“How do you explain diabetes to her?”
How do you explain diabetes to your kid? I wish there was a strategy, a predictable path that conversations about health and wellness could take, like when my daughter brings out The Game of Life and I want to replace all the normal life stuff with the diabetes versions I marked as milestones along the way.
- First time checking my blood sugar on my own.
- First time giving my own shot.
- Explained diabetes to a new friend.
- Went to a sleepover and my mom didn’t come with me.
- Earned my driver’s license and permission to get a car after proving I would check my blood sugar every time before driving.
- Going to the endocrinologist by myself.
- Moving out and living alone.
- Managing emotional and physical diabetes-related complications.
- Creating a family (this would earn me more people in my little car, right? “People” being the little matchstick shaped things you shoved into the plastic car.)
- Living beyond diabetes.
Trouble is, there’s no set path that diabetes takes, even with the best intentions and optimal care. And the milestones aren’t always triumphant. I’d be inclined to roll again if I landed on the “Manage diabetes distress pockets” or “Deal with health-related discrimination” spaces.
How do I talk about the emotional stuff tied to diabetes without shuffling those emotions right onto my daughter? When she asks questions like, “Does diabetes scare you?” or “Are you afraid I’ll get diabetes, too?” I’m reaching to roll again.
How do I explain diabetes to my most beloved Bird? I don’t. Not entirely. We have conversations about normal things, with diabetes built into the context clues. When she was very small, we talked about how she should not push the buttons on mommy’s pump. As she grew up, we talked about why I wore an insulin pump and other mom’s did not. Sometimes conversations about low blood sugars came up and we dealt with those as part of the moment instead of scheduling a sit-down discussion with flash cards and a quiz at the end.
But she’s tuned in, and she notices things. And in the last year or so, she’s elected herself captain of my support team. If my Dexcom low alarm goes off, she drops everything she’s going and comes over and wraps her arms around my waist. I don’t know what prompts her to do this – sometimes I think it’s the vacant look in my eyes when I’m low that makes her feel the need to double-check on me.
“Does this help, Mom?”
“It does,” I say, through a mouthful of candy corn. “You help.”
If she were to list five things about her mom, diabetes might be on that list. But it comes with expectations of conferences at Disney World and friends around the world, and sure, there are doctor’s appointments and moments where I need a few extra minutes and sometimes I am distracted by the need to reapply a sensor or prick my finger and all these things that beep, but that’s life with this disease. Diabetes is a cumbersome to do list that comes with a monster under the bed who I don’t often make eye contact with.
But we manage.
Explaining diabetes to her is its own challenge. But sometimes, through her eyes, she re-explains diabetes to me.