A few weeks after starting Kindergarten, I noticed a blue ring around my non T1D daughter’s mouth. When I asked her about it, she quipped, “Brain’s birthday,” which I later found out meant that with 24 kids in class over 36 weeks of school means a birthday celebration every two weeks. Plus holiday parties. Even before type 1 diabetes entered our family, we’d reserved sweet treats for special occasions. If a child asks for something like a grocery store cupcake, we generally respond with, “It’s probably not a good idea for anyone to eat that.” Sure, a grocery store cup cake once in a while is fine, but treats like this seem to have permeated childhood.
I think most parents aren’t thrilled about the idea of their kids eating this kind of food. Now imagine your child has type 1 diabetes.
Generally, this scenario can go two ways. The child with diabetes is told he or she can’t have the treat by a parent volunteer or teacher, so then the kid gets to eat nothing (or sugar-free Jell-O) while watching his or her classmates enjoy deli cupcakes or cookies. In the second scenario, the child gets to eat the treat, because children with type 1 can eat anything, but it’s just impossible to get synthetic insulin to match the metabolic challenge that is a partially hydrogenated, shelf-stable, steroid level sugared, red dye #3 filled deli cupcake. So the kid with type 1 eats the cupcake, and has an elevated blood sugar for several hours, which is difficult to bring down, and during this elevated blood sugar, the kid feels foggy, tired, achey, thirsty, and upset. So, what’s the right choice? There isn’t one.
As parents, we’ve fallen on both sides of the sugar divide. We’ve let our son eat cupcakes at birthday parties and battled 300-400 blood sugars into the night that don’t seem to budge no matter how much insulin we pour on it. In other instances, we’ve brought our own low carb “treat,” avoided events, or distracted him. Moments like this reveal that diabetes is often a choice between bad and worse.
As we enter another season of sweets, we’ll fall on both sides of the sugar divide, and recognize that when a parent has to choose between bad and worse, it’s a pretty lousy feeling.
This week we were at a birthday party, for which we’d planned all day. We knew the carb counts of what would be at the party. We’d purposefully kept our son’s carb intake light in preparation for the party. We had a rockin’ prebolus and temporary increased basal. At the dessert buffet, we let Henry choose anything he wanted to eat, and he ate gold fish, clementines, a cupcake, pretzels in a pool of white chocolate, peanuts covered in chocolate, and pop corn. He selected almost everything except for this cookie, but he kept circling back to it during the party.
During his third trip to the table, I walked over to talk with him about it. He said, “Mama, look at those cookies.”
“I know,” I said. “Those cookies look really silly. I think they were made to look like a Dr. Seuss character.”
“Yeah,” he said, and he just stood there a long time. A long time. Not taking one. Not asking for one. Just looking.
“What do you think they taste like?” he asked.
Not wanting to pile more sugar on what was a high and rapidly rising blood sugar, I said, “I think they taste sour.”
As these words were coming out of my mouth, I knew they were simultaneously the easy and worse choice. We never tell Henry that he can’t eat something because he has type 1 diabetes, but in a way, I just did.
He walked away from the table and played soccer with a balloon as we helped clean up for the next hour. We headed over to our hosts’ house, where all the cookies and party treats followed. We ordered Chinese food for dinner, and learning from our previous Chinese food experience two weeks ago, we went bold with insulin and ran a combo bolus coupled with an increased basal. About 45 minutes after dinner, Henry’s blood glucose was 70 with 1.39 units of insulin on board.
“Hey Henry,” I asked, “Do you want to try one of those cookies with the silly eyes?”
“Yeeeeeesssss,” he shouted, and ran to the kitchen.
He came back with the cookie accomplished, and while dusting the crumbs from his thumbs on his shirt, he said, “Hey mama, those cookies don’t taste sour.” He said it with this kind of crazy half-smile that told me he was dubious about sour cookies from the get-go. Smart kid.