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I’m Glad My Mom Got on My Case About My Type 1 Diabetes

Kerri Sparling’s new book Balancing Diabetes allows readers to join a thoughtful conversation among people with diabetes about finding happiness and living well. In this excerpt, Sparling illuminates how hard it must have been for her parents to care for a teen with Type 1:

My mother always protected me. She and my father tried so hard and, in retrospect, I can’t imagine what it was like for them to raise a child with diabetes. If tight control is a guilt-inducing component for the person with diabetes, the guilt of the parent must have the potential to be suffocating. I love my parents and believe that the reason I am secure in myself is because they instilled me with the confidence that, no matter what, my life would be good. I would come to the very end and feel like I hadn’t missed a damn thing.

We didn’t fight about the things my friends fought their parents over, but so many arguments were had around diabetes. My friends fought with their parents and compared battle stories over sandwiches their mothers had made them for lunch, but I never shared my tales. How was I supposed to explain to my classmates that my mother and I had a huge screaming match over my blood sugar of 385 mg/dL? How to describe the guilt I felt for eating those cupcakes and how she found the wrapper, but I refused to fess up?

“Just admit that you ate it! Just admit it!”

Defiant, I crossed my arms over my chest and stared back at her. “No! I didn’t eat it!” The last bitter tastes of chocolate in my mouth stung like bees.

“Kerri, I know you did! You did! I found the wrapper!” She held it over her head triumphantly. “I found it and you’re lying! We work so hard at this—you need to be more careful.”

“We? We work so hard?” I started to cry but held it in as best I could and shot her a steely glance. “You don’t do anything. Diabetes is my disease.”

Frustrated, under-appreciated, and heartbroken, my mother reeled back her foot and kicked the thing closest to her—a blue plastic bin that held my shoes underneath the bed. Her
foot went through the side and left a gaping hole. I gasped…She gasped, too. Her foot was stuck in the wall of the blue bin and she had to lean over to wrestle it free.

“I don’t do this to hurt you,” she said quietly, still working to free her ankle. “I know it’s not my disease. I just wish it wasn’t yours.”

We stared at each other for a minute. “I ate the cupcakes.”

“I know you did.”

“And I don’t care that I’m high.”

She sighed. “I wish you did.”

She stood thoughtfully for a minute, and then tossed the cupcake wrapper into my trash can. The crinkle of cellophane was the soundtrack of my guilt.

“For now, I’ll care enough for us both.”

Balancing_Diabetes_Book_Cover_300pxAnother battle ended. Too hard to explain to my friends. So while they complained about breaking curfew and arguing about which boys they were allowed to date, I kept the confrontations between my mother and me private. We were fighting about what foods I was allowed to eat. But at the same time, we were fighting for my life. Passing that torch of care from her to me was one of the toughest transitions in my life with diabetes.

But, it made us close. Close in ways that mothers and daughters might not often be close. As their children, we understand on some level how hard they worked to care for us for the nine months before we came crashing into this world. But living every day watching her try to keep me safest and healthiest, it tethered me like an emotional umbilical cord. Even now, as I live states away and she’s not the keeper of my diabetes management anymore, if I don’t answer the phone in the morning, she worries. She always worries, sometimes more quietly than others and sometimes bravely out loud.

You can order Balancing Diabetes at http://www.amazon.com/Balancing-Diabetes-Conversations-Finding-Happiness/dp/1938170377. You also can read more of Kerri Sparling’s writing at http://sixuntilme.com/wp/.

This article was originally published with the title “Power Struggles with a T1 Teen”.

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Kerri is the creator and author of SixUntilMe, one of the first and most widely read patient blogs. In addition to her blog, Kerri’s work can be found in diabetes outreach publications, and on her diabetes YouTube channel. Kerri presents regularly at conferences and works full-time as a writer and consultant. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, their daughter, and two dim-witted cats.

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