I’m the mother of three boys, two of whom are young men and the youngest is quickly catching up. My role as a mother is changing all the time.
When my middle son was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes almost six years ago, much of my role as a parent revolved around counting carbs, trying to calculate the correct amount of insulin depending on the ratio for each meal and allowing normal food choices whilst attempting to have some awareness of foods which could cause spikes in blood glucose levels. It was my role to count and calculate, to monitor and often to worry. Trying to take the stress out of managing this condition for my son, fostering honesty and an open dialogue and accepting that perfection was not expected was how we rolled. I walked ahead of him, protecting him, sometimes acting as a buffer from those who did not understand. I was fearless and afraid of no one but it was exhausting too!
My son was diagnosed a week before his 13th birthday so diabetes has been a constant throughout his formative teenage years, years when his friends were free to experiment and explore. As parents we never once stopped him from doing anything that he wanted to do. Not once. He played multiple sports, had a part time job, learned to drive, went to school, travelled across Australia and to New Zealand for school and club sport, traversed the world for family holidays and had a very active social life.
This did not always lead to a beautiful in range line for his Blood Glucose Levels but it did produce a young man who knows he can do anything. We were judged harshly at one point for the way we did things but we felt empowered enough to walk away from that judgement and find people who better understood our son.
We were always there beside our boy and we were in it together. When he reached 18, we did not suddenly leave him to manage alone. In the lead up to his 18th and in the subsequent months we have had a ‘planned withdrawal’ and by that I mean planning with him to gradually hand over the responsibility of his diabetes. He also swapped the health care team he was with around the same time and that was such a positive step. If our son wanted us at his appointments with his diabetes educator or his endocrinologist then we were welcome. This worked well and a year later he attends appointments on his own but if he ever wants us there then we will go and are welcome.
Reading Leigh Sales’ amazing book ‘Another Ordinary Day’, really helped me to process what my role should be and seeing her speak in person at the Byron Writers Festival was a true fan girl moment for me. She spoke with quiet wisdom on how to help those around you who have had something awful happen in their lives. She talked about how we, as outsiders, can only accompany and these words stayed with me. I wish this book had been written when my boy was diagnosed. I feel sure I would have garnered strength from the stories of the people in the book and more importantly from their survival and resilience.
I love my family, I love bread and I love words! I teach languages in a high school so looking for just the right way to say something in English, French or Italian is how I spend my days. Nuance is everything!
Outside of work, I make sourdough. I’m passionate about it and slightly obsessed with keeping my starter going. The process of making it is quite complex, making me slow down and think as I go through each step. There is nothing quite like the moment of reveal when I take the lid off in the oven and see what is produced. Gifting loaves to friends and family never ceases to give me joy.
In class the week after the Byron Writers Festival, I was talking with a French class about the different words for friends in various languages : friend, pal, mate, chum, buddy etc and then we looked at the word ‘copain’ in French. The previous week my senior French class had shared a loaf of my sourdough with me in a lovely moment of connection. We often talked in French about what we had done on the weekend and my recount usually had the sourdough process in it somewhere. They challenged me to bring some in so I did, along with some Aussie unsalted butter and a jar of Bonne Maman Caramel Spread. Ah, the joy in their faces! As we ate, we talked about how the English word ‘companion’ was linked to ‘copain’ in French and how special the simple act of sharing bread was, marvelling at the magic that can occur when you mix flour and water.
In the last year, some of my friends have had some awful events occur in their lives, some dramatic and others quietly painful but, having read Leigh Sales’ book, I feel much better prepared to know what to do.
I have had many wonderful people accompany me as a parent of a child with diabetes. Their presence, be it online or in person, allowed me to question, to express my emotions and to learn what to do best to help my son and to survive. Their lack of judgement, even when I fumbled about awkwardly, their reassurance that I could handle it and their infinite advice when I sought help got me through.
With my son, I now see my role as a companion too. I walk beside him. I am there for him. I will nourish him with my love and with my sourdough too. Accepting that he does not always want me to accompany him has been difficult for me, if I am entirely honest, but I know I must step back and let him go. As parents, our heads are full of all the horror stories of what can happen to people with diabetes and we are given the task of making sure this does not happen. I feel sad when parents are criticised , especially as they move from being the parents of children to being the parents of young adults. When it feels like your raison d’être has been to keep your child alive, handing over sole responsibility to your child at a time of experimentation and constant change is not easy or simple. We are still a work in progress in our home but we are figuring it out together and as my son takes on more of the responsibility, I am freed up. This too is bittersweet. I can no longer share the burden which my shonky gene pool created but I am happily filling my free time.
If you have taken the time to read this then you too are a companion and I thank you for your company.