A note to my readers: Lauren turned 21 on Sept. 2. She is off Facebook for a month because of a leadership role she has taken on in her sorority. So she’s not getting all that on line facebook love we all get on our birthdays now. I hope you’ll read this and then use the comments to wish her a great year – she IS allowed to read her mom’s blog! And remember: My gift to Lauren this year is the JDRF Ride to Cure. Consider donating in her honor as I ride 105 miles through Death Valley!
You’re 21. Or in Kerri-say, you’re 252 months! Time for a blog celebrating your big birthday. As for the diaversary, that big day will wait until Oct. 28 when your diabetes turns … 180 months old! Here goes:
When the first placed you in my arms, I looked in your eyes, ready to face all I had to teach you in life. (Okay, so you were about 14 hours old before I really looked closely. They made me have a C-section and I was on all kinds of groovy drugs for a bit there. But I digress). But here’s the funny thing: right that very moment I could see in your eyes a twinkle; a hint of who you were to be that told me right off you’d be the one teaching me.
Now here you are at your 21st birthday. You’re in Washington DC learning how to take on the world. I’m back here at home surrounded by memories; mementos and reminders of all you’ve already shown me in life. Because while all kids help their parents learn more about the world, you’ve gone way beyond what many – heck: what almost all others – might do. You’ve shown me how to use humor to make life easier. You’ve demonstrated heroism in a quiet and simple way. You’ve led me down paths that helped me understand compromise. Trust. Faith. Leadership. You’ve proven that sometimes, you just have to persevere to get to a wonderful place. All this, and you’re only 21.
It started from day one, when the first crisis of your life happened. There I was in the NICU, not knowing if it was night or day; not caring if it was hot or cold or winter or spring. And you: you found ways to charm the NICU staff into getting you what you wanted: a crib instead of an isolette. Cute bows taped to your pate. Someone constantly amusing you. I knew then you’d one day consider politics. So in honor of your 21st birthday, I’ve decided to share some of what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from you.
Humor heals: I don’t find it a coincidence that I lost my beloved Uncle Bill just a few months before you were born. Because there is some of him in you. Uncle Bill never had it easy in life. As a child he was often hospitalized for months at a time, yet he found ways to still be the life of the neighborhood and his family. As an adult he battled diabetes too, and still found a way to be a successful attorney, an amazing husband, a father of five and one of the funniest people you’ve ever met. He loved when he had the floor and often regaled rooms full of people with hilarious stories. He fought cancer and eventually, died way too young. But even after he lost a leg to cancer (not to diabetes! Don’t worry!), he was constantly laughing and telling jokes. One day I asked him, “Uncle Bill: with everything you’ve faced and still face, how can you stay so happy and funny all the time?” He looked at me for a minute and said ‘You know, Moira: I love my life. It’s rich in so many ways. So if I even start to think I’m somehow getting ‘ripped off’ with all this, I just take a peek into a pediatric cancer unit or read up on third world starvation and children and I say to myself ‘Thank you for choosing me for this rather than someone who cannot handle it.” As for the laughter, he told me in no uncertain terms, “It makes me feel good. It makes me feel great.” You, Lauren, were blessed with a bit of him that I’m quite sure he sprinkled down from heaven in between card games. And here you are: the girl who has had more than her fair share of medical dilemmas to juggle. And there you are: laughing and cracking jokes in the ICU. Smiling and telling funny stories to the other kids in the Children’s Hospital activity room. Chatting up all the endos and CDEs – not just yours – at Fagan Five, site of countless long and demanding medical appointments. There you go, making me laugh when I’m most afraid (like texting me saying ‘Hi! I’m not dead!” the morning after your first night alone in college), or the hilarious way you told the story of the hospital visit to UMASS Medical I was not a part of – howling laughing in a way that told your freaked out dad and I that you were okay. Every time I should have been completely comforting you, you’ve always used your humor to heal me. And it has. How bout that?
Honesty Rocks: You’ve pretty much told me everything in your life, and that has not always been easy. For me, I mean. I know when you had your first drink (yeah, you were a bit young). I know lots of other things too. I always told you and your sister growing up that being honest and open would always trump lying or sneaking; that it might not get you off of any punishment, but that it would make things better and keep you safe. You really took it to heart and I have to say, it was an amazing lesson for me. I had to learn to listen and accept and help you move forward. And I had to look at myself and think about how vital true honesty is too. I know that the teens around town text you to ask you about how they should handle drinking with diabetes and you always say first, “Tell your Mom.” I hope they listen and take a cue from you not just about the drinking but about all in life. Our honest and open relationship has only made us closer. True, I’ve had to perfect trying to hide my grimace sometimes (I AM your mom, after all!) but I also go to sleep at night comfortable with the knowledge that I you are safe and making smart choices. Because you’d totally tell me otherwise). That’s just a whole extra-large can of awesomesauce right there.
Compromise works: When you were little I was set on us being the model diabetes family. We checked blood sugars a LOT. You were the first little kid in Boston to go on a pump. I studied your log books like they were the holy grail. Then you got older and it came to be your choice how things were done. In the end, you chose compromise. You showed me that there is more than one way to be a healthy, in control and happy person with T1D. And as hard as it was for my ego, the results said it all. I’m proud you stood up to me and found a doctor who thought your way and helped you carve out a plan created and endorsed by YOU and not me. Because it works. And it shows. I’ve learned from you to open my mind to others who might do things differently than me, and to consider that they might be wildly successful in a way I would never imagine would work. What a great lesson for me.
Leadership is never easy; particularly when you seek it for the right reasons: You’ve been a leader in the diabetes community since you were single digit age. You’ve spoken to business leaders, to families, before Congress, to the State Senate, on national TV (live!) and in many other places. You were named the top student volunteer in America (and never bragged about it). Ted Kennedy wrote your college recommendation letter and said you were going to be a great leader in our world. But it has not been easy. When you are called to lead and you do, you sometimes face jealousy, backstabbing and other silly things. It’s happened to you and it’s happened to me. You even had a few adults back stab you (imagine!). But when I was down about such silly things, you sat me down and looked me in the eye – with that same sparkle of just knowing I first saw on Day one – and said, “At the end of the day, Mom: none of that matters. What matters is we are trying to do something here. We are trying to make people’s lives better and work toward a cure. No silly person can or will stop us from that.” Again, you were and are right. Politics and jealous intentions only stop people who are willing to entertain them. Ted Kennedy was right. I’ve got a leader here in my life. And I try, every day, to follow your lead.
Good things happen: I know you hate bragging, but I want to just list out a few things that have come your way already in life because I think that even though you’ve had 15 years of battling one of the hardest diseases there is to battle, you’ve managed to do it not just with a survival instinct, but with a thriving instinct. You have been: Middle School Student Council Vice President, High school Student Council President, elected to homecoming court by your schoolmates, a Do Something Award Finalist (a huge deal!), National winner of the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, Massachusetts Principals Association Student of the Year, Most School Spirit winner in high school, Pepsi’s Future Leader’s Scholarship Winner, Kohls Kids who Care state winner, Best Buy National Scholarship winner, JDRF Children’s Congress Chairkid, featured in Nova Science Now, a two-time guest on CNN Live, appeared on Larry King Live, chosen by the great and now late Senator Ted Kennedy to speak about him in his DNC tribute, asked by his family to appear on Good Morning America to speak about him the morning after his death (something that was very hard for you but you did with grace) and more. You are a skier, excellent tennis player, and a swimmer. When you were the MC in your high school show, you had the entire audience, including parents, doubled over laughing all night. You were the anchor of your school news and were nominated for an Emmy. (I never knew high school kids could be!) You were chosen by our town to carry the Olympic Torch, as a “hero.” You are a good friend and a good sister. You adore your cat. You are a Gamma Phi Beta member and are rocking your education at George Mason University.
I should not be surprised. I could see it in your eyes. And something tells me there are some NICU nurses out there still saying ‘Man, that baby really ran this place!”
Happy Birthday. I cannot wait to see what you do with the next 242 months.