Stop me if I’ve told you this one. No, wait: Don’t stop me. Because it’s a good one, and one worth my remembering. I was up skiing last weekend (Surprise powder Friday; c-c-cold day but fast and perfect groomer cruising Saturday, mega talk-about-it-for-a-lifetime powder dump Sunday. Oh, the life of the ski writer). Anyway, I was up skiing and this story came back to me as I skied along. Oddly, or as the universe meant it to be, a friend I had breakfast with Sunday morning brought the story up to me, saying she thinks about it often. So, it’s time to remember it. Don’t stop me if I’ve told you this one. Because I think it’s kind of a good metaphor for life. Which ski stories almost always are.
When Lauren was diagnosed – this is going to sound terrible – skiing was near the top of my thoughts and concerns. I mean literally, as we were in her hospital room, I was thinking “OMG. How are we going to ski?”
You see, I only had my children so I could ski with them. Okay, maybe not completely true, but I had long looked forward to having kids and raising them as skiers and mountain lovers. And in the fall of 1997, we were well on our way. My older daughter Leigh was 10 at that point, and could ski any fall line, belly button down and committed top to bottom. My younger, Lauren, had come along quite well as a skier too. Both girls had spent baby years in resort day cares and were champing at the bit to get out of there and onto the snow by the time they were three. We skied a lot, given that mom was (and still is) employed as a ski writer. The kids even took to helping me review resorts. Leigh would give me feedback on the programs for “older kids,” while Lauren would critique the ones for younger. Lauren also liked to “critique” the rest rooms and once told the head chef at Beaver Creek “automatic flushers might just boost your resort up to a true ’10.’” What a gal. In any case, we were a ski family through and through. So when Lauren was diagnosed at six, it really was at the top of my mind.
I told our very first endo (who happens to be a dyed in the wool Snowbird, Utah skier, so that’s always a good sign) as much. I explained that I’d just been promoted to my dream job (ski magazine editor at Snow Country Magazine, part of the New York Times at that time) and that our family pretty much lived to ski in the way we did – with the kids doing kids programs, my husband and I skiing hard all day, meeting up with the kids for late day runs and then all sorts of après fun (hot tubs, outdoor pools, hot springs, food food and more food, and more).
In that time, the idea of doing all that on an NPH and R schedule (anyone? Remember? Bueller? Anyone?) Just seemed impossible.
But that endo – Dr. Dude as we still call him today (better known as Dr. Jake Kushner of Texas Children’s Hospital now. Truly one of the best), told me flat out what I was going to do:
I was going to make it work. Not just for the sake of me or my skiing family or my job. I was going to make it work to prove to Lauren that anything, anything is truly possible with diabetes on board (Okay, almost anything. But truly, anything we wanted to do with life at that point).
And so, just weeks after her diagnosis, I packed the car, packed the “Caboodle case” (anyone remember those? Anyone? Bueller?) With more diabetes supplies than I could ever need, make sure the plan Dr. Dude had helped me figure out was in place and headed to Vermont to ski at Okemo Mountain Resort.
Now I should say, I called the resort ahead of time and spoke with the kid’s ski school director. I explained that my child was on a set meal plan (they really were back then! No flexibility) and that she needed a glucagon close by and a meter on hand in case. The director listened, took notes, and then said she’d call me back. Which she did, with assurances and a plan. Would it be okay with me if the instructor who would oversee Lauren’s age group carried the meter and glucagon in a fanny pack? (Why yes. If it needed to be used they could radio ski patrol just like they do for any other emergency) If the school needed me, would it be okay if they wrote it on the board at the bottom of each lift (Why yes. That’s how we all rolled pre-cell phone era). Here is what we are serving for lunch. Did I need any changes? (No. None at all. That will work just fun just please have someone make sure she eats it). Here is what time we are eating and where. (Great! I may stop in!)
I chose for the two of us to go alone. I wanted to focus on figuring out the diabetes plan and seeing if we could do it. Leigh had a party at home anyway so my husband stayed home with her while I dealt with this.
So Day One came. I brought Lauren down to the ski school and filled out all the forms that every parent has to fill out and checked her in. They knew we were coming and the instructor came over and said hello and chatted with me and then assured me that it was all going to be okay and that if anything worried them, they’d find me no matter what it took.
He, a young man who deals with kids all day long, put both hands on my shoulders; looked me in the eye and said, “Go tear up the snow, Mom. It’s a great day out there.”
And so, tentatively, strangely, in an almost automatic way, I headed off to click into my skis, ride a lift and ski off into the glorious day. I remember feeling this odd hollowness for a bit. Like … I was not doing something I should be doing. And then, as I felt my skis carve under me, I began to ease up. And I realized that actually, I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
At lunchtime I went by the mid mountain lodge they’d told me she’d be eating lunch at and checked her blood sugar. I have no memory of what it was, but I do remember all was well. She had the lunch they’d told me she’d have in front of her and she was eating well (skiing does that to you!)
I picked her up at day’s end and we took a couple of runs then headed down to our condo to change into bathing suits for an outdoor winter swim (one of our favorites). But before we went inside, we stood outside for a moment.
A soft, fluffy snow was falling; the kind you see in movies and think “that’s fake.” I was pretty quiet – most skiers had headed home and the alpenglow had faded almost to dark. I was thinking about me. What I’d done so far. How brave I was to let her go to ski school all day and head off skiing myself.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Lauren raised both arms in the air and fist pumped toward the snowy sky.
And then, a giant smile on her face, she yelled this, in the most dipped-in-delight voice I’d ever heard come from her:
“Kids with diabetes DO have fun! They DO!”
Who knew? Dr. Dude sure wanted me to do it for me, but more than that, he wanted me to do it for my child. That day set the tone for her life from that point on. By being brave enough to show her that we could ski the way we always had, I’d shown her we could live our lives how we had chosen before or how we will chose to as life goes on. I can still feel the way my heart pounded in a good way at that moment.
It wasn’t all hearts and flowers. I seem to remember she got pretty low in the pool a little while later (but we had snacks on hand.) I had to check her a few times at night the first few times skiing until Dr. Dude and I had the ski day plan down to perfection. I had to figure out that sweaty underarms are the perfect solution to a too-cold meter (ewww. But it works). We went on to learn more as a family skiing with diabetes on board. How to travel out west. The first time we let the kids head off on their own with just a trail map. What to do when your child who just went on a pump takes a wrong turn and ends up on the other side of the resort. Without you. Or a cell phone. But we figure it out, we savored it and we grew in life with it. All stemming from that first day at Okemo.
But to this day, I think about Lauren, who is down in Washington DC interning in Congress, having fun with her sorority, going on pub crawls and more and I remember what she learned. The thing that I am so thankful I had skiing to teach me, Okemo to help us begin knowing and all the many mountains we’ve skied over the many years to keep on reminding us. The one that came back to me skiing last weekend. Kids with diabetes DO have fun.
They really, really do.