Just My Type: Brave Little Girls

Sleep Tight

Her face was streaked with tears, her little blonde head bobbing with anguish. “It’s not fair,” she sobbed. “I want to go to the sleepover.”

“I know,” I whispered, sitting next to her and putting my arm around her. “I know.”

The second-grade girl in question? Not my daughter, Noelle, but her Girl Scout Brownie troop-mate I will call Hope, who was just diagnosed with type one diabetes last fall.

I’m used to this scene. It stinks for these little kids who get this disease and can’t be normal. In this case, the troop was planning its first overnight excursion, and Hope’s parents had decided they weren’t ready for this step.

I understood. Hope was getting her insulin pump just two days before the sleepover, and the first days, even weeks, of having a child on an insulin pump are nerve-wracking. Here you are, used to giving shots, knowing exactly what insulin your child was getting, and now your child will be attached to a device that will constantly administer this life-saving but also potentially lethal steroid. It’s a lot of trust to put into a machine the size of an iPod!

As a parent who has been through those days, I got it. But as I hugged the devastated little girl, I got her point, too…

Noelle has missed activities because of her diabetes. After-school programs. Sleepovers. Camp. The list really goes on. In many cases, the activities she is allowed to do are permitted only because her father or I can accompany her. This is true about Girl Scouts, where her dad and I are leaders, and certainly true about the Girl Scout sleepover. I am putting my own sanity – not to mention the well-being of my 38-year-old back – on the line to sleep on a gym floor, simply because there is no way Noelle can go on an overnight without a parent around. We test her blood sugar at least twice every night after she goes to sleep. How can we not? We would never forgive ourselves if something happened because we hadn’t tested.

So I made sure Hope’s parents knew they were invited to sleep over, too, when we first began discussing the idea. They were hesitant even before the pump “go date” turned out to be two days before the event, but that sealed the deal. Her mom said she would make sure Hope understood before we talked to the troop about it at the last meeting.

But as much as Hope might have been prepared at home, when the other girls started cheering about the idea of the sleepover, the floodgates opened.

I was so proud of Noelle. I was standing behind Hope and didn’t realize what was happening until Noelle ran over and threw her arms around her. And I was so proud of the other girls, who immediately stopped chattering when they realized Hope was crying and wanted to know what was wrong and how they could help.

I could tell Hope was embarrassed, so I sent the other girls into the other room to do their opening ceremony and stayed behind to talk to her alone, thinking I would be the perfect person to help calm her down.

But I was really at a loss as to what to say as I put my arm around her small, trembling shoulders. Of course I have had similar conversations with Noelle, but it’s different when it’s someone else’s kid. I didn’t want to make promises that weren’t mine to make. I didn’t want to interfere with how her parents are handling her type one diagnosis, which is different than how I have handled it, because we are different people with different kids at different places in our lives.

So I told her I understood and I agreed that it wasn’t fair, but I said getting the pump was a really big step that would make living with diabetes easier. And I assured her that this was just the first sleepover the troop was doing, that there would be others, and at some point she would be able to take this step.

And then I asked her what color her new pump was.

“Purple,” she said with a small smile.

“Awesome,” I smiled back, and she took a deep breath and visibly pulled herself together.

As I watcher her join the rest of the troop, including my own little blonde second-grader whose calloused fingertips and needle-scarred skin are sometimes the only visible sign of her diabetes, my heart hurt for these brave little girls who face this chronic disease every minute of every hour of every day of their lives.

I’m not going to complain one single bit about sleeping on the floor.


Rebecca Dravis

Pittsfield native Rebecca Dravis is a former journalist who lives in north Berkshire County with her husband and daughter in Williamstown, MA. In Just My Type Rebecca shares her experiences as a parent raising a child with type one diabetes. – Check out Just My Type on the third Monday of every month.

What is Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and-at present-nothing you can do to get rid of it. [Source: JDRF]

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