My Diabetes Through My Daughter’s Eyes
It’s impossible to hide your T1 from your children, as one mother learns.
The Road Ahead
I grasped the toddler chub of Midori’s tiny hands, her arms swinging wildly as we made our way across the street to the park near our home. My daughter tore away from me and raced up the hill to a small pond near the community garden. I found her staring into the watery surface at the reflection of her round face, while the ducks lined up like battleships waiting for bread crumbs.
“Look, Mama!” In another moment, the nubs of her fingers have disappeared inside the shiny red plastic purse she carries with her. Acorns, rocks, pennies rattling inside a tin box, the sticky skin of an onion peel, all the reserves of a 3-year old in love with the world come tumbling out of the purse and onto the ground. Finally, her eyes come alive at the realization that she has found “it.”
Proudly, she holds up the squashed remnants of a small tangerine. Her hands are covered in the syrup of the crushed fruit and bits of pulp cling to her skin. No sooner do I frown at the mess than Midori reads my expression and crumbles on the concrete. Her face is red and hot as she cries inconsolably. When there are no tears left, she says, “I brought it for you, Mommy. So you wouldn’t have to worry about your diabetes. So we wouldn’t have to go home if you needed to eat.”
I wanted to be far away from that moment, when I realized the impact on my daughter of having a mother with a chronic disease. I wanted to be tethered to a runaway balloon, like a tiny dot in the sky, weightless and unburdened. Instead, I was staring down the accusation of time stolen by diabetes. Not the months and years that diabetes can poach if neglected, but the seconds, minutes and hours embezzled by checking and correcting blood sugar.
Diabetes is waiting in the corners of every moment I am alive, sometimes remaining quiet and sometimes galloping into the room. That my children are conscious of its presence, and at such a young age, was a revelation. My daughter’s small provision of a mangled tangerine was the bracket that she used to hold her worry at a distance, believing that her meticulous planning would secure an afternoon together without incident.
Years before my diagnosis, I too had vicariously lived the legacy of diabetes. My grandmother had been diagnosed T1 as an adult, and my earliest memories of her often involve watching as she measured each particle of food with porcelain scoops, observing the shimmery droplets of blood she squeezed from the tips of her fingers, scrutinizing the slick needles that she drove into the pink skin of her hips. She tended to her diabetes with the gentleness of a woman tending to a crying baby, without any hint of bitterness or loathing. My grandmother took the time she needed to care for herself, like little bits of string that she sewed through moments and days and on into years.
My own mother, by comparison, treated her T2 diabetes as though it were a little bit apart from her and the reality of her body. It was an abstract element that made her depressed and hopeless, and she could never grab hold of that thing to embrace it or discard it. As she aged, she was buried under the weight of that burden until, at last, she was bathed in the manifestations of the disease she had neglected. Her body was swollen, and fluid would literally seep from under her skin, through her pores, puncturing the taut flesh of her legs and stomach. Her feet were cracked. Her limbs were numb. She spent the last years of her life on the brown sofa next to the window in the living room.
Staring into the wells of my daughter’s eyes at the park, I wondered about the legacy my life with diabetes was imparting. I wondered if my daughter had inherited my sense of worry, as I had promised I would never inherit my mother’s place next to the window. I wondered if I was making the best of living well with diabetes or if I simply seemed to be coping acceptably with the circumstances I had been given.
Since that afternoon in the park, I have been mindful to speak honestly and openly with both my children about diabetes. I remind them that checking my blood sugar is an act of self-love and never a reason to be fearful or insecure, that making adjustments is part of taking care of my body so that I might be fully focused on those around me. I remind myself that my experiences with diabetes can shape my children for the better, making them more compassionate and empowering them to take the best possible care of their own bodies. I also am unapologetic about taking time for myself when diabetes demands it, just as I would take time to care for my child.
No matter how much I wish diabetes would not leave marks on the animas of their beings, I recognize that the imprint can come in the form of painful laceration or a tender graze of the skin, and I choose the latter.
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