It was early in the morning and I was in the base lodge of Taos Ski Valley, a mountain that looked to be a morph of everything I love on snow: cowboy-ish, woodsy, steep and natural; old school but enough modern to keep things moving. The sun was going to peek out over the mountains soon, and even though it was January, this was going to be one of those sunny, spring-like ski days that we usually have to wait all winter for.
I should have had a smile so big I looked drunk. I should have been champing at the bit for the lifts to start spinning and to get out on that snow. But instead, I was tucked in a corner of the cafeteria, sobbing like a bad soap opera character. I’m talking nose-running, shoulder-heaving, full-on wailing. You know – the Ugly Cry.
To explain, I need to go backwards. And yes, diabetes was to blame.
I was in New Mexico, for the first time ever, doing a two-week jaunt to ski a bunch of mountains (that’s my real life job. I go skiing. I ski with cool people. I eat great food. I sample the spa. And then I write about it. Yes, I know I’m lucky). I’d not been on an extended trip like this in some time and I was quite happy about it. I love submerging myself in the ski world.
Lauren was just back at college in DC. In fact, we’d flow out of Boston the very same day. We’d spoken on the phone after we both landed on opposite sides of the country. She was over the moon about starting her dream internship the following morning. We talked about what she’d wear, what time she’d grab the Metro, and how happy she was with her life. I warned her that phone reception would be spotty once I got up in the mountains in a few hours. Told her I loved her and I was proud of her, hung up and switched my focus to my ski life.
I awoke the next morning realizing I’d not had a chance to call my husband. I had to walk around outside for a while until I found a spot where I had a few lines and dialed him up. The moment he answered, I knew something was up.
He didn’t mince words or waste time. He just got right to it. “Lauren’s in the hospital. She rushed there in the middle of the night. She’s been trying to call you all night.”
Dear God. The breath sucked out of me and I looked down at my phone to see it catching up on life – Missed call. Missed call. Missed call. Lauren, Lauren, Lauren. My girl was in trouble and I wasn’t there for her. Worse, not only was I not there for her, I was in an absolutely joyful, perfect place while she was suffering.
I’m a horrible mother.
Sean (my husband) explained that Lauren had suddenly started vomiting in the night and it had gotten dicey. She’d tried to handle it in her apartment but got to the point she needed intervention. Her boyfriend rushed her to the ER. I told Sean I was going to try to get Lauren on the phone and I’d call him back.
I dialed her cell and she answered. She told me she was on an IV and getting anti nausea meds but was still feeling horrid. She said she’d gone to dinner and then become sick. She didn’t know if it was the food or a bug but she threw up for five hours straight almost non-stop. She said she checked her blood sugar regularly and was happy to be staying in the mid 200’s. Then all of a sudden in a quick period of time she dipped to 90.
“Mom. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere but down. So I went in. I hope you think that was the right thing to do.” (It was).
She told me she’d tried to call me, and then called her dad to ask him if he felt she should go. “Mom,” she said, continuing her lifetime practice of injecting humor into every situation “he is so not used to being in the diabetes hot seat!” She said he agreed that she should go, and she did.
I’m the most selfish person on earth. How could I put myself in a place where Lauren could not contact me when she needed me most? I’d promised her I’d always be there.
She told me she was impressed with the ER staff, and that they not only listened her, but they seemed to understand Type 1. She also told me her boyfriend Nick, who had driven her there, had not left her side. “The doctor told me they had to rule out DKA and I told them I totally understood and assured them I had plenty of insulin in my body and this was not DKA,” she told me. “They confirmed it wasn’t, and I totally get why they had to do that. So they have a little dextrose going in and some anti-nausea meds and are just doing regular checks. That’s what you always had them do when I was sick before, right?”
I should be there to be her warrior. But wait …. She’s doing all the right things.
Still, that “she’s doing all the right things” is just a tiny afterthought. I’m devastated. Remorseful. How could I have worked all my life for this amazing ski job not realizing how selfish it was? How could I have gotten on that plane and headed west, knowing many places would not have reception? How can I be here?
Lauren assured me she was in good hands and that Nick was making sure she was calm and comfortable. She told me to call her in a few hours, and to get to work and go out skiing.
And here’s the thing: I had to. These trips are scheduled to the minute and I have a lot to get done. I headed to the base lodge and told the man I was going to be skiing with – one of our nation’s most successful college ski racing coaches and a lifelong resident of New Mexico – that my daughter had been hospitalized and I needed a few minutes.
I went over to the corner. And sobbed my guts out. I cried for about 15 minutes. The man I was going to ski with almost tip toed over and handed me a trail map with his cell number on it. “Try to get me if and when you are ready,” he said. I breathed in deep and said “No. I’ll be ready. Take one run and meet me at the quad lift.” He looked at me in a strange way and agreed.
I washed my face, slowed my heartbeat with some deep breathing, put on my fancy gold helmet and wicked cool goggles and headed out. On the chair, I felt the sun on my face and looked around at the beautiful mountain I was about to discover.
Come on, Moira. Will yourself to suck it up. She’s fine. She’s smart. She’s doing everything she should do. This had to happen some time. She’s an adult now.
We took our first run, a long cruiser, and as I carved along I thought of Lauren, where she was and what she was doing. And all of a sudden, I felt the strangest sensation:
Joy. Pride. Power. Like, totally overflowing. My daughter was in a scary, confusing, possibly overwhelming situation and she was working it like a boss. She was the CEO of her diabetes. And yes, I was part of that reason.
On a side note, I’d been holding back on my skiing in recent time. A horrible back injury (not ski related) last year had sidelined me for almost the entire season. Now I was back but I was nervous. I was going slower, being cautious, not skiing like me. And it hit me: just like Lauren, I had the tools I needed to ski fast and ski hard. I know the twists and turns. I know how to avoid true danger. I understand the nuances.
Next run, I pointed to a long, steep, slick trail and suggest to coach that we take it. And as I took the first two turns into the run, I felt exuberant. I let my skis rip and carved out a run the likes of which I’d not carved in a while.
As I cranked along, I thought of Lauren. I remembered two summers ago at the end of “Diabetes rehab” when her amazing endo, Dr. Wonderful, had reached across the table and patted my hand and said “Mom. Your girl is ready to fly.”
And I said this to myself: “Mom. You too are ready to fly. So fly.”
And I did. At the bottom of the run the coach looked at me with wonder. “Man,’ he said “You can really put some speed into a run. You were flying! And your form. Just wonderful.”
I couldn’t explain to him I was skiing on the shoulders of another. I was pulling my power from a young adult 2,600 miles away, who was laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to IV’s, missing her first day of her internship but facing it all with a calm confidence that just spells out rock star. Her power was driving me. Her determination was pushing me.
And you know what? I’m part of the reason for that. I worked so hard at raising her. I dedicated my life to building her a system of life with diabetes that would never stop her. And she listened, learned and embraced it. That means that in a way, I actually was there for her. Sure, I was not by her side. But the lessons I taught her and the confidence I helped her build were there in my stead. And that’s something.
So this morning of guilt, of fear, of nearly dehydrating tears? They were just my bridge over another diabetes first. There will probably be another time Lauren has to go to a hospital and I won’t be there. There may be another time I’m out of contact range.
And next time, I’ll know she’ll be fine. She’s not just ready to fly: she’s been flying for years. And now I am too.
She ended up spending a full day there, and went home and recovered just fine. She worried that her internship folks would not understand (she’d never before missed a work day because of diabetes), and felt bad when Nick got the bug too. But she moved on, and life went on. All was fine. And I went on to ski days and days and days of amazing terrain.
I’m not a bad mother. I’ve always told Lauren to never let diabetes stop her from reaching for her dreams. I now need to remember: the same goes for me. I’m out here reaching for my dreams. And that’s fine and pure and right.
Bring on the steeps. We are not just a family of survivors, we are a family of thrivers.
Take that, diabetes.