I think about this, about her, a great deal of the time, especially when she is not near me. I wonder what she thinks of it. What she fears. What she knows about her diabetes. She is brilliant and surprises me every day with just how much she’s listened and retained and what of this she is applying to her own life.
Some of what I hear is sad: I wish I didn’t have diabetes and could just eat what I want when I want.
Some spirited. To her sister, who early one evening jumped playfully onto the bed and landed partly on where she was laying: Ow, you hurt my pancreas.
But most of what I see and hear is Lia’s unshakable resilience. Before ever leaving the hospital she was pricking her finger and checking her own blood sugars. From day one at home she was doing the calculations to determine her insulin dose. Two weeks later she’s giving herself injections. I am astounded at the grit this challenge has given her, but only so much for she entered this world pretty much fully loaded with mettle.
It is a story she loves to tell herself. How eight years earlier on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, she burst onto the scene. A tiny, gray-skinned infant, kicking and screaming in the back of an ambulance in the parking lot of a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant.
Thirty some-odd minutes earlier, her mother and I had been at our house, first patiently counting the minutes between contractions, then panicking as without warning they skipped from ten to three minutes apart. I called her doctor from the car. A few minutes later, 911. The operator who answered the call transferred me to a highway patrolman who forwarded me to a paramedic who, after hearing me tell our dilemma, asked what I wanted to do.
Do you know where the new Ruby Tuesday’s is? I asked him. He said that he did and I told him we’d meet him in the parking lot next door.
Then, in a scene like one only joked about: Franca, her knees bent and raised high in the air, supported from behind by one of the paramedics, who had positioned himself there, I can only assume, due to the space constraint, but mostly because he could not just sit by the side and not participate, while the second man sat at her ankles, wearing blue surgical gloves and waiting, waiting, with his hands open wide, like a catcher behind home plate.
It was a favor to all that he didn’t have to wait long. In roughly the time it takes to make a sandwich Lia Rosa spared any further delay and sprung forth.
She’s been in charge of the scene ever since (or so her big sister claims, but Mom and Dad know otherwise).
It would be a great leap for any parent to make to go from that first image of her laying on her mother’s warm chest in the back of that ambulance to eight years later us sitting in a mini van in the parking lot of a Wal Mart in between doctor’s visits and coaxing her to please, just please, try and give yourself the shot, because we know, her mother and I, that we can’t always be there and that now at this very moment the most important thing our daughter can do is learn to press that needle into her flesh and it just rips our hearts to pieces when despite her fears, despite the memorable sting of that needle that she has lived with for all of two weeks, and despite the organic simplicity of her age that has been forever shaken, that she takes up the pen needle and bravely does what we ask because she trusts in us wholeheartedly and she sinks it into her stomach.
I sit there and watch at the dimple of skin in her tiny round belly where the needle is pressed and we count up to five with her. Her voice is low and steady. I draw strength from it like a pilgrim drawing his faith from bible passages. After she’s finished and withdrawn the needle she smiles at her accomplishment. I look at my wife and I see on her face the love and the sadness and also encouragement and I know then that it will be fine. We all will be just fine, but especially Lia. She had taken charge of her diabetes. She owned it, as much as anything in this world can be owned and no matter the cure that would one day be coming or the miracle that probably would not, for just that one brief instance I saw in my daughter something beyond her mettle and resolve. I saw her stoic will to endure. That’s Lia. That’s her.
Later that afternoon, we were sitting in the classroom listening to the nutritionist talk about portion sizes when Lia, who had brought along the white board we’d been using to do her humalog dose calculations on, flashed a big grin as she held up the board for everyone in the classroom to see. It read: Liabetes.
Endurance? Mettle? You betcha. My kid has loads of it.