The children have been dealing with ‘school issues’ the last couple of days — one positive, one negative. At M’s school, one boy said terrible things and behaved terribly — for two days — before the school caught up with him. Things about people with diabetes being ‘spastic’ and having no legs. He drew pictures, and taunted M. Needless to say, despite stay off the subject advice from us and from a teacher, by the second day of this, she flipped. It’s all been dealt with… but she feels these things deeply. She wishes more people understood. She wishes she didn’t always have to be in the position of explaining what diabetes is, the distinction between type 1 and type 2, how hard it is to manage, and how she worries about her brother…
It’s a bit much for a ten year old really.
By contrast, yesterday at school E’s physics teacher completely silenced similar taunting. This is a fairly common occurrence which E seems to weather well: boys tease him quite a bit about being diabetic, make fun of his pancreas, say hey he can’t have juice where’s my juice, etc. The distinction I guess between M and E”s situations are that in E’s case, the boys kind of know what’s going on. At M’s school, they are speaking from complete ignorance, and are therefore near bullying.
Anyway. Yesterday E had a hypo in physics, reached for juice. One boy said hey sir he can’t have that! To which the teacher responded yes he can, he’s diabetic. The same boy then said ha ha let’s all laugh at him because he’s diabetic. And the teacher, totally deadpan, said I don’t think that’s funny at all. My daughter is diabetic. I wouldn’t want her to go through what you’re doing to E, and I wouldn’t want E to go through what she does when she’s low.
Apparently the class just kind of froze; the whole atmosphere changed. The teacher is a favourite of E’s anyway. Turns out his (grown up) daughter was diagnosed just a few weeks ago. E came home feeling that someone understood.
That’s all it takes.
M and I talked alot yesterday about how when something like a diagnosis of diabetes happens in your family — it could be anything that marks out one of you as ‘different’ — people automatically read it as ‘not normal’. In fact, you yourself, until you get used to it, read it as ‘not normal’. And the difference weighs so heavily. You feel out of the stream of life, isolated, cast off. Difference of any sort is so very bulky to manage, trying to figure out what to do with it in your life.
Last night M said that ever since E’s diagnosis she’s been working hard to try not to pigeonhole people. She said that she used to be frightened of how different people looked in hospital, or on the street, in a shop. She used to be afraid of difference.
Perhaps we all are at first. But it’s not so difficult to change this. It’s not so difficult to expand our notions of what is ‘normal’. In truth, ‘normal’ can hold everything, every difference.
Our job I guess is to keep forcing people to expand, to open up. To educate. To push for acceptance at the deepest level. To keep people from turning away.
It’s not easy. But it needs doing badly. For all our children and their futures, whatever they may hold.