Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Expectations

"For my ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

Sometimes you just get lucky and you find what you didn't know you'd lost.

I'd chosen a new family to work on, Charles and Anna Sophia Carlson and their four surviving children of eleven, G. Irene, Walter A., Meda G., and Carl Anders, my dad's paternal grandfather. I've written about Charles and Anna a bit, and my great grandfather, Carl Anders. But I can't find G. Irene and Meda G. after a certain age. I've concluded that they never died, but are roaming the earth, doing good deeds and random acts of kindness.

I was going to give up and throw in the towel again with the family history story-telling because it was getting like this with all of the rest of my ancestors. They were living in an alternate universe and were not budging to give me any clues as to their whereabouts. 

Happy to report, the joke's on them. As soon as I made the heart-wrenching decision to end the quests, I remembered that I had barely touched my husband's ancestors! So, I'm leaving mine in the dust for a while. We'll see how anxious they get to be remembered! They'll be calling out of the darkness like a child who thinks he has been forgotten in a game of Hide-and-Seek. 

For now, let me introduce you to one last ancestor from my side of the family, the ninth child to Charles and Anna Sophia Carlson, Walter A., and his lovely wife, Ethel Young. Their journey is a first for me with potential for a different sort of tragedy or lesson depending on how you look at it. 

As long as I've been researching my ancestors I've been moved by the thoughts and feelings associated with the loss of life, especially a child's. I've seen families with eleven children reduced to four due to famine and illness. I've watched others adopt and start new marriages with children blended in from both sides. I've been educated and humbled by my ancestors' difficult and unique circumstances.

But I've never encountered a childless couple. A couple who never even chose adoption as an alternative. And that, my friends, leaves me with a question. What does it feel like to have expectations dashed?

Walter and Ethel married when she was 22 and he 26, in 1905. I'll bet they thought that the children would just start coming. And I imagine their parents, siblings, other relatives and friends did, too.

It's one thing to be disappointed when things don't work out according to plans. It must be awful to bear the burden of others' expectations of you and how they picture your life would and should be.

This is a trial I can't imagine. Children came easily to me. I never had a longing for them. How does that affect a person? A couple? How does the life you thought you'd have change to what it is?

This is the first couple that I found where both spouses worked outside the home. She was a stenographer in a law office, he a stationary engineer in one of Washington State's public schools. His job as a stationary engineer, from what I gathered, was basically to keep the heat and lights going in the school. So in a way he was taking care of a whole quiver of children!

As I watched Ethel and Walter I became aware of a new kind of suffering, one of longing for what others so mindlessly take for granted. But, I can't speak for them and how they dealt with their circumstances. All I know is what their story showed me about my life... the bearing and raising of children changed me as does the breaking out of a cocoon strengthen an emerging butterfly. 

This couple caused me to reflect on the blessing of waking up every day to little beings who, while unknowingly drive me closer to the edge of insanity, have molded my heart to feel a love I could never have thought possible. 

They've tested and tried my patience. I believed I was a patient person before I had children. But 25 years with not one night that has blessed me with more than a three hour stretch of sleep, has taught me that until tried to extremes we never really know who we are. 

Their thoughtful questions have pushed me to find words to express what I believe as I've searched for simple answers to give inquisitive minds whose bodies have carried them away onto the next adventure before I've had a chance to answer.

Their ability to forgive quickly and embrace me with little arms and hopeful hearts and eyes have renewed my commitment daily to grow up to become more like them. 

The list grows hourly, daily.

But back to Walter and Ethel. They had no children keeping them up at night with illness or requests for bedtime stories and drinks that they needed to chase the monsters away from under their beds.

Their budget wouldn't be stretched to allow for cloths and shoes that were worn out and outgrown before there was money there to replace them. 

Dinnertime would be quiet and civil. No food fights, battles over elbows on the table,  or squabbles as siblings got annoyed with each other's table manners.

Small things that some people complain about.

Did they long for those experiences? When they listened to their friends and relatives' tales would their hearts ache? Or did they find a way to make a difference in other childrens' lives? Walter saw children every day at school. Ethel, probably not. 

There's more to think about, and a lot more to say. But that's between me and my Maker. It's time to take a moment to reflect on the blessings and the challenges of having a quiver full of children, and what some people would do to change places with me. 

I've been catching myself wondering about the different paths I could have chosen. I could have danced, pursued my artwork, traveled, stayed single. 

But I chose differently. I don't remember having any expectations of how it would all turn out. Like Walter and Ethel, I went on auto pilot and lived what was right in front of me as I experienced the challenges, frustrations an indescribable joy of a miraculous life that is still unfolding.

It's human to have expectations. We can try not to but we all have some. The joy in life for me, the stuff stories are made of, is seeing who I am and what I do when the journey takes on a life of its own.


  1. You always get me pondering Betsy ... I so appreciate that about you. I so appreciate you sharing your beautiful thoughts and words here ... everywhere!

    Happiness to you my friend,


  2. How beautiful, Betsy.

    I have two incredible children... that drive me nuts on a regular basis.... and I wouldn't trade one moment.

    I can only imagine how it must ache inside to want a gift such as a child, so badly, and not be able to have one...

    I can only imagine, in that time period, how it must have felt, if they did want so badly an child to love, not to be able to share their lives with one.

    I am so happy that I am finally here with you. The story told as you discover and understand more of Walter and Ethel, the questions and points raised by finding and thinking of them, in our own lives... well, that is beautiful as well.

    Thank you, Betsy, for sharing this with us as well.

    Your friend, Amber-Lee

  3. Hi Betsy!
    Like you, children came easy for me. We just chose to stop after two. But my oldest friend never had children. Now, as we are in the empty nest phase, when we get together with my friend and her husband it's very strange. We are in the same place, but they had what we've had for the past 25 years. There are no children coming home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They aren't unhappy. They just chose a different path.
    The strange thing is, when I'm missing my children, it's a comfort to talk to they who have no children to miss. It puts it all into perspective.

  4. Thanks, Elena! This research has been helping me so much! I see so much to ponder, as you say. See you around!

  5. Amber-Lee, your life with your boys in Alaska intrigues me. The long, cold winters with a lot of indoor time would kill me quickly! You are a gem. Thank you for coming to visit!!

  6. Lori, isn't interesting that we all pretty much enjoy the choices we've made, but don't know what the other choices would have felt like unless they played out. We'd have adjusted our hearts to fit. The universe is very generous to let us choose how, where and who or what to love. Maybe the real lesson is realizing what we want when confronted with the fact that we can't have it. Thanks for your insightful comment. Makes me think some more!

  7. Let me know when you want to start looking up my family. Actually I do have my Dorman line back to 1798 I believe, in North Carolina; so I'm guessing my people crossed the pond a few generations ago, huh?

    I love the way you breath life into these people and curious enough about their lives to dig a little deeper.

  8. Bill,
    An old friend called yesterday and we talked about family history for over an hour, ending the conversation ONLY because things IRL needed to get done! But we both have had the same revelation and hope with family history and how to help other people with theirs. There are SO many cousins that get overlooked by people who claim that their history has been researced and collected. I can't believe how many more people are in my 4 generations than I ever imagined were there!
    So, if you EVER want help (when the bug hits) just drop me a line and I'll send you my Ancestry password, or I'll look up stuff for you if you're busy.
    Thanks, Bill!

  9. That last paragraph is a really powerful one, Betsy! I really appreciate how you respected their lives even without children because I know a few people who would think less of people without children in their lives if the couple had a choice.

    This reminds me of the Buddhist philosophy of letting go of our expectations and desires. I don't know if I can do so completely, but I do try to roll with the punches and be more flexible. That's what traveling has taught me and I try to always step outside of my comfort zone, so that I'm always ready for something new. =)

  10. Hey Samantha!
    The greatest lesson for me in all of this research is that I have thoughts and judgements about people that are really a reflection of who I am. It has been a real eye-opener to me. There are so many people that I'm learning from. And even when I try to walk in their shoes I never get the whole picture of how they feel or why they did what they did. But I can find out a bit more about myself, so it's all worthwhile!


What do you think? I'd love to know.