About a year ago, Luke’s behavior turned dark. This went beyond the terrible threes: he was alternately clingy, defiant, manipulative, and fiercely angry. He missed hours of preschool due to tantrums. When he quietly told Erik that he didn’t like living because of diabetes, our suspicions were confirmed – at three, he was coming to terms with time, mortality, and “forever.”
We tried to put it in perspective, sometimes with hilarious insights from Luke. “Some kids don’t have both parents,” I said after reading Hansel and Gretel one night. “It’s tough – some don’t have parents at all.”
Luke didn’t skip a beat. “Well, I need more parents,” he said. “I’ll go to a bar.” When Erik and I have a date, the standard reason Luke can’t come is that we’re going to a bar, and kids aren’t allowed. Apparently the lesson is that bars are a great place to find quality parental material.
But nothing really softened his storms, and I had the feeling we were missing something aside from the obvious. When Luke was diagnosed, people often said, “Well, at least he’ll grow up with diabetes and won’t know anything different.” It was an understandable reach for silver lining, but I’d never really bought it.
One night, the pieces fell into place. It was bedtime, and I was lying with Luke in his darkened room. He was rocking his body from side to side and staring blankly at the ceiling. I felt a chill. “What’s up, bud? Why can’t you sleep?”
“I’m thinking about the bad things I do to my body,” he whispered.
My skin crawled. Blood sugar had been a roller coaster that day – one of those nasty 40 to 400 and back again kind of days. Of course – kids blame themselves for divorce, abuse, neglect, and all kinds of things beyond their control, so why wouldn’t he blame himself for crazy blood sugars? He saw us as able to bring blood sugar under control, while he could do nothing. No wonder he was disgusted with himself and mad at the world.
“It’s not. Your. Fault.” I told him. “Having diabetes and high or low blood sugars – none of that’s your fault. There’s nothing you did to cause that.”
He brightened. “Then whose fault is it?”
“Well, sometimes it’s my fault for not getting the insulin right, and sometimes it’s nobody’s fault – diabetes is just tough to get right sometimes. But it’s not your fault – your job is just to be a kid and to have fun, learn things, and be nice to people. It’s our job to take care of the diabetes. And when you’re big, it’ll be your job, but it’ll be a lot easier then.” I babbled, hoping something would stick.
It did. He smiled in a way I hadn’t seen in months. “I love you, Mom,” he said as he hugged me. He rolled over and in minutes was snoring softly.
He didn’t turn into an angel, but the nastiness faded, and we went back to more typical terrible-threes behavior. We still occasionally remind him that it’s not his fault, and the answer now is an assured, “I know.” There will be more phases as he grows up, and I hope we can help him navigate them. If not, we’ll just send him to a bar to find some parents who can.