My Diabetes Family – Growing up with the #doc

My Diabetes Family

I keep seeing this #mydiabetesfamily on Twitter and on other Social Media and it’s got me thinking about who my diabetes family is. Considering that I do not have diabetes, why am I even asking myself?

My middle son has had Type 1 Diabetes for almost five years. He celebrated his 13th birthday a couple of days after he was diagnosed, becoming a teenager whilst in hospital (cue the gift of a denim patchwork quilt, made by a local sewing group, which is still over the end of his bed).

My son’s diabetes family is small. It’s us! His mum, his dad and his two brothers. He lives with diabetes every day but it’s not part of his online presence. That’s all the family he currently wants or needs. He sees his medical team: an endocrinologist and a diabetes educator and they are his medical diabetes family. He is busy living his life, does what he needs to do every day and I think he does an amazing job.

My need for a diabetes family has been much greater than his. I also absolutely believe that the diabetes family I have around me has helped me to be a better mum to him.

I’ve always kept my online presence as anonymous as possible. I don’t ever post my son’s name and never post photos that would identify us. Strange isn’t it that here I am then, with a fully functioning pancreas and what I believe is the most amazing diabetes family?

I feel like I’ve passed through all the stages of life with my online diabetes family. I stumbled onto the scene like an awkward teenager having written poetry and feeling very needy and in need of reassurance. I am so lucky that my clumsy and sometimes misinformed attempts to connect with people did bring me into contact with the #doc and more locally #ozdoc.

I found some great people to mentor me, read some amazing blogs and survived my “diabetes teenage years” as my son turned into a young man. I am so absolutely grateful for the patience that people showed towards me, for the advice, for the positive comments my blog received and most of all for the connections across the world that stopped me feeling so alone.

The next stage, was where I came into my ‘adult diabetes years’, becoming more of an advocate for my son and also for issues affecting the diabetes community. I got more involved, campaigning locally for CGMs for all those with diabetes and having some good conversations with our local MP. I also felt like I needed to pay back into this community and into the search for a cure or for research into ways to live with diabetes. Every year I’ve held a fundraiser for JDRF and with a great bunch of women. We put the ‘fun’ in fundraiser every year. This event allows me to reach out to around 50 top females and quietly educate and raise awareness while we drink bubbles and have a great afternoon together.

I’m fading into the background now, I’m trying to embrace my ‘middle aged diabetes spread’. I don’t write so much any more. My boy is almost a man. My job will never be done with any of my boys but it feels like I need to step back and let him go, well, as best as I can. The maternal tug will always be there. Some of what we have gone through in the last year has been heart achingly horrid and other parts have been amazingly positive but these are not my stories to tell. That’s my boy’s narrative and should he choose to share it one day, that’s his choice.

The contacts I’d made on #ozdoc and #doc and the invaluable advice received in private messages gave me the strength and courage to act on his behalf. Without this, I hate to think of how we would have survived. The very survival of these hard times, allowed me then to privately share some of the wonderful moments with people and make even deeper connections with some. My thanks are heartfelt and deep to those who were there for us.

There are a couple of mums, one in particular, who I’ve met on Twitter and we have been there with each other every step of the way. Chatting online through the night and sharing jokes and hopes and well as frustrations and doubts has meant that I can function fully and happily in my day to day life. We have plans to meet up one day and that would be just fantastic!

What I didn’t realise until recently is that I have become part of the ‘diabetes family’ that other people have. Over the last year, some people have made contact and let me know that they enjoy reading what I write. This was unexpected and such a beautiful surprise! I was backing away from Twitter and blogging as I’m not really sure what my role is going forward but I’ve come to realise that, in small ways, I can help others and perhaps be there in the background for them just as others were for me. Not quite a wise elder but more of a crazy Scottish sweary mammy whose heart is filled with love for this big worldwide community that’s been thrown together by diabetes. I salute you all!

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His hands

At birth his little premature hands were so fine and fragile with nails only part formed. There was a strength in the grip as I held him in my arms and looked at his tiny self.

He was a hand holder, always. Sidling up to me and grabbing my hand as an unsure toddler. Tickling my hand in a secret code when we both knew we were stuck somewhere but had to stay. Squeezing my hand tight to try to make me yelp in pain was followed by peels of laughter.

Watching those hands learning to master first cutlery, then a pencil and waiting for the elusive primary school ‘pen licence’ which was never awarded due to a stubborn personality streak which would not see the necessity of writing neatly.

Sport then occupied those hands: dribbling a basket ball, throwing a cricket ball, catching a rugby ball. Always amazing control, and coordination.

Then aged 13 those hands took on another role. Sharp needles pierced fingertips; a finger sometimes needing to be milked like a little udder to produce a glistening drop of blood which would then direct the course of the next few hours with insulin and carb calculations following on.

Those hands seized the blood glucose meter on the second day, jumping as the spring released the needle, eyes wide in fright as a plump drop of blood sprang out onto his finger. From then on, other than when asleep, the meter was his and his alone.

My hands have danced with his hands in various strange nocturnal waltzes in all kinds of crazy locations: from tents to long distance planes. Sometimes those hands do not want to come out, especially when tucked under a pillow in the depth of a cold winter’s night. An unsightly arm wrestling match can ensue but it is never the best of three as the meter must win, a number must be had and then sleep can be resumed.

I know these hands intimately. I know which fingers he prefers to use for checks. I know his cheeky smile as he sticks up his middle finger at 3am, half asleep. I know the part of his fingers that the needle hurts least.

Over time, the tips of certain fingers have grown hard and dots mark their surface. They are men’s hands now. Where once his tiny hand nestled in mine, both of my hands can cradle one of his.

There are times in the early morning, when I sneak in to do a check before a busy day begins. I feels his hand’s warmth and sense the pulse and life force within it. These are moments of thanks and gratitude to the universe for keeping my boy safe.

In the next couple of years my boy will leave home. I will watch him pack his bags and those hands will carry bags out of our home and into an exciting future.

That’s exactly how it should be.

Growing Diabetes Balls

I hope you don’t think me indelicate, but I need to talk to you about my balls! I may be a middle aged mammy but I own a beautiful pair of diabetes balls. They started to form when my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I didn’t know what was happening! I had strange outbursts and surges of rage. Then, as they do, my balls dropped. Now I keep them tucked away in my handbag, nestled in beside the jelly beans and the glucagon.

They only make an appearance when needed. I know my son finds it rather embarrassing when I need to get my lady balls out, and I wish with all my heart and soul that I never needed to see them again. Making sure my son is safe, especially in the context of school, has been a large part of my raison d’être for almost five years.

Keeping him safe has meant standing up to his school, making myself unpopular at times. It has meant taking chances to gently educate those around me when opportunities arise. It has meant quiet conversations with my son’s friends to ensure they are aware of what to do if he needs them. This has taken balls as it would have been so easy to say and do nothing.

If only we lived in a world where people understood better: where diabetes, of any description, was not the butt of jokes, where schools understood that having diabetes does not preclude a student from being a normal teenager, where you didn’t need to be really brave and stand up for yourself or your child.

Now I come to my rather delicate issue. I need to help my boy grow his own pair of diabetes balls. He will finish up with school and the children’s diabetes clinic at the end of the year. He will then be working for a year, and living at home before he moves off to university the year after. That’s the current plan!

I know I would say this but he is an amazing kid. He was diagnosed a few days before his 13th birthday, almost five years ago. This was just at the time where he was gaining independence: going out for the day with mates, taking off on his bike with a few dollars in his pocket for lunch, having sleepovers. He took that independence and ran with it, continuing to do so for almost five years. He is always busy doing something: multiple sports are played, he drives, has a part time job, is in his final year of school and in the last year, he parties and drinks beer!

How do you teach your child not to be embarrassed, especially as a young adult dealing with news situations?

How do you help them to find their voice ? To avoid getting into dangerous situations by being brave enough to speak up?

This is the challenge for him and for me.

Talking of balls, just so reading this was worth your while, I though I’d share some more balls, this time in the form of a recipe. These are a favourite in our house.

The Boy and the Egg pull some moves!

So here we have it. Remember The boy and the Egg? I wrote this not long after my son was diagnosed. He spent his 13th birthday in hospital a couple of days after his diagnosis. How times have changed! And how they’ve stayed the same!

So here we are over four years post diagnosis. How is my boy and how is that Egg? I’m so pleased to report that both are intact! Initially the worry was how my boy could play sport, navigate school, hang out with friends and still manage to take care of the Egg.

These days, the Egg goes on dates. Through what I can only imagine are passionate embraces, the Egg has not been smashed. The Egg has also been there when a heart was broken. Not my boy’s, but an amazing young woman who was his first serious girlfriend! He had sat with the Egg in his hands as he tried to think over how to be diplomatic and delicate in ending this relationship. The Egg lost a fierce protector when the relationship ended but having someone to share the Egg with is not enough of a reason in itself to keep a relationship going. (Note to self, as the mother of three boys, do not fall in love with your son’s girlfriends!)

The Egg is a frequent attender of parties where my boy can hold a beer in one hand and the Egg in the other and can apparently pull some dance moves at the same time. How amazing and terrifying is that? In order for this to happen, we had to have some Egg and Alcohol sessions at home. We gradually increased the number of beers my boy had over the course of a few weeks, making sure he held on to the Egg and never left it where it could be smashed. We checked frequently throughout the night that he hadn’t rolled on it and smashed it and so far so good! We have had to be totally realistic about alcohol. We are living in the real world and facing the challenges in a way that reflects the reality of our boy’s life.

Driving with the Egg on the dashboard presents a few challenges. Keeping an eye on it and the road can be hard, especially when you are a learner and you have a parent there with you, trying to explain what to do. My boy has recently moved from an automatic to a manual car and those gear changes certainly increase the adrenalin and those kangaroo jumps can be scary and are accompanied by pleas from my boy that I stop swearing.

Working in a fast food outlet with an Egg in his pocket has been interesting. Finding a part time job that is permanent , rather than casual, has meant that employers have had to acknowledge the existence of the Egg. They have been offered the chance to be trained in Egg Preservation but it hasn’t been needed so far. The main thing is that my boy can take that Egg out of his pocket if he needs to as it isn’t a secret. He can take time out on a shift and make sure it’s alright. He gets holiday pay and sick pay which is an incredible thing at this age and offsets the lower hourly rate.

We live in the country and many of my boy’s friends live in other towns and villages which are not necessarily close by. This means he has days and nights away and as he has expanded his social circle it means the we do not necessarily know the families of these friends. Trust and honesty have never been as crucial. We have a little kit bag which serves as a nest for the Egg. When he goes off, my boy packs it full of everything he may possibly need for a couple of days and promises to text us regularly. He knows, if he has a big day or evening, that he’ll need to wake up during the night and check on the Egg.

Our boy has realised this summer that having the tiresome responsibility of the Egg does not preclude him from all normal activities. He has taken on a more active role in looking after the Egg. We are still there as the Egg Support Squad in the background but as he gets ready to finish his last year at school and move on to a big exciting future, I feel like he has the world at his feet and a good grip on that Egg!

Neither fish nor fowl

As things currently stand, I find myself in a grey area with regards to my son (and his Type 1 Diabetes). I don’t have a name for it but it reminds me of when I lived in Italy in my twenties and an older lady I worked with described her son in his late teens as ‘né pesce, né carne’ ( in English we say ‘neither fish nor fowl’) to describe that ‘in between’ state in which my son currently finds himself. This stuck in my head as a weird expression but now I totally get it and wish I could go back and have a chat with that woman.

My son is growing but not grown.

He is gaining independence but not independent.

He is both a man and a boy.

He knows everything and nothing.

He yearns for freedom but needs boundaries.

The fact that he can drive but only has Ls sums it up!

Where does this leave me? I have been there with dogged determination every step of the way since his diagnosis four years ago. He is fairly independent and he can manage his diabetes well. He knows how to calculate his insulin doses and work out the carbs in his food. He knows the impact of sport and how to adjust for this. He can go out for the day and I am not concerned.

We have a lovely way of communicating via text when face to face convos are just too emotional and hard because it does get hard. There has been no running away from that this year. Technology has helped us and some days as I sit at my desk at work and he sits on the school bus we have a beautiful little written dialogue where we let go of the worries and anger that can start off the day and we both then move on feeling much better.

He has just got on a plane to Victoria where he will play in a cricket competition for the next week. I am feeling confident that this will go well. He will focus on the important thing- cricket!

This confidence is backed up with the knowledge that the Diabetes Educator trained the two staff on the trip. There has been information exchanged by me with the family where my son will stay and he will be woken by them at 3am each day to check his Blood Glucose Levels.

He has now started his last year at school. It’s a weird system in New South Wales, Australia. The first term of the final year of school starts before the summer holidays so he has hit the ground running for his final year. This time next year, School will be over just like it is for his big brother who is currently on a ‘gap year’ to recover from the huge amount of study of the final year of School. Guffaws of laughter were heard when this idea was muted but we do get it and will be encouraging our other two boys to do the same thing.

What is my role now?

I feel like I am on the side lines: the linesman. No longer the referee on the field, making the big decisions. I watch from outside the action, intervening only when strictly required. Sometimes I let things go but at other times I need to come down hard. It is quite clear that I am now an observer rather than a participant. I am also a partisan linesman! I actively support too! I will not allow foul play and I will protect my boy with my very being. Do not mess with me!

Sourdough, Simplicity and Sisterhood.

I’ve been learning how to make sourdough and slowing down enough to enjoy the steps involved has given me lots of thinking time.

There’s a real simplicity to the process which would have frustrated the hell out of me a couple of years ago but I am enjoying it. If I rush, I get it wrong and the sourdough does not work out. I keep the starter in the fridge and on days when I’m not making a loaf, I try to remember to feed this precious starter in order to keep it alive and thriving.

I wake up at crazy times, hoping that the proofing process has worked its magic overnight and that the dough has risen nicely. It’s the best way to start the day. I put the oven on, heat up the cast iron pot in the oven and a bowl of water on the oven floor to create the atmosphere which results in the perfect crunchy crust. 

It’s a very low tech procedure which modern technology has not replaced. It seems to thrive on the love and care! Am I turning into some crazy old hippy?

All this puts me in mind of parenting! The other word for the starter is the ‘mother’. Those who are into making sourdough guard their ‘mother’ with care. Some have been on the go for generations, feeding entire families for decades  I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

The mother must be nurtured and cared for or the bread will not work and what is produced will become inedible.

I am nurturing three teenage sons. This requires a lot of effort, consistency and care to produce the desired results: good men! I need to be on form for this to happen. If I am not taking care of myself then I cannot look after my boys. 

As part of what I do, I am the mum of an almost 17 year old son who has Type 1 Diabetes. Whilst his brothers are equally loved, there is an extra element of care needed here. It is what it is! He takes care of himself and I’m looking ahead and trying to envisage a time when he leaves home. In the meantime, I am catching a few early morning lows as I get up to put on the oven and the thinly sliced sourdough and egg combo that we’re having for brekie seems to be agreeing with his bgls. That’s what we call a win, win!

The Diabetes Australia #WDD2017 campaign #SuperSHEroStrong caught my eye today just as I was kneading my sourdough and so I would like to send my love, my thoughts and a whole heap of sassy sisterhood out to all the women in the diabetes community: those who have diabetes, and those who support others with diabetes too!

Hello, I give you my son’s heart and his non functioning pancreas. Please treat both with care!


Hello, you don’t know me but I know that you know my boy. You two spend hours on snapchat and messenger chatting about who knows what. I know there have been face to face meetings too. I think it’s time we had a chat! 

Here is a little questionnaire I’d love you to complete. Don’t look alarmed! It’s all cool!

Part A) Stand on one foot and answer the following questions whilst hopping:

– 24 + 57 + 63 + 82, then divide by 2, then divide by 15. Got that? Good girl! 

– 29 + 81 + 12 + 75, then divide by 3, then divide by 15. Still going? Well done! You may proceed to Part B.

Part B) How deep a sleeper are you? How many hours sleep do you average and do you wake up to alarms? Please write your answer in the space provided below.

Part C) Do you prefer routine or have more of a devil may care attitude to life? Think back over the last week please and write down the times at which you ate breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Part D) Imagine you had a cute boyfriend. For easiness sake let’s call him ‘son of mumoftype1’! A bit of a mouthful, I know but bear with me please! Imagine this boy suddenly collapsed. Which number would you call? 

Part E) If this boy felt brave enough to tell you that he had a medical condition called Type 1 diabetes, how would you respond? Circle your preferred response.

– nod your head and ask a few simple questions.

– say “that’s what my best friend’s uncle had and he died.”

– run

Part F) If you have made it this far, you are a keeper and I ask only one thing of you. Please don’t break his heart! 

Times they are a changing as the song says! I am really enjoying seeing my boys turn into men but I have suddenly become aware of how important a role potential girlfriends may have. Excuse my tongue in cheek look at this!