The Million-Dollar Question

I just had one of the hardest conversations of my life. I would say it ranked somewhere between “Honey, I lost my job” and “Your grandfather is dying of cancer.” 

We have some of our best conversations in the car, and even as young as my kids are, sometimes they get a little deep. Today we were driving home from the doctor’s office and my 3-year-old was examining the green medical alert bracelet on his wrist. His little brow was scrunched up, and I could tell he was thinking hard. 

“Mommy, why do I have Diabetes?” 

Once, in elementary school, I fell backward off a barrel, landing flat on my back and knocking the wind out of me well and proper. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, all I could do was gasp for air that was just out of reach. The pain of having all the air forced out of my lungs terrified me, and as soon as I could breathe, I started to sob. Not so much from the pain, but from the fear. I’m not talking about delicate little whimpers, either. I’m talking about full-on sobs, to the point that I couldn’t look the freckle-faced neighbor boy (who had won the “king of the hill” battle) in the face for weeks afterward. 

That breathless feeling, those terrified sobs, that “sucker punched” feeling, they all welled up inside me when I heard that sweet little voice ask that impossible question. 

Because there is no real answer.

There’s no “why” to Type 1 Diabetes, at least not that anyone has found. It’s all “we think” and “perhaps” and “we often see” and “there are studies that indicate,” but there are no real facts, other than that his body suddenly decided to attack his pancreas, destroying its ability to make insulin.  (No, I did not feed my child too many pancakes and candy bars. That’s the other kind of Diabetes, which is not an auto-immune disoder)

So how do you explain to a three-year-old that the God who made him, who supposedly loves him and “ordained his days before he was born”, allowed him to get a disease that has no reason, has no cure, and has no end? That requires him to get poked and tested, puts him at risk for all manner of complications, and, at the very least, requires him to wear an insulin pump for the rest of his life? 

Somehow, I stammered out a shamefaced answer. Something full of lame platitudes and encouraging smiles and half-hearted assurances of Jesus’ love and protection. Not that I don’t believe those things, because I do. Not that I don’t think he should, because they’re true. But somehow, in the face of the child that I have to stick and poke and squeeze blood drops out of and attach tubes to, they just seemed to fall short and I was left feeling like I had failed to give an acceptable answer.

What do you do when there IS no answer?  

I know this isn’t a normal, feel-good, fluff post. But it IS reality. I don’t write all this so that you pity him, or me, pity never helped anyone. But I know that my son asked a question today that I didn’t have an answer for. I know there are bigger and more difficult questions, I know the world has bigger problems than one little boy without a working pancreas. I know that my readers have been asked impossible questions. I don’t have answers, but I do know this: 

Parenting is flippin’ hard, and we’re doing our best. Sometimes that’s just all that matters. 

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Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

Remember that Star Trek movie where the team is transported back in time, and they are running down the hall of a hospital and Bones, in exasperation with the outdated medicine, gives a woman on dialysis a pill that makes her grow a new kidney? 
That’s happening to us today.

Ok, maybe not that exactly, but pretty close.

Today, Brother is getting fitted with his new insulin pump. In two weeks, he’ll be fitted with a CGM, that’s Continual Glucose Monitor, that talks to the pump. After over a year of injections 3-6 times a day, my 3-year-old is getting what is basically an artificial pancreas. If his blood sugar gets too low overnight, the sensor will tell the pump to turn itself off. If it gets too high, it will signal me that something may be wrong with the tubing. 

I feel like the universe has opened up in front of me; my continuing mission: to boldly go where no mom has gone before. 

Ok, lots of moms have gone there, I guess, but it’s all brand-new to me. 

For us, this means not being afraid of church or birthday parties, eating when we want, not always on a strict schedule, fewer dosing errors, less stress, more sleep…
In short, this little piece of cutting edge technology allows our whole family to 

Live Long and Prosper.

Hungry for Salad

You can’t make this stuff up.

Since our kids have a lot of food sensitivities, we have really drilled into them what they can and can’t eat. They know they are allergic to apples, strawberries, peaches, and a lot of other things. They also don’t cheat because they know how yucky those foods make them feel, especially Brother, age 3, who is also diabetic. So even though we went to my grandma’s for the long weekend, I wasn’t too worried about them eating things they shouldn’t. 

Then one night, I woke up because the dog was crying, and I mean freaking out, downstairs. I got out of bed, only to realize that Brother was up and playing with cars in the hallway. “Mommy, I have a dirty diaper.” He was soaked from his chest to his knees. I double-checked my phone, 3:30am, and woke up Hubby.
“I have to clean up Brother, I need you to go make the dog be quiet.” So he stumbled down the stairs in the pre-morning light. Meanwhile, I cleaned, dried, and re-diapered, re-dressed Brother, and replaced him in his bed. Then Hubby came back up the stairs. I knew immediately something was wrong, because his eyes were as big as saucers. 
“What did he eat?”
“The dog? Did he have an accident? I asked Gram not to give him treats…”
“Honey, go look at the kitchen. Now.” 

I don’t even remember going down the stairs, I must have flown. When I opened the kitchen door, I nearly fainted. This is what I saw:

Two paper plates full of spinach, and two blenders from a handmixer, sitting on the table.
Chicken broth all over the floor.
Banana peels everywhere, including the dog’s kennel.
Avacado peel and pit by the sink.
A lemon, stuffed into my Nalgene.
The diabetes kit, with multiple syringes, uncapped and bent.
Bottles of insulin laying on the counter.
An empty milk carton on the floor.
Baking soda everywhere.
An open box of organic bunny crackers.
Two very small pans on the stove.
Paper towels, like someone started to clean up.
One very sad and confused puppy.

Hubby brought Brother downstairs and I asked him, “How many bananas did you eat?”
“Five or six,” he says. “I was hungry, so I made me a salad!” Now my mind is racing because if he ate that many, and he obviously tried to give himself a shot, what if he broke a needle in himself, or what if he succeeded and gave himself too much? What if he gave the dog a shot? I checked his blood sugar, he had obviously not given himself an injection. I checked him and the dog everywhere for lumps or needle marks and didn’t find any.
“I tried to have a shot, but it kept bending.” Thank you, Lord.
Hubby and Gram cleaned up the mess while I called the doctor and counted bananas and administered insulin. I can only imagine the note in the file for that phone call.

Irresponsible mother lets diabetic preschooler wander the house at night, eat whatever he wants to. She called, virtually in hysterics.

 I slept in the doorway to his room until I was sure he was asleep. The next night we propped a book against the door and put a cowbell on top of it. When he opened the door, I knew immediately. 

Here’s what I learned from this adventure: 

He knows exactly what he can and can’t eat. 
He is way too smart for his own good.
He knows that when he eats, he has to get a shot.
I need to invest in a good motion detector for his bedroom door. 
I also need to impress on him the importance of waking up Mom when he needs something. 
I may feel like a failure, but apparently I have taught him to eat well, since he got up and made a salad instead of eating the cookies on the counter.

For the Dogs

I’ve never been a dog person. I’ve had cats since I was big enough to ask for one, and ever since I was bitten by a dog as a child, I’ve just not wanted much to do with them. So when my son turned three and started asking for a dog, I groaned inwardly. Then we had a very scary incident where Hubby was gone for the week and some crazy tweaker came to our house in the dead of night, screaming that someone had been shot and banging on the door and trying to get in. Now, mind you, we live in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Christmas tree farms and grass seed fields. Our neighbors never heard a thing, even once the police showed up with sirens blazing. So we decided we needed a guard dog, like, yesterday.

When I saw an ad on craigslist for a “Purebred Boxer Puppy”, I was thrilled. Hubby wanted a doberman, and I just wasn’t sold on the idea. I showed him image after image on google, finally convincing him that boxers are just as intimidating as dobies, and arranged to meet the pup. What I saw was a half-starved, boxer-shaped bundle of bones and wagging tail, and there was no other option than to bring him home with us. It didn’t even occur to me to question his lineage. We named him Kuma (Japanese for Bear) in anticipation of his hulking size and protective demeanor. 

Then he got wider, but not taller. 

On his first trip to the vet, the doc took one look at him and asked, 

“What kind of a dog is that?”

Lovely. 

After some discussion and inspection, she announced that he may have some boxer in him, but if he did, the other half was probably daschound. 

Seriously?

So, despite his questionable heritage (hey, we’re a mixed-race family, who are we to judge?) and jokes about his parentage (he’s typically referred to as a “boxund” or “Boxer-weenie”) Kuma settled in as a permanent, if not particularly useful, member of the family. 

Until last night.

Last night around 11 he was pacing up and down the hallway like mad, whining, and driving me nuts, and he kept opening the door to the kids’ room. I was about to kick him outside. Then, as I was laying in bed, trying to ignore him, it hit me that I had forgotten to check Big Brother’s blood sugar before I went to bed. 

“Oh well, I guess maybe the dog is good for something.” I grumbled as I stumbled through the darkened house.

My son’s blood sugar was so low that if I had just fallen asleep and left him til morning, we most likely would have had to take him to the ER. 

I’m telling you, THE DOG KNEW! As soon as I got some food in Big Brother and his blood sugar started to go back up, Kuma settled down and went to sleep… right outside the bedroom door. 

Precautionary Parenting

Here’s the problem with trusting your instincts and being right about a worst-case scenario: 

You’re paranoid for the rest of your life. 

I was right last July when I insisted there was something seriously wrong with my son, even though the doctor told me it was just a virus. I pushed, saw another doctor, and was right. All the nurses at the children’s hospital were amazed that he wasn’t more sick, because normally with toddlers that develop type 1 Diabetes, they are very sick when they are admitted. My friend’s 8-year-old was in a coma. Maybe that’s because some lazy doctors tell mothers that it’s a virus and dissuade them from checking blood sugar, but what do I know? I’m just a mom. 

Here’s the point of my bitter little tirade: Now I’m paranoid. 

I gave my kids beets with their snack the other day, knowing what could happen, but when my three-year-old pointed and laughed at the pink water in the toilet, I freaked and took him to Urgent Care, terrified he had a kidney infection. 
He didn’t. 
He had beets. 
I had egg on my face. 

As I was driving the 40 minutes home that night, I went over and over in my head how I was going to justify this trip to my husband. I told him in that imaginary conversation that if something was actually wrong and I ignored my instincts, I would never be able to live with myself. I was angry at him for being angry at me in this imaginary conversation. I didn’t need to justify myself, I’m a mom! I do what I think is best for my kids, to avoid those worst-case scenarios. In my mind, I let him have it for judging me and my cautious parenting. 
When I got home, I put our son to bed, and cried on my husband’s shoulder. He gently told me everything that I had been ready to say in my defense on the way home. He told me he was glad I had gone, and that I would be able to sleep that night because I had listened to my instincts. He told me that I was a good mom, and he was glad I was taking such good care of our kids. 

Yes, I’m paranoid. Yes, I overreact sometimes. Yes, I will continue to do so. 

But I will not apologize for it. I won’t write one of those “I refuse to shelter my kids” blogs. I won’t feel bad about it. Here’s why:
If I make 10 trips to Urgent Care, and 9 of them are nothing, they are still justified by the 10th. I’m not going to live my life in fear of something happening, but I’m not going to ignore my instincts for fear of overreacting, either. 
I’m a mom. It’s in my job description. 

Astronaut Day

“Zoom! Zoom! It’s Astronaut Jude!” He runs around the kitchen making flying noises and “zooming” the toy airplane dangerously close to the food I’m preparing for dinner. 
“Mommy! I’m Astronaut Jude! Look! It’s Astronaut Mommy!”

“Hi, Astronaut Jude, can you please fly into the living room? Astronaut Mommy doesn’t want space shuttle-flavored meatballs.”

As he flies away, tears fill my eyes and a lump in my throat makes it hard to swallow. 

What do you tell a child when you know that there are options that will never be open to him? “You can be anything you want” is an empty promise, now. But to tell him, “Sorry, honey, you’ll never be an astronaut, or go into the military, or anything else that bars preexisting conditions. In fact, for the rest of your life, you will have to get injections 4 to 6 times a day, count everything you eat, check your blood sugar at every meal, and wear a medical alert bracelet.” is cruel. You just don’t say that to a preschooler. And right now, he doesn’t know or care. But what about when he’s ten? Or fifteen? 

A friend gave me an article about a young man who is a senior in highschool, and has been type 1 diabetic for two years. His mom says, “(Diabetes) isn’t who he is, it’s what he has.” And it’s true, my son has every chance of living a long, healthy, full life. And I understand that completely. But the idea of telling him that he won’t ever be an astronaut is just too much right now, so today, I’m not going to face that. Today we are going to play astronaut and whatever else he wants, maybe dinosaurs, while we’re at it. Come to think of it, my daughter wants to be a Tyrannasaurus Rex when she grows up, so maybe they’re on even ground. I guess the lesson here is that there will always be things we can’t achieve, but we can’t let that rob us of what we do have, or can be.  Someday, I’ll explain to him what career options are going to be easier than others for him to get into, but today is Astronaut day.

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