A mile from school, Adam’s insulin pod starts beeping, that insistant chirp we once never imagined knowing—one two three, one two three–not an emergency yet, but a countdown to it, and just as the stress knot in my neck begins to ease.
“Mom, Adam’s beeping,” Riley says, reporting, as though I can tune out the sound of lateness arriving just when I might be on time.
I glance toward the basket I keep in the floor of the car, the one overflowing with ziplocs full of extra pods, boxes of raisins for fast sugar, batteries, wet wipes, strips for their glucose meters. I try to stay ahead of the hurdles. “I know. I’ll change his pod when we get to school,” I say, already envisioning us there, him standing one-arm bare and dangling in the chill, me solid-footed on the asphalt, drawing insulin into a syringe. I can hear him telling me it’s time to go inside, it’s time to go inside, “Change pod is finished. Let’s do something else. It’s time to go inside,” in that deep voice of his, looking askance and rubbing a man-hand through bed-flattened hair, bending toward me as though I’m not quite tall enough now to get the pod on his arm. I’ve done this so many times the process takes less than five minutes, but every single one of them he’ll wish for something else, and this morning, I will too. The introvert in me has started her growl, rumbling and heavy.
Mornings often feel pinball-crazy, and too soon. This morning, Kevin left early–a dental appointment–so here I am in the car. If not for that dental appointment, this would have been his emergency. The thought slithers, flicking across my thoughts, low, like thunder.
We pull through the drive–narrow, like a bowling lane, but short and rounding–tires crunching over the road. I put on my blinker a quarter of a mile before the turn so that the guy behind me won’t miss the cue and run right into to me.
“Riley, you go on in,” I say, pulling into a parking space and shutting off the ignition. “Adam will be in as soon as I change his pod.”
Hearing me, Adam starts scrambling in the back seat–gathering up his book bag with one hand, yanking the door handle with the other, as though he’s thinking maybe he can get inside before I can get out of the car and disturb the order of things. I wonder sometimes if we’re all a bit that way; if so much of our feverish scrambling through life is about desperately trying to avoid uncomfortable interruptions to what we have planned.
“Wait just a minute, buddy,” I tell my son, reaching into the basket for a replacement pod.
“No wait just a minute,” he says, leaning heavily on the one leg he’s already put down outside the car. I press my lips together, swallowing the urge to blurt that this is inconvenient for me too; that I have an appointment to get to this morning—an hour away yet, but still; that I would much rather be gathering my morning quietly. No wait a minute, indeed.
I grab Adam’s PDM case, unzipping it a little too aggressively, but all I say is, “We’ll change your pod real quick, and then you can go inside.”
“Let’s do something else,” he says, while I pull out the PDM and press the status button.
It strikes me that our problem isn’t expiration but depletion. The pod’s still operable, but the medicine is dripping its way empty, like our bodies do of energy, like our minds do of truth. It’s not enough just to refill; the pod itself will have to be new.
I dip my fingers into the front pocket of the case, reaching past cylinders of test strips for the vial of insulin we always keep tucked carefully inside.
“Change pod is finished,” Adam says again. “How about, what if we do something else? It’s time to go inside.” His words have become rhythmic, like a chant.
I can’t feel the insulin. I dig out the test strips and throw them on the seat, tugging the zipper on the case down further, until it’s open like a gaping mouth. I pull out trash—used test strips and empty canisters, until my fingers hit the seam at the bottom of the bag. Oh no.
“Let’s do something else,” Adam says, a little more emphatically, as though I don’t quite understand. A friend of mine–another autism mom–once theorized that our children think we’re the ones with the language disorder.
“Where’s.the.insulin, Adam?” I ask, knowing he’ll not be able to tell me. He doesn’t know where it is, doesn’t remember where the vial landed other than where it should be now.
“Where did the insulin go?” He says to me, shifting the way he does when he doesn’t know what to do.
I empty the other compartment of the case completely–extra batteries; alcohol swabs, all bent and crumpled because he stuffed them in; the lancet he uses to draw blood from his bruised fingers. I run my fingers along the bottom seams, rough and thick. No insulin. It took me nearly a half hour to drive here. I open his book bag and empty it too—lunch bag; random sheets of paper, wadded soft and ragged at the edges; the weary gallon bag full of extras—ketostrips, batteries, glucagon for lows if he won’t wake up. None of it matters without the insulin. Extra insulin has to be cold…so it would have to be inside in the refrigerator if I’ve anticipated such a time as this, which I haven’t. But if…it would be inside.
“Change your pod is finished,” Adam says again. “It’s time to go inside.”
“Yes, it’s time to go inside,” I say to him, shoving everything back into his bookbag, the supplies back into the case. “Because we don’t have any insulin.” The words come out a little too hard, pushed like all the “just in case” things that won’t do a bit of good without the one thing we need.
Adam seems relieved, happy even. He still doesn’t understand.
This will take me an hour, I’m thinking, because I always think in extremes when pressed. It won’t–not quite–but nearly. I’m doing the math–home for insulin and back and then all the way over there…Is it possible still to make my appointment?—hoping against hope that I’ve left extra insulin inside the building, knowing I haven’t, my hand flat against Adam’s back on our way inside. It would be the sort of thing I’d do. But I haven’t. I didn’t. The tips of my fingers bump against Adam’s shoulder bones. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to cover all the bases. I just can’t prepare in advance for everything. WHERE is that insulin? WHY does he have a low reservoir? WHO filled the last pod? Because it wasn’t me. This has to be someone’s fault, doesn’t it? Because life never just happens hard because it is just hard, does it?
Adam disappears inside the building, and at the door, three wonderful children–some of the best people I know–greet me with hugs. One, two, three. They are God-sent, a reminder of what matters, a careful chastening I don’t even recognize until much later. I embrace them sincerely, wishing for the time to linger. Others greet me enthusiastically by name, lifting their hands in the air. They are glad to see me. And I am hurry-sick.
It takes me five minutes inside the building talking with Adam’s and Riley’s teachers–for whom I should–then and now—give thanks, to discover what I really already know: no insulin. They offer me their understanding, their dismay–a grace, and I hurry out the building, calling over my shoulder that I’ll be back, clumsily realizing as I slide into the car that I haven’t yet met the new student one of the kids mentioned to me on the way in. One, two, three.
Deafened by the clamor of my own discontent, I slam the door of the car and pick up my phone. The first thing on my mind is not to pray, but to complain. All this time, and I still forget that God is the One I can’t do without. His with-ness is everything, and in much the way that insulin enables my children to live in good health without eliminating the disease that challenges them, prayer often enables healthy perspective when God chooses not to eliminate difficulty. Prayer is always the most powerful, most healing action. Without God, my contingency plans come to nothing. Prayer should be my first response, not merely an act of desperation if all-else-fails. But complaint blinds me like a shroud. It is an abundance-stealing poison.
I text Kevin: SO... That word is like a gate clanging open, gaping, and I launch through it and over a cliff, summarizing the morning, punctuating my frustration with capital letters and excessive exclamation.
I am half way home before he texts back, and nearly there before I pick up the phone at a stoplight to read: I’m so sorry. I hope you can make it on time! My husband’s response is kind, loving, even understanding, but it doesn’t help. He can’t fix this. I knew that before I word-spit my jeremiad, just as I knew there would be no insulin at school. Looking back now, I know that the greatest effect of my impetuous texting tirade was to infect Kevin’s equally busy morning with a bitter dose of negativity; in effect, to share the sickness.
I wish I could say that immediately I recognized the wrong turn I’d taken, but the truth is that it happened only hours later when, wearily, I turned back toward home and began to pray. Only then did the shadows fall away from the road; only then could I begin to see love and glimpses of grace glinting; only then did I recognize God, right in the feverish middle of my unexpected morning.