Jam cake with maple icing, country ham, eggnog, and lights. The smell of pine, homemade mashed potatoes, and snowball fights. My Granny Ruby cooking in a tiny kitchen to prepare the most delicious meals you can imagine. Being stress-free with family and friends, if just for a day. Such fond memories of the holidays exist in my mind.
Two years ago, as we prepared for the busiest but happiest time of the year, full of food and fellowship, we were dealt a hand we were not prepared for. On November 15, our worlds were rocked when our 5-year-old son Rush was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
I could lie to you and tell you the holidays were the same. Easy. Stress-free. But that isn’t true.
About two weeks after Rush’s diagnosis, Thanksgiving showed up. Like an old friend with more baggage than last time. We were so glad to see our family, but with our visits came food. Between giving thanks for the small things, for the almosts-that-thankfully-weren’ts… there were carbs. An extreme amount of carbs. I’m not kidding, guys. Carbs everywhere.
We had been told, “Meat, cheese, and eggs are free!” But as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find a dish that only included those three. Mac ’n cheese bubbled in the oven, rolls overflowed their baskets, and stuffing was in abundance. And desserts. Oh, the desserts! Fruit salad, pecan pies, banana pudding cake. An endless buffet.
Immediately, anxiety set in. How will I calculate all these carbs? How will I not overshoot the insulin dosage? This isn’t boxed macaroni dinner we’re talking about. It’s homemade, and we’re from the South! There was no listing in the calorie book for Granny Ruby’s Mashed Potatoes and Gravy.
As parents, we are fixers by nature. I wanted to fix this situation. I wanted a specific number to use in my insulin calculations. I wanted assurance that I wasn’t underestimating or overestimating. My perfectionist, type-A personality wanted the “A+, 100%, you’re perfect” pep talk. But it never came. However, Rush’s appetite did.
It was hard. Hard to see him watch his cousins mindlessly chew on rolls as they waited for the meal to be ready. Hard to explain why he had to eat everything in a 30-minute time slot, to correspond with his insulin bolus. I felt nervous that I needed to watch him eat every ounce. I was glued to the carb-counter app, frantically searching, doing calculations, and stressing. I came up with some numbers that seemed right and texted Rush’s other parents (we co-parent in an exceptional manner) to confirm numbers. Second-guessed myself a few more times and squeezed in the insulin with a few seconds to spare in my 30-minute window. I then proceeded to worry until the next blood sugar check that I had done something wrong. I didn’t even really eat. And if you knew me, you’d know the significance of that statement. Like I said, it was hard.
Christmas was the same but added new kinks to the routine. Y’all, I cannot explain to you the amount of parties and treats there are in kindergarten at holiday time. It’s a LOT. A sugar cookie at lunch, candy canes for well-dones, gingerbread houses, and a Christmas party. Communication had to be on-point between all four parents and the school nurse and teacher.
Were there days we messed up? Yep. But we got better. We became more confident, and I feel starting our journey right in the middle of the holiday season actually helped us with that.
We finally settled into a routine and became more comfortable with glucose levels, calculating carb ratios, and administering insulin. Meals were less worrisome, and the window for bolusing and eating didn’t seem quite so quick. Since then, we have been through several holidays, several large homemade meals, lots of school parties and treats, and innumerable carb calculations. I have people every holiday or party say to me, “This is a lot. I didn’t realize, but it’s a great deal of work.” I usually respond by telling them that it is more, but it’s not hard. It’s something I would do until the end of time to ensure my boy is happy and healthy.
We have support. We have our family, our parental unit, and Rush. He gets healthier each day, and he is the same sweet, loyal, big-hearted kid he has always been. An even better version, actually. Just at Thanksgiving, we now count carbs along with our blessings.
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.