Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Blessings of May 17th

When you look better at forty than you do at 18 - THAT'S HUGE. When you are excited to look as good as your mother does at 70+ that is bigger than huge!

I mean, just look at them! Stunning women! Born on the same day, a few years apart, ;-) May 17th.

My sister Penny is child number 5 in our family and the oldest of the "younger kids." Even though, she's turning F.O.R.T.Y. today which makes me both sigh for her and giggle at the same time...welcome to the over 40 Club. This blog is for all the nasty birthday cards you given me over the years.

My parents lost the baby they delivered just before they had Penny. You gotta hand it to them. When a baby dies and you don't get to take anything home from the hospital, you are not excited to jump back into that terror too soon. But they did. I remember one thing about Penny's birth and it was that we were all nervous that she would be okay. I also remember that my mom really loved the name Penny, which is, 40 years later, enjoying a big resurgence of popularity. It's a sort of "retro" name, if you will, perfect for a person that is also RETRO herself now. ;-)

When you have as many siblings as I have, you tend to categorize them, give them a family "title." If I'm the Drama Queen, Penny is definitely the Party Queen. Her personality color is yellow with a touch of red for bossy. I love that about her. It's as if she is always saying "Damn it! Come to the party, I said! Everyone's doing it!"

Therein lies a major contradiction in her journey. She is the first to pull the family together for holidays and celebrations, but she was the first to move away from Shelton Central permanently. She married Joel Beckstrand, and they started having kids. I thought maybe they were just young and nuts. Turns out, they were just following The Spirit and they raised those five fabulous kids on a dime and a prayer....maybe just a St. George. I think this is actually the year that she has lived in Southern Utah longer than she lived in her beloved Northern Utah. I don't think she'll ever say that she's from St. George...but her kids are.

Shayne, Josh, Joel, Ben, Sophie, David, Penny
The Super Model, Joel

The "younger girls" with mom at Penny's
Seminary graduation, 1990 

The updated version.  2012. Aren't they gorgeous?! Sheesh!

I'm actually pretty intimidated to write this blog because Penny is the family historian. She was the families first blogger. She's been taking pictures and talking about what they do as a family for several years now at:  

That's a funny title, right? She's a funny, funny person. Which I have found helps a lot when you live in St. George.

Penny inspired me to write the blog because she desperately wanted me to write down my stories. But she didn't just tell me to do it. One day she showed up at my house with a little tape recorder. She wanted me to "just speak into the machine" and she would take the tapes and type it all up. That made me feel so good. She thought what I had to say might be important. She had faith in me.

Penny has faith in people in general. Especially teenagers, which is one of the reasons we are so alike. One year I needed a company manager for my summer show and I convinced her to bring David along (her youngest). She organized all the housing, meals and activities for the cast. She did not take their excuses or allow them to be stupid while they were away from their parents. She acted as if she was their parent.

She is mom to so many kids in her neighborhood. On a regular summer day you can go past their house and there will be 15 kids mulling around, jumping on the trampoline, riding their bikes up to the front door. I said to her one day "doesn't it drive you nuts that every kid in the neighborhood congregates here and she said - "Oh no, at least I know where they all are and what they're doing."

In the dorms with the summer cast of High School Musical

Penny has a way of making people feel comfortable around her. No pretense, no 4-inch heels, no million dollar jeans. She just wants to know who you are. She wants to figure you out so she can know how to help you. Now she's a Bishop's wife (the main leader at church). Just like her mother before her. I could see that coming a mile down the road.

She is a missionary too. I've always been jealous of her ability to feel the Spirit push her toward people that need the gospel. She has been responsible for FAR more baptisms than I ever was and I served a full-time mission. They are the family that sucks you into the church because the Spirit is so strong in their house. You can not walk into their home and not wonder what kind of people they are.

She worked several years when they were first married as the resident blood sucker at a doctor's office. She quit working to raise her kids. Now that her kids are in school, she has returned to nursing part-time to raise money for her impending college students, missionaries and weddings.

(Tiff Nutter - this next part is for you:) All my sisters have exercised their faith in this way. My mother forged that path. They haven't always had two dimes to rub together, but their kids have come home to their mom. Let me just brag...none of their kids have been in jail, have been expelled from school (verdict still out on Evan - too young to tell), have run away from home, have been in rehab...all of the older ones graduated from high school when they were supposed to and all of the younger ones are in regular public schools where their mothers watch over them from the P.T.A. seats.

Pineview Swim Team - taken from the mom seats
I work in public ed. I've seen the craziest things. I had to ask a girl to take out her "sternum post" one day. She was new to the school. She had not lasted long at ANY of the five other schools she had tested in the valley. She was covered in tattoos and had lots of creative holes in...well everywhere. She had a bolt that came out of the center of her chest that she had implanted there. She had cut a hole in her shirt so that it could stick out. I watched her walk toward me and my knees almost buckled from the weirdness of it all. "This is a uniform school," she was told. "You can't wear that here." Eyes rolling, then twist, twist, twist...twist. It popped out. I'd like to say that she was a miracle story like so many of them, but she didn't last long at THS either.

If that girl had grown up in Penny or Kay's house...she would be on a Swim team or in a play...or doing temple work with the kids her age. We Mormons are pretty square that way. Being Mormon DOES NOT guarantee that your children are going to be tattoo/jail/rehab free. Far from it. However, the Mormon children in the Shelton house, specifically, would rather not find out what happens if they came home with a tattoo. The unspoken threat is too real. Who knows what all those empowered women would a group! You might get held down and scrubbed until the tattoo was magically...gone. OW WEEEEEE! Better cancel that appointment I have to get the drama masks tattooed on my tailbone. Too much symbolism anyway. (drama = pain in the ass... get it? Sorry, it's so late.)

These families are very, very lucky...and very blessed because every Shelton grand child leaves their mother in the morning and comes home to...their mother. There are rules, expectations and a lot of prayer going on in all 6 of those homes. There is homework first, chores, piano practicing (or some kind of rehearsal or practice for something productive). Then we go watch each other play in ball games or concerts, be in musicals, celebrate something awesome that, when you have a family this big, is never-ending. This is because of the example from the Queen Bee - my mom. My dad always worked several jobs to allow that to happen, it's true, but because he was a teacher, we always had the same vacations as he did. (This strongly influenced my brother-in-law Joel, who became a school principal.) My mom never worked in a traditional setting but she was the ROCK on which the Shelton family was built.

Brad, Jan, JoEllen, Andy, Penny, Paula, Steve
Mom Kay, Dad Joe
Here's the thing. I've made it sound like the Shelton family has no kryptonite. While it's true that several of us fight diabetes, high blood pressure, and the constant knowledge that we are not perfect (guilt is my BFF), we are a strong unit because of the WOMEN we have been taught to be, or have invited into the circle. (I'll give the boys some credit next month at Father's Day, don't worry) They are women of faith. That's all. Sometimes there's nothing else, especially in the early days, but there is faith.

I am not saying that if you work outside your home your kids are going to turn into monsters. (I don't remember when I haven't worked, but because I married later in life, I have not worked up faith in this area. In every pregnancy I've had, I've cried out with anxiety about how we would live if I stopped working... Oh Jan of little faith) Staying at home to raise your kids is NOT everyone's option. What I'm saying is...boldly...if you are afraid to stop working because you think you can't afford it...take a look at this picture and HAVE FAITH with me. Can I get a hallelujah?! These are women that put their lives on HOLD to raise kids first and now, some of them are finally getting back to school, finally going on vacation, etc... But that was their first 24/7 job. I'm so proud of them for that. They are an incredible example to me.

The two people with glasses, sitting down, they created this mess. Happy Birthday MOM and THANKS!

I KNOW this is one of the greatest reasons these children are obedient, grateful, strong, educated and FUN people. This is why these parents can pay for piano lessons and not rehab. (I think we did have to photo-shop one crying head off and replace it with a smiley one). I'm tooting a horn that may offend some...I don't mean to. I have just learned so much from my siblings and my mother who exercise great faith in the face of this economy. (And it's my blog.)

My mother and father are my greatest blessings. I've said it over and over. I hope to be just like my mom one day. I'm such a work in progress but I know she's rooting for me. She could fix the world's problems I think. I have that much faith in her. (See Blog #2) She definitely defies her age! Happy Birthday today MOM! I'll never tell.

I celebrate this day for two reasons every year. May 17th is the day my mother came into the world. About 34 years later she gave herself a birthday present, and she gave me one too. I have LOVED moving to St. George to truly get to know my two younger sisters. It is with great regret that we have to give up our easy access to them to go on to our next job. They have graciously allowed me to use their kids in my plays when I need them. They drive out to Tuacahn (with these gas prices) wait for their kids, get to know my kids, get to love my kids, help us build the set every year, babysit the dogs when we can't get home, substitute for our classes, drive our bus, give us priesthood blessings, pick me up from the college when I'm stranded....the list goes on and on. I am so indebted, that it's a good thing they will all need a wedding cake one day. Such a small payment toward my great debt.

But with family, you are never far away. Because nine of the grand kids live here, that's nine graduations, nine missions, nine weddings....27 reasons for Penny to plan a party. "Get on it! Right now!"