My inbox has been full this week and my phone ringing often – all with parents facing what we did three years ago: sending their child with Type 1 Diabetes off to college. Some are far away; others only an hour away. But: away is away. And while I’d had the experience of sending a child without diabetes away to college first, it really is unique when you’re child has T1D.
Those parents (Okay, mostly moms) are scared. Most have cried a lot this week. All have concerns. I totally get it. I’ve been there.
But at the same time, something else is happening this week – actually today. My daughter with diabetes is on Capitol Hill, spending her very first day as a Congressional Intern. She called me a few moments ago, on her way over to train on how to give Capitol Hill tours. I could feel her joy oozing over the phone lines (do they even have phone lines anymore? Oozing down from the satellite? Whatever. She was joyous.) And so was I.
And it hit me: This moment in time; this incredible step toward her dreams; this experience of a lifetime all came because I was brave enough to face my fears and gosh darn it: ignore some of them.
Because really, her being there – in that very spot – was a dream she had since before diabetes (yes … when she was a preschooler she talked about politics and helping the world some day. Truth!). Diabetes came along in kindergarten. And every new year of school – heck, sometimes every new day – it threw up obstacles for me to stress out about. They tried to overwhelm me (I’d say her too but gosh – that gal has shown guts and grace all these years; no lie). They pushed at me and tried to make me retreat.
But I didn’t. And so …. My child is right where she belongs.
I think back to things I did that I hear parents now saying they just cannot do. Like sleepovers (where she learned that yes, she can survive all night without me and yes, she can even make mistakes in her diabetes care and still be fine the next day). And like the two-week politics and media conference she went to when she was 16 — without me and without medical supervision. There she learned that she could manage on her own, even while very busy. And I learned those two weeks that while she needs me (she called daily), she could be just fine without me.
I think of the things I did that helped her along the way too. Like sending her to diabetes camp. Camp helped her learn leadership and compassion. It gave her friends in the know who are older than her and branched out before her. She calls on them for advice all the time. And taking her to JDRF Promise to Remember Me Meetings. There, she honed her political education and started her amazing networking that continues to help her to this day. And of course: not ever, ever, stopping her because diabetes wasn’t behaving.
I got my share of lectures from other parents back then. How, they said, could I let my daughter have so much freedom when she was not necessarily practicing … ummm … perfect diabetes care?
Here’s how: Because 1) I refused to let diabetes rob her of a single joy or dream or ambition in her life and 2) her awesome medical team (shout out again to Dr. Dude and Dr. Wonderful!) supported me in that belief.
So yeah, Lauren went 500 miles away to college. I was scared (remember the story: I asked her to just let me know she was alive each day. First morning after we dropped her off she texted “Hi Mom! I’m not dead!” ha.) She was not exactly embracing her daily diabetes care then. But as she embraced college life, a funny thing happened: she suddenly wanted to feel better.
And I have to think: had I let my mama bear instincts rule; had I listed to the other moms who were judging me for giving her freedom when she seemed less than capable in diabetes care ….. she would not be on Capitol Hill Today. I overlooked the blood sugars for a bit to see to the needs of the soul of my child. And it is paying off in spades.
So here are a few tips for parents whose kids are heading off to college:
*Don’t think it’s the roommate’s job to do your job. Honestly – these kids signed up for college, not for medical assistance. They are probably as nervous and anxious as your child is. Asking them to set an alarm to help your child check at 2 a.m. is unfair. Frankly, other than something you’d expect of any roommate – call 911 or get the RA in an emergency – we don’t have a right to ask the roommates for anything. If your child gets a roomie who is interested, great. If they don’t, don’t judge that child. And your kid is going to be fine. They will make friends who do care and do check on them. It happens fast. And then those are the kids they’ll choose to live with in future years.
*Don’t expect your child to follow the same daily care plan you had for them. Like it or not: it’s their diabetes. Your child may decide not to check at night or to change their basals or to – like mine did – go off the pump for a while. It’s all good. It’s their choice. Offer support, but let them call the shots. College is practice for the real world. Let them practice.
*Do offer support in any way they want. I’ve always filled my daughter’s scripts for her. I’m paying her co-pays still, and it’s just easier for me to do it. That said she just did her first “call the CGM company call because of a problem” on her own. I know she can handle doing the scripts but I just don’t mind doing it and for now, she’d rather not. It’s my way of still supporting her when frankly – I have little idea what her daily management plan is anymore.
*Do expect your child to do things like let the RA know about his or her diabetes, or register at the office of disabilities (if they are going to do that) on their own. Colleges are used to nervous freshmen and know how to help ease them through first-time experiences. This is their time to learn to speak up for themselves. It’s not mom or dad’s job anymore. Enable them by letting them handle it. They’ll learn valuable lessons.
*Do encourage them to find support. the COLLEGE DIABETES NETWORK is a great place to start! And have THEM do it — not you. This is for them.
*Do listen if and when he or she tells you that their endo is fine with an A1C that you might not be fine with. Life is about a LOT Of things. College might not be the time that a young adult can fine-tune an a1c down to the low end. One time when Lauren’s a1c was a bit higher than I hoped (it was still amazing after the hard teen years!), Dr. Wonderful, who just knew I’d be in the waiting room stressing (I still drive her to appointments. Who else is going to take her to Lilly Pulitzer after? Even Dr. W doesn’t do that!), came out and said “Listen: she is exactly where she should be. She’s doing so well in life. She’s focusing on what is important. And she’s fine. The low, low a1c will come later. I’m very happy with how she is doing.”
Amen to that.
So here I sit, my heart absolutely bursting with joy at where my daughter with diabetes is.
And the funny thing is this: She’s called twice today to update me. Never, even once, did I wonder what her blood sugar was.
I think this college thing has been good for both of us. All you parents who are so scared and worried: it will be for you and your child too. See this scary time through. The reward is incredible.
I cannot wait to hear about how your kids rule the world as well.
PS: you can follow Lauren and her experience on Capitol Hill HERE! Please do!