Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Popsicle, or Having a Field Day With Diabetes

A re-posting from last year at this time. I must admit I looked it up to find the popsicle count, as tomorrow is yet another field day.


The popsicle was due to arrive mid-morning, midfield.

The mother served her son jelly beans--five, then five again--and remembered the popsicle. Would it be a cherry one-stick pop or the break apart and share kind? The crab walk, bottle lid toss, and flag football required the energy a popsicle would provide, but not retroactively, if we could help it. Another relay. Two more jelly beans. The popsicle?

The PE teacher drives the golf cart by. How's he doing?

Just fine, the mother says, but about those popsicles.

At lunch, he says, tipping his cap, driving away.

Ah, at lunch. To be added into his regular insulin shot, then. Good timing.

A kid walks up to the mother. I had diabetes once, he says.

You probably didn't, she says.

A break. The mother walks from the schoolyard to the cafeteria. The popsicles, she says to the lunch lady, they're coming at lunch?

I heard 11:15, she says. From Joe. A minute ago. They shrug.

But are they here now? The popsicles?

They are. The lunch lady lifts the multipak from the freezer, tears open the plastic. The mother removes a box (assorted, cherry orange grape) and turns it over for the nutrition label: 10 carbs.

Ten plus 40.5 carbs packed into lunchbox equals 50.5 divided by 20 equals 2.5 units of insulin.
Did he have his diabetes yet? another kid asks the mother.

Huh? she answers.

Did he...have his diabetes yet?

Did he have his shot yet, do you mean? He nods. No, not yet. He'll get it at lunch. Right now he can eat jelly beans without a shot, because they give him energy for all the games this morning.

The teacher approaches the mother and says, 11:40. The mother performs mental calculations. What's 31 jelly beans divided by 34 carbs equal per bean, again?

C'mon, Mama! Next game! The boy grabs his mother's hand and leans his warm head on her arm. He smells like butter.

At 11:40, the mother tells her son to choose a popsicle and meet her for a blood sugar check.

No popsicles.

On the back playground right now, before lunch, the teacher calls. A blood sugar check, then: 118. Very good. The shot, in the hallway, surrounded by the children. They line up and walk away.

Eat your lunch and a popsicle! the mother calls out. Soon! She gathers her belongings, checks supplies in the school office. Just as she prepares to leave, the line of children appears again around the corner, headed back toward her.

No popsicles. The son hugs the mother. The mother fishes out part of the son's lunch and instructs him to eat.

At lunch! They'll be at lunch. The teacher has solved the mystery. Or has she? The children line up again to head back to their classroom. The mother kisses goodbye her child, the one who washes his hands when told to brush his teeth. Will her remember the popsicle? There can be no underestimating the importance of this popsicle.

The popsicle! she calls after him. Don't forget!

He turns and smiles; his blue eyes know. Then he joins the group and together, they walk away.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm In A Video That Has 2,307 YouTube Hits

At the end of a long day at Gleason's, some guy put headphones on me and asked me to speak in full sentences for the camera. I only agreed to play deer in the headlights because Phyllis did it. Phyllis is the other woman in the video. If she had jumped off a cliff, or the nearby Brooklyn bridge, I, too, at that point in the day, might have joined her in sheer exhaustion.

We'll let them believe I'm a "NY boxer" and one of "the finest at Gleason's Gym" (see YouTube description), now won't we?

Honey, Help Me Out

While setting up a new computer for me, my husband actually said, "I plan to dummy-proof this for you."

Yes: "dummy" and "you" in the same sentence.

It must be said that this statement follows one particularly difficult week in which I

(a) did not properly attach the cap to our bottle of honey, which in turn made said cap fall into his food, along with more than a serving size of the condiment, and

(b) failed to fully turn the knob of the wine box, which began a Biblical flood at the base of the box, found 24 hours later, rendering our cabinet a robust aroma with notes of cherry and dark berries, ending with a smoky finish.

I recall that when I took the test in What Color Is Your Parachute? my parachute did not lean toward machines or equipment of any kind. I should work with ideas, the test said.

And yet these ubiquitous parts of life stymie me every day. Right now, for example, I'm eating my oatmeal in a bowl that's seated on a plate. It's on a plate because the oatmeal itself exploded all over the microwave, and the plate catches the stuff dripping down the sides. I'll eat the rest.

This is not the first time it's happened.

I'd like to think that all this evidence points more toward genius, not dummy.

After all, I'm smart enough to keep the oatmeal plate/bowl away from my new computer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"I Go My Hardest"

As a wellness coach at the Y, I sit at a desk and answer questions. A large sign announcing "FITNESS" hangs over the top, and on occasion I've added some handwritten notes, such as "The doctor is IN" and "FITNESS HELP 5 cents."

Last week a guy asked me about deadlifts. He loves doing them, he says, but he often throws his back out and has to sit out a few weeks. I checked his form--minus the bar, as he was still hurting--and aside from encouragement to keep his eyes up, he was good.

Instinct told me that maybe this man is prone to injury, the proportions of his leg bones prevent ideal technique, and maybe he needs to find something else to do. But my gut said to think outside the box. The man declared his love for deadlifts, and was almost wistful while telling me he'd had to go without. I needed to find an adequate substitute.

I demonstrated halo deadlifts and good mornings. He perked up and we got to talking.

"They deadlift in the Olympics, don't they?" he asked. "I figure the exercise must not be bad for you if it's in the Olympics."

"Well, powerlifters are prone to very particular injuries, such as spinal decompression," I said. "There are dangers in any sport. Look at football and the brain injury studies--the research hasn't stopped anyone from playing, or watching."

"Sometimes you just do what you love and accept the risks," I heard myself saying.

Because nothing is guaranteed in this world.

Yesterday's paper had an article on a 9-year-old girl with type 1 diabetes that wrestles on her school's team. The title was "Girl wrestles diabetes, against boys."

Indeed. The article was right in highlighting such a kid as inspiration. And as a mom of a type 1 diabetic, I could find even more in the situation than the writer knew to address.

Wrestling is one of the more challenging sports that a diabetic can undertake. Blood sugar can rise 200 points in the adrenaline rush of the short round; this is manageable but not ideal for the A1c "report card" of the blood.

Conversely, the blood sugar could drop; this kid has passed out on the mat more than once. It's my worst nightmare, and for the love of the game, this family takes the risks. (I trust they've put all the precautions in place, knowing that diabetes is simply beyond management, at times.)

"Sometimes, when my sugar is low, it's hard to wrestle," she says, "but I go my hardest."

In the face of danger, she doesn't play it safe; she gives it everything.

How many of us can say the same?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Even In The Darkest Place [video]

Click over there on "prison theatre" for the back story on Even In The Darkest Place, a reading by former prisoners. I wrote--arranged, really, as these are all their words--and directed.

The videos are now online. Unfortunately, this isn't the original script, as one of the gentleman relapsed and went back to jail for a time. I cut out and/or delegated his lines for this particular performance.

A bit of a time commitment for you, but the stories are powerful. And true. Wait and see.

Find more on the "inside" church these men came from at http://www.celebrationfellowshipcrc.com/.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Conversation That Reveals What The Son Thinks of the Mother, Who Is Doing Her Best to be Normal

THEO (age 8): Mom! What day's Matt coming over?
ME: Saturday.
THEO: Oh good! Matt's a lot of fun.
ME: Yes he is. I like Matt.
THEO: You can even tell your jokes around him.
ME: What kind of jokes do you mean?
THEO: You know, the kind you usually tell--ones that are inappropriate.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hands On Living

The brain, as recently reported in The New York Times, is unable to distinguish between reading about a thing and experiencing the thing itself. Reading produces a "vivid simulation of reality," to the point of lighting up the same neurological regions in both instances.

I don't know. I've read a lot about boxing, watched videos, went through scenarios in my head. But when I got hit hard for the first time, in my head, something in there went "Hmmm. So this is what boxing is about."

I'm convinced we live out experiences in order to understand a thing more deeply and then, it follows, to help others in the same neurological boat.

Our pastor once took up a sermon series on the seven deadly sins. Perhaps he was holding back, but I had the distinct sense that he had encountered these vices mainly second hand. His examples came from books, and his insights didn't ring true. Surely the man's a sinner, but in comparison, I was the repugnant whore, having bedded at least half the list.

When you experience a thing, everywhere you look you'll see it, and someone else like you.

Someone once described the Honda CR-V make to me and said, "Just start looking for one, and you'll see: they're everywhere."

It never fails to happen that when I'm recovering from an injury, someone will come to me with questions on strengthening or rehabbing that same part, and I am able and enthusiastic about answering. They, in return, are grateful, which gives some value to the pain.

You can read about a thing, but experience it, and then you'll know.

The Times article went on to say that "in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people's thoughts and feelings."

I'll give them that. We can't experience everything, but we're charged with a directive to live, keep living, and open our eyes through books and media to that which we would never know a thing about.

And yet.

Theatre of the Oppressed--go click on the label at the right and read about it--is what its founder, Augusto Boal, called a "rehearsal for reality." Enter into a character's world through a book, yes, but now, can you step into the shoes of this person's husband? Speak his words? Fight the same fights? You can practice here. And you can be you with your wife, and try on possible solutions to a stressor.

A woman once told me a story of painting a picture. This was for an art therapy class, and she used lots of solid black lines, and some red, to symbolically represent her childhood. She was satisfied with what she expressed in the painting, she said; it captured the emotions well.

And then the teacher asked her to step in front of the painting and speak as that little girl, the one she was remembering.

The woman wept. As she embodied her younger self the raw feeling came through her as bold as her black lines, as fiery as her red paint, and more vivid than any stroke of a brush.

It's a vulnerable step, walking into your life's painting. And yet this is the only way we can truly know.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What I Did On Mother's Day

41 push-ups in 1 minute.

Can you top that, moms (and dads)? No half reps, either.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For The Mom Who's Neither Sweet Nor Gentle

There's a disturbing trend in Mother's Day advertising, and it has a lot to do with sweets and all things gentle.

An email from the local art museum promises "a relaxing classical concert" for Mom, plus desserts.

The newspaper featured a pancake recipe. Presumably one would make the pancakes and wave them under Mom's nose Sunday morning to wake her gently. But careful; we wouldn't want to spill any syrup on the frilly sheets.

And then there is the jewelry. Moms must have diamonds and pearls.

But what do we really want? Let's take a look at some recent purchases of mine for clues.

As for accessories, for example, I recently bought one of these:

Except in purple, which is more feminine.

For entertainment last week, I wanted not the symphony or the art museum, but only a gaze at the Mayweather-Cotto fight. Had I managed the $59.95 fee for pay-per-view, my joy would have been made complete! This fits the jewelry category, as well: surely 50 Cent wore some nice bling as he accompanied Floyd into the ring.

And finally, I do like shoes. In fact, I came home with four pairs this week, which caused my husband some mild heart palpitations. I bought four not because I like to shop, but because I don't--since I found this many that have potential, I figured I'd grab them all at once, like a bird in the hand, or four.

I'll return at least 3 of them. And they're all athletic shoes, by the way. None of these:

And food? I've asked that we do a day trip to Ann Arbor, where I'll stock up on healthy stuff at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. We'll also make our regular pilgrimage to Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, a family favorite. For a time, a robot in the corner would recite pi until you made a donation to their tutoring program.

So there you have it. Some clues on what to get the woman who has everything...that's not all pretty pretty.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Someone's Got Diabetes, Lord, Kumbayah

As parents of a type 1 diabetic, Greg and I can't make a date without serious preparation. A sitter must be experienced in giving shots; he or she must be reliable in emergencies, and knowledgeable in the life-threatening situation of hypoglycemia.

Your average teenager will not fill this criteria, and if someone is found who is willing--we do have such a person--the training is too extensive to accomplish in a short period of time, or even a day. Giving shots takes practice, and we don't want someone practicing on Theo without us there. But shots are only needed at certain times of the day, so these must be scheduled around. With our willing person, we've had her around to watch a few shots, but not often enough. Surely she can't be expected to remember all that.

And so we go out infrequently. Overnight trips without the kids are no longer an option. Even playdates in town or up the street require extensive conversations on what might happen and what to do and where we are at every minute. If Theo walks to the creek, which sits at the edge of our yard, we send Simon along and ask that both stay within yelling distance.

Fortunately, we do have neighbors with a type 1 diabetic child, and our boys all enjoy playing together. We can run out for a minute, or lounge about the house, and know the kids are safe. At least there's that, and we're grateful.

And yet the fact that Theo can't be alone easily is exhausting for all of us. For Theo, who deals with this day in and day out. For Greg and I, the full-time managers of the serious disease; Simon, who takes on extra brotherly responsibilities; the parent of Theo's friend who must endure my scare talk and who fears this heavy cloud raining down on what should be a fun playdate.

The scare talk, which I've perfected. It's given in a fairly light tone of voice but the content is clear, direct, and in your face. Here's an example of what I'd tell a new childcare worker at the Y, when I'm not leaving the building but am simply down the hall:

"Theo has type 1 diabetes. Are you familiar with it? His blood sugar could drop dangerously low without warning, which is a serious situation. He might come to you and say he's feeling low, and he'll have to check himself. At that point, he should not be left alone, and someone needs to come and get me. Also, if you see him lying in a corner, don't assume he's just tired or playing--check on him that he hasn't passed out. It's never happened, but it can happen. We don't expect anything to happen, but you need to know this is serious."

Why such a heavy talk? First, because diabetes is serious stuff. But second, because the range of responses is vast. We might get the over-eager person who will take more than her needed share of responsibility, like the woman who asked Theo to check his sugar when there was no reason to. I kept in my rage--yes, the idea of one unnecessary fingerpoke in Theo's precious fingers could send me there--and had to stress to her the next visit, gently, that she doesn't need to do anything, that she should let Theo play like the other kids, and that he doesn't need any more reminders that he has diabetes.

But more likely, you get the person who is trying to play off the disease thing. There's something in the back of their minds that corrects their first response--sympathy--with an "it's all cool" perspective. They mean well. Or maybe they are indeed ignorant to diabetes' dark side. Either way, they're taking it lightly. Yeah, Grandma has diabetes and we don't do anything special around her. No big deal. And that's when the scary part is played. I make sure they hear, and appropriately react to, "serious" and "life-threatening" and "dangerous." And, to be honest, I put some other safeguard in place, like big brother or an extra check in by me.

So when I read today that a young diabetic started a website for babysitting, I was grateful.

Safesittings.com connects families with qualified sitters. Our nearest one is 50 miles away, but no matter--I'm thankful the service exists, and am confident it will grow.

Another thing I'm thankful for: Camp Manitou-Lin, a local YMCA camp, who is providing a nurse to accompany Theo each day from 8-4 for a week in August. And they're sending someone on the bus, too.

I never thought he'd be able to go to a nearby camp. I thought we'd have to travel to diabetes camp if we were to do camp at all. We already have stopped doing the little day camps around town that used to fill our summer days.

But I never thought he'd have diabetes, either, and this has forever changed my list of thanks.

(Theo's winning essay on diabetes is now online here.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It Is Good To Have Been In The House Of Someone Else

The first day of vacation is often rough.

Even though I'd been looking forward to it, had sprinted off and away from the dirty dishes, that first day in New York was anxious. The luggage was cumbersome. The directions were confusing. The sights and sounds were too much, more stimuli than an average day back in Michigan usually holds.

By the end of the day, when I met up with a friend, I was quiet but pulsing inside. He chose the calmest Thai restaurant in the vicinity, and even then, I sat wondering what I was doing there, eating rice noodles at this late hour instead of in my pajamas at home with buttered crackers.

But finding my way midtown, then later, reuniting with the old friend I would stay with, would check off small accomplishments of self-esteem. New York would become familiar again, on this fifth solo visit there, and perhaps more quickly than the three days it usually takes.

Until the next morning, when I was headed to Brooklyn for day one of the women's boxing clinic at Gleason's Gym.

Sitting on the C train, once again I wondered what I was doing. It would be so much easier not to walk into this new situation. Couldn't I just be a tourist for once? Forget this pressure of meeting physical demands and encountering a new set of people. I could just hang out with my old friends, all of whom I've known for twenty years. I could catch a show, buy a Statue of Liberty snow globe.

I did not want to walk up those fabled steps.

But I did. And I'm here to say that it's good to force yourself out of your routine.

The buttered crackers? Just a small example of one of the things I think I can't live without. In fact, on that first day when I hit Whole Foods, I saw my favorite brand. "Locally-produced," the packaging said; how could I resist? But I did.

My four pillows at home on the bed: I need them to keep my back and neck in good working order.

Actually, I don't. Sleeping on my friend's couch was just fine.

Coffee makes me bloat. White flour makes me feel sick.

But when the shortest line at MOMA only sold coffee and croissants, and I really needed some sustenance (the hypoglycemia is one thing that hadn't changed), let me tell you: they were the best I ever had.

Shampoos. Soaps. Eating patterns. Sleeping patterns. Athletic demands--at home, I won't go boxing if I feel a little off in my legs, back, whatnot.

In New York, getting up and going to Brooklyn became my job. It was just what I did, with no thought of this or that ache or pain. I'd just give the best I had that day.

An art professor who sat ringside sketching some of us later emailed me expressing surprise that I had come from Michigan.

"You have that Brooklyn edge to you," she said.

So I fit in. But I'm not from Brooklyn; I'm from western Pennsylvania and live in Michigan. I can go anywhere, however, and find myself there.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Congrats To My Boy For A Winning Essay On Diabetes

I opened the city's monthly newspaper last night to discover that my eight-year-old son had won their literary award for children's non-fiction. (I had forgotten working on it with him, which makes for a great surprise.) The judge praised his sense of humor and personal anecdotes. That's my boy. Here's the essay.

I Have Diabetes
by Theo, age 8

One day, I had to go to the doctor because I was drinking and peeing a lot. That may sound weird. But it meant I probably had diabetes. And I do. Diabetes means I have to get shots for the rest of my life, because my pancreas isn’t making enough insulin.

You’re probably wondering:
1. How did you get diabetes?
2. Can it stop?
3. Are you still normal? (Of course)

Answer 1. No one knows.
Answer 2. No.
Answer 3. I am the person typing here.

My routine of the day is like yours but when I wake up, before eating breakfast I check my blood sugar. That means I have to wash my hands and prick my finger with a black tube that has a tiny needle in it.

Then I press down on the black tube and the needle pricks me. It does not hurt. Then I squeeze my finger and some blood pops out. Next, I pop open a bottle and pull out a tiny piece of paper. I put the paper in a device shaped like a square. Then I put the drop of blood in the tiny piece of paper and some numbers pop up. If the numbers are really high, I get extra insulin in my shot. If the numbers are really low, I get some food and I have to wait 15 minutes before my shot.

I get at least four shots every day. I prick my fingers more often than that.

The first few days I had diabetes, I cried whenever I got a shot because the shot was very scary and frightening, and I wasn’t used to it. The third day, my mom said it hurt her feelings when I cried and ran away from shots. She asked me to be brave, and I did.

My dad didn’t know this. He was at work. My mom and I wanted to play a trick. I was in the bathroom hiding (as usual), and my mom was pretending to beg me to get a shot. And I was pretending to cry. Dad came home from work and he heard us pretending. We opened the door and said, Surprise! My dad was so surprised that I wasn’t really crying and that I was taking the shots without crying. Ever since that day, I don’t cry or run away when I get a shot. Sometimes a shot goes in and hurts and I cry, but otherwise, it’s okay.

A good part about diabetes is I get food in gym class because it’s exercise and that would make my blood sugar low. Another good part is I get special attention every day. But sometimes I don’t like diabetes. Sometimes I have to miss recess or I don’t get to eat when other people do. Once, I had to be in the school office for thirty minutes, and I missed eating lunch with my friends and art class. I have to deal with this every day, unlike my friends.

I have to be brave.