Why This Picture Makes My Mother Emotional
Editor’s Note: Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass was diagnosed with type I diabetes two weeks after her 6th birthday. She will be celebrating her 32nd diaversary in January 2021. She originally shared this story on her personal Facebook as a way to celebrate National Diabetes Awareness Month.
When I was in the fourth grade and attended Roosevelt Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa we had a school-wide science project called ‘Operation Egg Drop’. The challenge was to have each class pull together their best ‘engineers’ to build a contraption out of edible materials that would be wrapped around an egg that would withstand it being dropped from our school’s rooftop. Marshmallows, powdered doughnuts, Twinkies, snowballs, small cinnamon rolls and a lot of other edible padding was donated by the local companies and provided in bulk to each class. I squished each individual item in my hands to guess which arrangement would be most successful to protect the egg on impact. Many of the items I had never actually held in my hands. When I opened each package, their scent was overwhelming, and unlike anything I had ever experienced. It lingered and hung in the air.
On the big Egg Drop Day, the entire school stood outside and watched as their best attempts were tossed over the side of the building. Each student cheered for the other classes in the spirit of true sportsmanship. My class lost, but it didn’t matter, it was a lot of fun; I remember it to this day. The leftover edible materials that weren’t used for the Egg Drop were divided amongst the students for them to enjoy. I took mine home to my siblings.
A few weeks later, I walked into the classroom and the now familiar, overwhelming scent of sweet packaged materials had filled our classroom once again. Our teacher Mrs. Saunders decided to continue the edibles-turned-building-material theme with a new project. She told us that we were to build a gingerbread house out of cinnamon graham crackers, assorted candies and frosting. Since our class didn’t win the last event, I was so excited to be given the opportunity to redeem myself from the Egg Drop and to make something great. I was ecstatic and began to sketch my idea out on the provided paper plate. In my mind, I was drafting a blueprint and building a tiny yet deluxe home from Hansel and Gretel.
I had an absolute mansion in mind and used the sugary goop to connect the gumdrops to the walls and to withstand the decorative attic and chimney I planned to add. I was so enthralled with the activity that one would have thought I was building something humans would actually live inside. I delighted in the entire experience. Mrs. Sauders scanned the room, attempting to encourage the frustrated faces of the students who wanted to eat the materials and those who didn’t or couldn’t see the edible materials as anything other than… edible.
Once Mrs. Saunders made it over to my desk, I was giggling to myself with excitement and pure pride that my imagination had built something that was so grand in my eyes. She laughed and took my picture at that moment. Once we had all finished and done what we could do, she gave us all Saran Wrap to cover our creations to set on display for the next two days. Most students had a pile of confectionary rubble and were frustrated from the entire process. On the day we were to consume our creation, Mrs. Saunders gave me this picture to take home. Reinforced with globs of frosting and standing strong on its paper plate, I kept my house wrapped in its Saran Wrap to take home to my siblings to enjoy.
Just a kid
Decades later, this picture resurfaced and all the memories and feelings of pride, accomplishment, determination and happiness flooded back to mind. When I showed my mother grinning, she looked teary-eyed and emotional. Confused, I asked her why the picture gave her such a reaction.
‘You didn’t lick your fingers, Esi… You didn’t even lick your fingers…I don’t know how you were able to resist doing that… You were a kid, that’s the most fun part…’
I looked back at the picture, trying to understand what she meant, and I saw the frosting: white and goopy hanging from each of my fingers. I grinned and laughed.
‘Lick my fingers? I was all about building a Hansel and Gretal house, why would I eat my mater-‘
It hit me at that moment, in all the years to that point that I had lived with type I diabetes, refined sugar was so far from my consumption experience that I had never, ever thought of eating any of the ‘building materials,’ I was playing with that day MYSELF. It never crossed my mind. It was as foreign of a thought as eating paint or wood. My mother saw her baby girl missing out and wished she had supplied me with sugar-free options or asked the teacher to give me an equally fun yet alternative activity; I saw a goofy kid having an absolute blast.
Perspective can determine our joy
I say all this to say that perspective can oftentimes determine our joy. There are SO many things that many of us humans cannot do: fly without assistance, breathe underwater without assistance, move as fast as a cheetah without assistance, or even process glucose without assistance. Whatever it is that each of us cannot do, it does us no good to sit in the ‘can’t,’ to settle in the restriction. It is futile to focus on the endless lists of things that we are unable to do or experience when there is SO much we CAN enjoy and accomplish… What can YOU do? What can YOU enjoy? What brings YOU joy? How do YOU turn your pile of ‘edible materials’ into a Hansel and Gretel mansion? How do YOU turn your lemons into refreshing (sugar-free) lemonade?
Happy Diabetes Awareness Month!