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.