My 16-month-old daughter is a sponge these days. She blows on her food (hot or cool) before putting it in her mouth, shakes hands to greet strangers, and tries to fit spare keys in every lock she can find. These are things she does with no coaching from us, so witnessing them is particularly amusing.
The other morning, she mimicked in a new way that was bittersweet.
I'm a Type I Diabetic (my pancreas does not produce any insulin), and since my diagnosis at age 10, I have been taking insulin injections multiple times a day to control my blood sugar. My daughter has seen me inject countless times and even likes to play with the "pens."
They have no needles on them and are practically indestructible. They hold a certain amount of insulin encased in plastic and become disposable once the insulin runs out. They also, sort of, resemble an actual ink pen.
I use two different pens every morning and night. The other morning, I took both out and she immediately wanted to hold one. I gave her one and injected with the other. Lo and behold, I look up to see my baby "injecting" herself by pressing the plastic pen against her tiny stomach.
I was impressed, but dejected. My husband and I have been warned not to do or say anything in front of her that we don't want her to pick up. We've taken that seriously, but not wanting her to pick up diabetes never crossed my mind in that context.
Suddenly, watching her pretend to take her insulin, I remembered the panic I sometimes felt while pregnant. (Anybody seen "Steel Magnolias"?) I wondered if the baby would be Type I Diabetic like her mom, or if growing in a diabetic body would cause birth defects.
Considering the stats about genetics and Type 1 Diabetes made my non-math brain hurt. The average American has a 1 percent chance of developing Type 1 diabetes by age 70, regardless of genetics. If one's father has Type 1, the odds go from 1 percent to about 10 percent. But if one's mother has Type 1 rather than the father, the risk is only 4 percent if the mother was 25 or younger at when she gave birth, and back to 1 percent if the mother was over 25. (I was 26.) Thankfully she was born healthy, and continues to be.
Back to the scene: I decided to thank her for "helping mama" and took the insulin pen from her. She smiled and ran off to some other interesting thing. I can only hope and pray that growing up with a Type 1 mom will make her more sensitive and empathetic to those with chronic diseases and not a victim of one such disease.
I can also continue to give a good effort to take care of my health, as should all of us moms with chronic diseases. The discipline and perseverance we exhibit will serve as an example for our little ones, and we all know: "Monkey see, monkey do."
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cafeaulazy.