A Mom and a Fan
I remember reading once that Michael Jordan cried after his son won a basketball game, and wondering: What's so newsworthy about that? I do it all the time. Unlike Michael, though, when I'm in the bleachers I'm hoping my son has checked his blood sugar in the locker room before the game. I'm thinking that I'd better stay in my seat during halftime, because he might need the can of Coke I carry in my purse. I'm hoping that he remembers to check his blood glucose again during the roller coaster of emotions that follow the game, win or lose. I'll ask him later whether he did. I always do.
Keegan was diagnosed in September 2007. I remember looking into his sunken eyes one night after a junior high football game in a Kansas town an hour from our home. The strap of his helmet seemed to be pushing so hard into his chin, and under the field's bright lights I could see how skeletal he looked from having lost so much weight in recent weeks. I felt my heart pound with fear as I looked at him. That was the moment I knew for sure: Something was really wrong with my son.
I met him at the school that night to take him home. Keegan ran from the school bus to the car with all his gear, straps flying, cooler bouncing, dragging his jersey behind him on the ground. He told me to "just get home, Mom," so he could go to the bathroom. We didn't make it the two blocks to our home. That is the night that I sat in my car and watched my 13-year-old pee in my front yard. I was afraid to let him go to sleep. The next day a doctor confirmed my suspicions: Keegan had type 1 diabetes.
The first meal I tried to cook for him, I was in a daze. The dietitian had said something about carbs, something about calories. I had 17 pamphlets, two workbooks, a food wheel, and a college education. Yet somehow all I could remember was that the dietitian's highlighter was yellow. There were so many rules to be aware of. Brush those teeth like you've never brushed them before. Check your feet when you get out of the shower. Wear shoes in the garage. Don't forget to make and keep regular eye doctor appointments. Be sure to always have Keegan's prescriptions filled and his road bag ready for trips and games. Being the parent of a child with diabetes involves so much more than I would have imagined.
"Aren't you mad?" I asked my son once. That's how I felt. But Keegan just said, "Not really." He is extremely responsible and accepting of his disease—which has helped me cope. His lowest A1C has been a 5.7, and his highest a 6.1. He attends diabetes camp and plans to be a counselor.
Kids with special needs have a way of pulling their parents along with them, without even knowing they are doing it. We may like to think they are lucky to have us as parents. But, of course, it is we who are lucky to have them as children.
Joni Heiland lives in Downs, Kan., with her husband, Mike, and their son, Keegan.