It was late in the year I turned eight when I first saw a commercial for Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. I decided then and there that I was going to have one of the dolls. Remember now -- Cabbage Patch dolls, when they were debuted to the mass market later that year -- appealed to EVERY little girl aged 5 to 10. I still swear they used subliminal messages in those commercials, because for me, it wasn't a matter of "want," I needed one of those dolls.
Around the same time, my great-aunt Dot introduced me to cryptoquotes. If you've ever done a cryptoquote, you know what they are. For those of you who aren't puzzle-saavy, a cryptoquote is a word puzzle; the letters in the puzzle make up words to form a quote, each letter represents a different letter from the alphabet. I had decided that I also needed a book of those puzzles.
My poor mother. She took me shopping just after Christmas at Ann & Hope in Cumberland, RI. The store had two floors and there was a nifty escalator for shopping carts situated in the center of the store. The toy department and the books and magazines AND the bathroom were on the first floor, the layaway department was on the second floor.
Patient and wonderful mother that she is, my mom did her shopping on the first floor and then let me roam the toy department. She flipped through Woman's Day as I sat on the floor, surrounded by books and magazines. In ten minutes, I had found the ONLY Cabbage Patch doll in the store and I'd found the puzzle book I so desired. My mother argued that it was just after Christmas -- I didn't need another toy. Even then, though, I was a skilled litigator. I convinced my mom that one more toy -- especially a toy as coveted as that doll -- wouldn't hurt a thing AND I *did* want a book, didn't I? Books are good, right?
So, we put our shopping cart on the escalator and headed to the second floor to put my treasures on layaway. We'd made a deal that they'd be picked up after the first report card of the new year came out. As we headed toward the layaway department, I realized I thought I might need the bathroom. But I knew I'd gone just after we came into the store -- less than an hour earlier -- I couldn't have to go again... We parked our shopping cart behind two women with overflowing carts of merchandise to be laid away. Now, I knew I HAD to go to the bathroom. But it was Sunday and the store was closing in 12 minutes, and if we got out of line, I'd lose that doll and my book -- and there was NO way my mother was letting me go to the bathroom myself. So I stood there, squirming. Not letting on that I needed to go. Of course, my mom knew something was wrong. She asked, gently, do you need to go to the ladies' room? I said no -- too quickly, I guess. She reasoned with me -- we can tell this nice lady that you have to go, that we'll be right back... If you have to go, you have to go... No, no, no, I said. I can hold it. I can hold it. I can hol... Well, I couldn't hold it. I actually wet my pants standing right there in the layaway department. I was mortified, I didn't really care about the doll or the book anymore, I just wanted to crawl in a hole... Or something.
I was eight years old.
It would not be my last embarassment. In fact, it was the first in a long line of sometimes small, sometimes not so small, sometimes heart-wrenching mortifications. I'm up to just over two decades worth now...
It was just six months after the incident in the Ann and Hope layaway department that I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. In those six months, my weight dropped significantly, I was exhausted most of the time, I was thirsty constantly... It only took my wetting the bed one time and having one more in-public pants wetting incident for my mother to ask a nurse friend of hers to get some urine test strips from the hospital she worked at.
I will never forget the afternoon I first peed on a urine test strip. I will never forget my mother, looking worried and pale, as she took the strip from me -- its test pads nearly black, indicating the unreasonably high levels of sugar and ketones in my urine. I will never forget when her fears were confirmed by the pediatrician I'd seen since I was two weeks old. I will never forget the look on my father's face when they told him I had the disease. But, I will also remember the strength they showed, assuring me -- letting me know that I would be fine, that I would have challenges -- just like anyone else -- but in the end, I would be fine. And I will remember how they held me as I cried at the prospect of a life of needles and urine tests (and later, blood tests) and how they kept telling me that I was stronger than this disease, that I could and WOULD learn to live well with it.
And, in no small part because of the confidence my parents had -- and have -- in me, I HAVE lived well with this disease. I am aggressive about my treatment. I work past the embarassment it sometimes causes, the frustration it tends to impart, and the anger I harbor against my rebellious body. I puzzle over the mysteries my diabetes presents, I read voraciously about medications and research and therapies. I test and record and look for patterns and make changes.
Most days, I feel like I'm slightly ahead of my diabetes curve. I get thrown a wild pitch on occassion, but I've learned that those are part of my life game. I let myself feel how I want to feel -- resentful, delighted, angry, blissful, strange, or perfectly normal... And it's OK. I'm OK, just as my parents assured me I'd be.
You know, I still have that doll. My mother bought it the very day of what she is convinced was my first diabetes-related embarrassing moment. She gave it to me that evening as she comforted me, letting me know I'd be OK. Always OK.