In a perfect world, the parents of children living with type 1 diabetes wouldn’t have to leave their kids for a third of every day with people who don’t understand the intricacies of diabetes the way that we do. I guess, though, that if the world were perfect, we wouldn’t be talking about this at all.
Before school begins, I like to speak candidly to my daughter’s teachers, and I prefer to have the introductory conversations in a face-to-face setting so that I can gauge the educator’s level of preparedness and empathy. Then I help them to come to terms with what the new school year is going to require of everyone involved. It’s often a slow process, a mini journey that I am completely happy to take with them each year. The fact is that no one has any idea what curveballs diabetes will throw at us over these next months, and these new interactions can be as educational for me as they are for the new teachers.
“Please,” I begin, “please don’t treat her differently.” Arden is, in most ways, just like every other child who has or will sit in a classroom. She doesn’t require sad looks, special treatment, or pity cloaked in kindness. I hope you will “treat her as you would any other.” Please never say or do something that leaves the impression that she is in any way different. Please do allow your understanding to grow, as I know it will, and turn you into an advocate. I look forward to the day when you tell me that my little girl is stronger than any child you’ve met. I hope that you can allow yourself to feel what diabetes means to her and to my family. Be impressed, not scared; feel pride, not pity … magnify the lessons living with diabetes has to offer, don’t fall prey to its traps.
Listen to me when I try to tell you what to look for, when to look for it, and what to do when you see it. I know that many parents try to run your classroom and that their meddling may be detrimental to a child’s growth. This is different. The things I am telling you about type 1 diabetes and the urgency with which I say those things … that’s not me “unable to cut the cord,” that’s me trying desperately to teach you everything that I’ve learned over all of these years in only a few minutes. You’ll need to know all of it at some point; I just can’t say which part you’ll need, and when, and that scares me.
Because I’m scared, I may try to impart my cumulative wisdom in one conversation when it will actually take much longer to disseminate. Please know that I’m not crazy, though sometimes when I talk about diabetes I may appear so. It’s just that I know what you don’t and couldn’t possibly understand yet: that at some point, on some day that none of us can predict, type 1 diabetes is going to require you to react, and you are going to need to do it with certainty and swiftness. I’m scared that you won’t know or won’t be ready when that day arrives. I don’t want my daughter to suffer a medical emergency, ever, but moreover, I don’t want her to be “that girl” in the other children’s eyes. I don’t want diabetes to be thought of in that light and I definitely don’t want that for her, especially when none of it has to happen.
I know that it’s not fair for you to have this extra responsibility, but please, all I ask is that you care about my girl the way I do. If you can do that, I promise you will learn quickly and the fear that you feel right now will subside. I understand your uncertainty because I still feel the very same way at times.
I can promise you one thing for sure because I see it each school year. At the end of this term, you will look back on this moment and be proud of yourself for all that you’ve learned and for the way that you fell in love with a little girl who needed you to care about her. I’m already proud of you, in fact … for not running out of the room. You are going to be great!
Scott Benner is a stay-at-home father, a diabetes advocate, and a keen observer of the human condition. Scott shares his triumphs and challenges in parenting a child with type 1 diabetes on ArdensDay.com, an inspirational blog for parents and caregivers of children with diabetes, and with his first book, Life Is Short, Laundry Is Eternal. Benner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience