Dog Days of Summer

A few years ago I wrote a story about a dog we owned named, Digger. The piece was for a local publication which every August ran a special “Dog Days of Summer” edition printing favorite pet stories submitted by their readers (you can read it here, if you’re interested). The story was, originally-enough, titled “Digger”, and centered around an account of a transatlantic flight the two of us took to Italy. But the story wasn’t about him. It was about me.

At the time, long ago, when it took place, I was twenty-nine years old, a jobless, war veteran and recently divorced, and the only thing certain of my immediate future was the fact that I was in store for a much needed change, starting with my address. As with any such endeavor there were challenges — as you can see if you followed the link — from the very moment the plane touched down, and what I learned about life in the months and years that followed this particular decision was that, unlike the reunion that takes place at the end of the “Digger” story, things never do quite go back to the way they were. There are histories to contend with, attitudes, beliefs, memories. Even were we able to successfully contend with those, also mudding the progress — or regress, as it were — is the fresh, undeniable reality of today, right now, this one very moment.

This summer brought a reminder of this, in many differing ways.

To begin, there was Diabetes Camp, a first for our family. The weeklong, must-do-ritual was for us all terrifying, exhilarating, liberating, nerve-wracking and totally life-changing. In a moment, I will tell you what it meant to Franca and me, but putting it into words for Lia is not only difficult but likely impossible for me, so I’ll just have to rely on a photo.

 

With Krista (and the dog, too!) visiting her grandmother that same week, the time Franca and I spent to ourselves was not only all of those things I mentioned above, but it was rejuvenating, too, to be alone, just the two of us, without kids, without errands, without TV and toys, without arranging play dates, sleepovers and otherwise attending to the rewarding, endless chores of parenting. And, yes, it was, for us at least, a break from diabetes.

I feel okay in saying that … taking a break from diabetes, though I know that Lia did not and will not ever, without a cure, enjoy the same freedom. I think were she to hear me say that, she might misconstrue my comment as, thankful for the break from her. But I trust when she is older, she will understand. Raising a child is demanding. Nothing in nature can duplicate the absolute pleasure or worry that being a parent employs. It is often what comes to define us, day in and day out, which is why our time alone together was so special to Franca and me. It helped us remember and relive who it was we both were before, before kids and before diabetes.

The week ended and we all came back together and picked up where we’d left off. Only we didn’t. Something had changed. Not everything, but some things. Lia, of course, was more independent, reaching new, unthinkable depths in terms of strength and confidence from living and breathing the camp battle cry, Positive Mental Attitude, with so many others just like her. Her spirit and courage are truly inspiring. Krista, too, had returned from grandma’s showing an air of young adulthood that wasn’t so much surprising as it was just delightful to see. With freshman year upon her, she is, I believe, exactly the person her mother and I always raised her to be. Happy. Smart. Trustworthy.

I, too, had changed, in a way I could not have predicted. For eighteen months, I had worked, wrote and read to learn all I could about diabetes and how best to take care of our daughter. With her gone to camp and the daily necessity temporarily lifted, I — and Franca, too — reveled in the way things used to be. So much so that when the vacation ended, I was left for a moment with a wishful longing that was both pointless and questionable.

How much had I let diabetes consume my time? Was I practicing what I was preaching: life without envy despite diabetes? Had I become a victim caretaker to this disease? After all, I had read about it, blogged about it, started a memoir about our first year living with it. I had researched the origins, the treatment, the science in search of a cure; constructed elaborate spreadsheets to help track Lia’s blood sugars; grown meticulous, alongside my wife, in keeping a log. We had volunteered our time, given money, advocated to Congress for change.

In doing all of this had I so fallen out of touch with who I was that five days alone with my wife felt like a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true?

And what of my own writing, of the novels I had envisioned having published by now? And just as important, what message was my putting that promise on hold sending Lia and Krista? That pursuit of your passion is good until some reason to not comes along?

It shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately that is, many would agree, the challenge to parenting, holding on to our individuality. It is harder still when the reality is that as parents of children with diabetes we are in a place we never for a moment imagined we’d be. Regardless the age of our children when  diagnosed, we do remember what life was like before diabetes. That is in all honesty a difficult thing to forget. But just as true is the fact that it’s here and setting one’s heart otherwise is a fool’s whimsical errand.

I don’t know what the right mix is, but it can’t be all or nothing. There is out there some happy middle ground, and it’s important to me that I find it. Maybe the key, now that I think about it, is what Digger so innocently demonstrated: There are some things we can control in this world and there are some things we can’t. In the end it’s not the who, what, where or why that defines us, but our actions and the love we have for one another, no matter the situation. Those are the same, or they should be. Perhaps it is our human nature to forget that. Thankfully, there are dogs, who remind us sometimes that all it takes is shrugging it off and climbing into a kind lap.

There is more I could say about our summer… the collapse of the garden and other pursuits of simple living, our consideration for finding a new endocrinologist, but I will save those for another day as I look to broaden the scope of discovering what exactly Life Without Envy means to me. For sure, it will be an interesting story.

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10 Responses to Dog Days of Summer

  1. Kristin August 12, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Awesome post – thank you! Redminds me of a passage in Diabetes Rising, when Dan Hurley writes about the day he spent trialing the artificial pancreas – for one day,he essentially had a vacation from diabetes, and it left him in tears as he considered all the time he’d diverted from friends and family to focus on managing his condition. He wasn’t sorry for himself so much as sad that he’d been so self-focused – had to be, yet he found himself questioning where the balance was. We struggle similarly (though not the same) as parents – beautifully written post.

  2. Sara Fincham August 8, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Ahhh…so glad you are back! I love that Lia went to D Camp! Ellie will be on her way to a real D Camp next year and I can’t wait for her to experience it! I too spend a ton of time on D and all things D…but when it comes to Ellie, I have actually kept it pretty simple. She isn’t aware of how much reading and thinking I do regarding D. I hope to eventually hit that place where D is “this” and short new technology…we just follow the protocol and get on with it! I believe that day is coming.

  3. Jenny August 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Steve… my friend, this was by far the best post ever! Having been with you from the beginning to reading this post, I feel this is the most significant and enlightening one you have written! It’s unbelievable how much can occur in a mere 18 months!

    Good for ALL of you…. all parents go through different degrees of struggles with their children. It is so important that as husband and wife you stick together and take time for each other. I’m so happy that the week with you two was exactly what you both needed! (Even if I didn’t get to spend quality time with Franca). Keep this post close (I would even hang it) to remind you!

    Love you all!

    Jenny

    • Steve August 4, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Thank you, Jenny! For everything, but most of all for your candid and loving friendship!

  4. Penny August 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    Darn iPad, since when did good become food?! Sorry about that. It is ironic though, maybe there will be some new food mentally to consider while she is gone at camp. I do know that I am buying a huge Hershey’s bar while she is gone and am going to savor it piece by piece while she is away. So maybe food mentally was on target, who would have thought it.

    • Steve August 4, 2011 at 5:45 am #

      How funny, and apropos, Penny. We took advantage of the food, too, eating out one meal every day — pasta, crepes, french fries. Every night and some afternoons, we crashed due to the carb overload, but it was worth it.

      Speaking of balance, Sherry — strange enough, the food was the one thing that Lia didn’t like about camp. It wasn’t like home, she says, so mostly she just ate PB&J sandwiches. At our house, PB&Js are reserved for those days when we’re very active as it makes her BGs skyrocket, so I guess it’s safe to say, we all won in the end.

      Thanks for the welcome back.

  5. Penny August 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Oh Steve I have missed your voice in the DOC! I am glad you are back writing. This post is beautiful in so many ways, full of learning and growing. I love that Lia loved diabetes camp, I can tell by the picture cause I have the same one with my girls face in it. It’s life changing, for everyone. I understand about the taking a break from diabetes, in it’s totality. It’s even hard to say, as you wish it did not convey a meaning that you want a break from your child. But, it is what it is. My gal leaves in three days for her second year of camp and it will be food mentally to have a break from the care, but I miss her dearly while she is gone.

    I love the finding balance within it all, whether it’s care, teaching independence, giving up testing so much, all of it is such a balancing act at times. I Iike that you are exploring that and I appreciate your views as a fellow T1 parent. I am glad you are back to the blog, your voice and your views have been missed.

  6. shannon August 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    so much food for thought here, steve, thanks as ever. glad to hear your voice again, i’ve missed it.

    that pic is great. was it at the end of camp when you picked her up? my kid is away at camp right now (her 2nd year) and i look forward to the changes i’ll see in her.

    and your digger story made me smile. 🙂

    • Steve August 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

      Hi Shannon, the picture was at the end of camp. We were so excited to see her. When she walked up she had tears in her eyes so at first we thought, Oh no, she didn’t enjoy it. Boy, were we wrong!

  7. Sherry August 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Excellent post. This is something I too have been struggling with. What is the right mix? How much focus on diabetes is too much? What message am I sending my kids? Balance, I suppose, is what we strive for. Perspective and balance. Great hearing from you again!

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