“I hate diabetes” escaped the lips of my five year old son who doesn’t have that kind of language habit, yet, and who doesn’t really know the meaning of the word “hate”. Hearing him say those three words set off a chain reaction of memories that started almost 21 years ago to the day when my youngest sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age three. I remember having trouble going to sleep that night after my dad wearily explained that she had in incurable illness that would involve needles and bleeding (and so much more). Before I fell asleep I remember whispering out loud, “I hate diabetes.” Later that same year I wrote in my diary those very words with so much pressure from my pen the words permanently embedded into the next few pages. Never one to pass up an opportunity for clarity, I dotted my exclamation points with my own 11 year old blood.
Since that year I have probably uttered “I hate diabetes” more than a million times-an estimate I don’t think is exaggerated. I haven’t said or thought it much in the last few years because I want my mind filled with positive thoughts and my children to start life with a mental blank slate. I want them to figure out how they feel about things versus feeling what I feel and thus carrying around a detrimental amount of my baggage. It has served me well to remove those three words from my vocabulary. I am much more equipped, emotionally speaking, to take care of myself. And I do take care of myself.
Today, I was informing my children that tomorrow I will go to the eye doctor for a short visit. My daughter said, “Ok, mom” while my son, seemingly alarmed, said, “Why? What’s wrong?” I sat down and looked him in the eyes, which were staring at me intensely, “Well, nothing is wrong, but because I have diabetes I should go to the doctor each year to have a check-up”.
“But why does your diabetes mean you need a check up?” he continued.
“Because diabetes can hurt the body’s cells over time and our eyes are particularly sensitive.” I calmly explained.
My daughter jumped in saying, “So diabetes can hurt your eyes and other parts of your body because our whole body is a bunch of cells, right?”
“Yes. And I’ve had diabetes for 20 years so it’s a good idea for me to be extra careful and see doctors every year to make sure my body is working like it should.”
My daughter smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and said confidently, “Sounds good, mom!”
My admittedly skeptical son looked down and said, “Well I hate it.” He looked up at me with his brown eyes and in the most deliberate manor said, “I hate diabetes.”
I was stunned.
For a second I thought about saying something soothing and typical of a parent. But all that came out was, “I do, too.”
And that was it. He went back to eating his dinner. I began my memory roller coaster and wondered how my child could know enough to say he hated something that he has always seen me have. Did I appear weak or sick to him? Did I give him cause for worry? What gave it away? Was he just putting the logic of my explanation together?
So many questions flooded me until I was tired of thinking. All I’m sure of is I will do whatever it takes to make sure my diabetes doesn’t affect them more than it has to. When it slows me down, makes me feel incompetent and a complete fool for having had children, I need to make sure I kick those thoughts to the curb. So that my kids don’t catch those thoughts. So that I don’t become those thoughts. Because when a five year old says “I hate diabetes” one sits up and pays attention. I don’t want my children tethered to my worries. Or can this legitimately be their worry, too? I’d rather it not be. Especially not at five. And not while I’m alright and it’s technically jumping the gun.
That’s what I will tell him tonight before he and his sister go to sleep. That I’m alright and there is no need to worry. I will make it a point to hear my own words.