Too Old for Diabetes Summer Camp?

In Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, Tim Anderson describes growing up gay and with Type 1 diabetes in the 80’s. In this final edited excerpt, Tim gets his first, unexpected taste of diabetes summer camp.

Mom decided I should go to a diabetes summer day camp for a week. This did not appeal to me. What on earth was there to do all week at a camp for diabetic teenagers? Sure, there would probably be diabetes instructional videos and activities, some diabetes nutrition workshops, and a few panel discussions on the best diabetes paraphernalia to have in the house. But what were we going to do the rest of the time? Would there be some diabetes-related arts and crafts?

“What’s this clay sculpture you’ve made, Tim?”

“It’s my dead pancreas. His name is Fran.”

Perhaps a diabetes fashion show.

“You’re going,” Mom said in the tone of voice she uses when she’s not going to take any more bullshit whining from you.

The first indication something was off was when Mom and I entered the check-in building and saw that the room was full of kids who were at least five years younger than me. We soon found out from one of the camp directors that Mom had mistakenly signed me up for the wrong camp. This one was for diabetic kids aged six to ten.

This was great news because there were several boxes of Nabs in the cupboard and a six-pack of Fresca in the fridge at home, and if we hurried we could make it in time to watch The Love Boat reruns they play on TBS before the soaps start.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize,” Mom said to the director. “Can he still participate? He’s really been looking forward to it.”

Mom was clearly playing hardball. I rolled my eyes and sauntered away, slumping into a chair at a table in the corner, watching six-year-olds chase each other around the room screaming and laughing, blissful in their ignorance of how complicated life gets when you’re midway through the first set of double digits.

Mom came and sat down, letting her purse slide down her arm and land on the tabletop.

“They said it’s fine for you to stay, so I’m just going to leave you to it,” she said. I rolled my eyes again, and when I was finished rolling them I pointed them at her. She met my gaze, and I looked away, sighing again and sucking my teeth.

The director clapped her hands to call everyone to attention. I couldn’t believe I was having to spend my day with these kids. I was Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club: “Excuse me, sir? I think there’s been a mistake. I know it’s Diabetes Day Camp, but I don’t think I belong in here.”

Mom was quiet. A few moments later, she began to cry. Now, that is something I have never been able to take. It hit me in the gut, and I immediately felt like an ass.

“Mom,” I whispered, trying to be discreet lest we draw the attention of all the elementary school imps in our midst. “It’s OK, really. It’s fine.”

“I’m just trying so hard, Tim,” she sobbed. Yes, she was sobbing now. “I thought this would be good for you and that you’d enjoy yourself. I didn’t know that . . . this.” She looked over at the gaggle of young hobgoblins, one of whom was picking his nose and wiping his finger on the rim of his glasses.

“Mom, really, I’ll stay. It’s fine. I’m sorry.”

Like the platonic ideal of the clueless teenager, I was only now realizing that it wasn’t just me who had gone through an upheaval. Mom had also been shaken to her core by the experience of having her youngest child so close to death, and she was struggling to adjust to the new reality of what this disease meant for both me and her. And I wasn’t helping things by being such an asshole. What would Nurse Kimberly say if she saw me now? Something inappropriate and mean, but also something with a real underlying truth to it, buried deep beneath its sneering contempt. Something like, “So I see you’ve made your mother cry again. What happened, did she find out about your crush on Kevin the serial killer on General Hospital?”

“Just go on home, Mom. I should probably go join everyone else.”

So Mom sniffled, collected herself, and stood up to leave. She probably wanted to give me a hug goodbye, but I was still a 15-year-old in a public space, so that wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ll see you at four,” she said, and she walked out. I nodded and walked over to join the others.

There were about 20 kids total, and they were sitting at tables with their blood glucose testing equipment and their glucose diaries out to record their mid-morning blood sugar levels. I sat down at the end of one of the tables, flopped my diabetes case onto the table, and retrieved my glucometer, finger pricker, and diary.

“Hi,” said a little girl with thick glasses next to me.

“Hi,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Amanda. I’m eight. How many shots a day do you take?”

“Two. How about you?”

“I take four, sometimes five. Depends.”

I nodded my head. “Wow. That’s a lot.”

“Yeah, but I’m used to it. I give them to myself.”

There’s nothing like being shamed by an eight-year-old girl into feeling like you’re making out pretty well, all things considered. Kimberly would have said as much, if in slightly less polite terminology.

Sweet_Tooth_Cover_300pxAmanda pushed the button on her finger pricker and sprung it into action against her index finger. The blood specimen she squeezed out was judged too paltry, so she cocked the pricker again and chose a different finger, not missing a beat.

Inspired, I picked up my pricker, placed a new lancet in the chamber, and placed it against my middle digit. Then, in communion with 20 six-to ten-year-olds, I proceeded to stab myself in the finger with a souped-up thumbtack and squeeze out some blood as a sacrifice to the God of Diseases You Can Live With.

To order Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, go to

Excerpted with permission from Lake Union Publishing from Sweet Tooth © 2014 by Tim Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Tim Anderson is the author of the best-selling Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries. He is an editor and lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Jimmy; his cat, Stella; and his yoga balance ball, Sheila. Tim also writes young adult historical fiction.

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