If you are waiting for me to say that I nailed them to a wall and said "you little sh*t what in the Sam Hill do you think you were doing instead of being in class, you idiot!" That's not how it went.
That would have been fun though.
For some reason I was having a "mom" day and my heart was softened to these scared little girls who happened to make a stupid choice that day. I had made some stupid choices in my life. (1984, '85, some of '96 and all of '97)
The voice inside my head said "find out who they are." Because when I was a kid all I ever wanted was someone to find out who I really was and like me anyway.
But that would take my entire day.
So I decided to take a deep breath and find out who they were, what they liked to do (besides smoke). I started actually looking them in the eye, studying them while they talked and, well, you know... I like to take on a project. I had officially decided not to have them cited by the police, but to give them a warning and have their parents take care of their consequences. Wasn't I nice?! Benevolent Jan! Jan the Great!
I visualized sending them little inspirational notes in their lockers, give them secret "high fives" in the halls, listening to them speak at graduation. This would be my Stand and Deliver moment baby! After the heart to heart talk with Jan, everything would be better and they would go straight home and dye their hair a normal color, take out their weird facial piercings and do all their homework.
Can you tell I don't have my own children?
Yeah, this wasn't going to end like that.
Under the pressure of being in the Principals office for the first time in their life, two of the girls cried like tiny little children and unveiled to me things that only Principals get to know. I cannot tell you the magnitude of their trials. Just take my word for it, kids are not supposed to go through those kinds of things. They're not.
And before you start to say - well you were at a very dramatic school in Salt Lake and that doesn't happen in Happy Valley or in "regular schools" or wherever...it happens everywhere. It's a hard, heavy world out there...everywhere. Getting heavier by the day.
But I will tell you that after the third girl explained her life in a nutshell, I was thinking about being raised by Joe and Kay Shelton and their "Rules from the Third Reich" (as I thought they were at the time) and I was SO GRATEFUL! When Girl Four left with her mom's roommate, I cried. I was exhausted with the weight of it all. How are we going to help these kids that come from every kind of background, that are ALL harming themselves in more ways than one, addicted to something terrible, going home to empty houses...and the list goes on. If it takes a village, somebody in the village isn't pulling their weight and...
...it might be me? duN, DUN...dUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNN.
I was beginning to regret the "hand slap" I had given all of them, but especially the last girl. Then a miracle occurred and her mysteriously missing backpack appeared out of thin air! Someone had hidden it for her. Peter Pan Collar.
Rockstar searched... and seized...and seized...and seized.
Girl #4 was pulled back in.
However, instead of pouring her heart out to me, I got the information I needed to know through the blame game. This confused me even more. In fact, each girl, one by one had excuses for their behavior. They left class early because the "teacher didn't care" (LIAR!), because they "really needed to use the bathroom" (all at the same time? LIAR!), because they "weren't doing anything in class" (ha! At this school?! LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!!!). They were smoking "because their mother gave it to them" (NOT A LIE), because their friend had it (NOT A LIE), because smoking replaced an addiction to something worse (NOT A LIE)...
PP: "would you rather I go back to that, Jan?"
Jan: No. No, please do not go back to that. Please.
All grim. So grim.
Their grades were bad because teachers had stereotyped them, they weren't supposed to be in that class, they had this syndrome or that syndrome.... and I'm not being mean - they may have had learning challenges, it just shocked me how quickly they knew the vernacular and slammed down every excuse in the book.
And then there was that "stupid Senior girl who went and told on us. We'd be fine if she didn't have some stick up her *bleeping bleep*."
Jan: You realize that stupid girl is your Studentbody President.
Girl 4: I didn't vote for her.
Jan: The point is, it's her job to preside over and protect this school. Do you even know anything about her?
Girl 4: She's got a problem with me.
Jan: How do you know that?
Girl 4: Because she ratted us out.
Jan: You were breaking the law in the bathroom of the school that has been her beloved home for the last four years. So... everything would be fine if she would have kept her mouth shut?
Girl 4: I hate her.
At least she admitted to smoking. PPK still won't admit it, even though there were five witnesses. Name, rank and serial number over and over again. That's all. Frustrating to say the least. (Update: Peter Pan eventually got help in rehab. I'm so glad.)
At that point, if they had just sucked it up and had been the least bit sorry about wasting my day for making a stupid decision, something that the state and our insurance and the district takes very seriously, I might have sent them back to class and written it up in their files and called it good.
But the excuses and the blame...and the ease at which they flipped out the list of things they had done that were worse than smoking in their estimation and how stupid did I look for bothering them with a little cigarette when they had done THIS and THIS and THIS... oh and so and so was doing THIS and THIS and THIS "did you know about that, Jan?" Don't you feel stupid now?
Bang.....BAng...BANG... (my head hitting my desk) This is the day I might take up Diet Coke again.
Jan: Ever thought about becoming Studentbody President?
Girl 4: Haha! Whatever.
Jan: What? Is that dumb? You know where she's going to college? Anywhere she wants.
Girl 4: You're point?
Jan: She's made choices, you're making choices. Her choices are going to give her a life...freedom...independence. I'm having you cited today by the police for bringing illegal substances into my school.
Girl 4: Wait! I thought you weren't going to site me!
Jan: I've changed my mind.
Back up to October, 2012.
My niece, Shayne, was standing on the finish line at the St. George Marathon waiting for her dad to cross when her phone started lighting up. The LDS church had just announced that they were going to allow their young women to enter the mission field at the minimum age of 19 (instead of 21).
Aside from the obvious...why was that significant to Shayne?
Well, Shayne was/is a swimmer in high school. A really good swimmer. And we all thought that with her great grades and amazing service portfolio, she'd swim her way through college. It was a foregone conclusion. Junior Olympics, team captain, student council and all that. Great scholarship winning times...
And when you're the daughter of a school teacher (which she is) college money isn't sitting in the bank waiting for you to use at Harvard or Yale...you need to be movin' that water. And she did.
Until she contracted meningitis in the winter of her Senior year and spent a week in the hospital, gray and lifeless. You'd have hardly recognized the girl who was cheering at her team mates just weeks earlier at the state tournament.
It was a full month before she could get back in the pool. Then to everyone's horror she just couldn't recover her times. Recruiters went cold.
I was not there to hear or see the tears that must have caused. I can only imagine. Mine were bad enough. But she describes crying out in frustrated that she had spent the last SIX YEARS of her life getting up at four o'clock in the morning (mom too) to drive to the pool and train for something that she loved to do, chose to do, dreamt of doing. All those meets. Hundreds of meets - everywhere in the country too. Have you ever been to a swim meet? You wait for hours and hours in the chlorinated humidity wishing you had some ear plugs, and then your swimmer gets up to the platform. You scream like the place is on fire, which it obviously isn't - all that water - and as far as I can tell, the swimmer can't even hear you, but the screaming is actually for YOU - you are so grateful that its finally her turn and all. Then in less than a minute, sometimes two, she's done, depending on the race. I liked the relays - they take a little more time.
So Shayne was done, it appeared. She worked hard to bring her times back but it was lousy timing. Scholarships had long been given to those that managed to steer clear of meningitis mid Senior year.
So she prayed to her Heavenly Father about what to do and determined that she would stay at the local college for now. It was cheap. It felt like the
By the second week in October, she had her missionary papers filled out and in a puff of smoke it seemed she was on a plane to Perth, Australia to serve her Heavenly Father with thousands of other 19 year-old sisters in that very first new call to serve.
He called and she went because she could.
And what an incredible missionary. Here's a link to something amazing that she wrote if you're interested:
All girls have a certain amount of power when they are born. For lack of a better term I'll call it...girl power.
I liken it to a basket of apples. I was born with a pretty big...basket...of apples. Andy's gonna read this and he's laughing right now. He agrees. But this is the analogy I gave these girls on the fly. I was no longer speechless - just tired, okay? And I was fighting to reach them with all I was worth.
Each apple represents your power. Over time, outside influences (like good friends and strong parents) can GIVE YOU apples, build you up, give you confidence, love, strength, a spiritual path, a place to belong, etc... These apples give you POWER over temptation to do dumb stuff, power over your TRIALS, power over YOURSELF!
Over time, you can also go out and get your own apples. Good grades, knowledge, like teachers - they can give you apples - but you have to reach out and take it from them, they can't try to toss it into your basket from a distance. Parents know stuff too - you don't think they do - but they might have done dumb stuff once too (1984, '85, all of 1997) Take those apples of wisdom and put them in your basket. You don't have to even find out for yourself! Isn't that beautiful?! You can simply look at someone that is working three jobs and heavy bags under their eyes and know that when they say "go to college, I wish I did," that is an apple you can just HAVE, courtesy of WISDOM vicariously from someone else. You don't have to put yourself through every bad thing. Just look around. These apples of knowledge and wisdom give you freedom, independence... You can do anything! I went to college twice! I've owned a home, cars, clothes and I can even feed my dogs. Good grades. College. I don't do illegal things. Big apples.
To my surprise they each picked up on the analogy but Girl #4 turned it on me. She told me about all kinds of influences that took apples away from her all the time. And it wasn't her fault. They just came and took them away. I am a victim of apple theft. Oh no! What to do?!
I asked her what kinds of power she still had? None. No apples were left in her basket. She had a terrible home life, she was addicted to...things...she didn't know where her dad was....and maybe she was right...she didn't have a single apple in her basket. I thought of Shayne...a girl with a bushel basket full of apples enough to share with everyone around her all the time...so much girl power just to share.
I argued with her. I firmly believe that we invite people to treat us a certain way. We ALLOW people to treat us how we want them to treat us. DID SHE REALLY WANT TO BE SPENDING THE DAY IN MY OFFICE TALKING ABOUT APPLES?
NO. Hell no.
Which apple thief MADE her smoke in school? Which apple thief chose her awesome group of friends? Which apple thief sluffed 14 times last term? Which apple thief held a gun to head and demanded that she dye her hair blue and pink or pierce her lip and eyebrow? (I didn't say that last one. That would have made me an apple thief).
I digress. I was really close to throwing my apples at her blue noggin.
I explained that sometimes my basket is really full and sometimes not so full. I've had bad days and I've stayed in bed covered in self-pity. Apples fell out of the basket. I. l.e.t. t.h.e.m. f.a.l.l. I didn't have the strength to lift the basket with power...and the apples, they just fell out. Sometimes I needed other people to help me put the apples back in the basket (like a therapist, or a great husband or a prescription...Just kidding! I didn't tell her about that last stuff!)
Sometimes I have just thrown the apples out myself. I have been so angry (or tired, or depressed, or weak, or frustrated) that I have hurled apples into the next county. I had the power, and then I deliberately threw it away because I wasn't strong enough to protect my basket (self). I gave the apples up. On purpose. I lost my power because I had no self-control. I couldn't get out of bed to go to class, I ate an entire pizza by myself, blah, blah, blah....I gave up my confidence, my freedom to go...to do...to be the me that I love...the girl with the big basket of apples that rules the world.
She teared up when we talked about her dad. She teared up when we talked about giving up cigarettes and how she got them and why she needed them. I knew there was a gooey marshmallow center in there somewhere!
Girl #4 was picked up by her mom to spend the day at home pondering what I had said.
I am funny.
Time will tell. They are only Freshmen after all. There's lots of time. I wish them well. I wish they were at this school for the right reasons like so many are, gaining apples by the bushel. But instead of getting immersed in productive activities that will build resumes for college applications, they are trying to see how far they can throw their apples. Parents no matter what - get your kids away from their bad friends and into something productive and don't give up on that. Kids that are busy at home or doing productive activities at school will only end up...in college.
What can we do? We need help. There are SOOOOO many kids out there that need more help than they are getting at home. There are so many kids out there that aren't going to make it through their teens without some major GOOD adult intervention from multiple adults. We can no longer complain about how many times our car has been broken into (three times for us) or how far this generation is from God without doing something about it. They are not only far from God, they don't believe in Him at all.
I have fears. Can you tell?
My last big thought, and I do have one, is that girl power is abundant in families where the men in those families encourage it to flourish and under mutual respect, the men flourish too.
I have that family. There are a group of girls that wield incredible power in our family and I want to show them to you.
Abby R. is here on the far left in the ruffled tank. Is that not a smile that melts a thousand suns? Abby and I got to spend a LOT of time painting a set for a play this past summer. Years ago, in my Octo-mom depression, I gave up listening to music. I just..I don't know. I was in the habit of listening to the depressing news. My car radio was set to NPR and talk shows, etc... Abby listens to music. She knows music. Because of Abby, I credit her completely, I have earphones on RIGHT NOW as I'm writing this and I'm not listening to CNN. I'm listening to Lorde, Abby, Royals...and I even know some of the words. Woot! You can call me Queen Bee...Thank you Abby. Keep reading and keep writing.
Next to Abby is her sister Katie R. in the polka dots. I saw Katie come out of her mother. I will never forget that moment and I'm so grateful for the opportunity even though I felt I was intruding on my brother-in-law a little. I love you Charles for letting me be there, because this is the drama child who thrives in the belly of the theatre and I have watched her like a live 8 millimeter film of myself. She is the reason I do theatre. Who knew? I only laid a path of understanding for her parents so she could run down it. If I had one ounce of the talent she has...and she gives the most incredible foot rubs.
Next to Katie is the real Queen Bee...Ashley. She is the first grandchild, the oldest of six siblings! Talk about girl power! She's a superhero to me she has so many apples in her basket. I remember visiting her after I came back from Japan. She was just pulling herself up to the couch to walk along side it. She was about 9 months old or something. I was so jealous of my brother. How dare he have a child before me?! But there she was and she was stunningly beautiful and everyone said "she looks just like Jan." And now she's just about to graduate from SUU in education of all things. No one is a better at being the oldest sister. She exudes confidence! How 'bout them apples?
Next to Ashley is younger cousin Sophia B in the blue stripes. For some reason, Sophie, Abby and Katie (and in part Ashley and Bradie) have all followed a "dramatic" path. I don't know why. Except to say that I think they were supposed to be my children, but they got so tired of waiting for me that they gambled and went down to my siblings instead. PHEW!! That was a close call! Because Sophie chose the Beckstrands she got those million dollar dimples. Sophie was able to be in several of my plays while we were living in St. George and she was my stand-by "little girl" until she outgrew me and started junior high. Sophie spends her birthday every year doing temple work. She's so powerful.
Back to the front left corner is Bradie, sister of Ashley and renown family soprano. Which is rare because when we all sing together she is out there on her own, literally. There are about 10 altos and Bradie. Bradie doesn't let someone's mood pass her by. If you are "off" somehow, she will know. She is so intuitive and then she wants to help. Tell me what I can do. How can I help? Do you need anything? I think that is appropriate for someone that is in her third year of college studying psychology. Did I say she's also at SUU? APPLES!!!! (Being at SUU is like collecting Honeycrisp apples...heh heheh.)
And finally...next to Bradie on the right end is Shayne. That's the swimmer. That's the girl that called her bishop about three minutes after she heard that she could serve a mission at 19. That's the girl that writes home and says "I love you heaps." That girl's got apples. (Note: this blog was written soon after she left and she will be home in about 2 weeks!)
(Now I know what you're thinking. But no, it's not because the sun was in their eyes that their eyes are all squinty...that's just a Shelton thing.)
There are four other "little Shelton girls" that aren't in the picture. Emily, Jenna, Mattie and Brynn. Surrounded by all that older girl power, there's a good chance that the power of the family will pull them all through the times as they drastically change around us. We just have to try to stay in our family units. If I have learned anything in the past five days its that family is EVERYTHING. Everything. e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.
It's Thanksgiving and it's also my birthday today and I just want to take a minute to thank my family. Andy of course, for letting me schlep around such a big basket of apples all the time and for picking them up when they fall out all the time. I've had a year of sparse apple gathering but everything's going to work out.
I have an incredible example of girl power in my mother who is the superhero of all apple schleppers.
I'm grateful for my dad - he raised 4 girls that ALL have big apple baskets and the one thing that all of those high school girls had in common was the absence of a 24/7 dad. I'm so grateful I had one. He pushed his girls on missions and into colleges and careers and taught us how to pick apples. I feel sorry for those that think Mormon families repress their women. This is not my experience and for that I am so grateful.
"We are not women of the world. We are women of God. And women of God will be among the greatest heroines of the 21st century." (Sheri Dew; "The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 102).
(Thanks Jalee for the pictures! You have so much girl power!)