Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels

4 Nov

About a week ago I drove to Orange County–a place I didn’t know anything about (and still don’t): a part of California that isn’t LA or “The Valley”(I still haven’t figured out what “The Valley” is.)  Or San Francisco. My parochialism runs deep. BUT, I could tell you where in Redondo Beach to get the best dried kelp, where in Long Beach to find Chinese Herbs for depression, and where in Westwood to get a great Dead Sea facial mask. (Strangely indistinguishable, these various sundries.)

So, there I was, heading to the outback of Orange County for the “Tour de Cure,” a 25-mile bike ride to benefit diabetes research. My son Noah has Type 1; He was diagnosed at 10.

Noah at 10 with Howie's MaxThat’s Noah with cousin Max, a few months  before diagnosis.

I took my son to the doctor because Noah had some hives on his shin and abdomen.  When the doctor asked if Noah  had been eating or drinking anything unusual, we both said that he’d been drinking lots and lots of water, juice, soda, and peeing a lot.  The doctor’s expression changed, and then he took a little blood from Noah. When we asked why, Doctor Lambert–who’d known Noah since he was 6 months old–said,

“Just a check. He might have diabetes. Thirst and heavy urination are typical signs.”

Dr. Lambert left the room and Noah and I looked at each other; I wanted nothing more in the world than to run out of the office with my boy and go far far away. Because what the doctor had said seemed true. And how could I not have known?! Of course those were signs of diabetes.

It’s not quite true that all I wanted to do was run away; sobbing and  curling up in the corner was super-appealing. But that is not what moms do; moms are fearless and nurturing and always have a solution. At least they provide cookies. No cookies this time.

So, last month I headed to Orange County to bike  the “tour de cure.” Friends and acquaintances had given very, very generously toward my ride (THANK YOU!)  At  22, my son has  had diabetes  for  12 years. I believe there will be a cure in his lifetime.

I arrived in this little Orange County desert town–built ten years ago at the most?–and checked into my hotel. When I opened my suitcase, I found a test strip–which Noah uses about twelve times a day to determine his blood sugar level. Whenever he borrows my suitcase or car, the test strips turn up, signs  of Noah’s life, diabetes bread crumbs. Finding these little markers of his condition, I am unable to throw them away.

Tour de Cure test strip

In my hotel, I watched stupid TV until it rocked me to sleep. In the morning, for good luck I put on the Hamsa  earrings that a few years ago Noah brought me from Israel.

Tour de Cure earring

Then I drove to the Tour de Cure starting point. The sky was beautiful.

Tour de Cure Morning sky

The first five miles went by like a breeze, and then there was, almost too early, a rest stop: water, energy bar consumed, and I was on my way.  In the line of cyclists I was pretty far back, and that was fine. But I was disappointed that almost everyone was in groups or couples. The only people I saw who were also cycling solo were those rail-thin bike guys in their 50’s who do this sort of thing every weekend with a facial expression that suggests: Tour de France!

About mid-way through the ride, one of them said to me, “Only fifteen more miles!” I laughed; we were at mile 16 at least. I was feeling pretty lonely, and the biking was harder than I’d expected: a lot of hills.

On the day that Dr. Lambert tested Noah’s blood sugar for diabetes, my son went straight to the clinic restroom after the doctor told us his guess about Noah’s symptoms. He had just started Hebrew lessons for his Bar Mitzvah–several  years down the road–and his newly learned prayers breathed through the door that I was leaning on.  Noah’s  voice was thin but determined, speaking Hebrew, a foreign tongue to me–the non-Jewish parent.

The blood test was positive. I felt that this was impossible and yet it wasn’t. We got into the cold car, and Noah asked, “Will I still be able to have a baby someday?”

“Of course you will. As many babies as you want,” I replied, having no idea if diabetes affected fertility. Then we both cried, pulling out of the parking lot with the car wheels crunching over dry, heavily salted snow.

During the diabetes bike ride, I got lost. As a lone rider,  I had to navigate the way myself and  I guess I wasn’t  very good at reading the map or the signs.   Twice, I  waited for quite a while for other cyclists to come by so I could ask, “which way?” And then I found out that that Tour de France guy wasn’t joking. When I thought we had about three or four  miles left, I found out we had ten more to go.

Tour de Cure dry mountain scene

Noah must sometimes feel lost,  as if  “the signs”–carbohydrate counting, insulin to exercise ratio figuring–are of no use. And of course, the road of diabetes is lonely. No matter how expert the endocrinologist,  how supportive the family and friends, the diabetic is mostly alone with the disease: trying to figure out why, although he/she counted the carbs exactly and took precisely the right amount of insulin, she/he is still nauseous and angry and with a pounding head: hyperglycemia. Or he/she feels dizzy, faint, and is unable to form words: hypoglycemia. This can happen a couple of times a week.

A few years after he was diagnosed, Noah  went on a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS. At thirteen, he was one the  youngest riders. I was terrified, and followed him in my car for part of the ride. He didn’t love that. Here’s Noah in the last two miles:

Noah on Aids Ride

I thought a lot about Noah during my unexpectedly long last lap of  the Ture de Cure, and I texted him “OMG, 6 more miles!” He texted back “Go MOM!” I kept pedaling. Along the way there was some lovely scenery:

Tour de Cure nurseryA nursery with huge patches of flowers. And these crazy cacti!  (Thank God for that fence):

Tour de Cure Crazy cacti

And then,  when I was pedaling hard on the outside and crying on the inside, this:

Tour de Cure Still NightDo not go gently into that (I know,  in Dylan Thomas’ poem, it’s that  “good night,” but I thought  of  the line anyway. Who names a street “Still Night”? Where was I?)

Just as I became delirious with despair I was hurdling through the finish line!  (And then consuming vast amounts of bland chicken cutlets and lemonade.)

The ride had been harder than I’d expected. I texted Noah, “Done!” He texted back, “Proud of you!” “Backatcha,” I wrote.

Noah’s road is harder than I wish,  and he travels it alone. Every day.

Noah Head shot November 2014Congratulations Noah, on the road you ride with  vigilance, perseverance, even humor.  I’ve learned a lot from you about loving  life–about demanding everything  that it has to offer, and about offering to life all that you have to give. So much.


18 Responses to “Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels”

  1. carol le seure November 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    Just about perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

    • maw14747 November 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

      This post made me breathless.
      My heroes? You, Noah.
      My pleasure? The way you deftly weave us in and through the necessarily separate but parallel paths you two are on.
      Thank you so much for this, Kir. You help renew my faith in intelligence and exquisite sensitivity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • kwasson2012 November 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

        Thank you, MAW. Behind every hero is a great babysitter.


    • kwasson2012 November 6, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

      That means a lot, Carol, coming from you! Thank you for reading!


  2. Melissa B November 4, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    I finished with tears in my eyes. Beautifully written Mom. The metaphor is perfect.


  3. Audrey F November 4, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Kirsten, this is so beautifully written and so moving as well as laugh out loud funny. You and Noah are inspirational!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 November 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Thank you for reading, Audrey. I’m glad you laughed!


  4. robinbot November 5, 2014 at 2:38 am #

    Isn’t it amazing all the places our children take us, all the lessons we learn from them? I loved reading about Noah. And about your pushing yourself to do something big and meaningful. Thank you for reminding me of my first and only 5K run that I did while my son was in army bootcamp. I wore his photo on my chest and kept telling myself that the pain I was feeling was nothing next to what he was going through. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 November 6, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

      His photo on your chest. Love that. Thank you so much for reading, Robin!


  5. Nick DAlleva November 6, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    I very much enjoyed your writing here. I feel invigorated and much more knowledgeable about Diabetes. What a pain in the ass it must be to cope with all the dietary and insulin everyday of one’s life. I think I have it bad dealing with Asthma as a lifetime condition–inhalers, sprays, pills, avoidance of friend’s homes where cats purr and juke around. I feel much respect for both you and Noah through the colorful weavings of your story. I absolutely love the part where Noah goes to the restroom to practice his prayers for his Bar Mitzvah. I am not religious anymore but I respect people who practice their religion and the traditions along with it. Thank you, Kirsten for this beautiful piece.


  6. Mary Holland November 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Kir, I enjoy everything you write in this blog, but this entry especially moved me. It’s hard to hold in my mind, when I look at your big, strong, amazing boy, that he is dealing with these things every day. It’s not that I forget; it’s that the difficulty and limitations of diabetes feel incommensurate with the fullness, complexity, and achievement of Noah. Of course that sense of incommensurability really is signaling how well he has learned to live with the body he showed up in, despite its difficulties, and how well you helped him learn that. It’s good to be reminded, though, of his and everyone’s invisible challenges, how much there is to admire in the living of a life, and that is exactly what your blog is so good at doing. My love to you and your wonderful boy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 November 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

      Everyone’s invisible challenges. My love to you and your wonderful boys, Mary. And thank you for such a rich comment.


  7. elainemansfield November 16, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    Deeply touching in so many ways, Kirsten. Mother-child love, the confusion and disbelief we feel when illness strikes, your dogged courage, the beauty and bikers you notice as you sweat it out, and your humor. Thank you for taking me on your ride. Go Noah! Go Kirsten!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 November 17, 2014 at 12:02 am #

      Thank you, Elaine…I felt the presence of Noah and certain friends on that ride. You were among the presences!


  8. Shawn Meyer November 17, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    Loved, Loved reading this, Kirsten……….beautifully written. Oh, and I do believe that I’m owed a photo credit for the AMAZING photo of Noah on his bike during the AIDS Ride. Funny, I remember every moment of that day – and I remember getting the biggest kick out of taking that picture!


    • kwasson2012 November 17, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      Shawn! Thank you for reading! I did not realize you took that photo; I’m so sorry! (I thought Jerry had.) CREDIT GIVEN. It’s such a beautiful photo; Jerry made a tile out of it, and we both have one. Thank you so much!


      • Shawn Meyer November 22, 2014 at 5:32 am #

        very much kidding about needing a photo credit…..I will never forget taking that photo – because the very scary thing (and not oh so safe) was that I took it while I was following Noah in a car!! It was taken from out a car window!! Yikes – bet Noah will remember! That’s why he has that cute, sly smile! 🙂


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