Patience and partybags – the surprising benefits of chronic illness for my children

“Ooh, there’s sweets in this partybag!” exclaimed Small, then aged three.

“That’s exciting, let’s save them for later.” Sensible, boring mummy. I was expecting protestations and a bit of a ‘conversation’ about the packet of Haribo he was clutching, but what he said back completely blew me away:

“No, you have them, and the lollipop, for emergencies.”

Small sometimes shows a level of maturity and selflessness that really surprises me. Obviously, he doesn’t always manage it, but when I see these character traits, it reminds me that he is who he is partly because of my health issues.

The ‘emergencies’ he was referring to are hypos – I have Type 1 diabetes and hypos are periods where your blood sugar level drops too low, lower than a normal person’s would. The way you treat a hypo is by eating or drinking something sugary and waiting till your blood sugar level comes back up to normal.

Hypos aren’t very nice, and bad ones can leave you feeling pretty grim for a few hours afterwards. Symptoms include sweating, a pounding heart, funky vision and just feeling generally odd. Often I feel like I’m a bit tipsy and will say things that I wouldn’t normally say. Sometimes I’m grumpy and often I am manically compelled to finish whatever task I am doing, like hoovering – which is probably the worst thing to do!

Over the years I’ve learned to deal with them subtly and quietly, slipping sugar in tea at work meetings and hiding jelly babies in my pencil case during exams.

All that changed when I had children – I now often find myself with a toddler climbing up my back trying to get their hands on what to them looks like exciting sweeties, but to me, is an urgent medical necessity. One of the hardest things about hypos is that the kids’ needs have to wait for five or ten minutes, because my own need is genuinely more pressing. I remember putting Tiny in her cot as a baby and having to leave her to wail while I sorted myself out. It was horrible and I felt so guilty, but I had to treat my hypo first or I would be putting both of us in danger.

It’s been really interesting to see the effect my hypos have had on Small over the years. I had imagined it would be negative, but what I see in him is a selflessness and patience that truly takes my breath away at times. He has learned why I need to check my blood sugar and what ‘good levels’ are. And when he needs to wait five minutes, he (usually) does it without complaining. When he first realised the connection between my blood sugars and sweeties, the conversation would go like this.

“Do you need to check your blood?

“Is it a good number?”

“Do you need sweeties, pleasecanIhaveasweetietoo?”

It was very funny, but he has since learned that my hypos are not simply an opportunity to up his sugar intake. He does still ask sometimes if he sees my sweets, but he understands that my sugar supply is sacred. And I’m sure he’ll be helpful in teaching his sister Tiny to respect mummy’s haribo! Her current burning ambition is to get the packet from my bag without me noticing – she’s got close but not succeeded in scoffing handfuls of them (yet).

Similarly, Small has learned valuable lessons in patience at times when my RA has been particularly bad. On occasions, I haven’t been able to get him what he wants immediately because it takes me a long time to move around. I have seen him develop an ability to wait that I don’t think he would otherwise have. A few weeks ago I was with a friend and asked Small to pick something up and bring it over to me. She commented on how well he responded and asked me how I did it as she wanted her child to do the same. I honestly believe it is a product of me lying on the sofa and talking him through how to do various things. It took patience from both of us, but so much good has come from being forced to talk to him rather than just doing things for him.

I know there are a few things my children will miss out on because of my health issues, but there are so many positive things they will learn from our circumstances that will equip them for life. And for those things, I am very thankful.

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