We were all at my friend Jill’s house, and we were doing all the things that 7-year-olds do at sleepovers: playing games, giggling, eating cake, staying up all night.
But I had one extra thing on my to-do list: type 1 diabetes.
I was diagnosed with diabetes in September of 1986, and that same December, I went to my first sleepover birthday party for my childhood best friend. Not wanting to make diabetes an insurmountable social hurdle, my mother decided that I was attending that sleepover birthday party, regardless of my recent diagnosis.
So she drove me over to Jill’s house and introduced herself to Jill’s mom. My mom stayed a while — a few hours longer than the other parents did — as she wanted to be able to check my blood sugar and give me insulin to cover dinner and some birthday cake… and to stick around long enough to ensure that she hadn’t over-dosed my insulin for the aforementioned dinner and birthday cake. She stayed to check my blood sugar one more time before leaving, hoping I was steady going into the overnight hours.
And then she left. And I stayed up all night hanging out with my friends. And my mom also stayed up most of the night, worrying about her daughter with newly minted type 1 diabetes. (Which is what brought my mom back over to Jill’s house for breakfast around 6 a.m., so she could check my blood sugar and dose my insulin and start the diabetes learning curve anew. “Hi, Jill’s mom! I’m back!”)
I remember a lot about this sleepover party, like how cool it was to be at a sleepover party for the first time. I remember the piano in Jill’s living room, and drawing chalk pictures in her driveway. There’s a picture of all of us standing in our winter coats next to our drawings, our 7-year-old smiles bright against the gray of winter. I don’t remember my mom worrying about blood sugars. And I don’t remember her being there late, or showing up early the next morning. Diabetes didn’t infiltrate that portion of my memory bank. I just remember the party itself, and how much fun it was.
Which is exactly the point. My parents — my mother in particular — did everything they could to make diabetes as minimally disruptive as possible for me. And as a parent myself now, I have a new appreciation for the efforts they took. Sleepover? Diabetes won’t be the reason we say no. Soccer camp? You can go, and you’ll need to bring this backpack with snacks and your glucose meter in it. Field trip for school? Sure, and hey look, your mom is a chaperone and everything! (Should have seen that one coming.) My parents did so much to make sure that experiences offered were experiences had, without diabetes being the driving force for cans or can’ts.
What helped my parents over that hurdle, back in the day?
My mother said that telling Jill’s mom about my diabetes up front helped alleviate anxiety on all sides. Also, she explained the symptoms of a low blood sugar and what that might look like to someone watching me, in addition to the step-by-step process of treating that low. And part of it was just doing it — letting me go on the sleepover — so my mother could know that it was possible. Having me come home safe, sound, and happy the next morning confirmed that it was okay and it could be done.
Today’s parents of kids with diabetes have even more tools in their parenting tool belt to help in situations like these, including sharing CGM (continuous glucose monitor) data, insulin pumps that shut off when blood sugars fall below threshold, and modern glucose meters that give results in seconds. Even the growth of the diabetes online community — it could be that internet search result that brings comfort and confidence to parents and friends’ parents alike.
Now, after 32 years of life with type 1 diabetes, I can look back to my experiences as a kid growing up and feel that diabetes wasn’t something that made me feel limited. Of course it was always a factor we considered as a family when making decisions, but diabetes never decided things for us.
I’m thankful for how my parents handled my diabetes in the past. Their confidence in what they knew and their willingness to ask for help when they needed it shaped how I handled my diabetes in the future.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.