Lesson 32: You may not realize it, but she is the strongest one.


As daughters, we all developed a very special and individual relationship with my mom. Settie, for example, had a strong friendship with her, unlike the rest of us. Perhaps that stemmed from being the oldest and having a birth-order responsibility to look after us. Whatever the case, it was so unique to her and Mami, that as much as I observed it I could never relate to it. This is something I hold so valuable and admirable about my mom. She knew us—each of us as only she could and that dictated how she raised us.

I will, normally, stand by my statement that I was the most loved, of course, out of us four. But today, I reflect and I appreciate that my mom didn’t have favorites. She had relationships. All different. All beautiful. All important. When you spoke with my mom about any of us, she defended us from her perspective of who she knew us to be.

My focus on this much overdue blog is on the second oldest of the four of us: my sister Nettie.

I was inspired to write this after reading an entrepreneurial blog: http://joshkaufman.net/resilience-survive-anything/. It is worth the read, but for the short-cutters, essentially it is about the traits that many in society have been trained to perceive as weakness and how those qualities can actually help you be more resilient in the long run. We (my sisters, brother-in-laws, and I) often tease Nettie by telling her she has “turtle-like” qualities. When we are meeting somewhere and Nettie is running a little late, I like to shout “Turtle Speeeeeeeeeed” as though it is her superhero mantra.

Yeah, I tease her a lot, and that probably says more about me than it does about Nettie.

She is the nice one, who will take being the punchline if it brings others happiness. Seriously, she admits to this. She is TOO NICE which makes me feel guilty for not being that nice, so then I make fun of her and she just laughs too, and then I am defeated. She is a cunning minx, that one. I digress, though. This is an excerpt from the above mentioned blog:

“Turtles aren’t the sexiest creatures in the animal kingdom. They can’t run fast. They can’t fly. They don’t have big sharp teeth or claws. They can’t puff themselves up to look menacing. Compared to the raw power of a tiger or a falcon, turtles are kind of lame.

What turtles do have is a variety of protective strategies – swim away quickly, use camouflage, snap with jaws, and if all else fails, retract into the shell and wait. Creatures elsewhere in the animal kingdom are pretty much screwed if they’re cornered by a predator. Turtles have a fighting chance – they win because they’re the armored tanks of nature. They can also eat many different things and go into hibernation when times get tough. That’s why they tend to live so long.

Tigers, on the other hand, rely on their strength, power, and speed to chase down their prey. When times are good, tigers are the kings of the jungle. If prey becomes scarce or they lose their hunting prowess due to age or injury, death takes them quickly and mercilessly – no second chances.”


My mom never defended Nettie when we would tease her, sometimes she would even laugh and join in. Our house was kind of a if-you-can’t-take-the-heat-get-outta-the-kitchen type environment. Nettie always stayed in the kitchen. In quieter moments, though, when reflecting on all of us, my mom would boast about Nettie’s internal strength. Mami identified that resilience in Nettie that other’s overlooked. My mom knew that Nettie was quiet, but determined. Slow, but thorough. Non-menacing, but if you attack someone she loves… you experience the snap of her jaw. It was not a question in my mom’s mind that when the going got tough, really tough, Nettie would be the strong one.

I think at this point, we’ve all realized this to be true, except maybe Nettie.

Nettie is the reason I survived the past 9-ish months. Beginning from the moment my mom went into emergency surgery, something clicked in my sister. I had breakdowns. Almost immediately after I would leave my mom’s room, rushes of emotion would overtake me as a paralytic force. Nettie reminded me to first and foremost to remain hopeful. As much as people say that hoping for the best will make dealing with anything, other than the best, harder, that wasn’t true for me. Hope was all I had, and I was grateful for it–I still am. This was Nettie swimming quickly underwater and holding me by her side to keep up. The deeper we went, the more I struggled, but she never faltered. In those depths I was reminded of everything Mami would tell me about Nettie. She told me that when Nettie was in labor with Gavin, she had never seen more strength in someone’s eyes. She told me that when Nettie was sitting in the NICU next to Dylan, that she knew everything would get better simply because of Nettie’s determination. I saw all those same things and more in my sister. She lives her life un-harmfully and quiet, knowing when to stand her ground.

I am thankful for the turtles. We could all learn quite a bit from them.

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