Meet Suzy Schettler.
The first book Suzy read of mine was The Scarab Heart. She'd requested the US edition (now no longer available), and she enjoyed it enough to backtrack and read The Bridge of Dead Things, which she loved.
Since that time, Suzy's read each of the Send For Octavius Guy books upon their release, which by my reckoning makes her the longest standing reader to have finished all six of my novels.
Although Suzy's on Twitter, many of our wonderful community will not be familiar with her. I sincerely hope to remedy that.
I got to know Michael after I requested to review one of his books on LibraryThing years ago. I enjoyed it so much and when he reached out, we struck up a friendship, and it's one I treasure. I think Michael is an amazing writer and a lovely person. His books are so well researched that I've learned so much from reading them! I always recommend him to anyone I think might be interested.
As for me, I'm Canadian (Ontario mostly, although I lived in BC for a number of years as a young child). I'm a mom of two grown sons, and a "Baba" (grandmother) to my oldest son's two kids, a boy who is two-and-a-half and a girl who is seven months. Both of my sons are married to lovely women, and all of them married (and had kids) since the fall of 2019, so it's been a very busy few years for our family, in addition to the pandemic hitting! But back to the beginning...
I was born a twin (a rare MoMo twin, as they call it, when identical twins are in one amniotic sac with one placenta), although my sister died shortly after birth from a variety of birth defects. Apparently only 70% of all monoamniotic twins survive in these pregnancies due to the high incidence of fetal anomalies. Most twins have their own amniotic sac and a lot can go wrong when they share one.
We were born five weeks early due to my mother being induced as she was quite ill with a kidney infection and toxemia. No one knew at the time she was carrying twins because our heartbeats were in unison. My mother had mentioned she thought it might be twins because they run in the family (my grandmother is a fraternal twin), but the doctor kind of brushed it off. My father found out in the waiting room (yes, back in the day the fathers weren't even allowed into the delivery room) when they wrote TWINS next to his surname on the big blackboard they had hung there to announce births. Despite both of my parents marrying several times each after my birth, neither had any other children.
I was born in the heart of Toronto and grew up in a suburb just to the west called Etobicoke. The Premiere of Ontario, Doug Ford, actually attended the same high school I did, but thankfully I was in my last year when he began. Let's just say I'm not a fan of him or his politics. During my childhood I was very athletic and took years of ballet and figure skating, and spent every summer at my grandparents cottage on Lake Simcoe. I was very close to my grandparents, who came to Canada in the early part of the 20th century from Ukraine & Belarus. Even though my grandfather was sixty when I was born, he walked me down the aisle at my wedding almost three decades later. Everyone loved him. They were both incredible people and I miss them so much.
I had somewhat of a dysfunctional and abusive home life that I won't get into too much beyond the basics. My parents split for good when I was seven, and my father moved to the US and rarely contacted me after that. My mother suffered from mental illness and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (later in life). She was a prescription drug addict and an extreme narcissist. My grandparents were the saving grace in my life, but suffice to say I left home in my teens after a suicide attempt and much chaos and drama.
I managed to finish high school and attend the University of Toronto as a Psychology major with minors in English and Sociology, working numerous jobs to make ends meet. While going to school I lucked out into getting a job for a tour operator in the travel industry and I worked as a ticketing agent for them for a number of years. I also had jobs in retail clothing stores and in a record store. I really envy Michael being in a band. That was my dream! I had always wanted to get into a band because I loved music and singing, but was far too shy, lacking the confidence to sing in front of others until I was much older. Music is one of my biggest passions and both of my kids love music and play guitar as well. There is a lot of natural musical ability in my maternal family, so it probably came along with the genes.
My Mom convinced me to move home in my last year of uni, and I foolishly agreed. She was in between relationships and wanted company and I was broke and struggling. It was a massive mistake and became a nightmare of drama and stress. I ended up dropping out of university a credit and a half short of my B.Sc. and never did go back to finish. After uni I continued working in travel, but was also working on my writing and poetry, and submitting it to various publishers with great feedback and encouragement. I always loved writing and still have a box of stories I began when I was a little girl.
I had moved out of home by then and found a new job at a book publisher working in the Production department of Copp Clark Pitman/Longman for a number of years before transferring to their Promotions department as a Promotions Coordinator, writing ads for books and copy for catalogues. I met my husband during this time (in 1987) after a friend mentioned his brother was starting a new magazine in Toronto and that I should submit some of my poetry to him. So I did. It was accepted, and I received an invite to a launch party he threw when the first issue was released. My husband was his roommate and was also at the party.
We were pretty much inseparable after we met. We just clicked, and shared a lot of interests, even though we are very different and tend to come at things in different ways. Being so different in personality has been good and bad, but the one thing that has always been present for both of us is a sense of humour and love of learning. We met on April 16th 1987, and married the following year to the day, and our first son was born about nine-and-a-half months after the wedding. I'm sure people were counting on their fingers (haha)! We are coming up on our 35th anniversary, and we still make each other laugh every day. We're never bored. It's cliche, but we really are best friends and enjoy just spending time together.
I had a very difficult delivery with my first son and came very close to dying from blood loss. My OB told my husband he wasn't sure I'd survive the surgery. It was a rough intro to parenthood, and our son was not an easy baby. We were living almost two hours away from my OB, having bought a house north of Toronto, commuting to the city for work. When my son was seven months old, we moved a half hour closer and I decided not to return to my job after maternity leave, but to do freelance work typing manuscripts and other odd jobs to make ends meet while staying home to watch our son. Two years later our second son was born and we decided that was it as far as kids went.
When our oldest started kindergarten he was reading at a 7th grade level. He had started reading on his own around 2 years old and we did not realize how far advanced he was until he was tested at age five. His teacher was amazing and we all loved her, but she told us the day she met him that she was worried she wouldn't be able to meet his needs, although she sure tried her best. In spite of all her efforts, our son began to experience severe migraines, fevers and vomiting, with the frequency increasing as the year went on. Only on school days though, never on weekends.
Naturally we were worried he might be seriously ill. We had him checked out medically, but our doctor determined he was fine physically, and was experiencing severe stress due to his needs and placement in school not aligning. He was a natural leader and very extroverted, and was having trouble understanding why the other kids couldn't play the way he wanted. He was bored and needed more academic stimulation.
By grade 1, testing showed he was reading at a 12th grade level. The lowest academic level he tested at was 5th grade in Math. His grade 1 teacher was a poor fit and his health and behaviour were deteriorating. He used to always have a smile on his face, but now he was angry and teary and was regressing, having to bring home picture books from school. It was a very scary thing to see and we tried everything we could to find ways to meet his needs.
We took him to a psychologist in Toronto, who determined he was in the 99th percentile of intelligence, essentially three standard deviations above the norm. Just as kids three deviations below require special education, so do those above, because their needs are so asynchronous. And even though he fell under the Special Needs umbrella here in Ontario, and his school received extra funding for him, they refused to do anything to try to meet his academic needs. Instead they suggested we pull him out and home school.
It was a stressful time. He was so unhappy and we were very worried about his health and mental well-being, especially as he began to be bullied...by parents as well as kids, who made snide remarks about the books he was reading or the vocabulary he used. It was kind of shocking to us to see adults being so mean to a small child who was just being who he was and didn't understand their rude comments. I cried a lot of tears and cracked all the molars in my mouth from clenching and grinding my teeth.
My blood boils to read this. As a former Learning Disabilities teacher with thirty-odd years of experience, it makes me so angry that the school got extra funding to provide Suzy's son with appropriate support (a mechanism also common here in the UK), yet they chose to channel it elsewhere.
In subsequent email conversations with Suzy, I learned more about her son's teacher's behaviour. I was appalled. What should she have done, you ask? She should have found a way for him to learn. That's what any teacher strives for.
I hope you'll join us next month for the second part of this article, when Suzy decides to try home schooling. But how will it work out?