“Jerry has diabetes, like you do, mom. So I give him food and insulin and check his blood sugar and he likes to play archery.”
A brief pause as Birdy rand her hands over Jerry’s soft bear ears.
“Mom, what’s archery?”
[Disclosure: Jerry was a gift from Hannah to Birdy. We did not purchase Jerry.]
Yesterday, Hannah Chung from Sproutel kindly visited Birdzone and I to drop off a new friend for my daughter: Jerry the Bear. Jerry is a stuffed animal bear who has type 1 diabetes, and part of snuggling him and playing with him can also include checking his blood sugar by pressing a button on his paw. Developed to help kids make sense of their own diabetes diagnosis, Jerry helps normalize diabetes by being a kindred spirit who also needs insulin and glucose tabs.
He’s a stuffed animal who happens to have diabetes. Similar to how I’m a mom who happens to have diabetes.
And that’s exactly how I want my daughter to learn about life with diabetes, with the constant, comfortable caveat that diabetes provides a to-do list, but it can be done. And it can be fun.
Birdy knows quite a bit about diabetes, but mostly the brass tacks sort of stuff. She likes to press the button on my lancing device (though she’s always surprised when a drop of blood comes out – “Does that hurt, Mom?” “No, kiddo.” “Are you sure? Because I see blood.”), she prides herself on selecting the spot for my insulin pump infusion set, and she has a solid grasp on the meaning of the sounds ringing out from my Dexcom.
What she and I have not discussed, however, is what so many of the numbers mean. She knows that my glucose meter gives me numbers of some kind and that I respond to them with certain sets of actions, but the numbers aren’t in context. 165 means the same at 50 means the same as 433 … nothing. They are just numbers, or at least they were, until yesterday. Yesterday, through her interactions with Jerry, Birdy learned what “high” and “low” look like as glucose numbers.
“Jerry is high. See? His number is one-seven-six. He has to pee. I need to give him some water and some insulin,” she said to me yesterday and she and Jerry were coloring at the kitchen table.
“Oh yeah? So what will you do, then?”
“Mom, I already said I will give him insulin. And some water. I know what I’m doing.”
“Okay then,” and I turned away so she couldn’t see me smirking.
Later in the afternoon, she asked me how many glucose tabs she needed to give to Jerry if his blood sugar was low.
“How many do I usually take?” I asked her.
“You stack them up on the counter. You take four. Is four right, mom?”
(And this is where she teaches me something – I do stack up the glucose tabs on the counter before I eat them. I take out a set number and make sure I eat precisely what I take out, to help avoid over-treating and to also help protect me from forgetting to eat enough in the flurry of a hypoglycemic episode.)
“Yes, four should do it.”
“Okay.” She “feeds” Jerry four glucose tabs and checks his blood sugar. “Oh, I fixed it. He’s not low anymore.” She smiles, satisfied. “Hey, do you know that if I smush his fur down and draw my finger through it, I can make eyebrows for Jerry?”
I want her to continue to draw eyebrows on Jerry. Just because his little stuffed pancreas doesn’t splutter the way it should doesn’t mean he should have weak eyebrow game, yeah?
As she learns, I want her to feel safe and feel protected, empowered to ask and to help. Resources like Jerry aren’t just for kids with diabetes, but for kids touched by diabetes on all levels. I want my daughter to learn about my diabetes absent discussions about complications, fear, and pity. I want her to see type 1 diabetes in the context of my actual life, which is filled with joy and chaos unrelated to my health. She should know about this health condition because it’s part of what I do every day, and part of what she does, too, after a fashion.
Because it’s not about diabetes; it’s about life.