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Teaching My Son About Diabetes

April 14, 2014


Owen looked at my pump. Then he looked at me. Then he looked at my pump again.

“What’s that, Daddy?” he asked.

As I’ve told him numerous times what my pump is, I decided to find out how much he’s paid attention.

“What do you think it is, Owen?”

“Daddy’s pump,” he said.

“Why does Daddy have a pump?” I asked.

“Medicine,” he replied.

“Why does Daddy need medicine?” I continued, pressing him for more info.

“So Daddy doesn’t get sicky,” he replied.

“That’s right,” I said to my brilliant boy.

When we found out Meg was pregnant, a lot of thoughts ran through my head for how I’d teach our child (the now-2-and-a-half-year-old Owen) about my diabetes. At first I considered not taking insulin in his presence. (The idea being that he shouldn’t see me using insulin pens, or syringes or any kind, in order to continue a taboo about syringes.) I realized that would be a bad idea, as I didn’t want to stigmatize my condition, or the way I treat it.

When Owen was very young, and he saw me taking my Novolog or Lantus pen injections, I made a point of telling him that Daddy is taking insulin. Daddy’s pancreas doesn’t work, so I have to take insulin so I don’t get sick.

I don’t think his daycare covered the pancreas, what it does and how a faulty one could cause problems. But Owen’s very sharp. I believe he was able to extrapolate all of the important info he needed.

In November, when my pump arrived, a new set of issues came with it: How do I talk about my pump with my big guy? The issue came to a head one morning, shortly after I’d started using the pump. Owen was sat next to me as we watched some Saturday morning cartoons. I felt a slight tug and noticed he had my pump in his hands, and was pressing away at the buttons.

“Holy sh#*,” I thought (but didn’t say, as I have a strict anti-cursing policy around my son. I’ll go into more detail later).

I looked directly at him: “You are not allowed to play with this,” I said in a very stern voice. “This is Daddy’s pump. This is not a toy. Owen is not allowed to play with this.”

He was a little taken aback by my change from cuddly Daddy to the enforcer, but he understood.

“OK,” he said. (Really, it was that simple. I laid down the ground rules and he’s going to follow them.)

Since late last year, when I started with the pump, there have been a few other occasions when I’ve had to remind him that my pump is not a toy, and that he’s not allowed to touch it. However, I think it’s more of a situation where he wants to know more, instead of just wanting to play with the buttons. (I could be wrong, though. Buttons are so interesting for a 2 year old.)

He’s seen me change my infusion sites, and I make sure to tell him what I’m doing and why it’s helping me. In particular, he likes watching me fill my reservoir with insulin, and tap the sides to get the bubbles out.

The important lesson that we keep repeating, though, is that Daddy’s pump helps keep me from “getting sicky.”

Then there was the morning I woke up in a bit of a stupor, with my sugar crashing. Meg acted quickly, grabbing a bottle of glucose tablets from the bedside table. Owen wanted to know what they were.

Instead of confusing the situation by saying “They’re fast-acting glucose tablets that will relieve Daddy’s insulin shock symptoms,” she thought on her feet and said “They’re special Daddy vitamins. Want to help me give them to him?” He was all in. He brought the tablets to my mouth and fed me, happy he could help. In a couple minutes, I was back to my old self, with a beaming son saying “I gave Daddy his vitamins.”

Since then, he’s offered a number of times to give me my Daddy vitamins, while grabbing the glucose tablets container off the table. I have to tell him that I only need them in emergencies, and that, if he’s there, he can help Mommy when I need them again. We all just hope he won’t have to give me my Daddy vitamins again.

He’s OK with that arrangement.

In general, kids are very sharp and very perceptive. I may be a little biased, but I think Owen remembers everything. He references things I told him about once over six months ago, with absolute clarity. He remembers songs we’ve listened to just a couple times. (During dinner with in-laws over the weekend, we talked about Owen’s favorite songs. I asked him what his favorite song is, and he said “Skinny Love,” even though it’s been weeks — if not months — since we’ve listened to it. I’ve also mentioned his partiality to The Smiths, too. Depending on his mood, he can request songs as diverse as Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” to “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies.)

He has about 15 books in his bedtime-story rotation and has them memorized, word for word. (Some are short, like “My Daddy Loves Me,” but he also has books like “Mr. Pine’s Purple House,” “Big Orange Splot” and, of course, “Where the Wild Things Are” memorized from cover to cover. We’ve watched Owen go from page to page, saying the stories and knowing where they pick up on the next page. And it’s not just these books. Seriously. He has about 15 that he has absolutely memorized.) (Note:While prepping for bed tonight, we read “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight,” and the big guy was able to identify a good number of the dinosaurs. I think he’s a genius.)

Anyway, when we found out Meg was pregnant, I decided on a strict no-cursing policy around my son. To enforce this properly, I knew I had to change the frequency I dropped F-bombs and the like by eliminating them. Instead, I started using a variable word that would stand for whatever vulgarity I would typically say. That word: “Poop.”

I started when Meg was in her second trimester and would just substitute “poop” for whatever word I was going to use. “What the poop” became a regular phrase for me. (It’s pretty good, too, in that it gets a laugh about 60 percent of the time, which is a pretty good comedic return on investment.)

With family and friends, I decided it would be a strict two-strike policy: If you curse in front of my boy, I will give you a stern warning: “We don’t curse in front of Owen,” I would say.

“Why not?” came the typical reply. “He doesn’t understand what we’re saying.”

“Owen is a sponge,” I would tell them. “He remembers everything. He repeats a lot of what he hears.”

Here’s where the second strike comes in. I would lay out the remainder of my rules. With the second strike comes a strike.

“If you decide to curse in front of him again, I’m going to punch you. Then, if I ever hear him using whatever word you’ve decided you have to use right now, in front of him, I’m going to show up at your front door. I will knock on the door. When you answer, I will punch you again. Hard. In the nose.”

I have yet to throw a punch because I think people realize how serious I am about this issue.

Don’t curse in front of my son.

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