I’ve been looking after children for as long as I can remember. Even before I ever officially babysat on my own, I always took a particular liking to kids younger than myself. Though I was still quite young, and can’t remember too clearly, I was overjoyed when my younger brother, Evan, was born in 1993. At last, I finally had a real baby to hold and help care for.
I have been fortunate enough to have made a great deal of my income over the years via childcare. For years, I babysat for various families and also worked with the recreation department in my hometown. I started watching children at a very young age, since I was always considered to be very intelligent and mature young lady. I had the immense joy of watching two siblings, Shannon and Nicholas, from the time I was 13 until age 20. I watched them grow from infancy and witnessed many milestones along the way. How special it was for me see them blossom, and I’m sure their parents, good friends of my family, felt the same about watching me. I grew up within their lives as much as they did within mine.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes about a year or so after I started watching Shannon. Nicholas had just been born the previous February, so he was only a tiny infant. Being a babysitter and having diabetes changed a lot of things. I knew I needed to make sure my numbers were in check so that I could properly take care of the two of them. I gained a little perspective into the world that is being a diabetic mother, and trust me, I quickly saw how tough it can be!
I sometimes wonder if the Leary children realize how abnormal their exposure to diabetes was. Not everyone gets first hand exposure to a medical condition as a young child. Both of them always loved helping me put the test strip into the meter and watching me draw up a syringe from a vial of insulin. As they got older, they always felt comfortable asking questions and sharing their concerns with me, and were super helpful and understanding during times that I would go low.
Some kids that I would babysit, or children I had as campers while working at Great Esker Park, weren’t always as at ease with the things I saw simply as daily management and care. Oftentimes, they had looks of worry and concern as they saw me pull out my lancet to prick my finger for blood. It was my hope that by seeing someone like me, a counselor or sitter that they loved and had fun with, have something about them that made them “different” and set them apart, it would allow them to gain a better understanding of people living with disabilities or medical conditions. I chose to act as if taking an injection in the tummy for my snack was as normal as brushing my teeth before bed.
Explaining medical concerns to small children can be challenging. I like to take the approach that insulin is my “medicine”. Though I don’t really see myself as a “sick” individual as medicine would imply, it’s a term that translates easily into a child’s mind. Yes, insulin is a hormone that a normal, functioning pancreas would excrete on it’s own, but, I find keeping things simple for young brains is the best way to go. I always ensure that they understand that diabetes is not contagious, and that they are in no way at risk for getting diabetes from me. I also implore them to realize that having diabetes does not need to limit the individual in any way. People with diabetes can do everything a “normal” person can, sometimes we just need to do things a little differently or take a couple extra steps to make sure we are safe, happy, and healthy.
Once you allow them to ponder the facts and encourage them to ask some questions, I find kids are really interested in knowing more – especially since youngsters today are so technologically inclined and us diabetics tend to wear and possess a lot of electronic devices! You have the ability to make diabetes “cool” in the mind of a child, simply by showing and explaining some of your gadgets and maybe letting them press a button or two. Children LOVE to help. I often lock the buttons on my insulin pump when holding my boyfriend’s godson, Brooks. He is 15 months old, and though I don’t think he quite understands what “medicine” means, I try to repeat the word with him as I let him hold my pump and tell him “gentle” over and over again. I look forward to the day when he can comprehend fully what all of it really means.
One of the many reasons I chose to pursue having a DAD, or Diabetic Alert Dog, in my life was as an opportuniy to help educate the community around me. Beacuse I am so confident and comfortable talking about diabetes and my experiences, especially complete strangers, I see having a service animal as another way to keep the dialogue going. It warms my heart to be walking around a store and hear a parent say, “Honey, that’s a working dog. See his vest? He has a job to do so please do not touch him or talk to him.” How AMAZING is that? I can provide a wonderful learning opportunity for families simply by being in the right place, at the right time. Other times, I am the one who has the chance to talk to curious individuals, and regardless of whether they are kids, or adults, or somewhere in between, I always find it to be a worthwhile experience for all parties involved. Awareness and understanding can be achieved in the most unlikely of situations and scenarios, and I am proud to do my part to help the diabetes community in any way that I can.
It’s so important for us to instill in the generation of tomorrow that having a medical condition does not change who you are as a person, and it does not have to place a limit on your potential as a human being. I am so thankful that each child that has entered my life, in one way or another, has gained a unique and interesting world view and perspective because they have known me, and witnessed my condition. I think I can say the same thing for a lot of adults I know as well. I look for any opportunity to educate and advocate for diabetes, but I find children to be one of my truly favorite audiences.
I’ve never once questioned my love or desire for children. I’ve always known deep down that becoming a mother is something I would consider to be one of the greatest blessings of my lifetime. I completely understand those who choose not to become parents, and believe in their choice and decision as adamantly as I believe in my own. I know that one day, if and when I become a mother, I will try to instill in them the many beliefs and values that have been bestowed upon me. I will teach them what I know and do my best to show them love, appreciation, and affection, in hopes that in turn, they will turn rays of light and hope from their hearts outwards into the world.