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Mar 10 / Caro

Talking to Thomas About Diabetes

I’ve read a few things from mothers with diabetes over the last couple of years about the conversations they’ve had with their kids about their condition. Some of these people have had much older children, capable of really understanding the ins and outs of diabetes, and from whom it would be almost impossible to hide the tell tale signs of living with it. Others have pre-school age kids, more like Thomas. And it is some of those whose kids astound me with how much they already seem to know.

I have a confession to make on that front. I’ve never, knowingly at least, used the word “diabetes” in front of my now three-and-a-quarter (the quarter’s important dontchaknow?!) year old son. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a word which is in his otherwise extensive vocabulary.

Obviously Thomas has seen my insulin pump, and asked what it is. He’s seen my testing kit, seen me using it and revelled in the fact that it churns out numbers – his second favourite thing after trains (yeah, I’m waaaay down on that list!) He’s seen me chugging Lucozade to treat a low and asked what it is, or what I’m doing. In every single one of these cases I’ve replied with the very generic “Mummy’s medicine”.

It’s an answer he happily accepts. He knows that he has medicine when he doesn’t feel well, but he also knows gets what he calls “medicine” every day in the form of vitamin syrup, so “medicine” doesn’t have purely negative connotations for him. And it’s not an outright lie. These are things that I’m doing, or taking, in order to keep myself healthy and ready for whatever Thomas needs from me.

I don’t really know *why* I haven’t told him more than that. Or, at least, it’s not simple to explain.

To say it’s because I don’t think he would understand would be doing him a massive disservice. He’s a bright boy and, more than that, a deeply empathetic and caring one too. It’s fair to say that I currently have no idea exactly how I would explain it to him, how much detail to include or what words to use, but that is as much because I haven’t given any thought as because it might be hard to do. I’m sure that I could come up with the words if I really wanted to.

I do wonder sometimes if it’s because I don’t want Thomas to regard me as I some way “broken”. Thomas sees me as his Mummy – an absolute, reliable constant. He knows that I give good hugs, always come when he needs me and can kiss almost any bump or scrape better. I don’t want anything to cloud that image.

It’s rather like how I felt back when I was a new mum and was witness to debates about post-pregnancy bodies and “snapping back in to shape”. Back then, I couldn’t actually have cared less how I looked because Thomas didn’t. All he cared about was my presence. All he wanted from my body was its warmth and security and milk – all of which he got in abundance. I want Thomas to go on not caring about my body and it’s workings, or lack thereof, just the person that I am to him. I could argue that I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise the perfection that Thomas sees in me even if I don’t see it myself, no matter how daft that may sound.

And of course, there is what other people might think of me to consider too. If Thomas were acutely aware of diabetes, I have no doubt at all that it would be a daily topic of conversation around the pre-school lunch table. Thomas can’t help but keep re-iterating to everyone there that his mummy wears glasses (and contact lenses). It’s just a fact about me that he’s fond of repeating. But what if I only wore lenses and I weren’t comfortable for everyone to know? And honestly, where diabetes is concerned, I don’t necessarily want everyone to know.

That may sound strange coming from someone who posts the intimate details of her life online (hello, not sharing my full name) and someone who is incredibly comfortable with impromptu advocacy and education sessions when the teachable moment arises. I guess I’m fine talking about it openly once people know, but the letting them know in the first place is awkward for me. I’m never sure how people might react and a lot of that relates to my profession and how people would regard me if they knew I had a laundry list of chronic health problems with diabetes right up there at the top. Chief amongst my faults is caring too much what people think of me, but once that information is out there, I can’t take it back, so I’m hesitant around those who don’t know.

And maybe it really is as simple as that. Maybe I’m just hesitant about letting my son know at all because it’s something I just find difficult to do even when the person in question loves me more unconditionally that anyone else in my world.

Maybe it’s just too hard.

Before I started writing this post, and I wondered to myself exactly what the reasoning was behind my reticence, it crossed my mind that I might be protecting him from a reality that he shouldn’t need to worry about yet. But at the same time I realised that Thomas is about to reach the very age I was when I was diagnosed, and it became not just an abstract idea, or something that applied to someone else, but my very own reality.

Perhaps it’s time to give my son the credit he is due, get over my hang ups and let him process the information in the way I’m very sure he is capable of doing. After all, it may be hard for me to share the story with him, but it must have been a whole lot harder for my parents to share it with me.

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Any tips on how to have conversations that you find hard with pre-school aged children will be gratefully received!

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