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. 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.)


  1. omg that website it AMAZING! my 12 yo daughter wants to start sitting and has even created her own business cards with her special skills as a T1 listed, but it's been difficult to find a place for her to network. that site is PERFECT, thank you so much!!

    and i hear you on the scare talk. when dropping her at a sleepover, i have to leave the glucagon there and that gets an interesting reaction as well. i just feel lucky to have people willing to take on that responsibility that i can trust.

  2. That would be so great if she could start babysitting through that, or be a mother's helper. I need to get over there and put us on there as sitters as well as people needing the service--maybe there's a swapping option?

    You train people on glucagon? I guess it's all on the inside of the case, and I'd have to review it myself if we were ever to need it, so might as well. Thanks for getting me thinking on that.


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