It was a very long time ago – 1998 to be exact – when I first dropped my then tiny little girl off at diabetes camp. But I remember it well.
The first year, I was so nervous I hung around “getting things ready” for hours on end. I actually considered hiding behind a tree for the two weeks so I could pop out every once and a while and say “Are you low?”
I remember the second year just as clearly. As we got close to camp I simply slowed the car down, shoved my daughter out the door and pealed off, tires (and me) squealing as we headed toward freedom.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating again. But I do really mean it when I say that discovering diabetes camp – and early into our lives with diabetes – was one of the best things that happened to all of us.
We are lucky in a couple of ways. First, one of what I feel is the best diabetes camps in the world – The Clara Barton Camp for Girls With Diabetes (and it’s twin “brother” Camp Joslin for Boys) — happens to be right here in my home state. And second, one of the candy stripers (do we still call them that?) at Children’s when Lauren was diagnosed had Type 1 and told us right off: “You just have to send her to camp.”
Lauren was only six at the time. (You can see her above in the pink shirt and orange life preserver with her beloved Shelley. Extra points if YOU are in this photo). But we went out and visited on one of their open house days and it just clicked. That summer, before she could read well and way before cell phones were commonplace, I dropped my tiny girl off at overnight camp.
She came home transformed. Pumps were not commonplace in little kids back then, but three of the counselors had them. Lauren insisted we research, and a few months later she was the first young girl on a pump in the Boston area. She learned new sites to gives herself shots on. She learned cool songs. She climbed a real mountain. She canoed. She sang “Barges” (just like I did at my Camp Fire Girl camp in the Boundary waters in the 1960’s). But most of all, she lived an exciting and adventurous time with diabetes and without her mother. (And did I mention her mother took that time to relax and recharge? Sublime.) It was transformational.
Camp became a very big part of our lives. Lauren went to every “wacky weekend” (winter weekends when you can bring along a sibling or good friend who does not have diabetes). Lauren became one of the young speakers who would speak about camp at places. A few years into it, I had picked her up after the two weeks and brought her home.
Now, I had a bedtime tradition with both my girls that I loved. We’d read a story, then I’d tell them a story about a day in my life at their age. They had favorites they’d want repeated sometimes; other times I’d dig into my mind and share with them my life as a little kid. We all loved it.
So you can imagine how my heart warmed when, as I tucked my daughter into bed that first night home, she got a bit weepy and said, “Mom. I just miss our talks so much!”
“Oh honey, don’t cry,” I answered. “You’re home now.”
She sat up straight. “No mom, not you. I mean my camp friends. My talks with them. We always talk after we are in bed. And no offense Mom; but I can talk to them in a way I cannot talk to anyone else. Not even you.”
I know. But actually, I was thrilled.
Since we were lucky enough to discover camp right off, I always find it a bit surprising that some families just don’t warm up to the idea. I mean first of all, at least at our camp, safety is not even an issue. With a nurse in every cabin, counselors who either have Type 1 or are well trained in it sleeping right with the kids and an endo on site and on call 24/7, I often joke that Lauren should live at camp and visit me for two weeks each year.
Second, while I often hear the “I don’t want my kid to be around sick kids,” that’s quite the opposite of what diabetes camp is all about. Because once you arrive at a place where everyone is the same as you, diabetes simply becomes beside the point. And do they teach the kids about life with diabetes? Well, yeah, but not with a chalkboard. It’s just kind of seamlessly blended into what they do each day. Like the play they put on one year: The Wizard of Oz. Only, like all the girls there, Dorothy has diabetes. And the monkeys, instead of swooping on her, throw candy at her. Which she eats. And then has to pee (and realizes she’s high and needs some ‘slin for the candy). Seamless, I tell you.
I scratch my head when I read the ads for caretakers to go stay at a non-diabetes based camp with a child with diabetes. I get it if a camp has been in the family a long time. No one wants to deny their child anything, and nor should they if they can avoid it. But diabetes camp – at least ours – is so fantastic of a camp in a “regular camp” kind of way that there are kids without diabetes jealous and wish they could go there. There’s even a name for them: Wannabetics. I think: why not start a new tradition? One that will do so much for all of your family?
My daughter is grown now and camp is a memory. She tried the counseling thing but at her age, it just did not work for her. I hope she goes back some day. In the meantime, that got me thinking.
Thinking about the Adult Type 1 community; so vocal as of late about their needs. It seems to me they are looking for a way to feel connected, both with one another and with the diabetes world. I wonder: what if camp had an adult with Type 1 session?
For a week (or even a long weekend given the time constraints of adults) Adults with Type 1 could check in and have a nurse and endo around for them. They’d do all kinds of fun things like hiking and boating and singing around the campfire. They’d bond. They could even play “Cities.” (Bonus points for any commenters who have played that game).
I’m just guessing here: but might there be some loved ones and dear friends of adults with Type 1 who would drive them there, slow down, shove them out the door and then peal off? And wouldn’t the experience give adults with Type 1 a feeling of community, support and care?
What do you think?
I’m not being overdramatic when I say this: Back in 1998, Clara Barton Camp saved us. And I’ll be forever thankful for that.
I’d love to hear from campers, parents and even those who are resisting camp. What worked for you? Or, why are you not for it?
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