've been enriched had I followed my passion to dance. It's also very clear to me that I have a problem with excess. And I could've danced less and been happy. I was the reason for not living my dream.
                                 So, a quarter of a century later,with only a handful of classes to count, I have to say, I know from experience how important it is to find your passion(s) and live accordingly! It's as important to who I am as anything else. It's what makes me unique. I'm learning to take advantage of opportunities that come my way. I refuse to let money be the thing that keeps me fulfilled. Sometimes the lack of it can let me know if it's a true passion if I'm willing to sacrifice time working to fund it! I know that I deserve to feel bliss in this life. And that we all need mentors. It's important to look for someone who will take me under his wing and guide and teach me. I've learned that I will never rise to my potential unless I'm stretching towards someone who's on higher ground. But, I look for the best. Someone who'll laugh at me in weakest moment and say, "I don't care! Keep dancing!", like my teachers did when I complained about bleeding, sore feet. And  I've learned to share what I love. To be vulnerable. No matter how inept I feel. I've noticed that it's uncomfortable to grow. The best part will be having no regrets because I've lived fully, with purpose. I'll have been ME. The only one who'll ever exist who CAN be me!

Betsy Cross

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Sister Kathy

                        I'm thinking a lot about Kathy these days. She died in 2005. I miss her. There's a lot to know about her life and even more that I continue to learn from my relationship with her. I'll do my best to share those things that mattered most to me.
                        Kathy called herself the "black sheep" of the family. I think the rest of us agreed. She had migraine headaches from when she was young and went through a lot of her young life taking one medication after another to try to alleviate them.  In the end it turns out that she was bipolar. My brothers and I (maybe I should just speak for myself) were scared of her sometimes. She'd hang my one brother over the banister at the top of the stairs and threaten to drop him. She'd lure that same brother out onto the roof and then lock the window so he couldn't get back in. She'd tease me a lot about the "ball" on the end of my nose...the one I see in every picture of me since she pointed it out. She stole my friends or fought with them. She was a very good athlete and it devastated her that she was not allowed to play on the boys' baseball team. She swam on a swimming team and excelled at the backstroke. Whenever she was able to be physical she seemed to be better able to manage her silent yet complicated chemical disorder.
                                 Then she went away to private school in Maine. Her room, if I remember correctly, was dark, if not black. There was a red bandanna hanging over a light which made the mood in the room very creepy. She gravitated towards the "dark side " of life. Mostly because she was terrified of it. But like a moth drawn to a flame , in some ways it consumed a part of her spirit. I know that she started experimenting with drugs and drinking. It was hard to see her growing so dim. She was living in a world that scared me. But, we were all living in craziness in the 70's. She LOVED the Rolling Stones. Especially Mick Jaggar. Probably because she found his irreverence attractive. I don't know. I didn't ask. I wish I had.
                               Later, when we were grown she and I finally found some common ground. We both had eating disorders. She competed with me in that, too. She won. I got over it when I found a purpose in life. I believe she died from it. She and I both wanted the world to make sense. Being sensitive  to people and sort of insecure we both chose to stop eating in order to feel like we could control SOMETHING. I think she was close to being beyond help because her brain chemistry had changed so much. For her it wasn't a choice to be well anymore. To be hospitalized for years of treatment might have helped. She'd been hospitalized a few times. On the one hand I understood what she was going through and why she chose it. On the other I resented the problems it brought into our family. Mostly for my mother who was so compassionate and patient with her. I visited her and was furious with the doctors for not getting it. I understood the emotional war going on inside of her was manifested in the eating disorder. She just needed to hear how people saw her...her REAL self. You know how it feels when people tell you the good that they see in you and not the problems right in front of you. She was more than her body. But she was stuck because it became her identity.
                            There was a lot of quiet chaos in our family because  none of us knew why she made the choices she did. We all learned to hold our breath during family get-togethers, or to avoid them all together. Was she going to bring contention or be the life of the party? We never knew. She seemed like sometimes she wanted to destroy herself and, like a sinking ship, bring everyone around her down at the same time. But being a family member meant she HAD to be where we were. So we fumbled at creating boundaries that we could live with and still have her a part of our lives. She was so hurt by that. She felt so judged and misunderstood.
                                   Every birthday and Christmas meant excess. She'd bring so  many presents that the kids couldn't possibly enjoy them all or be sufficiently grateful to her. She loved them so much. She just didn't know how to make them love her. I loved watching her tear up when she got a spontaneous  hug or thank you from one of the younger kids. She'd be so MAD if no one thanked her. She really was desperate for love.
                                 One of her favorite things to do was to play with the kids...AND get them into trouble! She was everyone's favorite because she was so childlike if not childish. I was always so uncomfortable watching the mad dash to her car when she was arriving for a visit or getting ready to leave. Someone would always ask her for money (she'd trained them well), or get in her car to enjoy her for as long as she'd let them stay.
                       There's so much that I've learned from Kathy. Sad to say I can't apply that knowledge to my relationship with her. But I'll pass it on to you in hopes of having her life continue to make a difference.
                            I love doing family history research. Putting families in order for us and other people. It never fails that when I give the completed research to someone they start telling me about all the skeletons in their family "closet". There are no perfect families. But we ARE perfectly organized as a safety net for each other in a chaotic world that sometimes hurts to live in. As unfeeling as it sounds, I wouldn't have made Kathy's life any less painful for her or the rest of the family. I reflect and I see that I was given the opportunity to choose to love someone who at times scared me, disrespected me, and disrupted what I thought could've been a "better" family experience. I've learned that even in a home where unconditional love exists there are human beings who are free to make choices and are still desperate to feel loved, accepted and needed. And I've seen that my focus has shifted from trying to HELP someone to trying to SEE them and to tell them that I get it. But the boundaries remain. My happiness and peace are important, too. Sad, but the two, acceptance and self preservation, have to coexist. And there is no way around the pain in that.
                                    So, I've learned love is not conditional. I know that it's important to be honest about who you are. Most importantly, that we are all children of God. He makes no mistakes. I'm learning to enjoy my journey here and know that some of the pain just has to be tolerated.A lot of the pain I've experienced has been inadvertant and unintentional. Most of it will fall away when I slip into the next life.
                                     And Kathy. Thank you for the sacrifice you made to come into this world with a less than perfect body that in no way lived up to the vibrant spirit who is who you have always been and always will be. In many ways you are my hero.

Betsy Cross

Monday, October 11, 2010


                         I was in college. A brand new freshman with barely a friend yet. On my way to the cafeteria from my dorm, walking alone, I saw a group of three students approaching from the opposite direction. Naturally shy, and for some reason not trusting, I was surprised when they called and waved "Hello" from a considerable distance. Surprised that making friends would be so easy I smiled and waved back. It took only a few seconds to close the gap between us on the walkway and just as long to realize that they were trying to connect with someone who was walking behind me. Someone I didn't know was there. I tried to cover my embarrassment by pretending that I was doing the same. That there was also someone beyond them that I was waiting to meet up with. However uncomfortable that experience was it changed me. It has happened many times since and will continue I'm sure. But I learned that smiles are important. Connecting with people who cross your path is a choice. Smiles are welcoming and make you turn towards people when you might otherwise just pass them by. So I started paying attention to people more. I started watching faces.
                          A few years later. on the other side of the country a woman opened the door of the french pastry shop I was working in. It was a slow time of the day. Our eyes connected and I said "Hi!", with a big smile to match. She said, "Don't look at me with that big cat smile!" with a very scary face and voice. What in the world did she mean? She closed the door just as quickly as she'd opened it and walked away. Stunned, I went back to work. She showed up the next day and again I greeted her with a smile. Inwardly I was unsure if she'd yell at me again and wondered how I attracted mean , strange people. I learned she was semi-homeless, probably an alcoholic and in need of money to get her back to her hotel room. Haha!, I heard the voice in my head say. That voice that grown ups teach you to listen to that tells you people aren't who you think they are and they really shouldn't be trusted. My parents had never taught me that one. But I'd heard it enough as I got older. And every now and then it would creep in as a choice. Instead I followed my gut and started to talk to her. We talked and laughed for a while. She opened up and I learned she was hungry. So I gave her some food, on the house, and called her a cab, which I paid for, and asked if I could keep in touch. She and I were friends for the hour she spent with me at work. She thanked me for being a nice person. I felt like that was a God-given experience. One that I knew, and she knew, and God knew had changed the two of us. I knew I could touch someones  life and be rewarded with a connection that was created because of a smile. I never saw her again and was chided by friends for being so gullible.  But being gullible had it's upside!
                       One of the most traumatic events in one of my children's life was changed to good with a smile. Checking the mail with his big sister, my son came home white as a ghost when the "mean lady" from across the street yelled at them to go home or she'd call the police. I quickly hunted her down and asked her if she was yelling at my kids. She yelled at me and walked inside ranting threatening to call the police. She did and they came. For weeks my son was petrified of the front yard and ANY stranger or passing car. Finally he made it out to the street to play as I watched, mainly to support him and keep him safe. She drove up and stopped...of ALL days! She stared at the older children cross in front of her, a stopped car. Go figure! She made eye contact with me and said accusingly, "Did you see THAT?!!" I don't know what got into me. But I smiled and laughed back, "YES. I did!" She laughed and drove away. I don't know what she was thinking or what had actually happened. But she stopped and talked a couple of times before we moved away. Her husband said they'd miss us in the neighborhood.
                      Then there was my little Spanish-speaking 4 year old friend who sat in front of me at church in the children's Sunday school.We weren't actually friends yet but I was drawn to her  because I couldn't understand why she kept ignoring requests to sit still, be quiet and participate. I'd been watching her for the three weeks that I'd been sitting in the row behind her next to my 4 year old who was glued to me for emotional support. She wasn't alone in her misbehaving. She seemed to be encouraged by the little girl sitting next to her. And nothing I said or did helped. But I noticed her holding a Toys'RUs flyer and asked her about it. I think her girlfriend felt sorry for me because she saw that I was getting nowhere with her fast and proceeded to tell me that she didn't speak English. Except that I knew that she did speak english very well, but she was shy.With the Spanish I could remember we talked about the toys in the pictures. She warmed up and sat down. The other little girl watched and smiled. She calmed down, too. Because I was asked to substitute as the chorister for that week and the following week I had the chance to see those two from a different perspective. Watching their faces as I sang and led their singing I noticed something spectacular that will stay with me forever. My new little friend was paying attention. She wasn't fidgeting or getting in trouble. With every fiber of her being she was staring at me. But now she was trying. Why? I asked myself. I think she was trying to be a friend because I tried to be her friend.Could it really be that simple? I believe it was. I smiled at her because she was sitting in front of me and I wanted to make a connection. We just had to find a way. As soon as she felt like I liked her the bridge was gapped.
                      Smiles really do cross all barriers! What a rejection when someone chooses not to smile back. Or even worse, when they choose not to smile unless everything is going right in their world. I hear over and over again about serving others, bettering your world, reaching out to those less priviledged. I'm facinated that a simple thing like a smile from someone can give them that little something that keeps them going through a really rough day. Or lets a person know that there's hope for them in a dark moment that things will get better. But personally, I'm not trying to change the world or even a person. I just like how it feels to smile. And I love how contagious they are. I like how they change ME!

Betsy Cross