Halloween scares me. It scares me even after seven years of helping my 14-year-old son with diabetes enjoy the holiday. We have created a comfortable tradition. Our neighbors get Danny non-food items. We go to a neighborhood bonfire and tell scary stories, and my husband Brian buys back most of Danny’s candy and brings it to his office. Through experience, I am no longer afraid of the possible highs and lows, and, thanks to the blessing of cell phones, even Danny’s teenage wandering feels okay. If you were a spider on our wall, we’d all appear excited and happy about Halloween.
But the truth is, though I keep it hidden, that I am afraid of myself. Every year before the holiday begins, I sense a witch inside of me. Halloween candy shows up at the local drug store and I think, It’s like poison. Sugar straight to the bloodstream laced with artificial ingredients. Doesn’t anyone get it?
I have to buy something to hand out. Alternative, non-food items are more expensive, and my kids don’t want me to hand out anything weird. I drift through the aisles getting angry. Did they make up this holiday just to torture kids with diabetes? What happened to apples, popcorn, tricks, and homemade treats? The other shoppers don’t notice my transformation. They toss bags of Snickers and Reese’s in their carts without a care.
I try not to feel separate.
Halloween arrives, and the smaller children appear early at my door. I begin the night as a happy parent and offer my bowl of treats. I watch their parents chatting and laughing in the street. I think to myself, They’re not thinking about blood sugar numbers. Their kids can eat whatever they want. They don’t have a care in the world.
I tell the witch in me that every family has its challenges, and I help Danny get ready to go. While Danny is making sure his pump site is working and his reservoir is full, his friends are waiting impatiently in the front yard. They don’t need tabs, a meter, back-up supplies, and reminder phone calls. They can eat themselves sick on candy as they sprint from door to door. Danny has a plan to taste the ones he really likes, select the few he wants to keep for lows, and give the rest away. I watch him leave, and the crazy witch makes her presence known. No one understands what my child goes through. My friends and neighbors are so busy with their easy little lives that they don’t even notice us. My family would be better off alone.
Of course, I know in my heart of hearts that this is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, for the last seven years I’ve had a Halloween hangover. The day after, I have to talk myself back to sanity and remember that people do love us, that diabetes is a normal, manageable part of our lives, and that we are doing just fine in a culture that pays little attention to the nutritional needs of kids.
Now here comes Halloween again. As families everywhere light the candles in their jack-o-lanterns, I have taken off my cheerful mom mask and revealed my witch to the light. Perhaps, exposed to the glare of honesty, she will mount her broomstick and fly away.
What comes to your mind when you think of Halloween and its perils for your child with diabetes? How do you handle the Halloween season? Post a comment below and tell us about it.
Laura Plunkett is co-author of The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child. For additional parenting articles and helpful tips on improving nutrition and increasing exercise, go to the Challenge of Diabetes website. View a video of Laura speaking at the UCSF Pediatric Diabetes Symposium on Diabetes Health TV.