Friday, December 08, 2006

The Chaperone

I push open the heavy glass door, stomp my feet to release the snow that's stuck to my boots, step inside and stand still a moment-- letting my eyes adjust to the bowling alley's dim lighting.

"Oh Sandra, I'm so glad you could make it," Ms. W says, as I walk toward a crowd of over a hundred fifth graders-- and try to spot Joseph among them.

"Sorry to be so late," I tell her.

"That's fine, we just got here ourselves-- this weather is terrible."

Looking around, I see kids all over the place, wrestling with their coats, struggling to take off their boots-- many appear excited, while some look as though they'd never seen the inside of a bowling alley.

What a cool idea for a field trip.

I'm assigned to Lane 4, where Joseph will bowl with three classmates.

As I make my way over to our lane, bowling shoes in hand, I see the four boys already there: Joseph, scouting out a ball, while his fellow bowlers sit on chairs attached to a small table-- the three of them laughing, as they manically glide those chairs in and out.

"Hey-- are you guys ready to bowl?"

The threesome looks up, smiles and continues messing with their chairs, while Joseph continues looking for the 'right' ball.

Scanning the place, I see that every lane is occupied by four kids and at least one teacher or chaperone.

"Attention, please!" announces the voice of Mr G (the P. E. teacher) over the speaker system.

"I know you're anxious to get started, but listen-- I want you all to remember what you learned in our bowling unit: step forward, follow the arrows, and whatever happens, no swearing. Okay then, let's bowl!"

The place suddenly erupts with the CRACK of 30 large bowling balls connecting with wood.

I stand behind the boys, offering encouragement as each one starts out with two gutter balls.

"It's all right. Don't worry about that-- you guys are just warmin' up. Take your time."

And before long, they all start making good contact with the pins.

Now, I'm so caught up in the boys' progress that I don't really notice the woman chaperoning the girls in Lane 5-- until she comes up behind me and asks softly, "Are you Joseph's mom?"

"Yes," I respond, half paying attention.

"He is just a beautiful boy... just adorable."

"Thank you," I say, giving her a quick smile, then turning to watch Joseph knock down eight pins, pump his fist and prepare for his next roll.

"Really-- " this mom continues, "he's just beautiful."

"Which one is yours?" I ask.

"Oh, mine is T -- right over there," she says, pointing to a tall, slender girl with a magnificent head of cornrow braids and the same large, dark eyes as the woman standing next to me.

"She's stunning."

"Thank you... but that Joseph is just so cute... really, really adorable..."

That's when I turn and look directly into those dark eyes of hers-- and for the first time, notice the tears collecting along her lower lids.

"Yes-- we think so, too," I say quietly, now giving her my full attention.

"My daughter told me about your talk, about Joseph's diabetes."

And before I can tell her that it's all right -- that he's doing just fine -- she says:

"I have diabetes, too-- I've had it for five years. Type 2."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"It's all over my family-- my dad died last year from the complications. It was horrible."

"I'm so sorry."

Just then Joseph calls over:

"Mom! Did you see that?! I got a spare!"

"Bud, I missed it-- "

He looks crestfallen.

"But I won't miss your next one," I tell him, trying to smile.

All the while the mom standing next to me stares at Joseph with that same sad, knowing expression.

Turning back to her, I tell her that he's doing really well, that "he's got an insulin pump-- "

"He needs insulin? Oh, God."

And now I desperately want this woman to understand that he's okay-- that down the road, he's gonna be okay.

I try to get the words out, but again she continues:

"I just can't imagine a child having all of this to deal with... and those complications... "

Then she wipes her eyes with her two index fingers, slowly shakes her head, and returns to Lane 5.

And I just want to scream:


He is NOT gonna be like your dad.

He's not.

Shaken, I hear the sound of many pins crashing down, and turn to see my son leap in the air, as we get our first strike.


Vivian said...

Sandra - Sounds like the kids had a great time bowling. It is so hard dealing with people who just don't understand, and even harder to imagine how many people who have D that still don't get it. I have a friend with Type 2 and she asks me a zillion questions all the time, simple things, and it makes me wonder...WHERE ARE THE DOCTORS AND EDUCATORS FOR TYPE 2? I think it is even harder to have them pity your child when in your heart you try so hard to stay positive about the fact that he will be fine. Hang in there we will get them all educated in time.=)

Carey said...


Such a poignant slice of life post written and expressed so well. Sometimes I want to shake people and say, "OK, this is not helping."

Jamie said...

I don't know what to say. Sometimes people think they are making that connection with you by talking about Diabetes and how it affects them, but talking about death from complications certainly isn't something we want to hear (even though we are all well aware of this information).

I don't know - when you first meet someone you don't bring up the death topic - it's just not right.

BetterCell said...

I agree w/Jamie's comments. There are topics, just for the sake of courtesy, that should not be brought up in conversation during a time of "fun"(bowling) and during times of eating as well.
As all of us(T1DM) know, that despite vigilant control/management of Diabetes.......complications can and do occur. It is the nature of the Illness.

Allison said...

First, that woman fawning over your son, kinda creepy. I'm just sayin'.

Second, when did people get the idea that diabetes is a death sentence. Plenty of people live wonderfully healthy, productive lives until a ripe old age and then they pass peacefully. Even if complications do set in, if Joseph keeps being viligant as he is with you, he will still be fine and probably able to reverse them.

I wish people would realize that diabetes is not created equal, and just because it happened to one person does not mean it's going to happen to someone else.

Honest to Betty...

Minnesota Nice said...

Oh hell. Everyone has some story they can pull from the files exemplifying the worst case scenario. In fact, a friend of my mother's who will be at our Xmas eve dinner had a type 1 husband who died many years ago from complications. She will be sure that it's the prime tabletopic (doesn't help that she's also a chatterbox). The first couple of years I wanted to put some arsenic in her mashed potatoes, but now I realize she's just a lonely old lady.............
Besides, who wants to tell stories about ordinary, healthy, run-of-the=mill diabetics who continue to do well with no drama - it just doesn't sell.

MileMasterSarah said...

Wow, you really met a zinger there! Life is life-threatening, and that is what I tell people when they mention some so and so from their life that died from diabetic complications. I tell them that life is life-threatening and it always results in death. I only say that if they are being a little too irritating for me to handle, but it works in making them re-examine what they are saying. Take care!

nicolep said...

Dear God, Sandra. That must have been just excruciating - and it must have been all you could do to keep from jumping out of your skin - abandoning your young bowlers, and giving this (well-meaning, I'm sure) woman an earful.

This post, in an odd way, illustrates so perfectly the way I've been feeling lately... So - thanks.

In Search Of Balance said...

What a conversation! You really handled it well. And whatever she has to say about her history with D, you know and we know that Joseph's is not hers, and that he'll be just fine.

Erica said...

sheesh! I admire the woman's compassion -to approach you about it. But goodness, I'd be ITCHING to get those words out and let her know that her experience is not necessarily typical or the norm.

art-sweet said...

My thoughts for your new best friend

- give her some information about how she can stay healthy
- give her the name of a good therapist
- tell her that insulin is a treatment, that's all. As we all know, diabetes is not a progression in which pills = better and insulin = close to death
- ask to please learn more before she talks to her son or other kids so that they don't look at Joseph through those lenses.

I would have been very tempted to put her out of her misery by suggesting that she volunteer to be a pin in the bowling alley... okay, not really, but....

Rachel said...

What Vivian said about education for type 2. I think I'd be in much worse shape if I didn't already have all this knowledge from Greg's experiences. Granted, I did a lot of my own research, which many patients do not do.

But, as we've talked about, I knew at a very young age that type 1 requires insulin. I think that should be a basic health/science topic in grade school - the difference between the two types of diabetes.

Journeywoman said...

Just found your blog.

Had to share. I'm the wife of a 35 year old type 1 and someone told me how she would NEVER marry a man with diabetes. I just wanted her to SHUT UP!

Great blog.

Tiffany said...

It's times like this, Sandra, that I wish Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes didn't share a name.

Oh, and if I had a dime for each time someone has said to me "You're on insulin?? You must have really BAD Diabetes!" I'd be the female version of Bill Gates, without the whole computer geekiness thing.

It's a documented truth that complications as a result of Type 2 Diabetes is often due to lack of prompt diagnosis. People go for years without knowing they even have Type 2, as the symptoms can be so subtle. Added to that is the lifestyle factor that often accompanies Type 2, including excessive weight and abnormal cholesterol levels. Double-edged sword.
My point here is that this woman has experienced a completely different disease. Anytime someone approaches me who has or has known someone with Type 2, I always make a point of stressing that the diseases, while both metabolic, are different in etiology and often treatment. I know several Type 1's who've had the disease for over twice as long as I have
who have had incredible high's and incapacitating lows, and they are perfectly healthy today.

So just let her remarks roll off of your back.

Oh, and while we're talking education...I've seen just as many uneducated Type 1's as I have Type 2's. The healthcare industry is in no way a well-oiled machine. It's the media that ticks me off...

Shannon said...

You know, I've found this phenomenon of people who know Type 2's to feel the need to tell Type 1's, or those who know them, about the tragedies Type 2's endure.

I really don't get it at all. Why would someone tell a parent about the tragedy and know that it's got to make the parent upset. I've experienced people telling me about their Aunt, Uncle, Father, Grandparent, etc having Type 2 and how they don't test themselves, or how they're blind, etc.

It drives me up the wall.

Chris said...

I guess this sort of thing will never go away. Until we find a cure. Just this past week i found myself talking to a type 2 diabetic and he was all "it can kill ya you know? /...etc". A million things went through my mind and just couldnt purge any though into words, but just more or less stunned again, and again.
I loved your post yor a great writer.
Take care

dadyslttlangl26 said...


hullo again excellent post. People just dont know how to listen that everyone doesnt go through the same things with diabetes. I know my best friend tries to do everything with her diabetes like I do with mine. I tell her that she needs to understand that everyone has different affects of how they work with their pumps, but she wont listen! One of these days, hopefully, they will start to understand!

BetterCell said...

One of the many reasons why there are Stupid People is that they can have an excuse for "not understanding".

Anonymous said...

Sandra - Just found your site. Great post! My daughter was diagnosed in March. This post really highlighted what I'm coming to see as the typical juxtaposition of real life and strangeness that Type 1 seems to create in people around us. It runs the gamut from incessant advice on diet and homeopathic solutions to unthinking callousness to this woman's unwanted sympathy. It was like she was projecting her own angst onto your son like a curse. I admire your self-control and yet I have to feel sorry for that woman too. Type 1 hit our family like a ton of bricks which meant we HAD to respond, we HAD to learn, our child's life depended on it. And knowledge is power. Because of the slow onset of Type 2 (I am pre-diabetic myself) it is so easy to have the luxury of self-deception and ignorance--a luxury us parents of Type 1 kids cannot afford. Either way, the Big D sucks.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, I must say you are an amazing writer. So hearfelt. I took AJ to the eye Dr. yesterday for the dilation exam. The Dr. was commenting that his eyes looked great and then further stated, "because you know we often see diabetics who loose their toes are go blind due to the spikes in their sugar." She continued on to say that if he was ever rubbing his eyes or if he had any concerns to bring him in right away so that they could zap the blood vessel with a laser so that there would be no long term damage. Of course, by the time I got Anthony to the car he was hysterical. "I can loose my toes...I can go blind... I don't want laser surgery." I do my best to say that it is not going to happen to you.... It is just beyond belief that even the medical profession just doesn't get it when dealing with these kids. Sometimes it is the hope that we have for them and the hope that they have for themselves that keeps us all moving forward. Have a great holdiay. Stacey K.

Sandra Miller said...

Man, so many terrific comments...

I'll just say that I agree with all of you on the need for better education about diabetes in general, as well as the differences between Type 1 and Type 2.

And Nicole-- you were exactly right when you described this exchange as "excruciating." I did indeed want to jump right out of my skin.

Anon-- Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

And Stacey-

I am so sorry to hear of Anthony's experience with the eye doc. That guy certainly raised the bar for insensitivity. I can't believe he said all of that in front of a young child, in front of anyone for that matter.

That diabetics "lose their toes" or "go blind" due to blood sugar "spikes"?

That "rubbing his eyes" is a sign that your young child needs laser surgery?


You must have been going out of your mind listening to that-- watching Anthony listen to it.

Again, I'm so sorry.

Scott said...

Sandra, I agree with Vivian and many of the others, too. The reality is that while complications can and do happen, there is a degree of random-ness to them, too, and its probably not something that should be discussed unless they ask.

I'm living proof so far, and having lived for 31 years without type 1, living many of my early years were before the age of intensive treatment, yet so far, I have avoided complications, so take my advice, and don't bring the subject up unless he asks. Even then, remember, so far no study, not even the DCCT, has showed that complications always be eliminated even with glycemic control. As I posted last year, in type 1, there is growing evidence that many complications may also be due to autoimmunity (heart disease, for one, neuropathy being another).