Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)


There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.


Dead Dad Day #7

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, the most life-changing event I have experienced that now serves as my “before” and “after” marker. I have always honored Dead Dad Day, as I refer to it, as a kind of Sabbath, a day I do not conduct business as usual but spend time reflecting on the painfully beautiful unraveling it caused me.

I have written about my rituals on DDD before. Some years I didn’t work on February 11, some I did. Some years I reread sympathy cards, some years I didn’t. What has always been the tradition, though, is a family dinner with my crew and my mother, sister, and brother-in-law. We have a margarita, one of my dad’s favorite adult drinks, toast to a wonderful, complicated man, and share memories.

This year is different. A shared meal is not possible now that we’ve moved 1,000 miles away. Had we been home, it would not have happened anyway, as my sister is in the home stretch of her nurse practitioner program and has class from 1-8 tonight. And though I have always kept the evening of February 11 clear, tonight Owen has a make-up basketball game. Having him skip it would be a very UN-Tom-Pesola move.

Life has changed for us all, as life tends to do. And for the first time since that terrible day on February 11, 2009, when my 59-year-old father unexpectedly died in the middle of the night due, in essence, to Type 1 diabetes, February 11 feels…normal.

I will continue to honor this day, of course. I am looking forward to a great day at work. I will attend a College Board workshop on examining PSAT data, participate in a lower school PLC meeting on math curriculum, finish the annual report to our endowed fund donors, and discuss ways we might compbasketballact the curriculum for our advanced upper school students. After school, I will help coach the middle school Girls on the Run team, our first meeting of the year. Then, we will squeeze in a family dinner before heading to Owen’s game to watch #66, the next generation of my father’s #33, play a great game.


I am also donating $33 to Spare a Rose, a foundation I fortuitously learned about last night. My father and Owen were lucky to have been born after the discovery of insulin, but just because insulin exists does not mean all children have access to it. To coincide with Valentine’s Day (the day we buried my father), Spare a Rose asks people to give the value of one rose to help provide diabetes supplies and insulin to children in degoofyveloping countries. How can I not support that?

So, cheers to you, all of my family and friends who have supported us on our journey of grief these last 7 years. And, cheers to a father who consistently supported me with love and kindness and encouragement. I hold my memories a little closer and dearer today.

Oh, the Irony!

(Originally posted on old blog on February 5, 2010)

If we go back in time to over a year ago, yesterday marked the day that my father had one week left to live. The English teacher in me appreciates irony. The common definition of this words means the opposite of the expected outcome happens, but as a literary technique, irony refers to when the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience but unknown to the character. As I reflect on the “story” of my father’s final week, the irony is particularly poignant.

On my sister’s birthday, February 6, her then-boyfriend-now-fiance threw her a surprise party. As it was a small gathering for the 21-30 crowd, my parents babysat the kids while Brendan and I attended. When my parents babysat, they rarely went home upon our arrival; they stayed at least another 20 minutes to hear about our evening and tell us what funny things the kids said or did in our absence.

My parents wanted to know if my sister was surprised. Frightened was more like it, as when she opened the door and saw people in their apartment, she thought for sure she and Scott were being robbed.

“She almost had a heart attack,” I said. For the audience, that’s ironic example #1.

While listening to my parents’ report about the kids, I noticed an empty wine glass in the sink. “Where they that bad that they drove you to drink?” I joked. My mother then said that my father drinks a glass of red every now and then “for his heart.” Ironic example #2.

The next day, we celebrated Kara’s birthday as a family. She wanted to go out for a meal and ice cream at Friendly’s, the restaurant my father used to take us to for breakfast when we were kids. As much as I like the cheap grub, Friendly’s is not known for their service, at least not the franchise closest to us.

But this visit was perfect. We had a short wait to be seated, during which we all talked and the kids were well-behaved. As a part of 8, we had to split between neighboring booths, but we compensated for the divide by frequently turning around and checking in on the other table’s conversation. We all shared a laugh when Owen said, “Poppy, do you want a bite of my ice cream?” then revealed that, in fact, he had already cleaned out his dish.

My father picked up the bill. Brendan offered him money. He said, “No, I got it. It’s not every day I get to take everyone out for my youngest’s 25th birthday.” Then he flashed what some have dubbed the “Tommy grin” or the “Pesola smirk,” though I just consider it my father’s trademark look of contentedness. Ironic example #3.

Though I am sure it is difficult for my sister having a birthday just days before what is now the anniversary of our father’s death, I am grateful for the timing because it allowed us to have a truly memorable, happy weekend together, what we now know was our last.

After leaving Friendly’s, my parents got ready to attend the Snow Ball, an annual fundraising dance for the Danvers YMCA. While I did not go to this event, it seems it was the most ironic scene of my father’s final days.

From what I’ve heard from various people in attendance that night, my father donned the jovial persona he typically wore to these occasions, which he rarely looked forward to attending because he did not like to dance. He introduced himself as my mother’s “boy toy” to some, as her “eye candy” to others, and had conversations about how lucky he was to have the relationships he had with all of us.

The only serious note of the evening was a conversation he had with a colleague about a recent health scare. Though I don’t remember the details, this physically fit and otherwise healthy person told my father that he had been having chest pains and ended up getting to the hospital just in time for major surgery that no doubt saved him from a heart attack. Ironic example # 4.

My father was obviously shaken by this chat because he called our house the next morning to talk about it. How could this happen to someone so young and healthy, he wondered aloud to Brendan. Now, I see the subtext of this conversation as, Could this happen to me?

As the audience member watching this final week in hindsight, I want to shout, “Yes! Call the doctor!” much like we yell at the impending victim in a horror movie to turn around and leave the soon-to-be-crime scene.

But I didn’t say that.

I didn’t say anything because the last time I spoke to my dad was Saturday, February 7, as we left Friendly’s. We he called on Sunday, he spoke only to Brendan. I tried to call him on Tuesday, the 10th, after leaving a particularly thought-provoking lecture by Noam Chomsky at BC. He wasn’t home. I didn’t leave a message.

Brendan called him later that night to ask if he could babysit on Thursday the 12th. I had lass and Brendan had a work obligation. He said he’d be happy to.

Brendan asked me, “Do you want to talk to your dad?”

“I’ll talk to him later,” I said, worn out from the day and still processing the lecture. Ironic example #5.