A DH Classic: Halloween Is More Than Scary for Parents of Trick-or-Treaters with Diabetes
(Editor's Note: We originally published this article in October 2008. Laura Plunkett's observations are timeless, and her comments elicited several interesting responses from readers.)
I drift through the Halloween aisles getting angry. Did they make up this holiday just to torture kids with diabetes? What happened to apples, popcorn, tricks, and homemade treats?
Halloween scares me. It scares me even after seven years of helping my 14-year-old son with diabetes enjoy the holiday. We have created a comfortable tradition. Our neighbors get Danny non-food items. We go to a neighborhood bonfire and tell scary stories, and my husband Brian buys back most of Danny's candy and brings it to his office. Through experience, I am no longer afraid of the possible highs and lows, and, thanks to the blessing of cell phones, even Danny's teenage wandering feels okay. If you were a spider on our wall, we'd all appear excited and happy about Halloween.
But the truth is, though I keep it hidden, that I am afraid of myself. Every year before the holiday begins, I sense a witch inside of me. Halloween candy shows up at the local drug store and I think, It's like poison. Sugar straight to the bloodstream laced with artificial ingredients.
Doesn't anyone get it?
I have to buy something to hand out. Alternative, non-food items are more expensive, and my kids don't want me to hand out anything weird. I drift through the aisles getting angry. Did they make up this holiday just to torture kids with diabetes? What happened to apples, popcorn, tricks, and homemade treats? The other shoppers don't notice my transformation. They toss bags of Snickers and Reese's in their carts without a care.
I try not to feel separate.
Halloween arrives, and the smaller children appear early at my door. I begin the night as a happy parent and offer my bowl of treats. I watch their parents chatting and laughing in the street. I think to myself, They're not thinking about blood sugar numbers. Their kids can eat whatever they want. They don't have a care in the world.
I tell the witch in me that every family has its challenges, and I help Danny get ready to go. While Danny is making sure his pump site is working and his reservoir is full, his friends are waiting impatiently in the front yard. They don't need tabs, a meter, back-up supplies, and reminder phone calls. They can eat themselves sick on candy as they sprint from door to door. Danny has a plan to taste the ones he really likes, select the few he wants to keep for lows, and give the rest away. I watch him leave, and the crazy witch makes her presence known. No one understands what my child goes through. My friends and neighbors are so busy with their easy little lives that they don't even notice us. My family would be better off alone.
Of course, I know in my heart of hearts that this is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, for the last seven years I've had a Halloween hangover. The day after, I have to talk myself back to sanity and remember that people do love us, that diabetes is a normal, manageable part of our lives, and that we are doing just fine in a culture that pays little attention to the nutritional needs of kids.
Now here comes Halloween again. As families everywhere light the candles in their jack-o-lanterns, I have taken off my cheerful mom mask and revealed my witch to the light. Perhaps, exposed to the glare of honesty, she will mount her broomstick and fly away.
Laura Plunkett is co-author of "The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child."
Any holidays or school treats are hard on the kids with type 1. It is hard for them and us their parents, not to feel left out. The worst thing is the loss of the carefree feeling when kids are on holiday, all set to enjoy themselves...yet we have to keep them to their routine and sensible diets. Please God, Dr Faustman or another scientist will find a cure and give our children the gift of health and the joy of a carefree life!
I take my hat off to you. It is difficult enough being a type 1 with unpredictable highs and lows. I simply can't imagine being the parent of a type 1.
I wish people would educate themselves on how to incorporate carbs into their kid's diet! There is no reason you need to "buy back" most of his candy. Simply ration it out, one or two pieces per night, and bolus him with the corresponding amount of insulin. He already feels different, let him enjoy his candies in limited quantities. How much could it be, maybe a month's worth at most? You need to educate yourself... "Sugar straight to the bloodstream laced with artificial ingredients." So what? Carbs are carbs! Count them up and bolus for them, it's simple.
I won't even let my kids without diabetes eat two pieces of candy every night for a month. That's 1/12th of the year, and then there are all the birthday parties, the Christmas candies, etc. Those aren't just carbs, they're nutritionless sugar carbs.
Raising a healthy child is no less important when your kids has diabetes. I think parents of normal kids should heed Plunkett's advice as well.
I can completely understand this woman's frustration but I also have my views and maybe reading my comments might help her be at peace with Halloween.
I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was four years old. I am now 34 years old, and diabetes has changed so much. When I was a kid we went for Halloween and I donated all of my candy to the Children's Hospital and I saved a few favorites for lows. For whatever reason it really didn't bother me.
I am sure there were other times in my childhood that I would have given anything to eat a chocolate, but Halloween wasn't a problem for me. 30 years ago there was no such thing as a bolus. Having diabetes meant no sugar. There was no Humalog to inject if you were high. You ran around the track for two hours or waited six hours to get your sugar down with regular insulin if you had a high.
So much has changed. My parents are "old-school parents of a diabetic;" they don't understand how I can now have a piece of cake on my birthday. My mom gets so angry if she seems me pop a Jujube into my mouth. In a way, it was easier to say no sugar. Now, it's almost confusing, the rules have totally changed. I have a hard time understanding the logic in, eat your whole bag of Halloween candy and just bolus. That seems like a lot of work for a candy.
But on the other hand, I'm not 12 years old! I think parents just have to help their diabetic child find a happy medium in terms of sugar consumption. Your son is so lucky to have diabetes in this day and age. As silly as that sounds being lucky to have diabetes!
The freedom he has is unbelievable. I remember urine testing! How different would my life had been had I gotten diabetes in 2008! I guess I've kind of digressed, but what I am trying to say is, Halloween is a silly candy eating day, but it's one day of the year and hopefully you can put that aside and think how lucky your son is to be able to do all the things he does and can do even though he has diabetes.
Very, very well written article! I felt like you were reading my mind. I don't have any children, but as a type 1 diabetic, I know the frustration you feel around Halloween.
To one of you who posted above, you must not have read the full article... "Danny has a plan to taste the ones he really likes, select the few he wants to keep for lows, and give the rest away." You should get a hold of Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution book, and maybe you'd begin to understand a mother's loving concern about her son's health. Furthermore, are you able to eat just one of something like that? If so, I applaud you. Most of us are not.
As for some ideas on how to handle the "treats" to pass out... I pass out non-candy items. I used to get some ridicule from my husband, but now he sees that the kids actually enjoy getting it. They get so much candy that I think it's kind of fun for them when they get something different. I find cheap packs of cute pencils, bouncy balls, stickers, tattoos, etc.
Target has those bins up front that have a lot of that stuff for only a dollar (i.e., a pack of 10 pencils). And I also found a big package of bouncy balls that look like eyeballs in the area with all of the Halloween costumes and decorations. I think dollar stores are also a good bet. Bottom line is that you can find some good, cheap, fun stuff that the kids will really enjoy! Happy Haunting!
I don't have any suggestions for what to do with the candy collected by the kids with diabetes. As for what to hand out, get the Smarties. Two rolls is 13 grams dextrose. It's the same thing the glucose tablets are made from and you can use any leftovers to treat lows. They are cheaper than the pharmacy stuff, too.