Diabetes Dad

Is It Really Just a Number?

Struggling with how to react to your children's blood sugar numbers.

Tom picBy Tom Karlya

November 2011 — In almost every lecture that I have been fortunate to present, I have stated that no one has made more mistakes at this "thing" called diabetes than me — no one. And recently I made a big one, a whopper, a doozie, and the blame lies with me.

From the time Kaitlyn was diagnosed (19 years ago this month), and even after Rob was diagnosed (two years ago), we have spent a great deal of time educating ourselves in so many different areas that need attention. One thing I remember clearly was the notion that your child's blood glucose number is only...well, a number. Were you told that?

Upon seeing a number on the meter or hearing the doctor tell us an A1C number, we tried very hard not to react if it was too high. We tried not to react if it was too low. After all, it's just a number, right? We would say "thank you" after each test. Thank you for taking the time to test your blood sugar. Thank you for reporting where the number was at the present time. Thank you for doing something you never signed up for but have to do. Thank you for "sticking yourself" for the fifty-thousandth time (that is an accurate number). Thank you for checking even though it must be so exhausting to even think about it. Thank you.

We had become masters at having poker faces and staying neutral when an A1C came back at 9 or a reading was 425. Thank you. We asked a million questions to teach and to learn. Thank you. What can we do differently to achieve a number 25 points lower, do you think? Thank you. It wasn't a matter of if we were happy with the A1C reading, but that we always engaged in what was going through our children's minds as they checked their blood sugar. Thank you.

We learned the same thing when Rob was diagnosed as we did when Kaitlyn was. It was not a matter of good or bad; it was a matter of checking and discussing. Teaching ourselves to not even bat an eyelid when they looked up at us and said, "I'm trying," and the reading was 385, even though our minds and hearts cringed thinking about what it means and what it could mean later on. It is not good or bad; it just "is."

Our kids always worked at their diabetes. Of course, we're parents so we often believe the numbers could be better. But they always tried. We understood. Thank you for trying. Thank you for testing.

As they get older, they try even harder. The last A1C reading came back and Kaitlyn's was 6.4 and Rob's 7.5. The two of them worked very hard it. But it's only a number, right? Thank you both for trying.

When Kaitlyn was younger we were told she was a "brittle diabetic." Hated the phrase then, hate the phrase now. They said she would have difficulty most of her life balancing everything she needs to and a whole bunch of other things that we, fortunately, refused to believe and that Kaitlyn has proved to be completely wrong. So the 6.4 was the lowest she has ever been. Big news.

But a number is just a number. Right?

Kaitlyn and Rob were both so excited about their news. Both of their A1Cs dropped dramatically from the one before and both had worked so hard at it. And what did I do? Did I show joy? Did I share in their excitement, and I mean true excitement? Did I show appreciation that their work had resulted in dramatic changes? No. I simply said, "I really want to be happy for you, but we have always been taught not to react and to teach you how proud we are of what you do every day, and that this is just a number."

That was it. I left it at that. My daughter's face said it all. Typical Kaitlyn, she said nothing.

I went downstairs into my office and closed my door. I just kept thinking. Thinking of the look on her face while I showed that "poker face." Thinking of how I should have showed how excited I really was and that the poker face was a very wrong choice. What kind of father would not be dancing on the tables to share and celebrate in their children's hard work? What kind of father would just react so passively? What kind of father am I? I cried uncontrollably for 15 minutes.

I felt horrible. I feel horrible. As I stated, no one makes more mistakes than I do.

So to my children, of whom I'm so very proud, I offer this public apology even though neither of you ever said a word to me of your feelings. I blew it. I'm so proud of your hard work that you do every day and specifically what you have both been doing recently to lower your A1C reading. I could not be prouder. You both inspire me every day. I love you and am sorry I did not show you my true reaction, which was pure joy. Great job! Congratulations.

One day, I'll get it right. I'm a Diabetes Dad.

Read more of Tom Karlya's Diabetes Dad columns here.

Like Tom's Facebook page.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 12, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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