48: Pilots and Princesses

48: Pilots and Princesses

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Pilots and Princesses

The future is called “perhaps,” which is the only possible thing to call the future. And the only important thing is not to allow that to scare you.

~Tennessee Williams

I tried to sob quietly into the pillow the nurse had brought me as I lay on the hospital cot in my daughter’s room. Jennifer was asleep so I had to cry softly. I’d cried too loudly the night before and awoken her. She’d asked me not to cry because it scared her.

What she couldn’t understand was that being scared was the very reason I was crying. Here it was just a week before Thanksgiving and my sweet six-year-old was lying in a hospital bed, newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

My parents had arrived our first night in the hospital to pick up Jennifer’s two little sisters, allowing my husband and me the opportunity to focus on Jennifer and how to manage her diabetes. My mom had pulled me aside and offered calm words of encouragement. “You can do this, Carol. You know you can. You’re strong.”

I thought about her words now as I lay on the cot, not sleeping. My mother knew as well as anyone that I wasn’t a needle or blood person. I had to put my head between my knees just to have my finger pricked. Now doctors were telling me that we would need to prick Jennifer’s finger several times a day and do twice-daily injections. These prospects concerned me, but in my heart I knew my mother was right. I would do whatever was needed to take care of my little girl.

But that wasn’t why I was crying.

I cried for Jennifer.

Just that morning, she’d commented about how glad she’d be when she got better and could go home and not have shots anymore. She’d cried when I gently explained that the shots weren’t going away; they were keeping her well. Last week her biggest concern had been what color feathers to put on her pinecone turkey. Now, her whole life was practically inside out.

Then there had been the doctor’s visit. He’d stopped by as a part of his rounds, just as Jennifer finished her lunch. He looked at the mostly untouched plate of cold canned green beans, a turkey loaf blob, and some oozy, melting, green, sugar-free Jell-O with chunks of canned fruit, and pronounced what I can only assume he believed to be words of wisdom: “You know, Jennifer, eating for you isn’t going to be like it was before. You’re like a car. You have to eat the right things to make your engine run smoothly. Don’t think about how food tastes or if you enjoy eating it. Just remember, it’s fuel and you need it. It’s important.”

Fortunately Jennifer was more interested in the new coloring book and crayons her daddy had brought her than she was in her doctor, so she wasn’t really listening. But I was. The doctor’s words and the uncertainty of how life was going to change for Jennifer were the reasons for my tears. How would she handle birthday parties, trick-or-treating, or her Easter basket? Thanksgiving was a week away and she’d been planning to help make a pie for dessert.

This was my baby. I wanted the world to offer her everything. It seemed like a big part of her childhood had been taken away, and I didn’t know what to do about it. The tears continued to soak into my pillow.

The next day brought more diabetes management lessons and unappetizing meals. A mid-afternoon visit from her sisters provided a happy diversion for Jennifer and a chance for me to have a few minutes to visit with my mom. We stepped out into the hallway, and I told her about the lessons, Jennifer’s questions, the uneaten food, my faltering progress with the injections. She listened patiently and offered a hug along with gentle words of encouragement. It helped tremendously, but my biggest fear, Jennifer’s future, was an issue that no amount of kindness or support could alleviate. I wiped at the tears on my cheeks. Jennifer needed my support, and I needed my own mother’s support as well.

“What exactly are you afraid of, Carol?” my mother asked compassionately. “You know you can take care of her. You don’t have to do it by yourself. She has you, and her daddy, and lots of extended family who love her. You know all that, so what is it that’s making you cry?”

The calmness and soothing tone of her words reassured me enough to reflect on what was scaring me. I searched for the right words to convey my biggest fear, Jennifer’s future. I remembered something I’d read in one of the many pamphlets and instruction booklets left for us to read as part of our diabetes education plan.

“It said in one of the manuals that diabetics can’t be pilots. She’s only six. I don’t want any doors closed for her future. She can’t be a pilot, Mom.”

The gentle tone my mother had taken throughout the past few days disappeared. Gone was the look of gentle empathy. In its place was a loving but steely look of determination. She spoke her words kindly, but with great resolve.

“She doesn’t want to be a pilot. Last time I checked she was planning to be a fairy princess. I’m pretty sure none of the diabetes education materials rule that out.”

Her words provided just what I needed at that moment: a good solid dose of reality. I was reaching far into the future and looking for problems. My mother knew how to keep me grounded in the present. She gave me what I needed and because of it, I was better able to give Jennifer what she needed.

My mom was right of course. As a grown-up, Jennifer doesn’t have any desire to be a pilot. She also outgrew her plan to be a fairy princess. She is, however, a wonderful mother, thanks in many ways to my mom, who knows how to mix just the right amounts of tenderness and encouragement to keep her family grounded, but not afraid to soar.

~Carol Henderson

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