Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

For many of us, September means football season, pumpkin spice lattes and, of course, the start of school! But thanks to COVID-19, nothing was typical this year. This September was full of surprises, at least for Red, once she and her sister, Black, started talking about the start of the school year – and challenges that impact us all … not just students. And although Red isn't exactly being "schooled" by Black in September's column, Red & Black … Going Back To School, it does highlight some life lessons (hopefully) being learned.

Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Sawyer's Mom

Red's younger daughter, Sawyer, is the athlete in the family and besides playing competitive volleyball, loves to workout. So, you can imagine how thrilled she was when her local Lifetime Fitness gym re-opened, of course, with COVID protocols. And it seems that with each passing day, her workouts are becoming longer and longer. Knowing that her aunt, Black, has religiously worked out for years, she had a question for her.

Sawyer was using an old volleyball backpack for the gym that she was also using for school (she loved all the pockets and the versatility it offered) but was tired of constantly having to switch out all the contents. She was curious if Black had an old gym bag she wasn't using since she doesn't like to spend money unnecessarily. Not to mention, she knew her aunt's hand-me-downs would be better than anything she'd buy.

Black said she'd look and get back to her, and called back with a rundown of the options. Sawyer planned to go look at them, so you can imagine her surprise the next morning when she found this email waiting for her,

I was thinking about it … and now how much the "perfect" gym bag can help keep you motivated (and organized) … so … just find your "perfect" bag, and I'll pay for it.

Sawyer knew exactly what she wanted and to say she's thrilled with her new Adidas backpack is an understatement. Red let Black know exactly that, explaining how Sawyer talks not only about how much she loves it, but how she'll use it at college (she'll be a freshman next year) and wouldn't be surprised if beyond then. Although Red laughed as she relayed the details, saying that she doubted it would last that many years but how great it is that she so loves – and appreciates – the gift. Black saw it, as always, in a different way.

It is the small things.

A single sentence. A short sentence. But one, as Red has been thinking about ever since, that speaks a huge truth.

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Dear Data Geek, where is my sister, and what have you done to her?

For as long as I can remember, including her entire adult life, my sister has always seemed allergic to numbers. She was a straight-A student, so did well in math, but only because she worked at it. However, she was never comfortable with numbers or mathematical concepts. I, on the other hand, thought math was fun. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy as growing up our mother would joke that the reason I excelled in math was because I substituted dollars for apples and oranges when doing word problems.

Fast forward to when my sister was 40+ years old and her husband was fired. She was panicked because she did not know the first thing about personal finance and was certain it would take an M.B.A. (she has a theater arts degree) to understand it. I sarcastically asked her if she could add and subtract, and when she acknowledged she could, I let her know she was more than qualified. However, it was my "light bulb moment" because the resulting conversation made me realize it was the financial terminology that was creating the problem, along with the fact she was creating roadblocks in her mind that did not need to exist.

Fast forward … Today, my sister's youngest daughter plays volleyball and loves the statistics – whether hers, her teammates, or the team and where they stand in terms of the competition. Is she a math wizard? Probably no more so than her mother, but her attitude toward numbers and statistics is very different. She loves them because they intrigue her and have a purpose. So much so that, much to her mother's amazement, she voluntarily took a statistics course. Which is something I would have done (actually, I did take mathematical statistics as an elective in college).

So, imagine my surprise when my sister started analyzing the statistics provided by MailChimp on last week's email newsletter – letting me know open rates and click rates, and even comparing them to previous email campaigns. We only started using MailChimp a few months ago (shortly after we launched our new website), creating newsletters to provide our followers with food-for-thought (we have nothing to sell – as we have not even put our bestselling book on the site … yet).

I know that if I had asked my sister to "analyze data" she would have freaked out (that is her default setting), but because the numbers had a purpose and were clearly presented, her curiosity prompted her to review them. Which, besides giving information on our email campaign, provided proof that …

When something is relevant, we seem to ignore the mental roadblocks that we might otherwise have built.
CBS

Black has said, on more than one occasion, that having morning TV shows playing in the background while I work reduces my level of concentration. Although that may, or may not, be true (as a mom I just consider it yet another source of "white noise"), I still keep doing it. And I have to say that this week, I was so glad that I did, otherwise I'd never have realized that my sister, Black, and Dr. Fauci are both Vulcans.

Yes, I know that Vulcans aren't real (watching Star Trek with my dad is one of my fonder childhood memories, although I was never a "Trekkie"), but sometime in the last decade I was at the movies enjoying my popcorn while one of the recent Star Trek movies was playing … and I had a revelation. I realized that my sister, with her non-emotional and highly pragmatic way of looking at everything (and I mean everything – including relationships, if you can believe that) was Vulcan-like. Which explained so much, including why I always have to explain the "mere mortal" perspective to her. For her, emotions get in the way and prevent looking at things logically.

Fast forward to this week and the incredibly tragic news of the U.S. reaching 500,000 coronavirus deaths. Dr. Fauci was being interviewed by CBS This Morning, and I'll admit that I wasn't really paying any attention until I heard the doctor being asked,

Is there ever a moment when you have time to get emotional about this?

At that point, Dr. Fauci had my full and undivided attention. And I just had to laugh, and think of Black, when he replied, without hesitation,

No, I don't. And that's the point.

And then he proceeded to explain that it's not that he's a very cold person, but that you can't let emotions drive what you do. He emphasized the need to be empathic, but that you need to stay focused on the task at hand. By then, although the words were coming from Dr. Fauci, the sentiments might just as well have been from my sister.

And just as I've learned never to question my sister's unemotional, highly analytical approach to everything, I had to smile at the thought that now Black's not the only Vulcan that I "know". And respect.