Sunday, December 16, 2012

Humanity's Sassy Sister

Some of it's shadow - but most of it's BANGS. 
My parents built their current house in 1976. Interest rates were somewhere around 9% and climbing. Still...they were living in a little house one block away from the building site and it was getting to be like the old woman in the shoe. So 9% required faith. Maybe it's the other way around...having a lot of kids requires faith...?

I was 12 years old, maybe pushing 13. I had a lot of money back then in relation to the bills I had to pay. I was a babysitting m.a.c.h.i.n.e. You can imagine how often a pre-teen babysits in a neighborhood full of Mormon families. I always had money.

I remember my very first full-time babysitting job (in the summer). It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the woman I was sitting for was a hoarder. I don't think society had named that condition yet. I just remember thinking that it was going to be a long, stinky summer. She sat me down on one of the very few available surfaces and very gravely pointed out that I would be making 50 cents an hour and for an extra $3 a week, she would pay me to "clean." G.U.L.P.

Those stories are for another blog.

I hear that babysitters make bank these days. My nieces get paid $5 an hour for one child and more for more. F.I.V.E. buckaroos. No wonder they all have phones and ipods.

I bought a ukulele with my babysitting money in 1976.

And I still have it! Sometimes I use it instead of the piano to accompany the primary kids. They like that. I've had that uke 34 years and every time I pick it up I remember cleaning that ladies house. I also bought two sheet music books, campfire songs like "Blue Skies," and traditional Hawaiian songs like "Hukilau." My mom lived in Hawaii after she graduated from high school and as far as I was concerned, she was Hawaiian. Therefore...I was also Hawaiian.

Hence the ukulele.

I digress. And so early too. Let me bring this mess around....back to the house on 300 North.

My dads brother-in-law, my dearest, most incredible Uncle Ken was a building contractor by trade and education. Poor sucker. Everyone needed a house back then and no one had any money. So Ken, being the person he is, worked out a way for my family to have a home. We would need to put in some "sweat equity" and by "we" I mean, my parents, and by "sweat-equity" I mean, "see ya next year, mom and dad."

After all, they had a built-in babysitter....with a ukulele.


So every second that they could both be working on the house, night and day, rain or shine, they were working their fingerprints off. Literally. Seems like they picked up the habit then and never stopped. I mean, never. I'm sure I complained to the extent of the law. But they kept telling me, "babysitting is your contribution to the house."

My sister JoEllen was just a baby when our house was being built.

1977? One of the first Christmases in the new house. 
I would put her in the stroller and roll her down to the building site to see my mom and dad every once in a while. Because she was so little, and because it takes a much longer time to build a house on your own, JoEllen started calling me "mama." That's when you know you've spent too much time with your siblings... My mother was horrified. That was the end of her contribution to the building site. By then, anyway, it was time to sew curtains, bedspreads, pack boxes and that could be done at home.

JoEllen was born 11 years after me, nearly to the day. She, my sister Paula and I have birthdays in the same week: November 20, 21, 23.

20 years later. Still sharing a birthday cake. Can't recall if I've ever had my own cake, but now, who cares...three candles is far safer than starting a house fire...
My sister Penny, as I've already written, shares her actual birthday with my mom. We like themes? We can't do anything on our own? I LOVE my sisters and I'm very lucky because I know all sisters don't get along as well as we do. I can't imagine getting through life's big hiccups without sisters.

I think this was taken at JoEllen's
pre-wedding events. I was on
Phen-Phen then. No double chin.
Decorating Noah's Tree at the Jubilee of Trees in St. George, 2007. I'm so
grateful they were all able to be there. I love this picture. Service never
makes people sad. 

We've added three more sisters-in law to the gang, and they are all amazing additions to the group as are the three brothers-in-law I have too! They are like missing pieces of a very... very ...large puzzle.

No one has ever accused a Shelton girl of being wimpy. These are women with goals, confidence and power. Look out! If they find you sitting around they will put you to work. They are PTA and Relief Society presidents, drama mamas, full-time employees, students, Bishop's wives...Don't wait for them to do something about a problem, they are already on it. They were raised by example.

We are sort of like the Herdman's in Barbara Robinson's book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The oldest Herdmans taught the youngest ones everything they knew so by the time you got to the youngest one, Gladys, she was the meanest of them all. I'd say that about JoEllen, only replace mean with "sassy." (My entire family is nodding their head right now as they read this.) I can't count the number of times we've said "how does she get away with that?!" I envy her ability to say what it is, deal with it, get it out, get it over with. Every family has one, don't they? You need at least one of those kinds of people to make a group work.

New York. Probably not legal what she's doing.
Not the pinch, the picture of it.
JoEllen probably knows because she got a degree in the family sciences while the rest of us were studying liberal arts...lame... If I could diagnose what makes our family GROUP work, I'd say that you have to have a sense of humor above all else. I'm not talking about the ability to make people laugh, though she's got that down, but the ability to react to just about anything with humor and a sense of doing what needs to be done without worrying about what people think. She also truly believes that "No man is an island...we are all children of the same heavenly Father... etc..." JoEllen is not just my sister, she is humanities sister.

1. JoEllen loved animals and always wanted to be a vet. I guess Family Science is kind of zoo-i.s.h.  Anyway, she once brought a snake home and my mom said "you can have a snake or you can have a choose." So she didn't get another snake until she was married and they kept a reticulated albino boa constrictor in an aquarium until it outgrew the box and JoEllen had a dream that it ate their baby George. Snake fetish...over.

She brought my mom a stray cat one day and we kept it 15 years. No one knew how old the cat was so we told people it was in its thirties. So it doesn't surprise me in the least when this happens:

Matty. With stray cat.
JoEllen has been known to bring home all kinds of stray people too.

2. JoEllen could teach us all thing or two about dedication to a task. When she was at the University of Utah finishing her degree, she lived with my parents in Lehi and took the bus to the U every single morning for two years. She made friends with a group of people she called her "bus buddies." They were all invited to her wedding. I, on the other hand, get nervous when people on the bus make eye contact with me.

She did everything she could to pay for college including normal jobs like working in a copy shop, cool jobs like pizza maker at "The Purple Pig." But she did things that stretch a persons confidence too, like asking people to taste samples at Costco and being the "Kool-Aid Guy" in parades. When you have a strong sense of humor it doesn't matter what you do to make or save an honest dollar.

If it grows, it can also be preserved.

3. JoEllen and I once got engaged at the same time. Our weddings were scheduled to happen in the same spring. She actually ended up marrying that guy (Kyle) and producing four incredible children with him. I ended up burning the invitations in a bonfire out back. I envied her at the time, but apparently, I was supposed to wait for Andy to get through junior high. She never mentioned it again. Never threw it back in my face...she didn't ask me to make her wedding dress (there was already an unfinished one in my own closet) and in the end, I demanded that I make the cake. I hope she didn't let my personal disaster bring a cloud to her amazing day. If it did, I certainly didn't know of it. I love her for that.

The Wells Family. George, Evan, Kyle, JoEllen, Matty, Emily
4. I wasn't expecting to go into labor with Noah at 27 weeks. I was living in St. George just miles from JoEllen and Penny. I've written about this. But one of the things that got me through it, was her keen sense of humor. She brought playing cards to the hospital, she ran errands, made phone calls, she made us laugh and kept the air light despite our anxiety about what was happening. She and Penny helped me learn how to use a breast pump and we laughed so hard. A few minutes later a doctor was telling me that Noah wasn't going to live and I remember both of my sisters trying so hard not to cry and let's face it, we're ugly, ugly cry-ers. But they were biting their lips and immobile at the news, their eyes as big as plates. I will forever be grateful that they were there with me, listening, grabbing paper, writing down everything he was saying...because I had stopped listening much earlier.

So you know I like to write these tribute blogs about my family members...but I'm also a teacher and I'm constantly searching for the lesson...the big "POW!" at the shouldn't be so indulgent...there should also be something we all can learn from this ordinary citizen of our family and community, even though they are my family member. WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING THAT INSPIRES SOMEONE ELSE.


5. We went everywhere we could go on a teacher's salary growing up. My dad was a leader in the teacher's union so wherever there was a convention, sometimes we got to go along. We camped. We went to Disneyland. We drove through Utah's glorious canyons... But it really started when her high school science teacher, the infamous Reva Beth Russell, took her to Catalina to see the underwater world on a field trip. A life-changing field trip. And JoEllen just fell in love with what could be learned "on the outside.".

So she does. She loves to see what the world has to offer. She's not afraid to go anywhere, do anything while she's there, taste the food, learn and act on the culture. She also takes her children everywhere, and lets them take classes, be in Aunt Jan's plays...she sacrifices time and energy to expose her children to the earth's good stuff. always turns into a lesson to be learned, an experience, a memory, a bonding time.

So there was the time that we decided to go to Hawaii together. We were both single, we had time and money so we said "lets go to Hawaii," I guess.

We got a great deal by going with two other friends and they were a lot older than JoEllen, but she didn't care. She just wanted to got to Hawaii. Maybe she thought she was Hawaiian like I did. I got really sick on the flight over and I stayed in bed most of the week. I never do that! I read two John Grisham novels while I was in my native homeland!  LAME.

We knew one of the girls really well, and the other girl we affectionately recall as "Mustard Girl." Mustard girl could not eat a meal without ordering a side of mustard. In fact, it was so bad that one morning we pulled away from a McDonalds prior to spending the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center and she screamed out "they forgot my mustard packets!" We had to find a way to get back on the freeway going the other direction (and in Hawaii...) so that we could return to McDonalds for mustard.

We didn't laugh about it at the time, because finding mustard became a national emergency the entire trip, but we sure do laugh about it now.

I digress...

There is one big thing that sets JoEllen apart from the rest of us and that is her need to see the world and how she now perceives it as an extension of her children's (and her own) classroom. The pay-off is that she has added experiences to their lives and not "stuff." It's also about the investment of time and focusing on each other while you are away from home that makes you really see and listen to each other. They LOVE spending time together. I think this is something my dad gave us - he always said if your classroom was fun, the kids would choose to learn...they would run to your class. Can this be true about our homes too? If it's fun, the kids will run to get there? Can we possibly do a better job at keeping our children focused by making our (classrooms) homes a fun place to be while we are training them secretly to love God, country and each other and look out for each other all their worked for us, that's all I'm sayin'. A spoonful of sugar....

Vienna, Austria - work trip!
We spent a lot of time together as a family. A L.O.T. of time. It wasn't optional. And (most of the time) it was a blast! It's probably part of the reason it kills us that we're split into three factions from Northern Utah to Southern California right now. Someday, when I'm a millionaire, I'm going to build everyone a house on the same block...okay...I hear you...that's a little weird now.

 We do share a common love for all things Disney. I'm so glad they invite us!!!
All I'm saying is, we could learn this from JoEllen. "Add experiences to your life, not stuff." JoEllen lives this idea. She even write a blog about where they've been and what they do at:

Wandering Wells

So happy birthday my dearest JoEllen. I miss knowing you are only four miles away. But you are a bright light and a beacon for everyone that comes in contact with you...everywhere!

From her Facebook page:

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. 
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. 
Your playing small does not serve the world. 
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do. 
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 
It is not just in some of us! It is in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson