Saturday, January 5, 2013

Not So Little Women

Note:  Paula's birthday was November 21st and I'm just getting this done. But in a way, it's perfect because it's the first week of 2013 and Paula is an amazing example of self-motivation and GIRL POWER. What kind of goals does a person set that seems to have conquered all the typical demons?

“…she was one of those happily created beings who please without effort, make friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and easily that less fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such are born under a lucky star.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

I was sitting in the back of my parents car...seems to me it had a maroon interior...we were going to the hospital to pick up my mom and the new baby. I remember my dad asking me what I wanted to name her and giving me a list of possibilities. I don't remember any other name on the list but the one I liked: "Paula." And that's one of my earliest life memories.

They say you begin to remember things long-term when you're about four year-old. Paula came into the world just two days before I turned four. So I like to think of her as my life's light. Before her, nothing but a few shadows of memory, after her...a rainbow, and almost always the memories involved her.

I do not have an older sibling. So I really was making the role up as I went along. With the brother that is between Paula and I, it was survival of the fittest. The One About Steve . Steve always had a football or baseball in his hands. I was usually holding something that resembled a microphone. Then a little sister came along and I felt the distinct conundrum of leading the group, but wanting to be independent. She repeated everything I did and it really stressed me out. I expressed this to my mom when I was about 10 or so. She told me that it was going to be my job to keep track of Paula, to teach her how to do stuff, and especially what NOT to do. The a.n.x.i.e.t.y. of it all! Would she always be sticking around?

When you're ten and you have an six year-old shadow trailing you everywhere, you hide from her, you lie to her, you make her work for you, you do everything you can to use her adoration for your benefit.   I was (and still am) terrified of the dark and she was too young to tell on me so I used to pinch her in the night to get her to cry. My mom would come in and lay down by us until we went back to sleep. She did prove useful sometimes.

Back then we were more Lucy and Linus than Little Women ... I'm sure there was a time when she thought "...big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.” We shared a room until I left for college. Our fights were classic Felix and Oscar (and I was not Felix). But that was about it. The day I left the house to start my Freshman year at SUU I cried all the way to Levan leaving her behind. (Remember when you had to go through Levan because 1-15 wasn't done yet? Yeah, I'm that old.) She was starting her Freshman year at Lehi High and I would miss all that.

It doesn't occur to you when you're 6 or 10, or even sobbing as you leave the house at 18, that you are inescapably connected to that person forever. You may cycle through friends and work mates, but sisters are forever.
Even when we were across the earth from each other, she was in Italy on an LDS mission and I was in Japan teaching high school. We lived those memories together through snail mail as if we were characters in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

(use a British accent, it helps)

          .....Dear Jan, I stood in front of the ancient Colosseum this afternoon, such magnificence, such history! There is a reverence here, a whispering of the past on the breeze ...

          .....Dear Paula, riding the Shinkansen is like traveling to the future! Can I be crossing the land so quickly while standing as still as Stonehenge? If the tranquility of the Japanese people can be learned, I hope I can be a stalwart student...

Just kidding...real translation:

           Dear Jan, Italy's nice. The men drive me crazy, it's like they never saw a blond before. My apartment is freezing and nobody wants to talk to us....

           Dear Paula, Japan's nice. The men drive me crazy, it's like they never saw big boobs before. My apartment is freezing and people pay me a lot of money to talk to them...

Colosseum - Paula in Rome as an LDS missionary
Paula Shelton Rogel has never been a little woman. Not physically - she's 5' 9" tall, not spiritually - she's been a giant in her church responsibilities, and not even emotionally - she'd head up any cause if she thought it would change the world for good. She's Enjolras at the barricades! Even when she was a child, there was an calm power about her. She didn't need attention like I did. She didn't need reprimanding or pushing and prodding like I did.

I have both great pride and utter reverence for her when she's in my presence and I always did. I somehow felt protected by her, even when we were little women.

We grew up playing in our playhouse, pretending to be married to Donny and Jimmy Osmond. We called each other "Cathy" and "Wendy." Last Monday we went to the Donny and Marie concert at Abravanel Hall and when Donny came out into the audience she burst into tears. As he ran back up onto the stage, he had to exit through a door near us and she followed him right out to cut him off at the pass. "I got to give him a side hug!" she screamed, "he said he loved me!" Was she still 8?

Around the Block Parades. If there was a parade to participate in, we did.
We've known each other 44 years now. We've gone from our Donny days to...our Donny days...and somewhere in the middle we blossomed as two entirely different human beings on the same path, but over the years she passed me on the road. The older sister walked slowly behind and stopped far too many times to smell the roses. I never understood how it was she progressed through the milestones of life so quickly and I seemed to struggle so. Hadn't we walked down the same road?

“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you. - Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Sportswear! She used to catch worms with my
dad for fishing. He would say "A princess
doesn't pick up worms!" 
Eventually, to my surprise, she stopped following me around. ;-) She was able to pull away from my clown school because she had certain "talents" of her own. Within our sturdy, stocky German genes, there emerged someone that looked more like she belonged in Iceland. I swallowed that one hard. Despite how much she loathes the stereotype, I could tell life was going to work out for her because she was beautiful. Somehow I felt that I worked harder for respect than she did. I had to learn how to crack a joke to get attention but she just got attention because, unlike me, her waistline was smaller than her bust line. And she was blond.

This is when we learned about
spray glue and double stick tape.
I'll bet she doesn't know I
have this picture!!!
How did she get to be blond?

She was in student government in high school. I always ran but never won. She got straight A's because she really cared about it. I only cared because if I didn't keep my grades up I couldn't be in plays. Her transcript was full of difficult classes that would develop her brain, prepare her for college...I took Drama 1, 2, 3, 27, 28 ...choir....more choir...

Drill team dance? You could never write "State Mental"
on your costume these days. 
The most obvious difference between us was the boys! There were so many boys. I did not have an official date in high school unless it was girls choice. She was on the drill team (dance team).  Nobody scans a debate tournament looking to pick up chicks. Its hard to get a date when you spend your weekends in a tweed suit arguing about the arms crisis in Nicaragua. When I was in Thailand she sent me a prom picture... and her dress was strapless!!

We've been standing in front of that
wall for more than 30 years getting our
picture taken.
Strapless was unheard of in our Mormon house...maybe it was just unheard of with me...because, let's face it, it's WAY easier to say "no strapless dresses at our house," than "Gordolita, you don't have the arms for strapless and, considering my enormous "blessings" at the time, a strapless bra would have surrendered in the first five minutes or exploded in the middle of Total Eclipse of the Heart. Nothing eclipsed there. Either way, not a prom scar I needed to blog about 30 years later.

Getting ready to ride in the
Lehi parade. The yellow tights
with the chucks...Awesome.

In small town America, if there was a parade to participate in, we did. I pulled the floats wearing a horse costume, a worm costume...It Is What It Is... she rides wearing a tiara. 

Not a bad upgrade from the bluebird.

I went to Thailand on my of open sewage canals and the biggest cockroaches in the world and she was sent to Italy, land of pasta, Rome, Florence and Venice. I worked for a year in Japan while she was on her mission and in our letters across the world, we decided to return and find jobs somewhere close together and share an apartment while she saved more money to go back to school.

But the brainy, princess types don't stay single for long.

“…she'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Paula and
Charles Rogel, 1993?
This guy started showing up that was a student at BYU. The nerve. They'd been in Italy together and he was taller than her, gorgeous...and I tried to ignore the fact that he was also a comedian. I liked him immediately but I saw the writing on the wall. Paula was going to get the life I wanted in the time frame that had passed me by years earlier. I would be back to scanning the ward for roommates.

But I put my skills into action - all those years of costuming and cake decorating helped the family put a wedding together in my parents amazing backyard.

Always a bridesmaid...

Years later she did the same
for me.

I continued to line up roommate situations for years to come. Paula and Charles added four brilliant kids to their family Christmas photo and they let me borrow their kids all the time. In fact, her two oldest daughters are heavily involved in theatre and THAT'S MY KARMA! Hehehe... Andy and I tell everyone they were just tired of waiting for us so they came down to my sister.

I was living at my parents house while I was working down the street at the local high school. Paula convinced me to build a house. She would help me. As she matured spiritually and emotionally as a wife and mother, her pace on the road of life really took off. I felt trapped in a world of me, me, me. I could live with roommates at 35 but would rather die. However, living alone made me talk to myself and no one was there to say "don't you think eating 12 pounds of toffee should be your limit?" It made me sad and emphasized my failure at finding a husband. It was like living in an above ground coffin.

Paula prayed - and I know she did because I felt haunted by her prayers - every day that I would find a person that could take care of me, know me, love me for me. She knew me better than anyone and I'm sure she saw the morbid inner monologue I had written plainly across my face painted with loneliness. So... when Andy and I entered the Timpanogos Temple sealing room, I looked at her first and she was a wreck! What a relief. The younger sister could relax and stop worrying about the older sister now, though I have a feeling she cried more than I did after Noah died.  I never wanted my miscarriages to define me or to make my sisters feel bad that they filled their homes with amazing kids. They didn't. They brought babies into the world and they have created and shaped that investment with sacrifice and hard work. And in a way, that's what I do too. I just get to let other people pay for their phones, college and car wrecks.

THIS is a gorgeous family inside and out.
“I want to do something splendid...something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Everything about Paula's life seemed so perfect and Mormon orderly to me. Mission, husband, house, kids. I know she's not perfect, but she's darn close. She wanted to be a journalist, to travel and maybe broadcast the news or have a talk show. But that all had to wait. She worked to help put her husband through school and didn't go back for her degree until her kids were all in school themselves. Some would say that sacrifice was too much, too old-fashioned, archaic even. UNLESS YOU KNOW THESE KIDS. Then you would say "what an incredible investment! So smart! Why don't more people do that?!"

Well, lots of women do. So what's so extraordinary about this ordinary American that can lift and inspire others? I mean, she isn't President of the United States, though no doubt, she could do the job blindfolded. ROGEL 2016. She could have stayed at home, encapsulating herself in her children's upbringing from the laundry room. But she didn't.

1. She conquers her "natural man."
She got herself up every morning before her kids were even up and she conquered her natural man for an hour by working out at the local rec center or running around the neighborhood. It's not her good German genes that enable her to wear swim suits in public at 44. She runs miles and miles every day! She creates her power by not eating 3 pounds of a 7-pound Costco cake. And when she eats an entire batch of her famous chocolate chip cookies, she runs 10 miles to make up for it.

2. She says YES because it's the right thing to do.
She expands her skills and talents by sacrificing her free time to volunteer in church and community. She was President of the Relief Society (LDS women's organization), President of the PTA at the elementary school, fundraiser for the local beauty pageant, the Bishop's wife...You don't get assigned those callings. You have to say "YES." Yes, I will take care of a.l.l. the women in my neighborhood. Yes, I will do a fundraiser to earn money to remodel the faculty room at the elementary, yes I will bring cookies and cookies and more cookies to the bake sales, yes I will take meals to the sick, elderly and widowed, yes I will make a gift basket for a new teacher, yes I will allow my husband to spend his precious time off at Girls Camp, yes, yes, yes....And nobody says YES anymore!!!

Case in point... and yes - I'm going to digress just before I wrap it up...

When I was called to lead the singing in our children's meetings at church, I said "yes, sounds like fun," and the bishop got emotional. He said, "We've asked four other people before you and they all said no." I was shocked. How hard is it to stand up in front of a bunch of kids and teach them how to sing? I guess it's hard for some. I shouldn't judge.


We were taught, that to build your POWER, to become a NOT SO LITTLE woman, we could say YES, DO for others, be STRONGER than we were yesterday, JUMP IN and take the bull by the horns. And even if you don't know how to do something, FIND OUT how to do it. The 25-hour day actually exists if you can conquer your natural man.

"We must go forward. God expects you to have enough faith, determination, and trust in Him to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing. He expects you not to simply face the future; He expects you to embrace and shape the future - to love it, rejoice in it and delight in your opportunities."  - Jeffrey R. Holland ( The Greatest Talk Ever given by Jeffrey R. Holland )

So as you say YES, your skill set expands and you are MORE CAPABLE and you continue to break down your insecurities and build your POWER as a woman from the I.N.S.I.D.E. (It can be so much more effective than wearing pants to church! Oops! That's tomorrow's blog!)

Originally I was going to tell you about all the other amazing things Paula does but she would kill me. My question is, how does a person like her come up with New Years Resolutions?! My list is ridiculous!

“I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

This year my New Years resolutions definitely involve Costco chocolate cake. I have a picture of Paula, my light, my example, on my fridge. It used to be a picture from a magazine of some nameless woman with a great body...but she probably never gave birth to four people or was a Relief Society President. This is a woman I know personally, who has challenges but she makes goals, rises to them, and kicks their butt. I can, we can, use her as a prime example right now as we traditionally re-evaluate at this time of year. In order to build our power, we must have enough energy (get healthier) and be willing to say YES!, create the world, shape it, move with Paula's case, run with it. 

A few years ago we went to New York City together and at the end of seeing the Stephen Schwartz musical "Wicked" she turned to me and said - her face soaking wet with tears, "I get you now." It wasn't a moment marked with fireworks or a parade...but it meant so much to me. 

I've heard it said, people come into our lives for a reason, 
Bringing something we must learn 
And we are lead to those who help us most to grow
If we let them and we help them in return
Well I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am because I met you...

Because I knew you...
I have been changed for good.
                    (For Good, from the musical "Wicked")