In the category of things that are both heart-warming and heart-breaking, Penny and I had this conversation a couple of days ago:
"Mom? Remember when I got diabetes?"
"Yes, I remember. What about it?"
"When that happened, I thought I was the only one! I didn't know any other kids who had it!"
"And camp was so awesome because all the kids had it!"
She's talking about the weekend family camp we went to at the very end of April, more than two and a half months ago. And it was completely out of the blue. We hadn't been talking about camp before that, or even about diabetes, that I recall.
It's hard, sometimes, to really keep in mind that she's not quite eight years old. It's hard to remember what it was like, being eight, but if I really stop and think about it, think hard, I can remember pondering and processing and considering things for months and months like this. I can remember having blinding realizations weeks and months and even years after the events that prompted them. Penny still doesn't grok what diabetes means for her, down the road -- Matt and I are deliberately withholding some of the more gruesome possibilities, because she's not old enough to deal with that kind of fear. But we don't always comprehend that she's still working on processing what she does know. It took her a couple of weeks to get from the camp's "give yourself a shot" class to actually being ready to give herself shots. How much more processing would it take, then, to encompass something so much bigger as sharing this disease with other kids -- and not just a few kids, but a lot of them? It's huge, and it's beautiful, and I'm profoundly grateful once again that she had that experience and that she continues to remember it as something wondrous and wonderful.
On the flip side, I can remember, all too easily, feeling left out at school because there was something that set me apart from the other kids. I didn't even know what it was, because no one talked about "introversion" in the '70s. Penny has several good friends at school and seems generally well-accepted by most of her classmates. She has a few good friends at daycare. She's much less introverted than I was, much more socially stable, so it's hard for us to remember that being "different" is a terrible social burden for kids, and that even the ones who seem popular and well-adjusted may be feeling stressed about the inability to conform. These little conversations, random as they seem, reveal a little bit of that stress in her. I don't think it's a terrible pressure yet, but it is absolutely something I need to try to keep in mind, because it's going to inform a lot of the next decade or so. We may even need to try to make some extra allowances on the "fitting in" front, in order to make up for what diabetes takes away. And we'll keep going to camp, too, because it's going to be very important that once in a while, even if only for a few days a year, she be can be with people who really understand what she lives with, in a way that Matt and I never will. Somewhere she can check her blood sugar and give herself shots without feeling judged or self-conscious.
That she had a fantastic, positive experience at that camp -- that she had a fun time and made friends and still remembers it as a blur of giggling and silliness and excitement -- fills me with joy and makes it worth every little frustration and lost hour of sleep I suffered.
That she needed that experience, that something in her subconscious had apparently been desperately craving the company of true peers... can only make me ache.