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Type 1 Resilience

December 20th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

My daughter finally had a playdate yesterday with a friend from last year, who had started kindergarten elsewhere and whom my daughter hadn’t seen in over six months. It was a pleasure to see both the girl and her parents. The father grew up in the Upper West Side 30 or 40 years ago, when it was a jumble of vacant lots and drug dealers and Dominican and Puerto Rican families just trying to get by. His stories about the neighborhood are phenomenal. It’s a lost era, flushed down the gutter by the Biblical flood of lattes and Merlot that came with yuppification.

A few things had changed in the past months for the parents: they moved out of their tiny studio apartment and into a cozy two-bedroom place on 103rd. Their daughter had grown (as had ours) quite a bit. But the biggest change was clipped to the girl’s waistband: a pint-sized fanny pack that held an insulin pump. In the months since we’d seen them, my daughter’s friend had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

I don’t know a lot about diabetes. I had, as near as I could tell, two friends in college who were type 1 diabetics. Both were musicians of a sort. One now conducts research into the psychology of diabetes and kids. The other died when we were all living in San Francisco in our early 20s, something having to do with his diabetes, but also with heroin.

I do know that no matter what path this girl is on in life, diabetes is going to follow her. It’s not just the pump that is attached to her stomach now; it’s the constant monitoring and worrying, the host of long-term complications that can come from slipping up, as anyone would do from time to time. It’s a heavy enough burden on parents of a young child, much less the kid themselves.

The father told me, not surprisingly, that he was crushed by the diagnosis, and was indulging in a fair amount of ‘why her’ and ‘why me’ until he started to tell his story to a woman who countered that her grandchild had some bad form of MS, which struck him as a much harsher, and no more deserved, state. That conversation, he says, got him thinking more positively about their situation.

I suspect it wasn’t just that one talk, however. I think the real reason he was able to be optimistic about the disease was because his daughter was showing him how. She had never struck me as any more patient or durable than my own sometimes-frail girl, but I was amazed at how she seemed to be taking her new circumstances in stride. Yes, she’s had a few months to get used to things, but still: this is a five-year-old girl who has a tube running from her abdomen to a tiny machine that feeds her drugs. So it was beautiful to see her playing and running around and laughing, even as her mom was checking her blood-sugar levels, the same way she had last year. It just reminded me of the incredible elasticity of the hearts and brains of young children. There’s almost nothing they can do better than adults, except for one of the most important things of all: adapt to change.

That’s my Monday morning thought. Kids are pretty powerful.

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