Monday, May 17, 2010

Fly, ladybug, fly!

God, it's Monday again - hardly seems possible after the social whirl of the weekend. Oh all right, I went to one party. But it was a humdinger. Nothing can equal a granddaughter's birthday for sheer shrieking fun.

The only thing more heart-touching than seeing a sweet little blondie, just turned five, flying on a swing set with her honeyed hair in a blur behind her is seeing her sister, not quite three, taking a violent header down a slide, landing hard on her bum, standing up, brushing her hands together and calmly walking on to the next activity.

That's Lauren. When a child has a serious illness, parents like to say things like, "It was meant to happen" - not that the child was meant to be sick, of course, but that they were especially chosen to be the recipients of a peculiar sort of daily blessing, one that sometimes relegates them to the outer fringes of so-called normalcy.

This little Lauren was diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes at age 15 1/2 months. Her parents knew something was terribly wrong with her, but the doctors kept insisting it was flu. By the grace of God, Mom kept putting her foot down and saying, "No. No. It's something more serious, and you'd better find out what it is NOW."

When they finally found out, they rushed her to Children's Hospital in Vancouver post-haste, and admitted her. A baby with this disease is in mortal peril, and when my son phoned me with a shaky voice and said, "She'll have this for the rest of her life," nobody knew exactly what that conclusion was going to mean.

Let me quote a statement her Mom wrote to promote the 2010 Walk to Cure Diabetes in June: "Lauren is a trooper; she receives insulin needles every day and has her fingers poked by a lancet 5 to 9 times daily to test her blood sugar levels. She eats food that is calculated so the food carbohydrates match her insulin dose at set times of the day. This is necessary to keep her blood sugar levels in check to prevent dangerous highs and lows. This is everyday life when living with this disease."

We're never unaware of diabetes when Lauren comes to our house; she needs to be "checked" at least a couple of times, and fed according to her levels. But by the same token, we're never unaware of her spirit, her bust-out laugh and merry blue eyes and sparkly smile, and her incredible steadiness in the face of something that might emotionally flatten a child with a whiny disposition or even an adult.

I know I wouldn't be this gracious about it; in fact I'd probably be complaining loudly, or slowly turning bitter. Of course, one can say that she's still too young to really know what is going on. Next month she'll turn three, and she won't be able to eat her own birthday cake. Her parents aren't sure how they will handle issues like that in the future. One step, one day at a time.

She will be using an insulin pump in the next few months, but contrary to popular belief, that doesn't automatically take care of the problem. Myself, I don't trust technology and wonder if it isn't better to monitor this thing by hand. But then, she's not my child. She is my beloved, my irreplaceable grandchild, yes. But I don't make the major decisions (which is probably just as well).

When we go on the walk, we'll do it as a family at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. This will be our second year. Lauren's team is called the Ladybugs, and I've already made ladybug pompoms (Lauren loves what she calls "bum-bums"!) for the occasion. Last year the event was beyond fun: it gave us a sort of glow, quite indescribable. All these walks for this and that, which sometimes seemed a little extreme, suddenly made sense to us.

Nobody expects serious illness to invade their family, least of all in a child. But if it has to happen, one couldn't do better than to see this plucky little girl, a girl who literally seems to bounce when she falls down and almost never cries, courageously living with a difficult, scary condition.

She'll never really be able to eat with total pleasure and abandon. She'll have to keep track of her "levels" and pay a lot of attention to how she feels. For the rest of her life. Meantime, she has made more than a good start, and inspired all of us with her valour, her good humour and her joy in living.

She has always reminded me of those Disney cherubs in Fantasia. Like bumblebees, there's just no way they could fly with wings that tiny. But they do it. They do it because no one told them that they couldn't.