Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Sibling's Side of the Story

I haven’t talked all that much about Jamie, our 8-year-old son, in these posts, but not because Bisi’s diagnosis doesn’t affect him. He has had to deal with the fear of Bisi and me suddenly disappearing to go to the hospital; with the attention before meal times shifting dramatically in her direction, as we talk about what she’s going to eat, test her blood sugar, and give her some insulin, and with the worry and sense of fragility her diagnosis has brought into our lives (even if he wouldn’t express it that way). He asked me once if Bisi’s diagnosis meant that he could get diabetes too. I told him that anyone can get T1D, but that it’s not likely that he will. The truth is, he is at greater risk, because he has a first-degree relative with T1D. But if you had sat me down a year ago, explained T1D to me, and asked me which one of my children seemed more likely to get it, I would have immediately said Bisi, because of the way her moods fluctuate when she’s hungry. This is not based on anything scientific, but it just means that I am not going to spend my time worrying that this will happen to Jamie.

I think it’s probably a good thing that all of us are eating less sugar than we used to. But I also don’t want to limit Jamie just because there are limits on what and when his sister can eat. My very possibly imperfect solution so far has been to let Jamie have some treats when he’s not with Bisi. He and I have a standing date at the local frozen yogurt shop while Bisi’s otherwise occupied; and we follow a don't tell, hope she won't ask policy. Or, when he’s having something that she can’t have at home, I try to come up with a substitute she’ll be excited about, or excited enough about. So, say, if he’s getting a hot chocolate, I’ll make her one with stevia (a natural sugar substitute made from the leaf of the stevia plant, which to me seems more inherently healthy than aspartame or saccharine). 

Yet still, nothing drives Bisi crazier than the feeling that Jamie is getting something that she can’t have—even if it’s something she doesn’t want. Whatever food-related anger she has—and she must have a fair amount—she focuses intensely on Jamie. She’s furious if he starts eating before she does, while she’s still waiting for her insulin to kick in. She can’t stand it if he gets a more appealing dessert than she does. I feel like Mark or I could be across the table eating an ice cream sundae with whipped cream and sprinkles and she wouldn’t care, as long as her brother is eating the same 13 carb frozen yogurt that she is. These are typical sibling dynamics in action: if something is happening to you, you want it to happen to your sibling too. (I remember when my sister once got a hair cut she hated and kept on pointing at me and yelling, “Cut her hair!”, as if my having a terrible hair cut were the only thing that would make hers bearable.) Yet the fights over food feel especially fraught, because what they’re really about is that Bisi’s facing something difficult that Jamie doesn’t have to.

Jamie usually reacts to Bisi’s food outbursts with a look of detached bemusement.  But he loves her and occasionally he does something very sweet for her. One day we were sitting having snack, and Jamie ran up to his room and came down with $10 from his stash and handed it to Bisi. (We give both kids $3 of allowance each week, and expect them to use that money to buy themselves the things they want, in between Christmas and their birthdays. Jamie never spends his; whereas Bisi almost always spends hers the moment she gets it.) I asked him why he’d given her this unsolicited gift and he said, “Well, because she’s going through a hard thing. Diabetes is hard, isn’t it?” Another time, he decided he wanted to bake cookies, and  said he wanted to make them gluten free, so Bisi could have them. We looked through some recipes and settled on one from Bob’s Red Mill (whose products I love—more on that in another post), printed on the back of a package of teff flour,  made from the seeds of a type of grass native to North Africa.  Jamie completed every step of the process himself, and in the end, the cookies were delicious—nutty-tasting and not too sweet. The only person who didn’t like them was …  Bisi. But even a six year old can understand the idea that it’s the thought that counts. And for that day, at least, sibling harmony reigned.


Jamie’s Cookies for Bisi
(I altered the recipe I found on the back of the package of Bob’s Red Mill teff flour; the orginal recipe is from www.lesliecerier.com)

1 1/2 cups teff flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup coconut nectar (the original calls for maple syrup, but coconut nectar is supposed to be better for diabetics because it causes a more gentle spike in blood sugar)
½ cup coconut oil (Bob’s Red Mill package calls for canola oil, which a naturopath recently told me is terrible for everyone.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set aside an ungreased cookie sheet.

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients, set aside.

In a food processor blend coconut nectar, oil (you’ll have to melt it first), vanilla and peanut butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; blend well. Shape dough into walnut size balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten gently with the tines of a fork. Bake about 13-15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Yield: 24 cookies


  1. This is a great post Katie. My 11 year old son got detention for the first (and only) time the day after our 8 year old daughter was diagnosed. I received a call from the school while my husband, daughter and I were with the endocrinologist learning how to count carbs and give injections.
    Siblings go through a rough and scary time while they are being pushed aside in those first days. My heart goes out to all T1D kids as well as their siblings.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I know, it is difficult for everyone involved. I hope that both of your children are doing well.

  3. I have tried to remember my boys more through all of this too. The truth is, Eleanor was always our low maintenance girl. It's funny to read of you Bisi's moodiness making you think she was more likely to get diabetes. Nothing could be further from the truth with my daughter. She's the youngest of three, and the only girl. The only thing she ever really complains about is that she's the only one in the family who has to sleep alone. (My boys share a room) it's almost like Mother Nature wanted to shake us all into noticing her. She has her low maintenance

    1. My middle son has multiple food allergies, including coconut, so, for all that I keep reading of its benefits, we can't safely incorporate it.