Most of the time, I’m the teacher and my two-and-a-half year old son is the student. But not always. Right now, my son is teaching me about acceptance. He looks at the day–or whatever situation he’s in–and embraces it for what it is. If rain falls, he delights in it, telling me with a huge grin that, “Rain fall! From sky!”
Watching the leaves change color from an upstairs window, he lists their colors in a delighted jumble: “Brown yellow red brown!”
And he accepts my diabetes in just such a joyful and unconcerned way. He races around the room after snatching up my glucose meter. He marvels at the insulin pump attached to my stomach. He even enjoys the taste of a glucose tablet or two.
I have dealt with type 1 diabetes for more than a quarter-century. And yet I still see it as something outside of myself. It’s not who I am, and I’m not what it is. I will manage it, and I will do my best, but I most certainly won’t celebrate it. What am I, crazy?
And yet my son celebrates it. And yes, he is young and doesn’t understand that daddy has a chronic disease. Yet the fact that he is young and views the world in such an uncomplicated way does not make his viewpoint invalid.
Yes, someday he will probably look at the world with a bit less wonder. But I hope that doesn’t happen for some time.
Given that my son is two and a half years old, he’s testing boundaries like crazy. For the first time, my husband and I are disciplining him. It’s a big change, and one I’m not too fond of. I realize that my son needs to know that some actions are unacceptable. But it’s not fun for me, and it’s not fun for him, either.
I’ve noticed, though, that discipline isn’t a thing that you do. It’s a process that you undertake. In other words, you don’t just punish a child by putting him in time out. As a matter of fact, the time out isn’t even primarily a punishment. For someone the age of my son, it serves as a chance to clear his head, to calm down, to take a step back.
We’ll then ask him if he understands why he went to time out. Sometimes he knows, Sometimes we have to tell him. And he needs to apologize, or show some kind of remorse. We’re not just trying to make him stop doing something, you see. We’re trying to make him understand why he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
I’m not offering parenting advice, by the way. This is simply what we do, and what makes sense to us as we navigate these times.
But that approach to discipline strikes me as important for adults too, especially those of us who have intensive treatment programs that need to be followed.
It’s easy to slap our hands if we have a high blood sugar reading or subpar A1c result. We hurl silent insults at ourselves if our meal planning breaks down. Yet this self-recrimination does nothing to actually help us. Why did our blood sugars go high? Why did our diet not work out? What can we do to fix it? These are the important questions to ask and solve.
Having Fun With It
A lot of parenting can be a drag. You get less sleep. You have to change more diapers than you ever imagined possible. You will keep buying Goldfish crackers and it will never, ever, be enough, Did I mention the getting less sleep part?
And don’t think you’re getting praised for it either? Your kids probably won’t even notice that you’re keeping them fed, clothed, and sheltered. That’s just part of the deal.
But focusing on drudgery is a sure route to misery. And thankfully, kids don’t let you be miserable. Or focus much either, for that matter. Instead, my son forces me to play tickle games with him. He brings me books to read. He sings random songs. He wants me to sing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and tickle him.
So amid the humdrum bits of parenting, there are these shining, joyous moments. And they are the simplest things–connecting to another human being, a little one, who loves you with incredible simplicity and purity and force.
The connections to diabetes should be clear. This disease is often not only depressing, but dull at the same time. Taking care of oneself is a treadmill of blood sugar checks, insulin injections or boluses, carbohydrate counting, and generally keeping oneself on the straight and narrow.
The joy comes from life. The joy amid all of the drudgery is in the remarkable days and restful nights that we still get to enjoy. And if we handle the drudgery well–the more we accept it and move beyond it to do our very best–we’ll be in a better position to enjoy these days and nights.
Open to New Information
A thrill of parenting is bringing home a new book and sharing it with my son. At two and a half, there’s so much he hasn’t seen or experienced, and these volumes give him a taste of the amazing possibilities outside of our home.
He’s excited about learning the information, too. He will point to an object in a picture and ask “what’s that?” As I explain, he’ll listen attentively–and later repeat bits of that explanation back at random intervals.
Those books, that information, is his window into the world. Why wouldn’t he be interested? Why wouldn’t he be full of questions?
But something changes as we age, especially for those of us with challenging, chronic medical conditions. If only those of us handling diabetes were so open. It can be easy to get in a groove and decide that we know what we need to know. But that can be deceptive and problematic, especially as research and medical breakthroughs mount.
Instead, we should let my son’s example of curiosity and openness guide us. We will never know all of the things that we might know, or all of things that we should. We should always be willing to ask more questions, to seek more information, and to work on doing better.
Get Some Sleep
Back in the first half of this year, when I started writing this series of diabetic parent journals, I touched on sleep. I wrote about the importance of “managing my fatigue level.” I think it’s important for me to revisit the subject–and to make my point less equivocal.
Most parents of young children suffer from some degree of sleep deprivation. It’s not just that taking care of little ones can be exhausting. It’s also that you have an entire adult life and world of your own. Managing that and your family life can swallow the hours of the day.
Sleep deprivation is pernicious. If you’re used to getting enough sleep, you might not even notice when you start to miss an hour here or an hour there. Your body has generally had enough rest, and it can absorb a shock here or there.
But as the weeks and months and seasons pass, those missed hours and nights begin to mount. And without meaning to, without noticing, you can find yourself in a world of hurt. That was my experience, at least. It played havoc on my diabetes control, and it made me less effective at work and home.
If you want some proof, look at my son after he gets up too early in the morning, or after his nap is cut short. He is fine for awhile, but eventually he’ll give out. He will cry, he will act out, he will do everything in his power to communicate that he is, in his words, “Sleepy now.”
Get some rest. You’ll feel better about everything. End of story.