My daughter came home from first grade in tears one day. She said she’d gotten in trouble for disrupting the class. I was surprised because she is normally well behaved. But I was more surprised by the method of disruption. She was going to the bathroom too often. When I suggested she drink less, she told me she thought she might die of thirst. That was my introduction to type 1 diabetes.
It has not been easy watching Callie on her diabetes roller coaster the past eight years. She has hypoglycemia unawareness and doesn’t feel her lows. She has had diabetic seizures and is familiar with the inside of an ambulance. She’s at the point where pricking her finger is second nature, like putting her hair in a ponytail. Fiercely competitive, she loves soccer and basketball. She hates being on the bench because of her blood sugar. She wants to be just like all her friends, but they eat whatever they want whenever they want without juggling insulin and blood sugar. They don’t know how many carbs are in a glass of milk or a frozen yogurt at the new shop everyone is going to. They don’t worry about their blood sugar, let alone try to control it.
As a parent, it’s hard to constantly feel the need to ask about my daughter’s latest blood sugar or nag about taking insulin, counting carbs, or doing the dreaded pump site change. It got to where I felt I was always making diabetes too negative with my constant worrying and pestering. Somehow I wanted to make diabetes fun.
I was watching my sons play dodgeball after Scouts when it came to me. Everyone was running around having a good time flinging and dodging colorful rubber balls. You didn’t have to be a star athlete to have fun playing. The principal at Callie’s school had a nephew with diabetes, and her PE teacher had type 1. I approached them with the idea of having a fund-raiser that would be mostly about fun while also raising money and awareness.
We wanted kids to do something special because a fellow student had diabetes. Together we created Dodgeball for Diabetes. We partnered with the Chicago office of the American Diabetes Association as part of the School Walk for Diabetes program.
The Hoffman School gym was packed that first Saturday in March 2010. Kids had fun creating wacky team names and coordinating their outfits. Educators and parents volunteered to check players in and help manage logistics. Pizza and hot dogs were on sale. A standing-room-only crowd cheered the teams on. The games were spirited but friendly. My daughter’s team won her grade’s competition, but the bigger victory was the number of people who told me how much they had enjoyed the day.
Callie has since moved on to a new school. But Hoffman School still holds its annual Dodgeball for Diabetes. The principal and staff’s hard work is evident in the growing number of students who take part each year. My daughter enjoys wearing the T-shirt she got as a dodgeball referee. For one day every March, I know diabetes can be synonymous with fun.
Maureen Pekosh lives in Glenview, Ill. She is a contributing columnist for a local newspaper and mom to daughter Callie and sons Kyle and Jake.