Wednesday, February 29, 2012

T1 Power Lunch

Morning food duties are typically dispersed thusly:
--Greg makes the children and himself breakfast
--Amy makes herself breakfast and packs the kids' lunches.

Greg has been traveling, which means his duties fall to me. And once again I stand in awe, in my kitchen, at the complexity type 1 diabetes brings to our lives.

Every meal, every bit of food take in requires extra layers of work, but school lunches feel to me especially difficult, as they must be prepared in advance and packed up for someone else to give the shot.

To pack Theo's lunch for school, the following considerations must be made:

What food is on hand. Of course. Though I hit the grocery store seemingly every other day, we're always out of something, or something that they like, or something packable.

A balance of reasonably healthy food products. From what's on hand, what's healthy? Unlike meals at home, during which desserts can be demanded, they have to eat whatever I pack them, so I try to make it good. For them. And a little treat, here and there.

Food that can be eaten in the short period of time called "lunch." If the kids talk at all during the 15 total minutes in the cafeteria, they won't have taken in enough food. So you can't send a whole mess of carrots to chew, for example, because it won't happen, and there they go into the trash.

Let's catch up for a moment. What food do we have? What do we have that's healthy and they'll eat? What do we have that's healthy, enjoyable, and won't take forever to chew?

All parents suffer these questions daily (or should). They present significant challenges, some days.

But now let's add diabetes.

The carbs must be counted. T1 parents must count the carbs of everything their children eat. Take a look at a nutrition label sometime. Look at the serving size, and look at the carb count. Match the food you've chosen for your child's lunch (according to the criteria above) and make sure you've gotten the correct serving size.

Sometimes you'll need to weigh the food, such as fresh fruit. Sure, you could guesstimate, but that just makes tracking these carb ratios all the more difficult.

The carb count must be coordinated with the carb ratio.
What's a carb ratio? It's the ratio of insulin needed per carb, per meal. More often than not, these vary at different times of the day. Theo currently has wildly diverse ratios for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ranging from 6.5 carbs per unit (a lot of insulin) to 20 (not as much).

Each day, I must pack a lunch that satisfies the above requirements of what's on hand and healthy, etc, plus make sure the math is correct--that is, that the carb count divides evenly with the ratio. Too much rounding up or down and one can never get a handle on the ratios. (Parents also track blood sugar patterns in order to change the ratios when necessary. We play doctor; it's like prescribing a new dose of medicine.)

Even then, if his blood sugar is high or low, all the math is off. More insulin or food must be added.

What's not embarrassing. A little thing, but someone else sees the meals I pack. The school secretaries, sometimes the principal, uses the little slip of paper I write the math on to give Theo his shot. On it I list out each food item and the carb count, because if somehow I forgot an item or he's unable to eat it, they'll know the count of that food and be able to replace it with an equal amount of carbs. Some days I'm embarrassed to be serving PB+J again. Did they notice?

Sure, we're grateful to have a manageable disease, but sometimes the managing is overwhelming. I've run late every morning this week, and had I been able to throw food at the kids and shove them out the door, they would have made the bus. Diabetes forces you to slow down and consider what you're putting into your children. Maybe that's not the worst thing after all.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Art Needs No Exploitation

The following is a post from February 2010. As I prepare to teach theatre to community leaders in June (register here), I'm thinking about the homeless women I spent Monday nights with a few years back.

Let's be honest: the work I did there would make a grantwriter salivate. The local newspaper, even. But I always hesitated to draw attention to the women, to bring in a journalist or photographer (pajamas were the attire that time of night); I didn't want to exploit them or have them think I was there to make myself look good.

And yet attention can bring awareness, money can bring opportunities. In this post, I struggled with these ideas. In the end, I never did any public forum, but I did write about them and teach others how to work with the homeless.

For more posts on my work in the shelter, click here.

There's a scene in the film "Julie & Julia" where Julie, who is cooking and blogging her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has an intense argument with her husband, Eric. He stomps out of the apartment, stopping only to turn around and yell something along the lines of "And don't put this in your blog."

Tricky, these blogs.

I spent a recent evening hanging out at the homeless shelter where I lead theatre on Mondays. While taking in the second annual talent show of poetry, dance, and song over some mouthwatering ribs and cornbread, I had a moment of Oh No.

Something about eating and talking and calling each other by our stripper names (an ongoing joke; mine is "Night Jugs") made me stop and think about the ways I reveal these women's lives in my blog.

Of course I change the names. Of course I alter sensitive circumstances. But would I write in the same way about a friend, who, say, revealed something to me over coffee?

As a writer, I go out and experience a thing, or ask a person about his or her life, then digest and articulate these findings for others. A certain degree of objectification is necessary. I try to distance myself from my own life, as well, to produce interesting observations as I write. This objectifying perhaps cushions the blow of the necessary vulnerability.

Yet I bristle when I hear homeless people objectified to the point of becoming Other. They're homeless, yes, but the final categorization is Human Being.

I've been leading theatre nearly every week since summer, and I'm getting to know these women more intimately. For the blog I must speak of them as types, but in person we are friends. Yes, I think I can safely use that term. They'd probably be flattered to know I am writing about them, and I'm waiting for the day when the cell phone videos they take of my games find their way to YouTube.

My purpose, in a nutshell, is to present a picture of homelessness and the power of art, hoping to heck I'm making a difference in the telling. In other words, I write about but not for the women themselves, and I try to balance the readers' need for details with the women's right to privacy. That's a valid cause, related yet separate from what I aim to do on Monday nights at the shelter. There I'm trying to make the world a better place, one theatre game, one homeless woman, at a time.

Writing also serves a personal need, helping me think through my experiences and better prepare for future sessions. When I wrote about our Christmas play, for example, I sat down with only the image of the teddy in mind. I had no idea what it meant or why it was significant until I started writing.

To summarize, then, I do theatre to help the women. I write to figure out what worked and why, to make me a better teacher. And I write for you, dear reader, asking you to peer with me at the fringes of society, where real people dwell.

I write because an alcoholic 57-year-old woman told me, "The sister can't believe I remember, I was never goes away."

Her story is too common, as old as the hills, but you probably haven't heard it yet and that's why I need to write.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Things People Said (This Week)

He's probably used to it by now.

A teacher. Referring to Theo's skipping out on lemonade that the rest of the class was having. "Yes, but that doesn't mean he's happy about it," I said. She backtracked. She brought him diet coke. He was happy. People say the darnedest things about diabetes, and they're lucky I don't hit them.

I'd walk three houses away, then walk back.

This woman had suffered severe complications after the birth of her child. After coming home from the hospital, she couldn't walk alone, and getting from the bed to the bathroom required help she referred to as "dragging." One day she decided she needed to move. She managed to walk to a house three away, then back. After some time, more houses. She was seeing me to learn how to begin weight training. More recently she joined an Indian dance troupe that performs locally.

But what do you wear to dance?

There's a guy in the gym who keeps tabs on my shoes. I show up in a new pair, part of my quest to solve any problem that befells me, and he notices. I explained that I only wear athletic shoes, and so my owning three pairs is not unheard of. He paused. And then he asked, "But what do you wear to dance?" I paused. His point is a good one: I should be dancing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Pleasure of the Pursuit

The woman said this: If there are to be challenges in my life, I don't want them to happen here.

Under the umbrella of a talk on nutrition, I had used the word "challenge." I had also recommended my practice of eating chicken nuggets for dessert; had praised human nature's need for pleasure; and written down a specific brand and percentage of dark chocolate for the woman to buy. But challenge, this I meant in light of the work one sets out to do.

She wanted to do her business at the gym and leave, and I argued for more intensity: Make it worth it. You've driven this far, now make your work worth your time.

My suggestion, arguing for a worthy workout if not a challenging one, was a gentle reminder, but not meant to override her approach, a good one. Her phrasing suggested she's not opposed to a challenge, and will apply herself in the right context. I picture her at 65 taking up violin, perhaps.

I offered this: in mastering a challenge here, at the gym, I see the difficulty level of all pursuits drop. Success transfers over to other areas in degrees, if not simply in self-confidence; one boosts the other.

She was not ready to entertain this idea, and so I returned our discussion to chocolate. And pleasure--in this context, that we must have our chocolate or some other indulgence in order to feel human. We were made to enjoy small pleasures like these; when we don't, we may push the boundaries of balance, and overindulge.

There can be pleasure in challenge, such as the self-imposed kind found in athletic endeavors. The two need not be separate. If there is a balance: challenge found everywhere is daunting. There must be a spot to rest. That's what the woman seemed to be getting at.

And yet even a healthy dose of challenge can send us running, goals be damned.

In Tattooing In Qazwin, a poem by Rumi, a man asked to be given a "powerful, heroic blue lion" on his shoulder.

But as soon as the needle starts pricking,
he howls,
"What are you doing?"
"The lion."
"Which limb did you start with?"
"I began with the tail."
"Well, leave out the tail. That lion's rump
is in a bad place for me. It cuts off my wind."

A lion without a tail, then. And it happens again, a cry of pain, the decision to emasculate the beast. First no tail, then without ears, and no belly.

Rumi concludes this way (in Coleman Barks's translation--only read Barks when it comes to Rumi):

Brother, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
What is it to know something of God?
Burn inside that presence. Burn up.