Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
I see them, standing outside the school in a circle at pickup time, sunglasses perched and covering their dark under-eye circles. I can hear the familiar conversation as I approach the sidewalk, my toddler on my hip, arching his back and trying to scramble away from me.
Mom #1: “I’m so tired. Last night we went from violin lessons, to basketball practice, to picking up some dinner, to home. We didn’t even start homework until 8:30 pm. And the homework! I don’t understand how to do this new math. I need to get my son a tutor.”
Mom #2: “I hear you! I’m exhausted! This PTA gig is killing me! I have to bake about one million cookies for the fundraiser this weekend. My daughter just came home and reminded me that picture day is tomorrow. John needs new gym shoes … like yesterday. And I have a huge presentation at work next week. I just don’t know how I will get this all done! I guess I’ll pull another all-nighter.”
Mom #3: “Speaking of all-nighters, Grayson is teething and has been up every two hours for six nights straight. And now Madison is just begging me to take gymnastics, so I agreed. The problem is, she’s also in Spanish Club, the school band, and ballet. We really don’t have the money … but I just can’t say no to her. What if gymnastics is her gift? Her ballet teacher said she’s so coordinated for her age. Of course, this means I have to let her older brother choose a fourth activity too. We have to keep it fair or the kids argue. Aren’t school pictures tomorrow?”
I listen to these conversations, seemingly on repeat, every weekday and am grateful I can’t relate to the insane busyness of their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my fair-share of parenting woes. I’m a mom of three kids, ages 2, 4, and 6. I feel like we are a traveling circus anywhere we go. Someone is always crying, hungry, or on the verge of a tantrum. And me, I often look like I just rolled out of bed: stained-with-unidentified-goo yoga pants, a worn T-shirt, my gym shoes, and a Kimmy Gibbler ponytail. My minivan hasn’t been vacuumed or washed in at least four months.
But I am different from a lot of the other moms in this way: I don’t fill my hours with activities and commitments.
When I was 23 years old, I came down with a stomach virus. It was like nothing I had ever had before. I had pains in my middle like someone was taking a knife and twisting it at unpredictable times. I had a fever, chills, and quick weight loss.
From that day forward, I had increasingly concerning symptoms: continued weight loss, constant hunger, unquenchable thirst, extreme fatigue, weakness, chronic sinus infections, blurry vision, and eventually, numbness in my feet, depression, and even bed-wetting. I visited five medical professionals, none of whom provided me with an answer. I was a medical mystery.
The mystery was solved a year-and-a-half after the initial virus. My husband took me to the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe and was shaking with cold. I also couldn’t get enough to drink, guzzling cup after cup of water. After an hour of tests, a doctor burst into my room and announced the answer: Type 1 diabetes.
My disease has no cure, only daily management. I utilize an insulin pump, a glucose meter, and a continuous glucose monitor. (That’s three medical devices that are always with me, two of which are connected to my body.) My diabetes costs us thousands of dollars a year: co-pays for medical appointments and medical supplies. And the prognosis can be grim for some patients. Complications of diabetes can include: blindness, amputation of feet or legs, kidney failure, heart disease, cancer, depression, and more.
I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for nine years now. No matter how healthy I eat, how routinely I exercise, and how well I monitor my blood sugar, my disease can be unpredictable. It is, always, incredibly demanding. I might wake up at 2 am in a shaky, light-headed fog and drink a cup of juice to bring my blood sugar back up. Subsequently, I’m too high the next morning, feeling as though I’m wearing a 10-pound helmet. I sit in waiting rooms with people nearly three times my age; they sit in wheel chairs sporting oxygen tanks and carrying plastic bags full of pill bottles. I only wear specialty high heels (on the rare occasion), because the cute four-inch stilettos I wish I could wear only aggravate my tingly feet. I don’t get pedicures, because diabetics are more prone to infections. I don’t sip syrup-laden coffees or cocktails.
Diabetes has taught me that I have to put myself first, that I have to take care of me, because if I don’t, the consequences are literally deadly. Running around at 100 miles per hour will inevitably wear me out. Eating dinner to-go every other night will spike and crash my blood sugar due to their unpredictable carbohydrate load. A jam-packed schedule leaves no time for me to exercise, prepare healthy meals, or relax for an hour each evening. Not getting a good night’s rest means my blood sugars will be unpredictable the next day, rendering me moody, shaky, and foggy.
Diabetes has been the worst surprise of my life and simultaneously, the greatest gift.
I’m passing the lessons my disease has taught me on to my children. We don’t sign up for many activities. Instead, we spend our late afternoons at the park or have dance parties in our living room. We don’t eat out very often, but instead gather in the kitchen to measure, chop, and bake. We don’t stay up very late because we value our shut-eye. Our lifestyle isn’t popular. It’s quite subversive in today’s busy culture, but it’s necessary.
My disease has taught my children to value their time, energy, and talents, and most of all, their bodies. Instead of joining many activities that are only slightly interesting to them, they choose one activity they are committed to and pursue it with passion. Instead of eating most of their meals out of paper bags, they’re sitting around the table eating a homemade meal, laughing and bonding. Instead of gulping sugary drinks for energy so they can stay up late to finish homework, they’re sleeping soundly in their beds at a reasonable hour. For certain, we, as a family, know we cannot take healthy living for granted. Because for me, everyday choices can mean life or death.
In essence, I don’t want to win the Busiest Mommy Contest. I can’t afford to.