Last weekend my family and I attended our first Children With Diabetes - Friends For Life conference in Vancouver. Incidentally, it was also the first one ever held in Canada. I thought it would be fitting to post here, on my own blog, something I wrote that originally appeared as a guest blog on Six Until Me this past April. I do plan to write about our experience at the conference. But for now, I’d like to revisit another “first”.
* * *
As parents our aim is to teach our children how to be independent of us. It is a painstaking, bittersweet process spanning many years and encompassing countless achievements along the way—the first time a baby reaches for a toy, holds a spoon or takes a first step. The first time a child sleeps over at a friend’s house, rides a two-wheeler, drives a car—each first represents a step closer to the goal of independence and is celebrated accordingly. Having a child with Type 1 Diabetes adds considerably more to this list of firsts.
My daughter, Jenna, will be four years old in a few weeks and her two year diagnosis anniversary will follow nine weeks after that. I haven’t pushed her to learn to perform any of the routine tasks related to the management of her diabetes. She’s still quite young and lacking in some fine motor skills to accomplish the tasks involved with ease. It takes a steady hand to zero-in on that bead of blood with a test strip then allow enough time for the strip to slurp it up until an adequate sample is obtained. Besides, she faces a lifetime performing the never-ending, daily litany of blood sugar checks, boluses, site changes and corrections. There’s no hurry. Like other aspects of raising a child this will be a process requiring time, patience and a relaxed, supportive approach—the pace of which will be set by Jenna and her cues signaling readiness.Last year on a few occasions, I tested the waters and offered Jenna the opportunity to do her own blood sugar check. Each time she refused I would do the check myself without further discussion. Then one day during a family camping trip I offered her the lancing device expecting her to refuse as usual. This time, however, she surprised me when she quickly took it from my hand with such confidence—more than she was prepared to commit to. Jenna’s expression when she pressed the device to her finger and triggered the lancet was that of shock, bordering on panic. It was then that I knew she hadn’t really intended to perform her own check. But when she saw the drop of blood and realized what she had done her panicked expression changed to one of proud amazement, like when a child snaps her fingers for the first time or blows her first chewing gum bubble.
We congratulated her on this achievement being careful not to overdo it. Jenna isn’t one for a lot of fanfare. She is uncomfortable in the spotlight and becomes annoyed by too much ado, perhaps feeling patronized. I thought this would signify a turning point whereby Jenna would feel empowered and take more of an active role in her diabetes management. But this was an isolated event. Jenna refused to do any more checks after that.
Then one day this past January, five months after the unintentional lancing incident, Jenna was just about to enjoy a mid-morning snack. She had washed her hands and was pulling out the kitchen stool to sit and enjoy her cheese, crackers and half an apple. I asked her to get the checker ready which entails getting a strip out (she has finally mastered uncapping the container without flinging strips everywhere, for which I am truly grateful) and inserting it into the meter. Jenna said “Sure Mom.” After a brief moment she said something I wasn’t expecting; “...actually, I’ll do my own check today.” Then without hesitation she proceeded to do just that, as if she had done it a hundred times before.
When she was finished and the number appeared I kissed her on the top of her head and with as much restraint and composure as I could muster I quietly said “Good job, honey!” But inside I was bursting. I realized that this was the way it was meant to happen. On her own terms Jenna had done her blood sugar check and had taken one more step closer to her independence—a step I wish with all my heart she didn’t have to take. But the fact of the matter is it’s just one in a long line of firsts necessary for her to become independent in life and in the management of her diabetes.
It’s also just another reason for me to be proudly in awe of Jenna—my beautiful, brave, strong girl.