HOW DOES SHE DO IT? PART TWO: SUZANNE
After Gail moved out to go to college, Suzanne moved into the bedroom with me to fill Gail’s spot. It felt like my domain now that I was the senior resident, and I let Suzanne know I was essentially the landlord and she was the tenant. I was the big sister, and I was determined to show her that.
Our decorating styles were essentially nonexistent except for a few teenage heartthrob posters. Gail had moved out and took her flair with her. Our housekeeping styles, however, were in stark contrast to each other. You would never know it now, but I was tidy and minimal, and Suzanne, well, she wasn’t.
I recall being frequently frustrated at her clutter and crap—junk, stuff, whatever she called it. Motivating her to keep her part tidy was a chore.
So, when I was tasked with an experiment in a high school social science class to find a way to change someone’s behavior, I devised a plan. A plan that turned out to be an evil scheme, and I am more than a little embarrassed to write about what I did to poor little innocent Suzanne.
If Mom were here, she would tell you about it and laugh about it now, too, so let’s just consider it funny.
I was tired of her lack of tidiness. I wanted to change that behavior. Because money seems to be a great motivator for most people, I decided I would pay her. I had some change in hand, and when she and I were alone in the room, I instructed her to tidy up, and she would be rewarded for it.
So she did just that. She picked up one thing and put it away, and I immediately reinforced her a coin—probably a quarter to bait her; saving the smaller change for the end. She was thrilled with the prospect of earning while tidying, so she continued to tidy. And I continued to pay her. One coin per item picked up and put away. This was working out well for both of us. I got my room tidied up, and Suzanne got paid.
Except for one small detail: the pile of change that I picked up and paid her with belonged to her, so I was essentially paying her with her own money.
Cold, I know. I did what I had to do.
Now, Suzanne is the tidy minimalist, and I am the not-quite-as-tidy not-so-much-a-minimalist. But we have both found what works for us, and we are content with our own ways.
I think she has forgiven me for that dirty trick I played on her.
Like the post for Gail last week, this one honors Suzanne. For no special reason; just because. Her birthday, however, went relatively unnoticed this year. She was under the weather, and has opted instead to change it to another day later this year. In keeping with her favorite line in one of her favorite movies—Mean Girls—Suzanne will celebrate her birthday on October 3rd this year. Perfect, because that day coincides beautifully with our departure to Colorado to make up for the Labor Day trip we had to bypass. You will hear some of the celebration story, but again, as with any trip, not all of it.
Imagine that, instead of your car having enough gas to make it go, it’s always out of gas, and it simply will no longer hold fuel. Imagine you have to push it everywhere you want to go, because it can’t create enough energy to move itself. Every day, everywhere you go, you have to push your car. And you can’t leave it behind, because it’s your only vehicle. It’s your only means of functioning.
Sounds absurd, I know, but Suzanne has likened life without her thyroid to being continually “out of fuel.” When the doctor handed her a thyroid cancer diagnosis on her birthday six years ago just after her thyroid came out. One of the long-term effects is continual lack of energy. Most people without their thyroid suffer this scourge. And she is cold. All the time.
Never, though, will you hear her complain. She may make a joke about it, and she may offer a few details if you ask, but she will not let on that she struggles every day. That’s not her style.
Nor is it her style to worry about the specter of cancer hovering over her. She has six years under her belt, but even before that, she knew in her heart that she would be okay.
Sometimes okay is the most we can hope for, and some days that is all she has. Most other days, she will make it clear to you that she is more than okay, even if she has to fake it.
Next week, she will see her endocrinologist for her six-month check-up. She has no worries. An important fact to recall from Not Her Type (February 4th), is that, just as she told Gail’s daughter Lydia after her diagnosis of Type One Diabetes is this: “Only the cool girls get to see an endocrinologist.”
Suzanne is a fighter, as you already know. I am recalling the episode when, before she started school, we came home to find her motionless on the living room couch. Her lips were blue. I thought we had lost her.
“MOM!” I remember yelling as we came in the door. “Suzanne is dead!”
She was simply napping. After she had eaten frozen blueberries.
Both Gail and Suzanne struggled, but emerged victorious as single mothers. I don’t know this challenge, I only know that raising children with a great man who is also a great father is still a tough chore. I have no idea how they did it, but they did. And their single-mothered children are now amazing young women.
Unlike Gail, Suzanne and I do not possess, nor do we wish to possess a work ethic that drives us to seek out more work than we already have. We are happy with whatever comes our way in our work. We don’t feel the need to be seek any further employment as Gail does, we don’t extend ourselves to can zucchini and salsa. We have no aspirations to engage in other ventures that may take up our free time that we reserve for working jigsaw puzzles, taking naps, coloring or reading books.
We weren’t tasked with the multiple responsibilities Gail was; as the fifth and sixth children of seven, there wasn’t as much mothering to do. We all had our work for us on the farm and in the house, but Suzanne and I did very little extra mothering. We didn’t have to.
I am adoring my new baby sister. She had a lot of black hair when she was born.
Suzanne and David in their younger, happier years, before he ruined their relationship with the skunk episode. (Just kidding, they are both over it now.)
Suzanne has always loved Halloween–and she still does.
Mom bundled us up for one of those big snows we never get anymore in these parts.
Suzanne and me at Sunset Park, a beautiful park in our small city that we used to picnic at annually, meeting other family there from Wichita. It was the halfway point. Perhaps we should go back to that park now and re-enact this picture…
I am four years older than Suzanne, so perhaps I was somewhat responsible for her, but Gail likely had that base covered. She had been a second mother to all of us for so long, she likely did it without thinking, without effort—just like she completes her work now.
But this is about Suzanne.
Suzanne and I enjoy our geographical closeness now. When she lived in the same town as our parents, we were about 90 miles apart. We did manage to get together quite often, but now I could see her every day if I want to. I do want to see her every day, but I don’t always get to. I find myself stopping at the bank more frequently than I used to, the bank she works at that has been my bank for 20+ years.
Suzanne at work. Tana and Amy ( July 9th, 2017: Swheat Girls, & July 8th, 2018: Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever) stopped to see her last year.
We have an annual tradition of traveling to the pumpkin patch an hour away. It was equidistant from her former home and mine.
We used to meet there when our kids were younger, but they no longer want to go. We do, so we go without them.
I must come clean on another crime against Suzanne: there was a time in our shared bedroom days that I didn’t like her so much. While I adore her now, and I wish I had more time to spend with her, I recall wanting her to be away from me in our younger years. Like, downstairs while I was upstairs. Like, forcibly down the stairs. Like, I wanted to push her down the stairs.
While we frequently shop together now and enjoy it, our limited shopping trips in our younger years weren’t so pleasant. I recall that she could rarely find anything she wanted when we were shopping. That is, until I bought it, then she wanted one just like it. She would typically decide this after the trip, then beg me to let her wear what I had just bought.
I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t. I was frustrated. I wanted my own look, my own style, and I sure didn’t want my little sister looking just like me.
Easter Sunday morning in our teenage years. We possessed such style–and still do.
Having Suzanne here after her scare with cancer is a gift. Now, we can sometimes wear the same size clothing again, and I am so honored to share some of my clothes with her now. That is a gift, too.
Sharing Dad’s pants surely was a unique fashion statement.
Perhaps I shouldn’t brag too much about having any style in my younger years. Suzanne delights in sharing this picture, and I already made peace with it by sharing it in an earlier post. She is so proud of it; she framed it in this “subtle” frame for me last Christmas.
I already told you one of Suzanne’s strongest qualities: her strength. Her strength as a single mother. Her strength as a cancer survivor. These are her quiet strengths. You don’t know about them because she doesn’t let on, and that is a strength as well.
If you spend any amount of time around her, you will quickly notice her visible, louder strength: her sense of humor.
When she left her job nearly two years ago to move to my small city, her co-workers threw her a party, complete with a custom-made cake. They understood and appreciated her sense of humor, too. One of her former co-workers said that it’s no fun at their workplace anymore without her. I believe her. And I’m pretty sure she has livened up her new workplace.
I look up to Gail. I always have, and I always will. I look up to Suzanne, too, even though she is younger than me. Apparently, there was a day when she looked up to me—as this picture taken with the framed one above shows. I hope I am worthy of that upward look from her now. Some days, I’m not sure.
I know in my heart that both Gail and Suzanne are my lifelong companions, my closest confidantes; my dearest friends. We have to be, we have no choice given Mom’s letter to all of us. Peace is the mission we all accepted from Mom, and I like to think that even without her missive, we would have chosen this path of togetherness and harmony then, and now.
Suzanne–I’m so glad I didn’t push you down the stairs all those years ago–you’re the best little sister ever! XOXO middlesisterkathleen