The Nanny Diaries: Now I Understand


During my job interview for a nanny and Type 1 Diabetes caregiver position in the fall of 2014, none of my confidence was feigned. Not only had I heard of T1D, I had a good friend with it and had dated a guy with Type 1 in college. I had pricked my finger (my blood sugar was always perfect), worn a pump hookup for a week (it was itchy), and fed my college sweetheart honey and juice at 3 a.m. when I found him poking a dead mouse in the kitchen, talking like a 4-year-old and trying to spit at me while I came at him with the spoon. As far as I knew, T1D was a cakewalk with some occasionally exciting moments.

What my kind, humble, and tough college sweetheart failed to mention was . . . everything.

He managed his blood sugar without complaint or explanation, and, self-centered as I was, I never asked for the minutiae. I didn’t know how carefully he counted carbs, that he never got a full night’s sleep, or that the five pound bag of gummi bears at his bedside was more about keeping him alive than reeling in a girl with a sweet tooth. I didn’t understand that his extreme lows were actually really dangerous, not funny stories we could tell because he always came back to life.

If there is one memory that might have tipped me off to the heart-wrenching severity of T1D it’s the fact that his mom would call me to find out where he was. Even when I wasn’t living in the same town as her son, I would occasionally get a call. I loved his mom, and I always loved hearing from her. What I didn’t see was the years behind those calls, the years of wondering and worrying, is my son okay? Is he alive? Is someone looking out for him?

Now I understand. At three in the morning I find myself lying on the bathroom floor looking at Taylor Swift’s Instagram feed while keeping the closest of eyes on my 8-year-old T1D charge. Sometimes I do push-ups to pass the time, sometimes I read the Sunday Times or one of the three books I always have going. Some nights celebrity junk is all my sleepy brain can handle while I wait for Kai’s blood sugar to rise. I suspend all insulin, trying to catch the low, and then I wait. I don’t want to wake him up. I check him, then check him again. The next morning I drop him off at school and spend hours glued to the CGM app, hoping I made the right dosing decisions. I watch him at soccer practice and marvel at how soon he wants to start playing again after a rescue.

What keeps me going as a non-parent caregiver is all the other caregivers I have known personally, and the ones I know through the far reaches of the internet. I am physically alone in the bathroom waiting for Kai’s blood sugar to rise, but I am not alone in this world of fierce protectors and empowers and researchers and parents and friends. I might be new here, but my road is far easier because of the ones who came before me. They took their time to share their wisdom. I am happy to share mine now.

Kai is 8 years old. He promises he will never be too old to cuddle, but he will outgrow the constant need for the support his family provides. He will grow more independent, more confident in how to live beyond. I’ll try not to call his girlfriends too often.

Read “The Nanny Diaries: Managing Type 1 Across Two Households,” also by James Austin, here.

WRITTEN BY James Austin, POSTED 07/15/15, UPDATED 04/26/21

James was raised on a sheep farm and is still surprised to find herself residing in the urban jungle of San Francisco. She is an educator, adventuress, and modern day Mary Poppins. She's lucky enough to have fallen in love with, learned to kiteboard from, and been a caregiver for type 1 diabetics. She hand writes over 100 letters and postcards every year, is enthusiastic beyond her ability at all outdoor sports, and volunteers as a doula.