Saturday, June 30, 2012

Octo-Mom: Fake Mom

Dear Miss Shelton,
I've struggled with whether or not to write to you. (Oh no....apparently the struggle is over) My daughter auditioned for [the musical] and she has been ignored as usual. She is, once again, cast in the chorus of the play without having been giving a single line. (Oh boy... here we go) Not even one solo. [My daughter] has been in voice lessons for the past 7 years and she has been in the last three musicals you directed. She has dedicated her time and talent to you, but is getting very tired of standing in the back.

She was thrilled with her audition. (True. I was so proud of her!) She worked so hard on it. (She wanted it so badly, I could tell) She came home and told me that she was sure she "nailed it." After two years of dedicated work for you, she deserved a bigger role.

I'm truly disappointed in you (join the club, I started it myself). After seeing the posted cast list [my daughter] came home and locked herself in her room. I have never heard her cry so long or so hard. But since you don't have any children of your own, (ouch) you've probably never heard this kind of heart-breaking pain, (inflicted, no doubt by me) inflicted on her by someone she used to look up to (yep, there it is!).

I have talked to other parents about this (of course you have.) We will be pulling our children out of the play. We have started a letter writing campaign against you because your behavior needs to be stopped once and for all. (Believe me, I wish I knew how to do ANYTHING else to make a living.) We will be encouraging the principal to find someone else to teach our drama classes (While you're at it, write a letter to the people that create musicals and ask them to start writing scripts with more women's roles in them).

This letter if a compilation of several letters, ideas and promises that have happened over the last twenty years of teaching high school drama kids. TRUE. If you are a drama teacher, reading this, you have laughed because you probably have received a few of those gems over the years yourself. They are so common amongst us, that they have their own stereotype, and that's why we laugh. Though I have never taken their content lightly. The truth is, you can never make everyone happy, especially when you are forced to choose, to judge, one student’s abilities over another.

As most of you know, Andy and I are changing schools right now. Like, RIGHT now. Are we moving because we received some hate mail? OH NO. The reasons don't include any hate mail at all. Complaint mail is just part of the job and gives you a thick, bouncy skin eventually. Part of being in any job requires you to take criticism. We love our clientele at our current school. We stayed seven years because of them. The first few years were a trial because every teacher has to earn the trust of those clients (and their parents). It takes time. And there was a lot of creative mail in the beginning.

Packing my office, I found the famous file.

It's a morbid file full of letters and notes from parents and students explaining their frustrations with me. There are also vehement emails, a picture of Jabba The Hut (Star Wars character I think) saying "this is what I think about you, Miss Shelton. Watch your back." TRUE! It is an 8 X 10 glossy that someone slipped under my office door. Horrific. One of the notes says "I can't believe my child is failing a mickey-mouse class like drama." One says "the casting of plays is emotionally abusive." And still there is my favorite, "you don't know how hard it is to be the parent of a drama student." True that. I'm not a parent in the literal sense of the word.

I hear you. You're wondering why I keep it. Why I didn't just toss that negativity out when I got it. A whole file for crying out loud!

It reminds me how seriously people take this drama thing. Believe it or not, it adds gravity to what I do. It helps me take it seriously. How truly life-changing it is to be in a play!! These notes tell me that. It keeps me grounded.

Opposites in all things right? WOOT! I also keep the file(s) of thank you notes full of love and admiration. Those files are HUGE! Those files are why we needed the biggest Uhaul!! When I am feeling picked on, when it's three in the morning and I just can't sew one more costume or paint one more prop...I get into that file for just a minute, and it heals me in an instant. Gives me a second wind.

So positive or not, I am able to take a deep breath and go back to work because I know what I do matters. I have E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E.

One card, written in 1996 (is always at the front of the file) and has been read so many times that its in two pieces now. It simply says (in an eighth graders handwriting) "YOU ARE THE MOTHER I'VE NEVER HAD." And it's from a kid that spent many hours "standing at the back," but she didn't care. She never knew her mom. Her dad was awesome, but she went home to an empty house after school. The solution to the loneliness, was KNGH, she was the kid that never went home. The theatre (and I am part of that word) was her safe place. She told me so, and I took that very seriously.

I am sitting in a dorm room right now at the university of Nebraska, Lincoln. The home of the Huskers. This is only the second year we've come with kids. Last year, we brought 3, this year 25. We have traveled with groups of 70+ to Cedar City, Logan, Disneyland with about 50, New York, and we did take a wee trip to the Fringe Festival in Scotland with about 40 once. I love these trips because I get to watch the kids experience something for the first time. It's like crack cocaine to me (I hear. I don't really know.....;-)

There are over 3000 students here on the UNL campus right now, granted they are nerdy drama kids, but the ratio of kids to adults is probably about 15 to 1. 15 energetic, drama kings and queens to 1 exhausted teacher. If they wanted to, they could stage a pretty successful coup. Think of their list of demands: "More musicals, bigger roles, private meetings with Stephen Sondheim and autographed copies of Pippin." Who am I kidding? They would much rather stage an Andrew Lloyd Weber sing-a-long. This is a very peaceful group of people. JFK said the arts civilize a culture. It's so true. These are pleasant people to be around.

Today at this "National Thespian Festival," the kids that auditioned for scholarships earlier in the week got "called back." This means that certain colleges want to see you again, talk to you, get to know you before they send you admittance letters and scholarships. It's the next step on the road to university life. Our kids got called back all over the nation but one student's name appeared on nearly every college posting. Andy called him and said "Do you want Jan or I to go with you just to take notes, or help you keep track?" And this kid said "NO. I don't want my parents in there with me!" (Duh!)

I had such conflicted emotions right then. I wanted to tell him "Listen Mister! I'm going with you anyway, because I know you won't take enough notes (if any)," and I also felt the pinch of the apron strings being cut off - by someone that feels like my child. I've felt it before, but this time it was very clear because this is the first time we've had children with such big decisions to make so early. Finally, my heart was singing because he had essentially called me MOM! Which I crave, you know. So because of that, I turned back and let him go on his own. (I'll grill him at dinner)

I have my niece Katie here with me. She's a Senior costume technician at Lehi High. I saw her talking to a college recruiter from one of the best theatre schools in the nation. Don't worry, I didn't interrupt. (Man, I fought it!) I want her to have that experience but then...she would have to live in Cincinnati. I want her to go to the local community college, but she needs the expertise and connections that can be offered to her there. I almost started crying as I watched her.

So my MOM buttons are all being pushed this week. It's a great and terrible feeling. It's akin to that feeling I had when the doctors told me that they could keep Noah on those machine for an indeterminate time but he would not grow like normal kids do. I had to decide to "cut the apron strings" and let him move on. I truly hate that feeling.

This blog has been such a good outlet for me to talk about the conundrum I go through on a daily basis - the yoyo effect of wanting so badly to be a mom and just being someone's mentor. Blogging takes time. So in an effort to increase its financial effectiveness...(because now I'm dependent on it for my sanity) we added some advertising. But the money is sort of ridiculous, averaging about a nickel an hour. But it's a nickel I didn't have yesterday.

So I have been reading other blogs, analyzing their layouts, their funky buttons, their content. I read in the Wall Street Journal (oh, heavens no, we don't subscribe) an article about a woman that was obsessed with "Mormon Mommy blogs." I googled "top mommy blogs" to see what she was so addicted to.

Some of them get 100,000 readers a week! There were several mommy blogs that actually RATED other blogs. Wow. There were other blogs that gave you the opportunity to upload your blog and have people VOTE on it. Scary. I'm not into this whole blog thing for the notoriety. I just want to find out how some women are paying their mortgages by talking about what they do in everyday life. It's a kind of wacky phenomenon, don't you think?

I had all but decided to post my blog link on the "Top Mommy Blogs" site, when I read the rules. The very first one was, "YOU MUST BE A MOM TO POST YOUR SITE HERE." Shit. Now I have to think about it. It really stopped me...for a few days it stopped me cold. I contemplated uploading it anyway, because I need the exposure, and I really feel like I am a "type, a kind, a special category" of a mom. But looking through their list, I didn't fit into any of their special categories. The conflict raged inside of me. Would they create a new category for me, or just shoot it back and say "You don't meet our qualifications." Could I handle that truth? Not this week. I know they can have their own rules. I can find other places to fit in, other judges of my qualifications. But it set me back.

In a way, the life I have is enviable because I get to celebrate, to some degree, with kids as they bound through their accomplishments, but at the end of the day I send them home to their "real" moms. Moms that get to pay for their college education, their doctor's appointments, chicken pox and car wrecks. I'm so humbled and awed by the kids as they get accepted to Tisch, CCM or Boston, but then I quickly add up that tuition, housing, books...and sometimes it makes me feel better.

Last semester I had 70 college students, 35 high school kids and countless after school kids in shows. Dealing with this many kids also makes me just a little grateful I don't have to teach all day, then come home and deal with my own children. So that's good too.

It's just... well...days like today...when they come running toward me with their arms open screaming "I got accepted to CCM!" that I want to be that kids real mom. I want to be there when the combined Jandy genes comes out of his audition and says "I'm going to the Boston Conservatory, mom." And I would think in my mind...where else?

Not that I'm jealous of that kids real mom, I know and LOVE the real moms of my fake kids, one of them is my own sister! They have all been so great to share with me. I'm just so tired of feeling like a fake mom.

But it's God's plan for me. I've never questioned that. I'll just keep complaining about it on my little blog if you don't mind. It’s so much cheaper than a therapist.

And I will continue to sit on the edge of motherhood when they come to me with their major life questions - their emotional, educational, financial, spiritual and sexual conundrums. Sometimes I actually know about this stuff before their parents do, though in those sacred moments, and there have been so many...the first thing out of my mouth is always the same..."have you discussed this with your parents?"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Kids: Nebraska as a Microcosm


NOTE: I decided to copy and paste part of an older blog into what I am thinking about today. We are at our annual International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska and there are teenagers from all around the world here. They are all Thespians. And this is not to say, they are dramatic, as people say "she's quite a thespian, if you know what I mean," (and then they roll their eyes). These kids have paid a membership fee, work to collect points, compete ruthlessly for scholarships and get resume fodder, everything. Except for the nightly dances (which caused me to lose my hearing for about 20 minutes after my shift), they take it very seriously. It is an awesome way to be rewarded for all the work they do as they forge a path to "legitimate artist-dom". Being here this year has expanded my list of "types" however. Heaven forbid I point any fingers at these kids.... I was one myself, oh so long ago. I write this mostly in fun!

From the blog on Feb 17, 2012 "We'll call him Greg, a Real BK."

If you don't have kids of your own, people assume you don't know anything about kids. Even if you've been teaching their kids for a couple of decades. What people don't understand is that you see the exact same kids with their exact same problems year after year and eventually you create these categories in your head and you have a label for them, right or wrong. They don't always fit perfectly but the labeling most often helps me help them. Ask me about a first grader and I'm stumped. Ask me about teenagers and I turn into Freud.

Here are a few of my favorite kids and the accompanying codes I use next to their names in the roll book and on audition sheets... wait....I hear you judging me. Believe me when I say, I utilize everything I can to help them. Especially their issues. These definitions are not medical terminology, I know nothing about medicine (be glad)...but my husband doesn't call me the "kid whisperer" for nothing.
  • KDP. "The Kid with the Divorced Parents." That kid needs to divert their attention to something other than himself. Put him in a play and give him a cute dance partner. His mind will be on other things in minutes. You'll rescue him from home and he'll be much easier to deal with while time is healing him.
  • KNR. The Kid with No Rules at Home." This kid is dangerous. This kid likes to gather a posse and expand his horizons. Be careful you don't sit that kid next to "The Kid With the Divorced Parents."
  • KND. The Kid with No Dad." This kid will seek out a male example. If there is a male drama teacher at your school, you are in luck. Better hope this male is an outstanding member of the community. That will be your kids new dad, whether you like it or not.
  • K2R."The Kid with Too Many Rules at Home." That kid can't really participate in drama because drama becomes the kid's new master and can't really compete with parents that want their child home where they can see them....all the time.... They are usually full of social problems too. I hope those parents like their kid, because they will be stuck with them... forever. 
  • KHS. The Home-Schooled Kid. (These last two usually fit together...in Utah) I always feel bad for this kid because their moms will show up at the school dances. They traditionally become "loners" because they don't know how to play by the social "rules." They eat by themselves or with siblings. It takes them a long time to assimilate and sometimes, they never do. These kids will either be at home for a long, long time, or they will flee as soon as they are able, never to return. Look out. 
  • SRK. The Self-Righteous Kid. This kid is arrogant and vocal about his religious beliefs. Only hurts and isolates himself. These kids often come wrapped up in a KHS package with a little K2R for seasoning. If you don't cut the "swears" out of your play, you will most definitely hear from SRK's parents - SSRP - Super Self-Righteous's Parents.  This child will (in 100% of the cases I have seen) turn on the rules one day and it will be as dramatic and intolerant to those rules as they were obedient. S.C.A.R.Y. Love. We must teach tolerance and love.
  • KL. "The Kid that Lies." This kid will say anything to get out of trouble. If it's a Drama kid, those kids are chronic exaggerators. (I know because I was one) They LOVE to tell a story and get a reaction. Put that kid in a drama class and make him compete with other kids in this category. If for anything else, I love to see the cat fight. The "Drama Queen" will arise forth and join another category.
  • DQ. The Drama Queen. This girl needs attention for deep seated reasons, but mostly because she just likes attention. She will usually break bones, be at the doctor constantly, create rumors...etc... My personal favorite is when she puts herself on vocal rest, and hangs a sign around her neck that says "Can't Talk Today - Vocal Rest." Who does she think she is, Adele? Yes. Yes, she does.
  • KRHCO. The Raging Homosexual Kid that Just Needs to Come Out Before He Hurts Someone." Also called the "Drama King." Not because he's always cast, but because he create drama. This kid is one of the most dangerous because all the girls are in love with him. He LOVES girls. He's nice to the girls. He wants to BE a girl. He pays close attention to the girls and they love that. Warning: he's just studying you...like a character study for his role in a drag show. He's not at all interested in anything else. You are wasting your time if you think you will change him, or he will get crazy and go "straight for you." Uh huh. That ship has sailed. In fact, that ship never even left the dock. It creates M.A.Y.H.E.M. Never has their been greater drama in the drama department than when KCO chooses a BFF. O.Y.V.E.Y. Choke....cat hair everywhere.
  • KHO "The Kid that Hurts Other Kids." This kid does not care about other kids. He is a world class narssicist. He also doesn't care if he hurts you, the teacher. Watch out for this kid he will make you cry too. Unfortunately, he needs you - to slap him - no just kidding. He needs you to find out why he hurts so it can be stopped. Sometimes this is a horrible situation. These kids usually don't exist in the drama department....for very long. Because of . . .
  • KLE. The Kid that Loves Everyone. This kid has no love filter. But usually needs you behind them to pick up their pieces when they realize everyone isn't like them. They are naive. They are clingy. They will do anythiing you need them to do and then go backstage and cry when they aren't getting the love in return. This kid sometimes becomes an amazing stage manager...if you can get them to fight back.
  • KNS. The Kid that Needs Strokes. DO NOT stroke a kid. Rule number one. Literally. ;-) But figuratively speaking, these kids are sometimes ignored and will do things, like buy pizza for the entire cast, and then not pay his activity fee. There is usually a reason for this. This kid might also be missing a parent at home or they might be an only child. You can divert this energy into a positive by getting them into a play and let them experience a standing ovation. You'll be stuck with them for life, however, tread carefully. They will do anything for the applause, even push themselves with private lessons. Remember this....
  • NHNH. Nice House Nobody Home. The beautiful kids. Never dangerous, just focused on other things besides school. Sometimes they need you to remind them to put away their phones, mirrors, and hairspray before they take your test or go out on stage. They sometimes lack a serious GPA but they will always be serious about lipgloss. These kids sometimes have issues like bulemia and cutting. Sometimes they need you to figure out that they have very low self-esteem and might just be a KNS in disguise that doesn't get enough S at home. 
  • KSBP. The Kid that's the Studentbody President. Might not come to class because he also thinks he's employed by the school. It's confusing to him why teachers don't just hand him a great grade for being.... G.R.R.R.R.R.E.A.T. He expects you to consider him for a lead. This kid needs a reality check. Give him a progress report every week, cast him in the ensemble and become good friends with his parents. They will probably fund your program or at the very least, send you a gift card to Olive Garden for your trouble. KSBP will gladly make the rules, but doesn't think the rules apply to him.
  • KS. The Kid that Sleeps in Class. Wake that damn kid up. Call his mother about his texting, IM-ing, porn addiction or Facebook fetish in the middle of the night. BUT make sure it isn't because he is working all night to support his family. 
  • KA. The Kid that Can NOT Get Anything Less than an "A." Danger Will Robinson. Prepare for a fight. Prepare to be blamed for losing his/HER homework. Prepare to justify your test questions. Prepare to read papers that are twice as long as they should be. Prepare to have long conversations with HER parents about how wonderful she is at Parent/Teacher Conference. Prepare to give her a cheap A just to avoid all of the above situations.
  • KJ. The Kid with a Job. Put him in the ensemble. He will be leaving rehearsal early every day.
  • KUF. The Kid With Unnatural Fear. This kid might seize up when anyone is looking at him . He won't do you any good unless you can crack that fear with love and patience. I once had a seventh grader urinate in his pants infront of a class right before he gave an oral speaking assignment. I thought it would be good for him to just take a crack at it. I was wrong. I was a bad teacher that day. MAKE SURE you don't attempt to crack that kid infront of his peers. If he's a great singer...you might attempt to crack him one on one, you need him. If he's not, see what he thinks about the light booth.
  • KNH. The Kid that Never Goes Home. This kid has replaced his parents with you. They are often the oldest in a big family, or they have terrible issues at home. They often feel like they don't get enough attention at home... OR...at home, he has responsibilities and would rather stay at school, at rehearsal, where its fun. There might be issues there, tread carefully. Never take this kid home, to his house, or yours. The best thing to do is make rehearsal a living hell, a constant place of productivity. ;-) Easy enough. You want to get rid of him? Make home look like heaven in comparison. You want to help him? Be his extra parent when he needs you to be.
  • KPT. The Kid that Plays You Against Other Teachers. "I can't take that makeup test, Mrs. Hall. Mrs. Hunsaker said she is going to kick me out of the play if I don't come to rehearsal on time." "Mr. Williams won't let me wrestle if you don't give me an A on my assignment today." "Mrs. Hunsaker said nothing is more important than this play, especially math. She said she hasn't used math since 1975. She said Math is stupid...infront of the whole school...over the announcements....every day last week...."
  • AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON..."
So in honor of being here in Nebraska this week, I will add to the list as I have seen more kids this week fit into neat little categories of fun.

Here we go....It's my blog and I'm sayin' it.
  • NK. Naked Kid. It's been hot and very humid here this week. If you could see how little they are wearing when they leave the dorms in the morning, you would D.I.E. My girls look like they are going to a Winter sledding party in comparison. Some NK's have no qualms about their bodies. They just don't know how naked they are because it wasn't taught to them like it was to me, or to my girls. Some NK's know better and are just acting out since mom's not around. The skirts start getting tighter and shorter, the cleavage is abundant. These NK's aren't here for the education. They have other objectives. 
  • KBPA. The Kid with a Borrowed Political Agenda. This kid is very similar to the Self-Righteous darling. Only replace religion with politics. And usually blaring right wing politics. Say for example, this KBPA has two dads, you will never hear the end of it if you automatically say something like "take this paper home to your mom and have her sign it," which we have been saying since the dawn of time. Never fear KBPA's, we aren't judging you, it's just taking us a little while to remember to turn on our politically correct button, 2012. We will get better. Give us a break and we will give you one. 
  • KBH. The Kid that Spends Hours and Hours Infront of the Bathroom Mirror. We have one in our dorm, I've noticed. She spreads out her tools in our shared bathroom beginning at 5 in the morning. Gotta give her props for getting up so early. This kid sometimes has anxiety about her looks because her parent, or boyfriend has created that. (And maybe not) They have every tool known to mankind that promises some kind of beauty miracle. They believe that other kids are taking hours and hours studying them throughout the day. They aren't. Nobody really looks at anybody anymore. I can't remember what shirt Andy wore yesterday. I hope it was ironed. (I bet it wasn't.) Hey, KBH NOBODY IS LOOKING AT YOU. Go back to bed. Or go to class. You are constantly, chronically late for school. Might be time for you to start your lifelong addiction to Prozac.
  • The opposite of the KBH is the KDGAS. The Kid that Doesn't Give a S#!t. If it's a girl, I usually LOVE this girl. This girl gets up with 30 minutes to spare, showers, throws her hair into a messy bun, tosses on mascara and bolts to class. She confidently wears whatever is clean and might add crazy jewelry that will become next weeks trend. She is comfortable going to the bathroom by H.E.R.S.E.L.F. Whoa. She doesn't care. She is totally independent. She knows everyone is looking at her and they probably are. Because she knows that grades, confidence and goals get a girl noticed. Side note: If this girl is overweight and needs someone to say "you shouldn't wear those Daisy-Dukes sweet girl, because you are going to get an infection from something riding up in your Promised Valley," then an adult, a KIND adult, should pull her aside and tell her that. At this conference, each day is themed and ends with a clothing themed dance. Okay, it's a costume thing.  Anyway, because the campus is so big  and the kids are so busy, they will dress in their "costume" all day rather than have to go back and change before the dance. I saw a KDGAS girl walking infront of me yesterday that was loud and proud. She was wearing pink zebra tights and a tiny tutu. I wouldn't have normally cared (because I'm a sort of KDGAS myself, but part of the six inch-long tutu was stuck in the back of her zebra tights exposing a zebra covered butt cheek with a mind of it's own. Andy and I just looked at each other with that look that says "You gonna tell her?" and neither of us felt like we should. It was just too funny. Would have ruined the moment. I liked her bravado. You go girl.
  • What if the KDGAS is a boy? I don't get this boy. He doesn't care about his grades, he isn't very confident at all, and because of that he has very few social skills except with other kids that DGAS. But because of KDGAS we have some of the greatest rock bands of all time. If that kid is motivated to practice his instrument 6 hours a day. Too bad the percentage of good music to massive drug abuse and homelessness are so lop-sided. Well, unless they have parents that are enabling that kind of behavior and that brings me to: 
  • KFF. The Kid with the Force Field. Now I'm all for helping and defending your kid when they lack the skills to do it for themselves. I'm an advocate for kids and I believe in that. BUT - you know who I'm talking about: this kid knows his mom will come to his rescue even if he's caught smoking pot in the hills behind the school, by the principal himself. This mom is delusional. This mom needs to be slapped. (my blog!) This kid will be forced to audition  (or be paid) by mom and when he gets put in the ensemble, he can't take direction, he can't abide by stage etiquette, he just DGAS because he's KFF. This kid is going to live with his mom forever. She wants that. S.C.A.R.Y. 
  • GKSM. The Gifted Kid with the Stage Mom. These kids are usually very talented, scary talented. But they come carrying a big piece of baggage and you will have to deal with that. So you are actually tempted not to use this kid because you don't want to deal with this mom. Ever. Mom decides that the two of you are enemies. In actuality, the two of you want the same thing. Since I've taught in a charter school, I've seen SO MANY hovering moms that mean well, but need someone like me to say "back off Jack(ie), your kid is awesome and will be awesome." For example, this kid loves drama at the expense of wild fights with his mother over practicing the violin (or doing Science). This kid tells his mom only what she wants to hear. If the mom isn't a native English speaker, (I've had a few more Asian OM's, I admit it) this kid takes advantage of that big time. This kid loves his mom, and loves his culture (or religion) and wants to be a successful violin player (doctor, etc...), but just wants to be a kid for now. This kid will probably be a world-class violinist (doctor) one day, thanks to you, mom. Both of them need to stop rolling their eyes at each other and take a deep breath for once. When is the last time mom went on vacation? I know! Moms need vacations too! Everything is gong to work out. Your KOM is amazing. I've actually had parents ask me to discourage their child from taking a drama class because she wanted her child to do something "productive." That was interesting. I don't think she knows I'm that teacher that thinks drama should be a mandatory core curriculum class like Math. She didn't know. It was only ugly for a minute.
  • KWA. This is the kid that wants it all. This kid can handle so much. This is a young master multi-tasker with giant cahones. She piles her plate high with responsibilities and she gets MOST of them done...She is confident and has a vision of her success. If she doesn't know how to do something she will find out. She is not afraid. She rocks the world! She is in control of everything except...she forgets to sleep and eventually, she has health related issues from missing all that sleep, and will for the rest of her life. Katie Rogel, I'm talking to you. 
And on that note (I really could go on and on but I'll save a few for later) I want to give a shout out to the parents of all the kids that I am au pair-ing this week. You are here too! I've seen it all week! I've seen you all in your kids. You are, without a doubt, the hardest working, most caring, loving, aware and invested parents I know. I have news for you. Because you have cared about your investment, your product is going to sell! It's going to be very successful.

Do you know how amazing your children are? I think you do. But I just want to tell you from my point of view in the very expensive and very-close seats, that you have raised a group of kids that are going to be better than okay. When they go away from you, they are the SAME kid you know. They get up, they go to classes, they are respectful and they are leaders. They are the kind of people that get everything they want out of life, because they are NOT AFRAID to try it all. They might try a few dumb things every once in a while, but they are smart enough to take everything good away from those experiences too. You have been there to pick them up and push them back into the game, and we will ALL have to continually do that until they can get up on their own. Some of the kids in the world aren't as lucky as your kids have been. But this week I'm surrounded by such good kids that already stand up when they fall. They are not afraid to speak up, volunteer, answer questions, obey the rules. They are the kinds of kids that you spent your life praying they would become.

YOU DID IT.

I also know that you are worried about how they will fair next year with their new au-pair. They will be great. It might be scary at the beginning, but they are smart enough to know that life give you many opportunities and this is one of those GOOD ones. They will glean from it because of who they are. I'm so glad to have these last few days with them in preparation for that new journey. But you don't need to worry about them because I KNOW they are the "captains of their soul."

I have such good faith in my kids and the Thespians of the world. They are civil, cultured, smart, problem-solvers, team members, movers and shakers, leaders. We're going to need them once they learn how silly the pink zebra tights are...and they will figure that out eventually.

Stay close mom and dad, they need you more than anyone, but for now, let the zebra-tights have a mind of their own. They'll work themselves out eventually.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Portrait of an All American Dad or "He Parked Near the Door."

Joseph David Shelton, my awesome dad.
 Andy, is a Priceline pro so we decided to give my parents a trip to California for Christmas, anticipating my youngest brother Brad's graduation from Cal State Fullerton with an MFA in Technical Theatre which we all wanted to witness personally. The hotel was triangle-shaped and the doors to the rooms opened up to the inside. The hotel atrium, including the seating for their restaurant was ten floors below. We were staying on the tenth floor. It was the end of May and California is showing off in May. Flowers everywhere, gorgeous weather and Priceline had been good to us again. We were staying at [a very nice hotel] I'll refrain from naming it to protect...my dad...the not so innocent.

Sunday morning we got up to go to church with Brad and Ashley (his wife). At the set time, I walked out to the balcony to knock on my parents door which was two doors down. I saw my dad, who was all dressed up for church, with his back against the door of his room, one finger up to his lips in the "shhhhhhh" gesture. I cocked both eyebrows when I saw him because I have never seen my dad so scared. He was even breathing hard holding his other hand on his chest like he was about to have a heart-attack. His face was beet red. We don't take than too lightly.

"What's wrong dad?" I whispered. "I, I...I went down and bought a Diet Coke from the machine...it was really cold. And it was only $1.25, imagine that, you can't even get Diet Coke for that price at Walmart..." So much information, I thought. I looked at him, he was not holding a Diet Coke. "What'd you do with it? Where is it now?" I asked. He just pointed down. T.E.N. floors down.

He pulled me into the room and shut the door. He was in that "just-about-to-cry,-laugh-or poop-don't-know-which, moment as he explained.

He's always the first one dressed for church. So while he was waiting for the rest of us, he went to the hotel vending machine and got a plastic 20 oz. bottle of the nectar of the Gods and walked back to his room. He leaned over the balcony, elbows resting on the rail, and as he unscrewed the bottle's cap, the condensation got the better of him and it slipped out of his grip and fell ten floors to it's death... just in front of the registration desk. As if in slow motion, he watched it go about four floors before his mind registered the fact that his face was clearly visible to the people below as he watched the spectacle happen. He took two quick steps back against the door just as the explosion went off. That sound brought my mom out of the room. She said it sounded like a gun shot. That's so Utah of her..."oooh someones firing a gun, let's go OUT and see what's going on..."

I appeared about ten seconds after it hit and that's why he looked like he was in cardiac arrest.

Andy had joined the group at this point, and said "what's wrong?" Assuming from the looks on our faces that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. "I lost my Diet Coke," he said, as if one of his children had just died. Andy said, "do you need more change? I have some more change in the room." "No," I said in disgust, "he can't be trusted. He dropped the first one over the ledge." At which time all three of us pointed down with our index fingers as if we were dipping our finger repeatedly in a pot of jam. Because he is not a Shelton, Andy's brain clicked from one to 792 in a single second. "Get in the elevator as fast as you can before they check the camera's and come to arrest us." C.A.M.E.R.A.S?

A chorus of words were uttered that all began with "S" and should not be said as you are on your way to church.

We had seen prom couples checking in the night before so I said "Maybe they'll just think it was some hung over Prom King." "To the elevator, NOW," Andy said, and we went as we were commanded. I jabbed at the button a few times. I sure needed to pee all the sudden. My mom hadn't stopped nodding her head back and forth in disbelief since she heard the shot ring out. My dad said "I wish I had a Diet Coke right now." And that broke the tension and we burst into fits of shushed giggling and could not stop.

It took forty days and forty nights for the elevator to come to our floor. Andy was trying to get the story again, but I was hysterical and trying not to pee my dress. Mom was still shaking her head.

When the doors finally opened there was an official looking man in a suit and a scowl, that stepped out and turned down our hall as we dashed into the elevator and Andy pushed the lobby button...about twenty times. "That was so close," he said. "You could have spent the night in the hotel brig." No one was breathing. Down we went. Dad, with his perfect comic timing as usual, just said "ten floors is quite a drop." Then we all started laughing until we got to the bottom floor......................

Then it wasn't funny anymore.

We had to pass by the registration desk as we left. I popped my head out and looked around for an alternate exit, but mom just started walking "Joe, just go over there and apologize," she said in her pragmatic mom voice. "They'll look on the tapes and see that it was accident." "No, no, dad, just keep walking, avert your eyes, look natural" I said as we passed about 5 cleaning ladies in uniforms wiping down the furniture, plants and tile in a twenty foot radius around the point of impact. "My word," he said "what happened here?"

Joseph William Shelton
I have no idea what the church meeting was about.

Joseph David Shelton (my dad) was born at the end of the depression, the beginning of World War II in Lehi, Utah. His mother was a saint.  He had two sisters, one older and one younger. He was a copy of his  father whom he never really knew, because Joseph Sr. died in a Sanatorium from Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung disease) when my dad, was only 5 years-old. He had gone to work in the gold mines during the depression, to save money to buy a cattle ranch. My brothers also look just like this ..........................................................}

There were men in his life after that, uncles, grandparents and a step dad...but he was raised primarily by my grandmother Leona, one of the great and original single moms. So what he learned about being a dad, he learned from all sorts of people. He was/is an amazing father.

I wrote a play about love. The central
characters were my dad's parents. This is
my dad, his sister (left) , Leona (center back)


Leona always took them to church and when he turned 19 he served an LDS mission to Mexico back in the D.A.Y. when there were only two missions in the entire country and when you served for 12 years. Just kidding. But he was in Mexico for 30 months. That's a bunch of months. And now there are dozens of missions there. Mexico made a huge impression on him.

We wore this costume for many a Halloween.














And when he returned home, instead of becoming a dentist, as he had thought, he became a Spanish and History teacher. He got his Bachelors from BYU.

Dad (far right) Sucking it in. Vintage.
I blame him for my tunnel vision for teaching. Ever since I was old enough to wield a stapler, I helped him with his bulletin boards, straightened his desks and graded papers. I don't remember a time when he didn't have a stack of papers sitting next to his chair that needed to be graded.

When you teach eighth graders for 35 years you might be certifiably crazy. You will also have taught THOUSANDS of kids. I never had a class from him but I know he was a great teacher. He has a bunch of tangible teaching awards...but MORE importantly than that, I will be...anywhere in the world and people will come up to me and say "Your dad was my favorite teacher," or "I just loved your dad, he was my Spanish teacher." One day a lady came up to me in Disneyland and started singing La Cucaracha and I thought I was on Candid Camera. Nope. She just wanted to say, "Your dad taught me that song 30 years ago and I still remember it. He was..." "Wait! Let me guess! Your favorite teacher?" "YES! He was so funny! Is he still alive?" "No. He died in jail. He was serving time for dropping a Diet Coke on Bill Marriott. (pause...wait for a reaction) Just kidding!"

So when you are the child of a great teacher, a remarkable, wonderful teacher, you have big shoes to fill. I live with that every day. It does not haunt me. It drives me. He set a standard of excellence for me that is still coming through his students eight years after he retired. I want to live up to that. He always said "no one is going to remember Spanish when they are an adult, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

So, on this Father's Day weekend, I pay tribute to my dad with this list.
"The Top Ten Things that People will Remember Long After Joe Shelton Dies of a Diet Coke Overdose"


New bishop workin' a red jacket. Woot!
  1. He was a Bishop (ecclesiastical ward leader) for nearly a decade. They made him a Bishop when he was just 31 years old. He bonded the Ninth Ward by taking them all camping every Spring break to our pristine national state parks. Those people are still like family to me. I remember when he sang in a barbershop quartet with other men in the ward and they would practice at our house. He's always used his talents in the ward choir. He's done name extraction (now called indexing) and been a temple worker. He was the Branch president of a group of missionaries at the Missionary Training Center...he's a leader in the church. A Super Mormon. His testimony of the restored gospel will burn a hole in your soul. Careful if you hear him bear it...it will change your life forever.
Ninth Ward Campout 1978! Hilarious! 
2.     He was a tax-paying, three-job working fool. After teaching all day, he would clean the Lehi Seminary building. Then after that he would go to his third job, which was also custodial and when he finally got his last child through college he was able to retire from all of those jobs. He did that so my mom could stay home with us. No wonder he takes a few naps these days. He's catching up.

3.   He is a great neighbor. He plants a garden that could feed a Uzbekistan. Things just grow when he puts them in the ground. I did NOT inherit this talent. I'm really excited to live nearer that garden this year. It's the most amazing, inspiring thing.  The thing is...he gives most of it away to the neighbors. I remember when he would bring home movies from school. The kind you wind into a machine that sits on a table and shoots the film toward a big sheet that your mom would hang on the paneled wall? My mom would make popcorn balls or homemade doughnuts for the entire neighborhood and everyone would come over and watch these movies about American History.  Johnny Tremain was my favorite.

4.   He saves his change in a silver garbage can at the end of every day. After a year or two (or three) he takes it down to the bank and turns it in for real money... a lot of real money. Enough money to fly his entire family (including grand kids) to Disneyland kind of money. The man uses cash. I'm not sure if he even owns a credit card. He is famous for saying "what the hell it's only money" after he drops a couple hundred dollars on fireworks or rodeo tickets or anything that will bring us all together for memory making. Don't forget he also paid for all those weddings and missions. Who would ASK for that kind of responsibility? Joe Shelton did! 

5.   He has a Masters Degree in Spanish and he got that by teaching me how to speak Spanish when I was 9. It was some kind of "immersion" project for his Thesis. Sometimes I listen to Telemundo and translate it for Andy just for kicks and giggles. I can't speak it, but buried in the back of my brain is 9-year-old Spanish. I remember how hard that was for him. I'm sure I had ADHD then. But he did it because it meant he would get a raise. He has never been in the dad business for the money

6.   He has a deep and abiding love for Mexico and the Mexican people. In 1974 or 5, he took his four kids (at the time) wife, their mothers, and two aunts to Mexico City in a motor home. From Northern Utah to M e x i c o  C i t y. In a motor home. In July. With four old ladies that smelled like Pero and didn't speak Spanish. La Cucaracha! Sweet memories. (cough)

7.   My parents never argued in front of us. It's the absolute truth. I never knew if they were arguing because they must have done it behind closed doors. It wasn't until I was about 12 or so that I learned the vocabulary word divorce, and that was probably from the T.V. Maybe that's why I was so picky about who I married. But no...because none of my sisters were very picky. HEHEHEHE...just kidding!! The fact is, my sisters ALL married men that are just like my dad and so did I. Why wouldn't we? Mom, don't answer that. When Andy ask him if he could marry me, the only thing he said was "what the hell took you so long?

8.   He taught us the value of a dollar. He's that guy that buys a home and pays it off. He's that guy that helps his children buy homes and cars because with a credit score that high, banks start to salivate the minute he walks through the door. Right after I built my home in Lehi he appeared one day and said "Charlie will be by on Saturday to put your sprinkler system in." Then shortly after that a load of sod came and he laid it. Then shortly after that he and my mom planted masses of tulips in my yard and they magically came up. They knew I was alone. Then when we lost Noah, they allowed me to use the other half of their Katie's plot to bury their grandson. I could go on, but I'd better stop before my siblings start getting jealous. They don't have a huge home or take vacations around the world, they take care of their kids.

9.   He has 8 children and let me think about it....23 grand kids including a new little girl that is due any minute now. He will attend someones high school graduation for the next 21 years. Even though I don't have children (I did count Noah) he came to Scotland with me to chaperone "my kids." 40 drama kids. He was one of four people that stayed awake on the train from London to Edinburgh. He played cards with my boys. I'll cherish that trip all my days. My students have always called him Papa Joe.

10.   I could go on and on but I promised only 10, so finally, if you go shopping with Papa Joe, you never have to worry about a parking space opening up near the door. There is ALWAYS space near the door if you are with him. It's some kind of spell. SO...he and my mom had their gravestone done (already - yes and thanks) and on the back it has all our names and then it says "HE PARKED NEAR THE DOOR." Who does that? This guy does:

If you take grapes from him, warning: you never know where they've been.
This picture has been tacked to a cork board in my office for years. It's
to remind me to lighten up and don't take myself too seriously.

Next year, on May 10, they will have been married 50 years.
 Still, did they have to get their headstone so early?
At least its a bench. Thanks for that. Oh and thanks for
putting it next to the babies. Forever babysitting. I'm sincerely grateful.

Dad, I'm sorry about those years from 18 - 20 when we wanted to kill each other. I was stupid. You did alright though. None of your kids went to jail (that you know of) and only a few of us are addicted to anything stronger than Diet Coke. ;-) Not many men these days would take on the jobs, follow through with the responsibilities, magnify your talents like you have done, and make so many sacrifices. But the absolute prize-winning decision you made in your entire life was to marry Kay Smith. Thanks for that too.

You are an incredible example to the world.

Happy Father's Day to Papa Joe aka the world's greatest dad.

I LOVE this picture from 1973-4! (ish?)  Inner monologues:
Dad: "Open your eyes everybody!" (Sheltons are know for their squinty eyes)
Mom: "Just take the picture already."
Jan: "What is Steve wearing?"
Steve: "I look goooooood. Wish the sun wasn't in my eyes. I'm going to stand here like the Sears model I am."
Paula: "I wish I could get out of this head lock."
Penny: "Squirrel!"
P.S. Happy Father's Day to my beloved Andy, Stupendous Steve, Charming Charles, Genuine Joel, Cool Kyle, Awesome Andy and Bold Brad. Thank you for being such amazing men.






Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Octo Mom: Don't Mess with The Omniscient

If you take the Washington Parkway exit, going south on I-15 (toward Las Vegas) go through the roundabout to the stop sign and turn right. You will see a giant turf farm ahead on the right. Turner Turf farm. It's gorgeous. It's so greeeeeeeeeeeen. When you live amongst the red rock, green stuff is pretty rare. We live right across the street so I get to watch it grow and change. I love both growth and change.

The Turner Turf Farm will always remind me of the Washington Eighth Ward. My family away from family that picked me up when we were on the heels of losing Noah. When we arrived, we were a liability. We were like walking zombies. That ward, saw our "wick."

In the musical The Secret Garden, Mary discovers the garden and thinks it's dead. Dickon, the house help explains:

Dickon:
When a thing is wick, it has a life about it
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there's a single streak of green inside it.
Come and let me show you what I mean.

For my non-Mormon readers, a "ward" is a group of Mormons that live near you and attend the same church building with you every week. When I lived in Japan I had to travel 2 hours to church every week, because the closest ward building was in Hammamatsu. I know a couple of them read my blog! Shout out to the Hammamatsu Ward! They became my Japanese family away from family. I didn't understand a word of what was being spoken in church, but the Spirit was the same. Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." I understand that Hammamatsu has it's own stake now. WOOT! Wards are powerful groups of people that look after each other. It's ingenious really. As if God himself thought it up. Ha!

Dickon:
When a thing is wick, it has a light around it...


When we started looking for a house to buy in St. George, we didn't pray for a great house, we prayed for a great ward. We told the Lord that we would go where He needed us. But, in the end, He sent us to people that we needed. Don't mess with the Omniscient.

I think the whole purpose of a ward is to gather and organize the saints to build group strength. This ward rebuilt me. It had only been eight weeks since our son Noah died when we first walked into this new ward. It took us a few weeks to actually get up the nerve to go to church. What would we say when they asked us the obvious question, "Do you have any kids?" Well...we knew what to say, I just hated making people uncomfortable with the answer. Bishop Turner didn't flinch. I remember that he said "Well, the Lord has a different plan for everybody, doesn't he?" Perfect. Yes. A different plan for us, for Noah too. We were older newlyweds without children. Not strange to Bishop Turner, but unique. Like we were the missing puzzle piece. I remember that he said the ward could use an injection of our skills and our "youth." I liked him immediately.

As we were walking into the chapel for the first meeting, Bishop Turner's wife approached us. She walked right up to us and said "Hey...are you new or just visiting?" Like it was no big deal. I felt instantly at ease with her not because she was observant, but because she was so real. So grounded. She looked me straight in the eye and I was feeling so self-conscious about the still-very-apparent-post-pregnancy weight I was carrying around with me like a protective blanket.

The Turners
Dickon: 
You clear away the dead parts
So the tender buds can form
Loosen up the earth and let the roots get warm


Come a mild day, come a warm rain
Come a snowdrop, a-comin' up!
Come a lily, come a lilac!
Come to call, callin' all the rest to come and see!


It takes a long time to get to know the entire ward. These families were "old" Washington families. They came from pioneer blood just like I did. But there are always about 350 - 400 of them. And we spent most of our days and nights at Tuacahn. So here's the funny thing - because she sat with her kids in the front, I had this kind of reverence for her because I thought she was a single mom. F.O.R. A. Y.E.A.R. I'd sit and look at those amazing kids and say "there's that lady that went out of her way to get to know me."

Well, one of the early callings we got was to compile a ward contact list. As I was typing along one day, I came upon the bishop's name, then directly under his name...her name! "Her last name is Turner?!" And there were all their kids! I laughed for an hour. She wasn't single. Her husband was just the ward leader and sat on the stand in front of us/them. Look who's completely UNobservant. WOW. My respect level for her skyrocketed that day. Any bishop's wife (or single mom...same thing) deserves a medal for sure.

Mary:
When a thing is wick and someone cares about it
And comes to work (church) each day, like you and me,
Will it grow?


Dickon:
It will.


Mary:
Then have no doubt about it
We'll have the grandest garden ever seen! 


Our neighborhood filled out pretty quickly because our town homes, in 2007, were a great buy (little did we know). So over the first six months we met the people in our neighborhood, the Jewkes family, the Gordons, the Ricks and the Porters. Young, beautiful people with babies. So many babies.

People assume sometimes that if you have had a hard time having children of your own, that you are resentful of those that can successfully have children. It's melodramatic to think that every time I saw all those babies coming into the neighborhood that I was increasingly discouraged about my own fate. I wasn't. Not every time. ;-) The way to get over that is to get to know the people that have those babies and assume a shared responsibility to keep the neighborhood safe for the kids. "It takes a village" kind of thing....Then they sort of become your kids too. Aiden, Lydia and Zander became my kids too. But I don't have to pay for their college education, the cars they wreck or Prom. Such a great arrangement.

Aiden and Zander proving to me that
they can both fit in the dog kennel..
I've been known to discipline Gus by saying "You want a spank?" and it shuts him right up. I've never actually spanked him, but I think he knows it could be V.E.R.Y. bad. Aiden and Zander got inside our dog kennel one day and started talking to each other as if they were Gus and Lily. It was hilarious.

Zander: (barking, bark, barking, bark, bark)
Aiden:  You want a spank?
Zander:  (thinks)  No.
Aiden:  Well, you're gonna get one if you don't stop barking, kid.
Zander:  I'll give you a spank.
Aiden: I wasn't barking.
Zander: Oh.... Let's play zoo. I'll be a tiger.
Aiden: I'll be a tornado. (Aiden loves tornados)

I could be having the worst day, and those two boys will show up and turn it upside down for me. I'm really going to miss them.

Dickon: You give a living thing, a little chance to grow,
That's how you will know if she is wick, she'll grow. 
So grow to greet the morning,
Leave the ground below, 
When a thing is wick it has the will to grow and grow!



I believe that after you have had a formal education, God puts certain people in your path that teach you what you need to know to continue growing as you live through the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Another reason for wards! God is great! An example:

Effie (we also call her Jackie Kennedy
but she probably hates the
connection to a democrat! Love you
Effie!)
One day in our women's meeting, a beautiful sister named "Effie" talked about dealing with the death of her first husband. I was just getting through the days then. My depression was bad. Yet here was this woman, the classiest, smartest woman I have ever known talking about her darkest moments in her soft southern drawl. A thought was given to me, "this is what it looks like on the other end." Not that I needed to "get over it", push it away, or avoid thinking about it, but that I would have to go through it. I would decide how the unfortunate events in my life would leave their mark on me. On Andy. Effie is the picture of radiance, togetherness and courage. My loss paled in comparison. She lifted me up and she didn't even know it. Because of her, I started smiling at people again. Effie taught Sunday School and she would call on Andy because he had a big actor voice. Effie really left an impression on both of us. Right after we started sitting up straighter, Bishop Turner called us in and asked us to teach Primary.

Year one. 10 year-olds. There was a kid. His name was Shandon. He looked like a mini-Andy. The first day of Primary, we were getting introductions. He said "My name's Shandon, but you can call me Penguin." Dang, dang... I was squeezing my knees together to keep from laughing. We love that kid and have watched him turn into an incredible young man. Couldn't be that his parents are absolute pillars of awesomeness, could it? Yes... that's surely it.

Year two, our second calling - wait, did I explain what a calling is? Reading back...no.... A calling is a job. A volunteer assignment, responsibility. Mormons don't have a paid clergy. We all just kick in our skills and hope it turns out okay. Our second calling was the activities chair people, and our first assignment was to plan a Christmas party for 350 people. I don't ever, EVER, say no to a calling because I have GUILT. We can discuss that later. So I called my mom who said "have a Christmas breakfast and then it's over by 10 in the morning." Dang, she's brilliant. The bishop said "have it catered." E.A.S.Y. But then I was over budget. So I assigned the leadership in the ward to make pancakes, the women to do juice, and I had the egg casserole catered in, the Warby's sang, (I love the Warby's!) the wonderful Jones Family helped us decorate the room.

But because I had not flogged myself enough, (too much delegating gives me guilt) I also made a Victorian style Santa suit for Andy which I had always wanted to do anyway. Santa would show up, read a Christmas story to the entire group, hold the kids on his lap, and mysteriously leave for the North Pole (via Honda). "Being Santa" was Andy's calling for three years. What the...? S.O. U.N.F.A.I.R. But, dang, he looks so good in that suit. I can't help myself, we always make out when he's in the suit, sans beard, of course. (and only once a year....just kidding!) T.M.I?

Mary:
Come a mild day, come a warm rain
Come a snowdrop, a-comin' up!
Come a lily, come a lilac!
Come to call, callin' all the rest to come and see!

I got called to teach in the Relief Society after that. Relief Society is the largest women's organization in the world. Literally. I will blog about my true feelings for R.S. but for now, just believe me. I USED TO hate Relief Society. But now I realize that what I hated, was that the lessons lacked a kind of modern sensibility for us girls that were bringing in the bacon all day and weren't raising kids like the ideal Mormon family. I felt that I could add here. But after an 14-hour work day, the last thing I needed was to prepare one more lesson.

So I prayed that God would show me, tell me, speak through me. I was so blessed during that time period. And I was happy to have a calling that required scripture study in depth. I learned how to depend on the Spirit because I had no other choice. I am indebted for the personal growth I received at the feet of God for that calling. But then one Sunday I substituted for the children's song leader and they found out I was musical. So long Relief Society.

My last calling, began exactly a year ago. I needed to teach the Primary kids (Sunday School for the kids under 12) how to sing. Mormons sing a lot. It's a calling you have to do every single week which is tough because...well, it's not tough I just don't get little kids. Give them to me when they are 14 and we all get along just fine. Those little ones, especially the 3 year-olds that can't read yet and are obsessed with their shiny shoes...the ones that shout out "my dad slept on the couch last night!" While holding their dresses up over their heads. I don't get those kids.

I digress...terribly.

At the end of every year, the kids get to present a sacrament meeting program where they sing about 12 songs, and give micro-talks about some theme. This year it's "Choosing the Right." Because a performance is involved, I GET THAT. That's right up my alley. I need those kids to sing out, Louise! They focus on a new song for the program each month. June's song is called "Nephi's Courage." I'm struck with the irony of this song as it relates to the fact that we are moving away, starting over.

The song is about Lehi, a Book of Mormon prophet and his family, that are told by God to leave Jerusalem and escape into the wilderness. His son Nephi is commanded to build a boat and sail to a new land even though they are without tools, without boat-building knowledge. He does it, because he has faith. He is "wick."

See...the reason I am all weepy about the Eighth Ward, is that today (Sunday) was our last week here because we are moving to the wilderness. Not literally, of course...yikes...but we are finally ready, thanks in part to our great friends and neighbors, to move on. To leave the ghosts behind. To find our promised land. Because of this incredible ward, we are "wick." Their love and devotion to God lifted me...showed me the way.

Don't wait for a ward to come to you....you must go to them...and keep going, and going... and over time, you will see their wick. And it will LIGHT you up! But it's up to you.

We will celebrate Father's Day at our friends, Jen and David's cabin - where did we meet them you say? In the ward! They too, have struggled with fertility. They are just like us. Doppelgangers even. You would like them. They are Mormons with a little sass. They are totally WICK! I will miss them most of all.

We still have a long ways to go. I mean, as I have been typing this blog, I have eaten an entire bowl of caramel popcorn. So no...I'm not there yet. But I'm growing.

Mary and Dickon:
Calling all the rest to come!
Calling all the world to come!


And all through the darkest nighttime, 
it's waiting for the right time.
When a thing is wick, it will grow!
                                                                                                                                   

Friday, June 8, 2012

Was Blind But Now I See

Today as I was packing my office desk, I found three pair of tweezers. All in different drawers. I have two pair in the car glove box. I'm excited to pack our bathroom.

Confession: because no one was at the school today except me, I went into the well-lit bathroom, looked around, looked under, took a newly found pair of tweezers out of my pocket and plucked away! Hahahaha.... the light in that bathroom is awesome! And since I have terrible eyesight, which I'll get into later, I need all the light I can get.

Is it a mute point though? Mormons believe that when we are resurrected, which is a gift we will all receive, we will get our bodies back "in the twinkling of an eye." Everything will be restored to it's perfect form...not a hair will be lost. For some people, they are really looking forward to that day (my brothers). However, I want to know if that means I will have a full head of hair (and I mean top, chin, sideburns, mustache..all of it) because if I don't tweeze, wax or in some way kill/extract my "extra" hair (and have since I was 12), people will think Big Foot lives in #14. I'd rather not appear on Good Morning America as the Sasquatch from Utah.  (My sisters and I have made pacts that if one of us was in a coma, the rest would be sure to pluck their chin hairs for them and wax their mustache. No need to look like an old Chinese man with ten rogue white whiskers while you lay there.)

Face it - the reason I don't have a fancy car is that I have spent THOUSANDS of dollars on electrolysis, laser treatments, wax strips...etc, 387 pair of tweezers....still, at my resurrection, I really hope there is a request form that let's us check the things we want to keep and the things we'd rather not get back.

I'll keep my sturdy German bones. I used to be so strong. I've never wanted to be stick skinny. 
I'll keep my hands...they are my mothers hands. 
I'll keep my back, I've never had back problems, knock on wood.
I'll keep my laid back ears, my eyebrows, nose, and hair color, circa 1976. 

but...

You can have the chin hairs and the Martin Scorsese eyebrow back. (singular)
I want my 14 year-old boobs back. 
I want my 25 year-old calves back, minus the spider veins.
I want my 31 year-old Phen-Phen body back. I had a chin then. And hip bones.
I'd like my 4 year-old eyelashes back.
I'd like my 8 year-old shiny hair back.
I'd like to be able to sneeze without thinking "should have worn a cotton pony."
I'd like to be able to walk up the stairs and hear myself think over my crackling knees. If Andy is behind me, he has to whistle or sing over the noise because it's a little like "Whistler's Mother" minus mother...just the rocking chair creaking against a wooden floor...only it's coming from my knees!

Most of all...

I want my eyesight back. It's starting to get me in trouble. I have the eyes of an 80 year-old woman. Today someone waved at me from a distance and I waved back, tentatively as if to say "hello...whoever you are." Sorry if that was you.

When I was just months old, one of my great aunts gave me an indian blanket because she thought I looked like a little Native American baby. I have really dark eyes. Black I'd say...not like "The Grudge" black but...close. My sisters all have warm rich sparkling brown tones. Mine are like cold tar. When I was on my mission in Thailand, investigators used to ask me if my father was Thai. (I usually said he was a Japanese Sumo wrestler to which they would cock their heads back and say "Aaaah... that explains everything." ???)

The darker your eyes are, the more pigment you have, the more likely you are to have your retinas fall off. There you go. Don't say I never taught you anything.

So one day back in 2002, or 3? I felt as if I was going blind. There was a dark moon-shaped shadow moving down my eyeball and I was quickly losing sight in my left eye. It was as if someone was pulling the blinds closed. Something inside of me said "call Dr. Taylor" and within 6 hours I was having retina surgery at the Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake. Dr. Taylor had taken a cataract out of that same eye about six months earlier.

They don't mess around with retinas. If you let it go too long it won't reattach itself. But mine was barely torn. They went into my eye, ironed the falling flap back up, put in a gas bubble, burned it in place and that was it. Because the tear was on the top, the gas bubble would rise, pressing the retina back into place until it dissolved. I didn't have to do much but keep my head out of the path of any flying balls, fists, or set pieces. I laid low for 24 hours until I had to build a wedding cake for some friends, and I got food glitter in my eye. For 10 minutes until the glitter had dissolved, I thought I was going to die. Turns out even food glitter can cut your eyeball. (Shout out to the WHEN cast!)

Forward to 2009, the day of the St. George Marathon. We were standing at the finish line (not because we had just run through it! Hahaha...you're funny) cheering my brothers on from the bleachers as they crossed it. I thought the sun was so bright. Unusually bright. I was trying to open my eyes wider but I couldn't. It seemed like I was going blind in my right eye, only this time, there was a lightning storm going off inside my head. There were thousands of small black "flies" swarming around in the air in front of me. Turns out I was just looking through loose blood cells. 

Because there is no retina surgeon in residence in St. George (WE NEED ONE!) my eye doctor said we would need to drive to Vegas as fast as we could get there, the tear was very close to the macula. The nurse called my current insurance and they said, "We will not cover an out-of-state surgery." Even though, it would only take me 90 minutes to get to Vegas and 4 1/2 hours to get to Salt Lake. Nor would they cover any doctors at the Moran Eye Center. Ah, modern insurance. We would have to wait until the next morning when the IHC doctors in Salt Lake were working. They assured me that if I took it easy, the tear would/could not get any worse. But by the time I arrived in Salt Lake, the tear had crossed the macula and I was completely blind in that eye, at that point. Because the tear was so bad, the new doc inserted a gas bubble behind my eye that would push the tear flat and, hopefully, encourage the two halves to be whole again. 

I was commanded to lay on my belly and looked down for two weeks. Not kidding. I had to keep that air bubble up against the rip. The doctors were afraid that the altitude in St. George would burst the bubble. So, my good sister Paula borrowed a massage table from a friend and I spent 24/14 looking at the carpet in the guest bedroom at my parent's house. BUT...I could SEE the carpet. The table was wooden, so my hips were screaming out...sleeping was nearly impossible, but I could see. I found ways to use my laptop on the floor and my cute nephew and I watched cartoons on Netflix for two weeks. He had a black eye at the time as three year-old boys often do, and the matching "ow-ees" bonded us.

At the end of the two weeks, it was discovered that the gas bubble hadn't worked. The tear wasn't sealed. So I went back to another doctor, another surgery, to put a silicone ball in my eye which would need to be removed (surgery three) in three months. But I didn't have to look down. And I wasn't blind. Because it took me so long to get into a doctor I lost a lot of peripheral vision, and 3-D movies are lost on me, but I still wear the glasses for Andy. He says it's not that cool anyway.

Imagine knowing how to put the human eye B.A.C.K. T.O.G.E.T.H.E.R. Imagine it! Spending eight years or twelve in school to learn how to put a retina, one of the smallest tissues in the body, back together to save someone's eyesight! Who thought that up? Who was the first guy to cut into an eyeball? To care enough about eyesight to go to Harvard or Standford or wherever expensive and get good grades to boot! I'm so grateful. I asked my first retina doctor why he chose to specialize in such a specific body part and he said "Great payoff. Restoring eye sight is pretty important, I guess."

Ya think?

Next time you are walking through nature, or watching a play, enjoying artwork, sunsets or just tweezing your chin hairs in a well-lit bathroom, think about how crazy amazing the human eyeballs are! When I think about all the people in the world that doubt the existence of God, I just have to think about the eyeball. Only someone omniscient could figure that out.

When I think about it, I get all teary-eyed. God gave us all a few million things to see too. Summertime in St. George brings in multitudes of flowers, those national parks, the extra long days and time to enjoy them a little. I just want to tell Him "thanks for the eyeball" - that was a pretty keen invention on His part. How did He know we would need our eyes so much? Because He needs His to watch over us every day.

I know. Woot! The eyeball! So cool.

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.


He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty
Who has made all things well.

Cecil Frances Alexander


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chim Chim Cherooo #4, "Wrong Shall be Right"

Note: We're having a tough time finding a small house or apartment that we can afford in Salt Lake. So this is 80% journey, 10% soapbox and 10% pity party. Just warnin' ya.

I'm beyond discouraged about what is happening to the basic American dream. Having never formally chosen a political party to side with, I don't even know who to blame. Knowing the diverse audience that constitutes "my  readers" I usually try to steer clear of political topics, I even banned the Mitt Romney/Orrin Hatch ads that kept appearing on my blog so that people wouldn't think I was ready to vote. I'm not even close. After the school year we've just had, and the housing debacle we are currently going through, I'm ready to punch them all in the chops. I want to get in a boxing ring with Barack AND Mitt...and right before I charge at them, (grab their hair and bonk their heads together) I will tell them this story:

I had to take out student loans to become a teacher because my dad was a teacher too. A great one. (You needed him. He taught American History.) Despite working a job through college, I paid for my bachelors degree in monthly installments for ten years AFTER I graduated. It was worth it. I was a working, tax-paying citizen for all ten of those years. That's why student loans exist. Then as soon as that degree was paid off, I went back to school and got a masters degree, oh yes...I was just a high school teacher so I had to borrow money for that degree too.

I was 34 at the time. I was living with my mom and I wanted to have my own American Dream, even if I wasn't married, and was raising other people's kids. I deserved the American Dream as well as anyone else. So I "sold" my teacher prep periods so that I could afford a house. Which means that I taught classes instead of getting a free period to prep/grade papers/catch up/sew costumes/build sets, etc... I never got to breathe during the day and I was now taking all that undone work, home. But to my own home. I picked up some soft money doing student council and an extra musical. Ironically, I was able to make the payment, but I was now living... at school.

After seven years, I couldn't do it anymore. With the promise of an easier job, I moved to St. George, got married, (surprise!) and after just one year, I readied myself to leave Tuacahn and go with Andy to grad school. BUT...Andy got an offer to teach at Tuacahn, for a year..."put off grad school and get out of debt for a while..student loans, etc..." It was a great offer and we took it. Andy turned out to be a great teacher and he loved the kids.

We lived in a little apartment and would have been fine, but then we went to a home show (http://other-peoples-kids.blogspot.com/2012/03/bloom-where-youre-planted.html. It was like going grocery shopping when you're hungry. Just don't do it. The desire to have our own house overwhelmed us. We had been looking for ten months but even with our combined salaries, we could not find a house in our price range that we wouldn't have to flip in...Arizona...in the ghetto. (St. George is second highest in Utah for cost of living) We wouldn't mind flipping a house...I know how to use every kind of drill and saw...measure twice cut once...and I could personally paint the Statue of Liberty in about three hours, but when? Drive two hours each way to work?

Finally, we found a group of town homes that we liked in Washington, about 30 minutes from work. They were $222,000, but they were brand new, 1 minute from the freeway entrance and called "Bristol Park." It sounded like we were about to move into a fancy 700 year-old, British neighborhood. As if Shakespeare himself lived there. Perfect for two kids with degrees in Shakespeare. Whatever.

They were on the small side, 1500 square feet, which is small in Utah, and we were planning on having at least eight kids... (heheheheeeee...used to be funny) but it would be a great starter home. A starter home that morphed into a giant, festering, cancerous disease thanks to decisions made by S.O.M.E.O.N.E. D.U.M.B  and not me. Was it Bill? George? George W? Ben? Fannie Mae? Freddie Mac? Barack? WHO THE HECK CAUSED MY HOUSE TO LOSE SO MUCH VALUE IN SO LITTLE TIME?

Rhetorical! Just rhetorical folks. I don't want an answer. I'm nothing if not patient. I will want front row seats at that person's jury in the next life when all is revealed. And a five-gallon bucket of my dad's tomatoes. The ones that are so ripe they feel like a water balloon when you pick them. Those. (Add reverberation to your voice when you say that...and give it a button with a good satanic laugh.)

I digress. Oh yes...speaking of digression...

We bought the little town home on a 30 year fixed mortgage. We never missed a payment. We had a normal loan. But we did not have amazing credit because one of us (the younger one) had only just finished college the year before. In order to get the loan, we were forced to carry private mortgage insurance, which we found out, nearly every person in St. George, who did not co-sign with their wealthy parents, was given in 2007. It's almost as if THEY KNEW what was about to happen. DUN dun dun. Did they?


Well we didn't. We were newlyweds with great jobs, love, faith, hope and complete ignorance on our side.

We signed our loan in March of 2007 and by July...a new sign was being posted in our neighborhood that new town homes in Bristol Park were being built for $189,000. August...$179,000...December, "Give Yourself a Christmas to Remember in Bristol Park for $169.000!" ... and so on...until it finally stabilized at (gulp) $129,000. In fact, one of the units that was built at the same time as ours, was sold recently for $122,000. Exactly $100,000 LESS than what we paid five years ago. In further point of fact, we've paid almost exactly that on our loan so far. We've paid what a new one cost to build.

Going back to Barack Obama.

We knew within six months of purchase that we were going to be stuck in St. George forever with this bloated town home on our backs. We felt like we had made several huge mistakes in our young married life...in a row. So we tried to have more babies...epic fail, and work was...so much work. The joy of early married life was fleeting. Within two years, I felt as if I had dragged my husband into hell. Like I had played a mean trick on him.

It was just after we saw the prices start to tumble that it was time to vote for President. It was also about then that I realized I was not going to be a good fit at Tuacahn. I had voted for George W. But this time, I voted for Barack. I will not lie. I needed hope in CHANGE because I was freaking out. The depression started eating us from the inside and we had a couple of yucky years of self-loathing. We went to therapists who prescribed for a us some fancy happy pills, a sit down talk with our boss and "vacation time." All very good and easy to say...But when? A little hope from the economy would sure do us all some good right now.

Then one night, er...morning, I was shopping at the Hurricane Walmart. I love that place at 2AM. Just me and bunch of silent stockers. I was looking for some matching t-shirts that I needed for a show we were doing in Disneyland that week. My phone rang. It was Andy. When I had dropped him off at home on our way home from work (and on my way to Walmart), he got the mail as usual and there was a letter. He told me to sit down. I raced over to one of those shoe benches (that have the mirror) and sat down while he read me a letter that he said was "from Barack Obama."

I imagined that they were going to have us over for desert in the rose garden. The only two straight people in Utah that voted for him.

But it was SO MUCH better than that.

I had been such a diligent pay-er of my student loans for the last N.I.N.E.T.E.E.N. years, that he was going to forgive the last $1000 that I owed on my MFA. It was done. My education now belonged...to me. I was so happy that I had voted for him that I nearly shouted "I voted for President Obama!" out into the Walmart abyss. But I would have been lynched.

But instead, I started crying so hard. Right there under the shoelaces. I felt like Jean Val Jean getting his yellow ticket of leave. I can finally empathize with Willy Loman! Nineteen years I had spent being a productive tax-paying citizen because I borrowed my education. That feeling, the feeling of owning it, finally, all of it, was like nothing I can fully explain. The fact that in one piece of paper, someone recognized my hard work  and was lifting the remaining burden from me, caused every exhausted emotion I had to burst forth from it's bitter prison and be released. In the Hurricane Walmart.

Cut to the chase, Jan. The people are done reading. The usual blog word limit has been reached.

Okay.

We had been getting job offers for a long time. But  I always said no because of the house, and because I felt obligated to Tuacahn. Then our parents had some health set-backs and I hate being so far away from them. SO WE SAID YES to a job offer closer to home. And THEN, after we said yes we said, "what are we going to do about the house?" It was such a bold move. Huge for me. I was that desperate.

Well, the absolute honest thing to do in my mind was to keep paying $1800 a month to the bank for the next 24 years and live at home in my mom's basement. We could visit St. George for free. Too bad we would no longer have free Tuacahn tickets. We could do a bankruptcy - "everyone is doing it" they said, but we were not "bankrupt" as I understood the meaning of the word. I felt like that privilege should only be used by people that had suffered huge setbacks in their lives. We were not suffering in a life or death kind of way. I had heard of people that stopped paying their mortgage just to get the attention of the bank so that they could do a "short sale." Stopping my mortgage payment seemed ludicrous to me! But when we tried to refinance the house, the bank would not give us the best rate, because we had never missed a payment. Why would they let us pay less, when they knew we were able to pay the whole thing? Even if we refinanced it, no renter in Bristol Park was paying more than $850...(We had been ballsy and walked around and asked.) We could not afford to pay a mortgage in SLC and one in St. George. We are not getting more money in Salt Lake. Quite the contrary. But some things are so much more important than money.

And that's when we decided to put it in God's hands. He lead us, after an exhaustive search, to the sons of one of our dearest friends, who also happens to teach at Tuacahn and also happen to have been brought up like us. Her kids are the number one realtors in St. George. One of them is a banker who has been in many church leadership positions. They set up a meeting and let us ask them what we needed to do. They talked to us for an hour. They taught us. They told us about private mortgage insurance and they said that they had both walked away from homes because they had no other choice. They gave us three real life options, and all of them were rocks and hard places (in my old-fashioned brain). They told us to pray about our decision. We had hesitated for so long, now we needed to act fast.

So last week we stopped paying our mortgage.

I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Then calm. Then joy. Tears. Packing. I was looking over my shoulder for someone to come and cart us off to jail, but no one did.  We called Wells Fargo to tell them that we could no longer afford to pay our mortgage and a very nice lady said "Okay! We'll make a note of that. Thanks for calling." No biggie to her. B.I.G.G.I.E to me.

My only concern was that I was honest with my fellow men. The bank will not lose money on our house because of the mortgage insurance we paid all those years..and they will get our house back and can sell it to someone else...again... they will double their money off my bad luck and ignorance. Once I understood that, or a version of that and could take that step backward...we were finally able to move forward.

Please...this isn't advice. I still don't know what is right or wrong. Will I ever? But I figured there must be other people out there that are staying put because they are terrified of the future. It's just that the rules are so different than they were when we were growing up.

There are no rules right now, they have told us. One of our kind realtors said to me "you remember in the scriptures where it says, in the last days "wrong shall be right and right shall be wrong?" I did. "Welcome to the last days," he said.

We have been looking for a house in Salt Lake to rent for the last two months straight. People in Salt Lake know that rental properties are hard to come by because now no one is moving. The inflated rental prices of homes, where they will allow us to have Gus and Lily, are out of our reach. Maybe we will end up in my mom's basement after all. It seems we can't catch a break in either direction. It's the most incredible conundrum. Feels like we're chasing the American Dream in a vicious circle. One of us is going to have to sell all our preps...ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! WHO, what, when, how did this happen? Stop the world, I want to get off.

So now...when people call and ask me who I'm voting for, I just say "Jesus. I'm waiting for Jesus to come and straighten out this whole mess." One lady started laughing, then when I wasn't laughing, she hung up. She probably said "Yikes! She's one of those Mormons!" And today I don't care. My quote will probably go up on some call center bulletin board as one of the top ten craziest things a caller has ever heard. It's probably number one. Which is good. I'm competitive that way. 

My vote, though seemingly small, is one of the most valuable things I own in the abstract. My knowledge (which I now also own) is the only thing I'm going to take with me to the next life. I'm going to spend a lot of time increasing my knowledge before I vote next time. I want to know a couple of things before I consider who to vote for in November. Because I will vote and I will be vocal about it.

Number one: You need to find a way to pay teachers more (so they can afford a home) without burdening them with more students. Who is going to make it so that American teachers, some of the brightest, best minds (and wills) in the universe, don't have to fight with McDonald's over who serves more customers per day? For the sake of America, for the sake of the future of the free world...you better hope someone can fix that problem, quick, or the 5% of you that own the world, will be feeding the world because they will not be prepared to lead this world through crisis. Find me someone that can make classrooms smaller (not just K-3) and I'll put their ad on my blog. 

Number two: I need a home closer to my work place (gas prices!). One day, once I repair my credit, I will want to buy another home. I will want to put down roots. I want a family home like my parents have. So I will vote for the person that fixes the housing problem, so that people like me, people that wear out their lives teaching your children, ...YOUR FUTURE, folks...can have a slice of American Pie like everyone else. 
(Don't forget the cops, firemen, garbage men and small business owners - the protectors, servers and creators.)

My point and I do have one...and I stand really tall on my soapbox today screaming it out...is:

It seems that we treat American teachers like they are a dime a dozen. I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that I have a job. But that wears thin after...what...200 years or more? When did the American culture of education "pile 'em higher and deeper" begin? How far do test scores and abilities have to go down before it counts for real? I'll never live in a fancy house to prove my worth and I can't impress you by being on your foundation or driving a Mercedes. The last pair of jeans I bought was from...Walmart. Yet I have stayed at school long after my contract hours to make something special happen for your kids...to give them my extra time because there are so damn many of them...without being paid for that time for 22 years now. Why is my time...less valuable than your money?

I know I'm not alone. There are millions of us looking for homes and millions coming toward us. Please fix the housing problem. At least we have my mom's basement and some don't. Thanks mom and dad for your back breaking work over the years to pay for your house even when it was hard.

And Jesus..because I know you read my blog...if your presence will help solve these issues before more people suffer...we are faithfully waiting. 

God bless us everyone.