Invocations

He asked me in the car,
“What is sand made of?”

And I said I didn’t know.

I said I thought it was just part of the earth,
like dirt, and trees, and mountains.

He asked me if it came out of the ocean
and I said no, I didn’t think so.

He said he thought it was made of
tiny pieces of smashed-up seashells.

Maybe some of the sand is tiny seashells,
I conceded.

“That’s definitely what it is,” he said firmly.

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Last Sunday my friend D and I led the service at UUCA, on the theme of Embracing the Mess. D wrote a great scene in which our kids (and one bonus kids) demonstrated how to make a mess and we figured out how to deal with it. This was not much of a stretch for any of us.

A moment from our “Embracing the Mess” service on July 14.

If you’d like to watch the service, visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ and click on archives and click on the July 14, 2019 service.

Here’s my reflection from Sunday:

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist after spending many formative years as a Presbyterian was that I wanted more variety than the Bible seemed to offer. When I discovered that UUs looked to many sacred and secular texts as sources of inspiration, I was delighted. As a writer and reader, I love discovering wisdom from new people and places.

That said, I acknowledge that the Bible includes some great stories. They’re not always easy to understand, universal truths are embedded in those parables. My perspective on Jesus is that he was a kind, compassionate, and generous person and a powerful teacher. When I think about embracing the mess, I keep coming back to this story from the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Picture the scene. You have an unexpected celebrity guest—plus his entourage—and you’re working frantically in the kitchen to find something suitable to serve. You’re pouring chips and salsa into your best bowls. You’re searching for the corkscrew to open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. You’re preheating the oven to pop in some Trader Joe’s appetizers. 

And you’re doing it all by yourself, while your sister is in the other room laughing at your guest’s amusing anecdotes and not lifting a finger to help you. Maybe it’s not your sister, but your significant other or your roommate. Regardless, you’re growing increasingly frustrated at them for having a good time while you’re working your tush off.

I have a question for you. How many of are familiar with the enneagram? How many of you are type 2?

For those of you who don’t know the enneagram, it’s an ancient tool used to help us understand motivations and behaviors. The enneagram can be a useful way to examine the choices we make and help us to become emotionally healthier. 

Type 2 is known as the helper or the giver. Martha was likely a type 2. A bunch of guys show up on her doorstep and she immediately gets to work making dinner. There is a need to be met, and she assumes it is her responsibility to meet it. She does not understand why no one else is helping, because it is so obvious to herthat there is work to be done. 

I will confess that I am also a type 2. After years of emotional work, however, I would like to think I am a healthy 2. This means I would probably head to the kitchen to get snacks for Jesus and his friends, but then I would order pizza so I could join in the conversation sooner. I might ask the apostles to take everyone’s drink orders. 

Unhealthy 2s plow ahead with all the work themselves, becoming increasingly resentful. Healthy 2s will ask for help when they need it, or even decline a request that someone makes of them. My spiritual director calls this “the holy freedom to say no.” The enneagram provides a direction for each type to move toward in order to balance out unhealthy tendencies. For type 2s, we are guided toward 4, known as the romantic or the individualist. I suspect Mary in this story was a 4. When Jesus showed up at her house, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, which was sit and hang out with him. What could possibly be more important?

I can’t count the number of times when I was younger that I cleared the table and started doing dishes when I had friends over just to get the mess out of the way. And then missed out on time I could have spent having fun and laughing with people I loved. The dishes will always be there. I have learned that community, conversation, and connection are much more important. 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine from college emailed me to say he and family were going to be in town and wanted to get together. He asked if we wanted to meet at a restaurant, but I suggested they come to our house, knowing it would be more relaxing, and that the kids could play, and we would have more time to talk. He agreed, although he suggested we get takeout and he offered to bring wine and dessert. I ordered dinner from Bangkok 54 and we had a fabulous time, and I did very little work.   

Of course, I’m not saying you never have to clean your house, but that embracing the mess provides an opportunity to cultivate both connection and creativity. 

How many of you have ever lived in a house overrun by Legos?

This has been my house for the past decade. 

We have built Lego sets of a lunar lander, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, countless superheroes and villains and their vehicles, and many more. We have thousands of Legos that have been used to build fabulous creations even more imaginative than the sets you buy at the store. Everyone at our house is a builder, but Zeke in particular is on his way to becoming a master builder. Where I see Legos scattered all over the coffee table and the floor, he sees superhero hideouts and innovative spaceships and cars that can dive and fly and so many technologies that might actually come to fruition someday. I have no doubt that he could become an engineer and design the prototype for an actual car that flies.

Our house is also littered with overflowing bins of art supplies, books piled up next to densely packed bookshelves, and magazines with ideas for making new stuff out of old stuff you have lying around. Sure, sometimes I wish my house looked like something out of a magazine, where you’re sure no one actually lives there because there’s no stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up the time our family spends making art, reading, and creating with everything that surrounds us. 

Embracing the mess opens up possibilities and allows for freedom. This can be risky. And liberating.

Both my kids attended AUCP, the phenomenal preschool located here at UUCA. After Zoe graduated and before Zeke started, AUCP launched a program called Timber Tuesday, where, every other week, a class spends the entire three-hour school day in the woods near Long Branch Nature Center. Rain or shine. I have never been an outdoorsy person, and I was skeptical about this at first, but AUCP’s director Susan Parker quickly sold me on the value of spending this time outside. Kids who struggled to conform to classroom expectations thrived outside when given plenty of space to explore. Kids with sensory or motor challenges pushed themselves to climb rocks and touch trees and splash in the creek. As a parent, one of the most important lessons I learned was that it’s ok to get messy. Just bring a change of clothes. Or be prepared to ride home in your underwear. 

I remember sometime after I had become a Timber Tuesday convert that my kids and I were out after a rainstorm. Instead of instructing my kids to avoid a puddle, I encouraged them to jump in it. They were astonished. 

They have certainly taken that encouragement to heart. Two weeks ago, our family was on vacation in Lewes, Delaware. One evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset. One minute we were walking with our toes in the water, and next thing I knew both of my kids were laughing and splashing, submerged up to their chests in the Delaware Bay, fully clothed. Then we went to get ice cream. Because why not?

This place seems as good as any to see a ghost
this tantalizing space between vulnerable and safe
the constant creaking of wood
wind shaking the tops of trees
the insistent clank of boats knocking against their moorings
lapping of the dark water on the banks of the invisible canal
distant chorus of frogs
I can see no one
but I am surrounded by the night

All evening while everyone else was
playing and eating and swimming and reading bedtime stories
I was plastered to the bed by a migraine
only vaguely aware of anything else
Still more hours lost to pain

And now, while everyone else sleeps
I keep watch from the screened porch
of someone else’s house
who I have never met

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
July 2019


In a few minutes I’m headed to a school board meeting to speak on behalf of protections for trans kids in our school system, such as training teachers to effectively support them, and letting trans kids use the bathrooms and locker rooms in which they feel comfortable.

Here’s what I plan to say:

Good evening members of the school board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso. I have lived in Arlington for 22 years. I have two children in Arlington Public Schools, and I have been a school volunteer for several years and an occasional substitute teacher. 

The summer after fifth grade, my daughter’s best friend came out to her as non-binary and later as transgender. I know the evolution of their identity was not out of the blue, it was not on a whim, and it was certainly not easy. Thankfully, their parents have been supportive, and their school has helped ease the transition. 

People have asked me how my daughter reacted to her friend’s transition. My daughter has not missed a beat in her unconditional love and support of her friend. Why would she? The only thing that’s changed is my daughter is now incredibly well-informed about the LGBTQIA+ community, and she is quick to correct me if I accidently use the wrong pronouns. 

I’m also glad my six-year-old son has had this personal experience to learn about gender diversity. He creates elaborate family structures with his collection of stuffed animals. Some are straight and some are LGBTQIA+. This little purple sloth is named River, and he is female to male trans. My son decided this, on his own. He gets it. He loves all his stuffed animals for who they are.

I know a lot of LGBTQIA+ kids, some of whom are trans. I have several friends from our Unitarian Universalist church and the community who have adult kids who are trans. They all have their own unique stories of recognizing their gender identities, but I know in every case, these identities did not develop out of the blue, or on a whim. It’s not easy to come out and live as who you know you are inside, even if that isn’t how you’ve presented before. It’s so important for APS to train teachers to support trans youth and to ensure schools foster an accepting and inclusive climate. These are critical factors in reducing the high risk of attempted suicide among LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Trans youth and adults are often on the receiving end of bullying and assault. They are not perpetrators. Trans youth and adults are not pretending or dressing up as another gender so they can harm others or have an advantage in sports. They are trans because owning and identity is necessary for their survival, even if it’s incredibly challenging in mainstream society. No one takes a transition lightly, whether they are 5 or 15 or 55. They do it so they can be at peace with themselves and feel as fully human and whole as they were born to be. 

I support the school board’s proposed policies to protect the rights and safety of trans kids in our schools, and to train teachers and staff to effectively support these kids. Our community must demonstrate that we support and embrace kids for who they are. All of us are worthy and deserving of that respect.  


Originally published on invocations.blog

They were invited 
to take off their shoes and socks
which is usually NOT allowed at school
but this was barefoot day 
in kangaroo class

On the concrete floor the teachers 
had taped down
bubble wrap
(the kind with big bubbles and the kind with small bubbles)
that padding that goes under carpet
and lengths of textured yellow foam–
packing material that could be a topographical map
of another planet

Along one wall 
of the classroom
they laid out a long sheet 
of brown butcher paper
with gallons of bright paint at one end

Each child who wanted to
(which was not everyone–
some built train tracks or 
sculpted play dough or 
did wooden puzzles of 
farm animals and vehicles)
chose red or yellow or blue paint
and the teachers poured a puddle
onto a square of bubble wrap
and the child stepped in

The teachers had to hold the hand 
of each child as they squished their toes
into the paint
because paint on bubble wrap
can be quite slippery
when you’re two or three years old

Walking along the brown paper path
they left small footprints
until they came to the end
where I had filled a big blue basin
with warm water
and they stepped in
and i washed their feet
with my hands
even though they did not know me at all
they leaned on my shoulders
to steady themselves
as I gently lifted one foot 
and then the other
to wipe away the paint

Then I held their hands
as they stepped out of the water
onto a towel 
where I dried their feet
and wiped off smears of paint 
from their ankles that I had missed
(there was still some paint between their toes, 
but I had to keep the line moving)

Soon they would return
having left more footprints
now in blended colors
because eventually all the paint
mixed together

and I would wash their feet again
and now they knew me as the lady
who was there to wash and dry 
their feet
(still between their toes the paint clung)
and they smiled at me 
in wonder, 
so delighted by what they had done

At the end, one of the teachers decided
to walk through the paint and 
down the brown paper path
and one of the little girls
quickly took her hand
to walk beside her and make sure
she was steady

A place I like to walk
is the aisles of the
specialty pharmacy
where they carry one of 
seemingly everything
for any ailment or stage
of life
like breastfeeding supplies and 
tiny vials of baby medicine
and one whole wall
filled with compression stockings
another lined with 
wheelchairs, motorized recliners,
and furniture and accessories for your toileting ease
don’t forget
the aisle of tall candles
and boxed thank you cards
because you’re never too ill or incontinent
for elegance
or good manners.

~May 2019

(originally published on Invocations.blog)

Before my second baby was born
I used to worry (a lot) about 
having a boy
thinking, “what would I DO with a boy?”
as if he would turn out to be a different
species than me
rather than another gender
and that we would lack a 
common language

Now he is almost six
and I understand that 
what I was afraid of
was that he would be 
a stereotype
of a boy
or that he would 
(alarmingly)
be a clone
of boys I had known
who had scared me
or disgusted me
because of their 
aggressiveness
or
crassness
or 
insensitivity
which I wrongly 
attributed
to testosterone
and the Y chromosome

My son loves to kiss me
and snuggle and 
make art
together and 
battle bad guys (not with me, because that’s not my thing)
and build Legos (sometimes with superheroes and bad guys 
but sometimes not)
and watch the Great British Baking Show
and do martial arts
and play with his multitude of stuffed animals, 
all of whom he has given names 
and identities 
(some straight, some gay, some trans) 
and family relationships 
(usually interspecies)

He likes to wear pink and purple (and sports shorts and Adidas) 
I told him that I’m glad he knows 
pink and purple are colors 
for everyone
and not just for girls
He said unfortunately not everyone 
at his school knows that
and not everyone at his school thinks boys 
can wear nail polish
but he knows 
how much fun it is 
to get your nails done
and how cool it looks 

I used to worry 
that people would think
I was a boy
because my hair is short
because I mostly wear 
t-shirts and jeans
In high school when I wore Doc Martens
I was told “those are men’s shoes.”
(Now I sometimes shop in the men’s department for my size 11 feet
and I receive many compliments on my brown leather wingtips)
In college when I asked the boys down the hall
to use the clipper to shave the back of my hair
I was told “that’s a lesbian haircut.”
and because I wore plaid flannel, 
“you dress like a lesbian,”
(but seriously, it was the 90s)
A little girl once asked me, “are you a boy?”
I said no but she still said, “I think you’re a boy.”
When I wake up and stumble into the bathroom 
in the middle of the night or
first thing in the morning
so many times I’ve looked in the mirror
and wondered if I looked that day like 
Richard Simmons or Andy Gibb or Michael Moore
it’s always a weird male celebrity I see
I used to think that if I didn’t wear earrings 
when I left the house
people would think I was a man
even though plenty of men
wear earrings when they leave the house
like my daughter’s 5th grade teacher 
who was a middle-aged married father of two
who wore basketball shorts to teach and sported
a gold hoop in each ear

My son notices when I have new earrings
and is the first to compliment me 
when I get my hair done
He often does not care if his clothes
are clashing colors
but sometimes he wants me to brush his hair
and help him choose the perfect outfit
for the occasion

My son recites the names of all the Avengers
(and their friends such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four)
and their unique capabilities
and asks me what powers I would like
and then endows me with them
and says, 
“I love you with all my heart and all my dreams.”
and falls asleep with his forehead touching mine
and his arm around my neck

(originally published on invocations.blog)

When I get a massage
I am polite
but quiet
because in the past 
I have made the mistake 
of being too friendly
and inquisitive
and hearing too much troubling
information about a person
who was supposed to be
helping me relax

Chida is my massage therapist now
She is usually polite and quiet too

Last week she was 
bubbling over 
with excitement
because she and her five-year-old 
daughter are going back 
to Thailand for a month 

Chida said she has to go 
so her whole family 
can participate in the rituals
to say goodbye to her father
who died several months ago
but who neighbors say
they have seen 
sitting on his front porch

Chida’s mother told her
“You have to come home
or your father’s spirit
will be stuck here.”

“Miss Betsy,” Chida said to me.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”

When the motorized scooter was delivered to our hotel in Orlando, the scooter guy assembled it, and showed my parents what to do. My sister shared an instructional YouTube video with us even before the trip so we could familiarize ourselves with the assembly and disassembly process. Even so, the first morning of our adventure, after my mom drove the scooter up to my parents’ minivan, it took several adults several (10? 15?) minutes to take it apart and stow it in the back of the van.

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, we put it together slightly faster, but when it was assembled and my mom put the key in the ignition, there was a lot of beeping. So much beeping that it was clear that the scooter was telling us something. Like, “don’t drive me.” We took things apart and put them back together. Finally, we discovered that the lock/unlock switch was in the wrong position. It may have been Zeke who figured it out. We flipped the switch and the beeping ceased. The only sound was a cheer from everyone.

By the end of the week, we (and by we I really mean Randy, because he did the lion’s share of scooter assembly and disassembly, usually with some assistance from my dad or me) could transform the scooter in 30 seconds flat. But the real scooter master was the driver–my mom.

The dashboard of the scooter only has one dial, which goes from turtle on the left to rabbit on the right. My mom definitely preferred to rabbit away on that scooter. She zoomed through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Legoland, Universal Studios, and Disney Hollywood Studios like it was a getaway car, deftly maneuvering through throngs of people, around couples and wayward toddlers and large unruly families like ours. She sped up ramps to the scooter and wheelchair accessible entrances to rides and attractions. She executed tight turns. She sometimes gave rides to the youngest members of our party, who could most easily fit on her lap, when they got tired of walking. She cruised through gift shops. She circled around to find the perfect shady spot to park in while waiting for others to go on roller coasters or anything fast or spinny that wasn’t her cup of tea. She did not, as far as I know, run over anyone except for the feet of some family members when we were standing around not paying attention to when she was ready to drive. Not really her fault. And she never crashed. She sidled up to a handsome young guy on a scooter to ask how long his battery lasted because hers seemed to be fading midway through the day. They compared notes companionably.

We noticed during all five days at the park that the scooter rental companies in Orlando are doing a booming business. And the drivers of the scooters are diverse. You might expect most of them to be older people with mobility issues, which certainly accounted for many of them, but not nearly all. The man my mom chatted with couldn’t have been out of his 20s. I wondered if he was a combat-injured veteran, but really he could’ve had any kind of condition that made walking long distances challenging. It didn’t matter. I also saw pregnant women driving scooters. I remember just walking through the National Zoo when I was nine months pregnant and desperately wishing I could flag down an employee driving a golf cart to give me a lift. The fact is that these parks are gigantic, and you often have to criss cross back and forth to go on the rides you want to go on when the lines are shortest, and you cover a lot of territory. If walking far is difficult or painful, as it is for many people, the scooter is genius.

Often during our trip as I watched my mom’s back as she zoomed away, I imagined how powerful she must have felt driving that scooter. She didn’t have to use a cane or be pushed in a wheelchair. She didn’t have to ask anyone for help. She didn’t have to hope that the rest of us would wait up while she took a break on a bench. She didn’t have to miss anything. And she could go fast. I don’t know when the last time would’ve been that she could get somewhere faster than the rest of us, but it’s been a while. Sometimes we would be standing around trying to figure out where our next destination was and suddenly realize she had sped off, and we’d have to run to catch up to her.

While we were on vacation my mom mused about how having a scooter like this at home would enable her to do things she hasn’t been able to comfortably or easily do on her own for years, like go shopping. She wondered why they don’t have scooters for rent at Tyson’s Corner. I wondered that too. While the concentration of people needing scooters would not be quite as large as at Disney, surely there would be enough to make it worthwhile for the mall to have some on hand. They rent strollers, why not mobility scooters?

I’ve thought about the power and independence my mom could reclaim if she had a scooter at her disposal all the time. But she couldn’t take it out of the car and put it together and then take it apart again and put it back in the car by herself. And if she had to have someone with her all the time to do that for her, she wouldn’t really have the independence that she wants. She’s not in a position where she needs a custom van with a scooter lift. She can walk. I don’t know the solution to this yet, but I feel sure it’s out there somewhere. If we did get my mom a scooter of her own, we would have to customize it so she could have her Diet Coke easily accessible and it wouldn’t spill, she could fit her purchases in a large basket, and there would be red flames painted on the sides because she loves speed.

One of the best parts of the vacation for me was seeing my mom go full rabbit on her scooter all through every park, knowing that she had all the power she wanted.

(originally published on invocations.blog)

So much is out of our control
who moves in next door
who doesn’t clean up 
after their dog 
on the sidewalk 
in front of 
your house

When the bus finally arrives
Whether the check
is in the mail
How your boss
behaves
How anyone
behaves

Who lets you in when 
you’re trying to 
turn left out of your 
neighborhood onto 
Columbia Pike 
Who stops when
you’re trying to 
cross the street

Who is having a bad day
and takes it out 
on you
who holds 
the door open for you and
all the kids you’ve brought along
and smiles and doesn’t seem to mind
that they are oblivious to the fact of the door

How viruses mutate
whether the nurse assigned to your room 
has ever taken care of a patient like you before
Whether the people in charge of your country
decide to start a war 
against another country or
against you
Whether someone who looks like you–even a little bit
commits a crime
What DNA you inherit
What your mother did
or did not do while you were 
becoming human
Whether she brought you 
into the world with joy
or despair

Whether you get put in the class
of a kind kindergarten teacher
or one who should have
already retired or found
another steelier line of work 

So much is out of our control 
it is a miracle that we find
at the end of the day that
a single thing we set out to do
has been done

A testament 
to our optimistic persistence 
that we write out
yet another to do list
naively determined to try again
even though
so much is out of our control

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