Lessons from my Family
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
If you know me well, you’ll know family is everything to me. From attending family camp as a child and working there as a young adult to sharing meals with my mom, dad and brother each night in elementary school, I was raised to know one thing: family comes first. Well, God comes first. But really, when it comes down to it, God and family are so deeply intertwined for me that they’re hard to separate.
I’m writing this blog post on November 10, the morning of the quarter-annual Crouse family party - it’s a tradition where each quarter of the year, one family member hosts a gathering for all Crouses who can attend. It’s one of my favorite family traditions, but it’s changed through the years. In my childhood, it was a madhouse of children running around with attendance sometimes reaching into the 20s. It was my cousin Megan, who is more like a sister to me, babysitting me as we played with our stuffed rabbits. And always, there’s delicious food. My family is full of cooks - not by training; they were all taught by their parents and grandparents, who, in turn, have taught the kids. While I love to come home, my favorite Crouse family gatherings take place in the home of my grandma, Grandma Crouse, and my grandpa, who we call Pap-pap. Grandma Crouse makes the most amazing Polish food when we come, a nod to our heritage and our recent ancestors who left Poland to make a life in Pittsburgh for our family. Now, we’ve scattered far beyond Pennsylvania, but our roots are still in the small Polish suburbs of the Steel City. Sort of like this blog post, we’re all over the place, but we’re rooted in the one thing that is more important to us than anything else: family.
If I learned one thing in my Counseling Individuals and Families class my sophomore year, it’s that whether you like it or not, you get it from your family. Looks, personality traits, those things that make you tick - all of it. And as I grow, I see more and more the gifts my family has given me.
My grandmother, Mema, who has taught me too many things to count. She taught me to cook and to be respectful but also to enjoy life and say yes to the scary things, just like she did when she said yes to marrying my grandfather, Papa, and moved to America to be with him. Papa, on the other hand, has always been the one who makes grandiose gestures to show people that he cares. You know he cares when he takes you to dinner or plans a big surprise.
Mema and Papa
Grandma and Pap-pap, my dad’s parents, were high school sweethearts, and they’ve taught me that hard work pays off and true love never dies. At 82, they’re still totally in love, and they’re not afraid to tell you. It’s also where I got my love of politics and religion - they are strongly involved in both. Even though my faith and my family’s faith has evolved from their Catholic ways, they have taught me that faith in God will carry you through. Things weren’t always easy for them - with four kids, they had to work hard to keep the family afloat. I recently visited their first house, and it’s incredible to see where they came from and where they are now. Everything they have they earned, and much of it they selflessly passed on to their children, and ultimately, me.
Grandma, Pap-pap, and their three sons
There are so many people I could talk about now - I could tell you how their children, Eric, Dawn, Marc and Todd have all found success but never failed to remember where they came from. Or how Eric and his wife Blair showed me that a listening ear is always better than a angering statement. Or how Marc and his wife Cheryl showed me that a sense of humor is integral to a good life. Or how Dawn and her husband Joe demonstrated how putting your mind to something will always lead to success.
But what I really want to talk about here is my parents. Todd and Melinda, my heroes and inspirations.
Me and my mama
My mom is the strongest person I know. She’s been through a lot, but she’s always there for others when they need her most. She is reliable, and she has taught me to be a strong woman of faith and love. She is the woman I strive to be like.
My dad taught me to sail, and with that, he taught me tenacity, how to love something and someone deeply, how to teach others what you’ve been taught, and finally, how to work hard at something and never stop asking questions. But I remember one of his greatest lessons was from the Bible; he made me memorize his favorite verse when I was young. It’s from Luke, chapter 12 verse 48: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” That simple lesson has informed my career path, my political beliefs, and it’s the way I try to live my life.
My dad teaches me to sail at camp in 2010
My dad and I sail in Newport, RI in 2018
Okay, so I’m done with the lessons. You may be wondering, “Why is she saying all this, and what does it have to do with interfaith?” Well, everything. Family, after all, is where you learn your first spiritual practice. Whether you don’t have one or your parents took you, sometimes against your will, to church or temple or mosque each week, you learn it from the people you grow up with. Family is everything. Family is what allows me to be open to other ideas, as there’s many floating around in my own family.
My family at church on Easter
But all these lessons have also informed my interfaith work. Where would I be without my Nana’s stubbornness in trying to get to know people, or my mom’s courage in every situation? It takes strength and hard work and courage and tenacity to do interfaith work. It takes bravery to take the first step in asking the hard questions. It takes kindness to have people open up to you. And while I’m not perfect, and I’m not there yet, the things my family have not only taught me but shown me have given me the strong foundation to have the courage to try, fail, and try again.
My family isn’t perfect - nobody’s is - but I’ve learned to love the lessons they’ve taught me and the people they are. I’m dedicating this blog post to my family, and I’m leaving them with the chorus of a song I discovered recently, In Case You Don’t Live Forever by Ben Platt.
“In case you don’t live forever, let me tell you now,
I love you more than you’ll ever wrap your head around.
In case you don’t live forever, let me tell you the truth:
I’m everything that I am because of you.