Resilience: Christmas Thunder and a Type One Diagnosis

[For me, the definition of resilience is the ability to reveal one’s strengths clearly in the face of adversity.  Resilience doesn’t exist externally to us, rather it is something within us. Just as the human body is resilient, so is the person who inhabits it. When I think of resilience, I think of my daughter. Eleanor just passed her fifth “diaversary”—such a pleasant word for a sad date on the calendar, the date she was diagnosed as a Type-1 Diabetic. The grace she displays on a daily basis as she manages the disease is inspirational. Rather than muting them, it has placed her best characteristics—determination, kindness prominent among them—in relief. It will be five years ago this Christmas that I wrote about her as she adjusted to her then recent diagnosis. As I reread it, I see that resilience is present throughout—the resilience of Eleanor, the resilience of family, the resilience of the community that supports those facing illness. I have copied that reflection below.]

It has not been normal December weather. Last night, coming out of church, Eleanor and I spotted the full moon, and as we looked up waiting for my wife Katie to join us, it felt like a comfortable September evening. For a brief moment it WAS a September evening. This feeling, only a flash, was fleeting as September quickly became a time in the long distant past–a month before my daughter’s Type One Diabetes diagnosis.

I am thankful for many things. After a Fall full of challenges, my list of appreciation has gotten longer. It is a list that now includes LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and most poignantly, all the people who have raised their hands and opened their arms to be helpful to us and to our daughter as we adjust to a world of checking blood glucose, delivering insulin shots, recording numbers in an ever-thickening notebook, counting carbs and dividing them by forty. Eleanor has been in what is called the Honeymoon Period–worst kind of honeymoon ever–when her pancreas tries to do its old job and is only capable of inconsistency in insulin creation. As a result, she has been on a roller-coaster of blood glucose lows and a few highs. She has eaten a life-time supply of Skittles, fifteen at a time.

Another part of our new ritual as parents is getting up at 2:00 a.m., strapping on a small headlamp, and going into Eleanor’s room to do an overnight blood glucose check. Katie has taken the lion’s share of these checks, while I have done the weekends when I can sleep in the next morning a bit beyond my normal workday alarm time. 2:00 a.m. is a weird time when I don’t want to wake up enough to be too alert to go back to sleep and I don’t want to be too asleep on my feet as I need my wits about me so I can prick her finger and get a reading. The 2:00 a.m. check brings me back to the weather. A wicked storm arrived, pulling Katie and me half-awake by 1:30. The sound led me to snippet dreams of Atlantic surf—the constant rumble, punctuated by waves crashing and driving to shore.  The ebbing and flowing thunder, the growl of the rain were strange visitors for December and certainly for Christmas morning. I felt as if we had mysteriously landed in the other hemisphere where such weather might make some sense.

When I went into Eleanor’s room, she only awakened enough to give me her hand (such a thin thing her hand, warm from having been wing-tucked under her side). You might be tempted to think her hand, soft and livid, was a metaphor for her own delicacy. Not so. Not a bit.  She didn’t even flinch at the prick–in the daytime she can be laughing and talking at the same time she does the does the check herself. I was never as tough as my daughter. 106–a good number. The storm held on for hours. I fell into and out of sleep and thus into and out of this storm. I was comfortable and warm, reconciled to a spotty night’s rest.

Rotten and loud as it was, this unusual weather was not all curse. Neither, I think, is my daughter’s diagnosis. Trust me, we are not thankful that Type One has come into our child’s life and made clear it is here to stay. I hate it for her. Every day I hate it for her. I hate it when she has to sit out of swim practice, or covertly check her blood while sitting in a classroom or church pew, or shed angry tears when her long acting insulin dose burns and burns.

There is, I think, a blessing here, however: nothing has made it clearer to me that we are, the three of us, all part of each other, stronger because of each other. Her diabetes makes the connection between us physical, tied together through blood and daily, increasingly mundane, rites. Her diabetes is hers, but it is also ours. Eleanor gets four shots a day–one with each meal, another long acting insulin shot at bed-time. Eleanor gives the lunch and dinner shot to herself in her legs. Katie gives her the morning shot in her left arm, and I give her the night-time shot in her right.

Katie and I each have an arm of our daughter, but make no mistake, she is walking on her own two legs. The weather looks dicey for a few more days. Who knows if real Winter weather will ever reunite with its appropriate season around here. Eleanor is across the street at a friend’s house, playing with make-up and dreaming of putting her new wakeboard into heavy use next summer. She just texted that she is low–65. In another 15 minutes, she’ll check again.

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Ross Peters is a Senior Consultant for AAL: The Academy for Advancing Leadership. He focuses on Independent Schools and their national and regional associations in the areas of strategic planning, change management, board practice, and curriculum development. His extensive background in these areas also prepares him to serve in higher educational and professional educational settings as well. Prior to his role at AAL, Ross had a number of titles: Head Tennis Coach, Mountaineering Staff Member, Department Chair, Dean of Faculty, Assistant Head for Academic Affairs, Upper School Head, and Head of School. He derived his understanding of how a school should work and what leadership should look like from the classroom out, building his understanding of a school one) from the powerful relationships built with students in classrooms where high expectations and nurture are symbiotic and two) from the example of extraordinary school leaders who modeled servant leadership molded to the demanding environment of an independent school. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Ross was a thirteen-year graduate of St. Christopher’s School. From there he went to Sewanee: The University of the South (B.A., English), followed, after six years teaching at Providence Day School, with an M.Ed from the University of Georgia. While deeply appreciative of the remarkable gift of education he received at every level, his best learning has resulted from being an educator working with students whether as a classroom teacher or as a school leader. At the core of his belief in the value of an independent school is this idea: in order to create the education our students need and deserve, schools must mirror the qualities we demand of those we teach; thus, our learning curve should remain steep and our dedication to holding up the values we name as most important should be unwavering. This commitment to match the expectations we have for students in the way we think, act, work together as an institution guides his work in leadership, and it has allowed him to play a significant and lasting role in several outstanding schools. Since his eight years at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, he has made an impact as a teacher and administrator in a fascinating range of schools. From founding an integrated Humanities Department to establishing an Honor System at a small, hundred-year-old boarding school (Asheville School), and from reinventing the use of time to creating an urban campus in two schools ready for significant innovation (Hawken School and The Westminster Schools), Ross has had the chance to immerse himself in strategic and aligned school cultures to a degree that has allowed him to help those remarkable places move forward within the context of their mission and culture. At St. George’s Independent School, he mobilized that experience to help a younger school maintain the forward-thinking qualities that make it unique in Memphis. Ross is active in the Memphis Community and beyond. He currently serves on two Boards—the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools. He is a former Board member of Bridges USA, which operates from the belief that “great leaders, regardless of age, must appreciate diversity, lean into courageous conversations, and build bridges across deep philosophical and physical divides.” He and his wife Katie also serve as members of the Family Partners Council at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital where their daughter, Eleanor was first diagnosed as a Type I Diabetic. Katie (Ph.D., Emory University, Religious Studies) teaches at Rhodes College. His interests include hiking, travel, photography, and mediocre guitar picking. A widely published poet, he has completed work on a collection of poetry entitled, The Flood is Not the River, and he has provided the foreword and over one hundred photographs for a book entitled, Sacred Views: St. Francis and the Sacro Monte di Orta due out in the next year from Punctum Press. You can find his thoughts on education, as well as anything else he might be thinking about, on his blog—Ross All Over the Map. A long time ago he had hair:

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