On every Mother’s Day to this point, Anita Crossfield has felt such conflicting emotions from the past that she hasn’t been able to enjoy the present.
She was angry at the world in general, because she never met her biological mother. The woman who gave birth to her was single at the time, and because unmarried mothers were scorned in their traditional town of Kosovo in eastern Europe, she abandoned her baby.
As Crossfield dealt with the undercurrent of anger, her feelings morphed into guilt. She felt like she was betraying her adoptive parents—the elderly couple who took her in as a baby and did what they could, even though their family situation was less than ideal.
The couple’s older children ran the household and treated her like a second-class citizen who didn’t belong. So did her classmates, who threw rocks that left scars on her forehead.
After she had a child of her own, Crossfield still cried on the second Sunday in May, but she kept her tears to herself because she didn’t want to spoil the day for her daughter. Still, it was difficult to face a holiday dedicated to unconditional love when she’d never experienced a mother’s love.
“Mother’s Day has always been hard,” she said. “I always felt like my life was this made-up story. Nothing seemed real except my daughter.”
But things will be different this year for Crossfield, who owns Italian Station in downtown Fredericksburg. After decades of wondering why her mother never sought her later in life, Crossfield connected with her about three weeks ago.
The two women video chat every day, from Crossfield’s home in Spotsylvania County to her mother’s in Europe. Each time her mother asks how she feels, or if she frets that Crossfield looks tired or overworked, the daughter is overjoyed.
“It feels and it seems and it sounds so honest, like she’s paying attention and she cares about those little details,” said Crossfield, whose face lit up at the mere notion. “This will be the best Mother’s Day of my life.”
Not only will Crossfield enjoy the day with her mother, over the internet, but she’ll also watch her daughter, Kristiana Kuqi, graduate from Randolph College in Lynchburg with majors in political science and history. Kuqi, who’s done an internship with the former president of Kosovo and Model United Nations programs, eventually wants to go back to her homeland.
“Ultimately, I want to return to Kosovo and help women there who’ve faced a lot of atrocities and lived in poverty as a result of war and the mass raping during the war, and never got adequate health care or welfare,” Kuqi said.
Crossfield, 39, doesn’t give many details about her life in Kosovo, but her daughter does. She knows how much pain her mother suffered at the hands of others. Things were even worse in the late 1990s, when war broke out, and thousands of Albanians were killed as part of the Serbian attempt at ethnic cleansing.
“The village she was adopted into is known to be kind of a [bad] place, very uneducated, tough, where family is family and blood is blood,” Kuqi said. “They saw her as an outsider and really mistreated her.”
‘LIFE’S A MESSAGE’
When Crossfield was 17, she got pregnant and was shunned by her siblings. The father of her baby went off to fight in the war, as did most men of her generation, and when he returned, he wanted the baby “because she is my blood,” but not the mother, Crossfield recalled.
Determined to raise her child alone, Crossfield went to work, and Kuqi remembers living in a bombed-out apartment. Even though it went against cultural practice, the family of Kuqi’s father helped Crossfield because, she said, they saw how determined she was to do right by her child.
Crossfield’s own adoptive father visited when Kristiana was a baby and tried to help, “but the siblings would not allow it,” Crossfield recalled. “I had ruined their reputation.”
Crossfield still felt for her adoptive mother, who later became blind. During the worst of the fighting, the elderly woman was abandoned in an area where homes were burned to the ground and “everybody massacred,” she said.
Somehow, she survived, and Crossfield is convinced that “If you do good in this world, God saves you, some way. Life’s a message, really.”
‘SUCH A BIG HEART’
In 2004, Crossfield met an American doing mission work in Kosovo. They married, she came to the United States, and they have since divorced.
Despite her past, Crossfield isn’t a woman who wears life’s tragedies on her sleeve.
“What I love about Anita is that she is positive, generous and resilient in nature,” said Ann Glave, Fredericksburg VA Main Street’s executive director. “She is a good role model.”
Ann Lusher has worked with her for more than two years and has watched Crossfield treat homeless people with the same respect as those from the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott. Crossfield donates to programs to help those in need and stays active in community groups.
“She runs the business with such a big heart, caring for all the customers, and I think it’s because of how she was raised,” Lusher said. “When you don’t have much, you want to give much.”
Crossfield even found her own way to deal with the agony she faced on Mother’s Day. Each holiday in the past, she visited nursing homes, sharing flowers or food with residents there.
“She was so wonderful,” Silvia Markulis, the program coordinator at Greenfield Senior Living in Fredericksburg said about Crossfield’s visit last year. “She spread so much joy. How kind of her to come on Mother’s Day and do that.”
Crossfield knew she wouldn’t make it to a facility this Mother’s Day, so she visited on International Women’s Day in March. She plans to resume visiting nursing homes on future Mother’s Days.
‘HOPE IN THE WORLD’
Crossfield was on the phone with her daughter recently when she got a call. She said, “I gotta go, my mother is calling,” and Crossfield and Kuqi both got emotional because Crossfield never had said that before.
She’s not sure when she can visit Kosovo and meet the woman she’s always longed to see. She wants to go shopping and have coffee together—all those normal things that mothers and daughters do.
Crossfield doesn’t know how much she’ll ask her mother about the past or why she made the decisions she did. At this point, they’re not nearly as important as they once were, and she feels like a burden has been lifted.
“Oh, man, I sleep well,” she said, adding that during a recent conversation, her mother said the same. “She said, ‘For 39 years, I have not slept well, and now I do.’ ”
Kuqi has enjoyed watching her mother experience happiness and unbridled joy after having so much pain.
“My mom sacrificed everything she ever had for me,” she said, “She’s been through so much, but when you see her, she’s so positive and energetic. If there’s hope in the world, it’s really from people like her.”