My son learned to crawl last month. As a part-time stay-at-home dad, I found it both exciting and terrifying. Through crawling, my son has entered a new stage in life. He might have rolled or scooted a few feet before, but now he can see something in another room and make up his mind to go there.
As a person with type 1 diabetes, it strikes me that people with this disease grow in a similar way. Many of us begin with our disease being managed by others: parents, doctors, nurses, or even a spouse. But at a certain point, we want to take care of ourselves and set our own goals. We all eventually have to learn to crawl.
We don’t do it perfectly at the beginning, of course, just like my son. At first, he couldn’t go more than a few feet before sitting back up again. He didn’t seem to quite know what he was doing. But he learned. As the days passed, he got faster and more agile. He could move from one room to another and follow me around the house. He could make a beeline for the pots and pans and investigate any nook and cranny that he cared to. While there’s a measure of terror in that for a parent, it’s exactly what we want from our kids and ourselves.
We start off slowly, and we make mistakes. We can only go a few steps at a time. But as we learn to handle our disease, we move more quickly, more confidently, and more happily through our lives.
A Wider View
Adulthood is full of times when we learn to crawl. Think of your first serious relationship– figuring out how to get along with someone you’re not related to can be a challenge! Last year I had to cope with the unexpected death of my mother. I had no idea that I still relied on her for so many things. So I am learning to crawl once again in my life, as I take responsibility and initiative where my mother would have nudged me ahead.
But the specifics don’t matter. All of us grow older, and the world changes around us. Familiar things become strange. Friends go their separate ways. We grow up, whether we want to or not, and we all must set off on a path of our own. After stumbling about, we begin to find a way. And as we find it, we create a new life and a new reality for ourselves.
Eventually, we all gain skills that we could have only dreamed about before. You and your spouse celebrate years together and an easy language of jokes and comfortable familiarity. You remember loved ones who have passed away while paying tribute to them in new and amazing ways. The world that has changed becomes familiar once again. We speed along, master of our surroundings. That’s what we hope for, at least.
Hazards and Trials
Yet that road poses threats and challenges we could never imagine. As a baby crawls, he will encounter risks. Perhaps some books are perched precariously on the edge of a table. Perhaps the family dog doesn’t like having her tail so enthusiastically pulled. It’s a scary world out there!
Right now, I hover over my son as he crawls from room to room. I snatch him up from the floor time after time, keeping him away from one hazard or another. I scrutinize the floors as he naps, searching for tiny items that he might pick up. But I won’t do this forever. Eventually, my son will learn that certain things shouldn’t go into his mouth. He will learn to distinguish between toys and kitchenware. Eventually, he will be able to do his own thing. The prospect terrifies me. But that’s as it should be.
Setting off under our own power introduces uncertainty. When other people take care of us, they absorb any risk. But we must eventually protect ourselves and learn to avoid those risks on our own. The same is true for people with diabetes. If we handle our disease by ourselves, we will crawl through dangerous territory. We can’t help it–our health and quality of life are at stake. Can we navigate the hazards successfully? Have we learned enough to not touch the hot stove or pull on the dog’s tail?
Of all the things that we learn from our parents, apply to ourselves, and then pass on to our children, there’s one gift that doesn’t get spread around enough: unconditional love. I know that if my son is fussy or has a difficult day, it may wear on my nerves, but I don’t blame him. I don’t think that he’s a bad person. I just accept that he’s human.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all accept ourselves in that way? And not just ourselves, but also our relatives and spouses and friends. Because we are all still, inside, that same little child. We want to explore. We want to experience the world.
People with diabetes can become addicted to guilt–I know that I’ve indulged. If my blood sugars do unexpected things or my diet slips, I’m quick to blame myself. Never mind the disease–I tend to think that I’m responsible for anything that may go wrong and that I must fix it.
There’s a reason that we think this way. It’s effective, at least for a time. That quick sting of guilt can be good for a few days of tighter-than-usual control. That self-criticism can make us better. But ultimately, like criticizing or berating a child, motivating ourselves with guilt backfires. We rebel against ourselves. We act stubborn. How much better would it be if we gave ourselves words of encouragement and joy?
To live is to learn. To live is grow. To live with diabetes is to grow from sitting to crawling to walking. Like my son, we will make mistakes. Like my son, we will become fiercely independent. And like my son, we need love and encouragement, every day.