Tag Archives: Parenting

Common Unity

com·mu·ni·ty    kǝ-‘myü-nǝ-tē\  n.   
            1. A unified body of individuals.

We were blessed to spend our Thanksgiving this year with a wonderful group of new friends. This group of people has been working together, living together, and celebrating together throughout the evolution of life over the past ten-plus years. They are singles, couples, parents and children, and soon-to-be-parents. The group has shifted and changed over time, but their core values persevere:

Love. Compassion. Support. Joy. Family.

Put into practice, these values result in acceptance, generosity, genuine interest in the lives and hearts of other people, true emotional connection, and gatherings that are dang fun.

Something new that my brood and I bring to the group is diabetes. Insulin, pumping, finger sticks, hypos, infusion sets, middle-of-the-night alarms, carbohydrate counting–these are things that are now so pervasive in our lives that I’ve almost completely lost the perspective of life without diabetes. Spending extended time like this with new friends makes me more aware of just how burdensome and strange it all can be.

For example, another mom in the group offered to take Luke home with her from the park we were all at to play with her son, and it took me nearly a full 60 seconds of silent internal deliberation, calculation, and trouble-shooting to even answer her. And then I had to give The Plan. And then I made mental notes about absolute times when I was going to need to call and check-in. Would 1 hour be too long? I’m sure I seemed like a crazy person.

And did I wake anyone when I was shuffling through the house, barely conscious at 3 o’clock in the morning, to maneuver through a pile of sleeping kids and check blood sugars? Did anyone notice the vacant stare I adopt when my kids sit down with a plate of food and I’m mentally analyzing and calculating the carbohydrate content? That fleeting look of panic when someone starts to cut up pie?

Evie learns to make pecan pie from scratch. Score!

Evie learns to make pecan pie from scratch. Score!

The great thing about this cohesive group was their acceptance and attendant willingness to learn about what makes our world go ’round. People asked questions. They talked to my kids about their experiences and were interested in the answers. They watched me change infusion sets and dial in boluses, asked me about food and routines, and just genuinely cared about us.

And that’s what is so valuable about being part of a community. Whether it’s a small group of friends and family, a church or social circle, a local support group, or the larger cultural or medical communities, it’s valuable and vital to be able to share your struggles, burdens, accomplishments and joys with people who share some common thread. A common unity.

Everyone needs a community.

Kids have a remarkable ability to meld into relatively cohesive groups within hours of meeting each other.

Kids have a remarkable ability to meld into relatively cohesive groups within hours of meeting each other.

All For A Free Shower

“Mom, I only have 6.7 units left in my pump.”

These words were uttered during breakfast this morning, about five minutes before we were set to leave for school. Five. Minutes.

Evie is fairly self-sufficient with her insulin pump. Self-sufficient in that she knows how to perform the operations herself, not so self-sufficient that she notices and acknowledges things like low-reservoir and missed-bolus alarms. This happens a lot. Luckily, we’re pretty quick with the set changes.

Ok. FIve minutes. I can do this. She has to finish eating anyways.

But then, Evie made an impassioned plea to save her set change for after her pre-birthday-party shower this afternoon. Could she do an injection bolus for breakfast and lunch and save the rest of her pump insulin for her basal needs for the day? After my shower? Please?

Oh, sweet girl.

I take for granted the ability to simply take a shower without having a medical device adhered to my body. If you’re a pump wearer, it must feel really, really great to be able to soap up without worrying about scrubbing your infusion set off in the process. To have your body completely free of adhesive tape and invasive plastic cannulas, if only for the time it takes for a good, long shower.

So we’re doing a combination of injections and pumping today to get her through to that highly-anticipated free shower. It’s sure to confuse the Bolus Wizard–the name given to the complicated algorithms the pump uses to calculate dosages–but that’s what our backup brainpower is for.

If that’s the normalcy she is craving today, then we’ll do the extra work to help her find it.

Halloween Prep: It’s Scary Out There!

Halloween. Witches, skeletons, goblins, and ghouls. Angsty teenagers in horror movie costumes. Scary indeed. But what’s even scarier for a type 1 mom?

Sugar.

Gobs of it. At school, at the store, even in my own kitchen, where a huge bag of mixed fun-sized candy sits waiting for Wednesday night’s trick-or-treaters.

I loved Halloween as a kid; coming home with 5 pounds of free candy and gorging on it for the next two weeks was the highlight of the season. And as a parent, I used to enjoy seeing my kids get excited for the same thing.

In anticipation of massive loads of sugar over the next few days, I’m filling the pump reservoirs with more insulin than usual.

But now the fun-sized Snickers and M&M’s give me nothing but anxiety. Even with the dual insulin pumps, which made candy boluses much quicker and easier, blood sugar management during Halloween is a nightmare. Pockets get filled with treats that mysteriously disappear, candy is stashed here and there (I even found a few Smarties under Luke’s pillow yesterday morning), and everyone loses track of how many pieces of candy corn they’ve munched on.

And even if we bolused absolutely perfectly for every bit of sugar, the quick absorption outpaces the action of the insulin and pretty soon….hyperglycemia craziness.

What to do? One mom saves the 15-gm carb candies to treat low-blood sugars (Skittles are tastier than glucose tablets!) and cuts out a few parties. Read her great ideas here. It also helps to be prepared with carbohydrate counts. Paradoxically, fun-sized candies aren’t required to have Nutrition Facts labels, which makes bolusing a real challenge. How many carbs do you suppose that Charleston Chew has? Arming yourself with the relevant numbers is key: here’s a good chart. And another one here and here.

We’re in the process of Halloween candy negotiations right now. I’m going to let my kids have whatever candy they want on Halloween night, save some for treating lows later, keep a few for after-meal treats the rest of the week, and then buy the rest off of them. We’ll see how it goes.

The Ninja, Abby Bominable, and Camo Guy (what IS this costume???)

Diabetes Family Camp: Laugh. Cry. Bolus.

I wrote last month about our opportunity to attend ConnecT1D’s Diabetes Family Camp in Seattle, and how excited we all were for the weekend. Evie has gone away to diabetes summer camp for the past couple of years on her own, but this was the first camp that we’ve attended all together with other Type 1 families. We were ready for an adventure!

We skipped their half day of school on Friday and made our way leisurely through Seattle (“look, Mom, the Space Needle!”), playing a little along the way, and then headed North to the retreat center. After we checked in, met the camp directors, and found our cabin (double bunk beds!) we gathered in the meeting room with the other families for orientation. Then off to bed for a good night’s rest.

The morning started off with a bang, with a keynote presentation by a family psychologist that had me tearing up in my seat. The topic was parenting and diabetes and he touched on standard issues like discipline and family dynamics, but also addressed more tender topics like grief and loss. He asked us to reflect on our diagnosis stories and my chest tightened. We have two of those; they are different, but equally painful. Being in a room full of other parents who I knew shared similar stories and experiences made it a little easier to confront those memories and emotions.

Photo Credit: Kristine Burtner. Everyone gathers together in the center of the meeting hall to get to know one another.

Photo Credit: Kristine Burtner. Three teens with type 1 diabetes share their stories and answer questions

Photo Credit: Kristine Burtner. Parents and caregivers listen together to the presentations.

Other sessions that day included a research update, a panel to discuss diabetes in the school environment, and a small group session in which we all shared tips and for living and coping with diabetes in our families. This hour or so of more intimate and open discussion was my favorite part of the weekend. Groups included caregivers with newly diagnosed kids, some who have weathered years and years of diabetes in their families, and everything in between. My group even included another set of parents that had two kids with diabetes.

Even though I’ve been parenting diabetic kids for four years now, I was a sponge, soaking up information and experience like I was a newbie. It was so comforting to be surrounded by other parents who Understand—other adults who have to navigate school policies and holiday parties, wake up multiple times during the night to check blood sugars, and learn to live with a complicated disease that has unpredictable and ever-changing effects on their kids and families. We could all look at each other, recognize that underlying burden of physical and emotional fatigue we wear like an old sweater, and say “I get it.”

I hope that my kids had similar feelings of solidarity. Evie and Luke go through most of their daily lives being the only kids with diabetes, singled-out by blood sugar checks, trips to the health room, and well-intentioned but isolating comments from teachers (“Please avoid sending sugary treats because we have a Diabetic in our class…”).

I expect that it’s a relief to be in the company of other kids who have to stop and pull out a medical device before tearing into that mid-morning granola bar and bag of pretzels. And whatever your age, its fun to swap “war stories.”

This one time I had a vampire cannula and my tubing totally filled up with blood!! 

Don’t you hate it when your mom pushes too hard on the lancet and your finger is still bleeding three hours later??

One morning my school served french toast sticks that had 300 carbs per serving and I had to do TWO injections just to cover!! (Er….WHAT??)

Evie offers moral support to friends about to have a blood test.

Siblings of kids with diabetes also need peer support, and I was happy to see Will interacting and making new friends. I doubt, at eight years old, that he engaged in any conversations specifically about his feelings and experiences being a middle child sandwiched in between two kids with major medical issues, but he certainly saw that he wasn’t alone, and that was the whole point of camp. So that none of us would feel alone in our circumstances.

Photo Credit: Kristine Burtner. Evie plays carpet ball with a fellow camper.

I hope to go again next year and see many of the same families I met. Evie collected some e-mail addresses and is already busy keeping in touch. And Will asks me nearly daily if I’ve heard from his new friend’s mom yet.

But the most important take away for me was the realization that support and connection with other people who live with diabetes is vital. Not only to share information and resources, but to have people that can laugh with you when you make jokes about infusion sets and low blood sugars, panic together at the empty coffee pot, and not bat an eye when you cry over breakfast conversation. People who “get it.”

See you next year!

Evie is enjoying keeping in touch via e-mail with her new friends from camp.

Little Fingers

“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.”

—Victor Hugo—

As I checked Luke’s blood sugar tonight, sitting on his bed in the dark squeezing a drop from his finger, I was overcome with both a roaring love and a blistering sadness. Images of his fantastic smile, enthusiastically loud storytelling, gentle and loving pats on my back, careful and imaginative drawing–all the things that endear him to me–conflicted wildly with the memories of the many times I have caused him pain and made him bleed. Days and nights just like this one.

I kissed his small, bleeding finger. And then kissed his cheeks, and nose, and forehead, and rumpled his hair, until he wriggled away in his sleep, completely, blissfully unaware of my torrent of emotion. Ah, such is parenting.

Lessons From Yoga: Acceptance

 

Last night I went to my usual Bikram yoga class. Its been a couple of weeks since I’ve been to class; a longer break than usual for me. I like to go three times a week, but lately I’ve been lucky to squeeze in one class. There’s running back and forth to school, baseball practice, preparing (and cleaning up from) three meals a day, diabetes stuff, my ongoing and ever-present-in-my-mind job search, writing, well….you get it.

It was a tough class; I was sore, and weak, and inflexible. It may have been the relatively long lapse in my practice, or residual tightness from the long hike I went on last weekend. It could’ve been tenderness from the AcroYoga I practiced a few days ago. Dehydration? Too much sugar? Or maybe just the full moon, who knows.

Whatever the reason, my body was under-performing and my mind began to fill with anxiety and anger. I had to make a deliberate effort to stop that negative self-talk in its tracks, before I sabotaged my entire 90-minute class. By the time we got to dhanurasana (bow pose), I was wiped out. This pose is the culmination of the standing and floor spine strengthening series’ in Bikram yoga. It usually feels pretty sweet.

“Take a deep breath, and gently both legs kick up towards the ceiling (ow). Look up and kick up (ow ow). Head up more, wrists straight more (Ow!).”

“Kick back more. Kick harder” (OW OW OW…there may have been some tears at this point)

There’s no point in being angry at myself or my body. Yoga is accepting your body just how it Is, right at that moment. Accepting that it’s tight, or sore, or weaker than expected and doing the best with what you have right then.

Acceptance doesn’t mean acquiescence. It doesn’t mean giving up and becoming stagnant. I always use those feelings to make choices and adjustments for the future. Rough yoga classes motivate me to get to class more often, to drink more water, to get more sleep, to cut back on sugar, to do things that better my body so that hopefully I can bring strength, energy, and flexibility to my next class.

But in the moment, faced with tightness, and weakness, and a body that isn’t cooperating in the way that I want it to, I have to just Accept and do my best.

Acceptance helps me deal with other challenges in my life. Not enough time, not enough in the bank account, not enough emotional energy, not enough pancreas function….whatever. It Is What It Is. How can I live best with my current situation? What do I need to do to improve my situation for the future?

It’s a point-of-view I hope to pass on to my kids. Everybody has challenges. Diabetes is one of the challenges that our family faces right now. For Evie and Luke, that will be a permanent part of their lives. My role is to teach them to accept their bodies as they are, but to aim for the best health they can achieve.

Just like wishing I was stronger wasn’t going to help me get through that yoga class last night, It will do them absolutely no good to waste time and energy wishing that they had a different body. I want all of my children to accept and value the bodies that they have, marvel at what their bodies can do for them, and be ever mindful of protecting and nourishing those precious bodies. To do the best with what they have.

From Garden To Plate: Zucchini and Tomatoes

An important person in my life asked me some time ago about my goals for the next five years. One of them was (and still is) that I would like to grow more of our food. I passionately believe that being connected to our food–especially by planting, nurturing, and harvesting our own bounty–helps us to make more mindful decisions about what we consume. And for children, the fun of digging in the dirt and helping the Earth bring forth her fruit, is often enough to help them overcome some of their prejudices against eating things that look distinctly like bunny food by the time they get to the table.

Due to a move, our garden space this year was smaller than in the past, but significant in that it has timed sprinklers, and therefore, consistent watering (plants need water!). We filled it primarily with basil, chives, oregano, and mint, some just-for-fun flowers, and a few vegetable plants. I’ve never had luck growing bell peppers where we live, and this year was no different. Our pepper plant produced three tiny, shriveled, anemic-looking green bells that still remain on the stalk.

We did, however, grow a great little crop of tomatoes and one, massive, zucchini.

Luke and I did the harvesting together. I loved watching him gently push back the leaves and vines and stalks to reach inside, and then carefully place tomatoes in his colander. We compared the different sizes and degrees of wrinkly-ness, admired their deep red hue, and shared in some general mutual appreciation. Of course, we also tasted a few.

He had to heave the zucchini up and carry it with both hands. It was big.

While we picked things, we talked about the recipes we would be preparing: tomato and basil salad, zucchini bread muffins, and sauteed zucchini. I make a point to do this in order to help start them thinking about eating what we’ve grown, and to help get that connection between garden and plate crackling in their young hearts.

I’ll be honest here. The kids were all more excited about the chocolate zucchini bread muffins (cupcakes, really) we were planning to make than the other things. But my favorite turned out to be the salad; sun-warmed tomatoes paired with fresh basil and a little olive oil is a quintessential summer flavor combination, and something I always look forward to and savor as we roll into fall.

This particular late-summer salad rounded out a dinner of salmon, broccoli, and bulghur (a food that the “l”-challenged members of this family…ahem…little boys, really enjoy saying) with dried fruit and cardamom (YUM).

The following day we started in on the zucchini, shredding most of it to make muffins. Something new I learned about giant zucchini: they have giant seeds, too. Giant seeds that you really shouldn’t bake into muffins. (Aside: I’m always amazed at how much zucchini can disappear into a baked good. Was this phenomenon the inspiration for Jessica Seinfeld’s popular book?) While the muffins were a hit, they were also pretty sugary. Next time I think I’ll try these zucchini fritters.

Luckily Will was available to help pick out seeds and cut the remainder of the oversized vegetable. He cooked it up with some Bragg’s to go along with our dinner of black-eyed peas and flax-sesame cornbread. This eager boy is just beginning to show a real interest in cooking, and I enjoy teaching him how to cut and chop and saute!

Involving kids in the process of cooking their food is another way to help them develop a connection to what they are eating. Feeling pride and ownership over the meal goes along way toward food acceptance. Its also a really nice way to spend time talking and laughing with them!

All in all, our tomato and zucchini harvest made for a couple of days of good garden-to-plate lessons, and some tasty food! Next year I’ll try for even more edibles, and the young growers and chefs will be a little older. In the meantime, we’ll harvest from our local farmer’s market and the produce section at the grocery store, and we’ll continue cooking and eating together and having FUN!