There’s something I say often, and I truly believe it: I can never take time off from continuing to work toward a better life and a cure for diabetes, because – put simply – my daughter never gets a moment off.
But that’s not entirely true about me. Because over the years, I’ve learned a simple fact: parenting a child with diabetes, no matter what their age, is crazy hard and seemingly endless, yet vitally important to get right. To be honest, no one can keep that pace up 24/7/365 and do it well and not fall completely to pieces.
That’s why I learned early: D-parents need a vacation from diabetes.
I know, I know: there’s sooooo much guilt with this. Well tell ourselves: well if our loved one doesn’t get a moment off, why should I? If they can never let their mind wander completely away from diabetes for even two hours, why should I get a weekend, a week or even two weeks off?
Here’s why: because we can and because we must. Caring for our children is one of the most complicated and important jobs on earth. Often, life depends on it. We insist that airline pilots rest; so too must we D-Parents.
That said, it’s not easy to do, but it can be done. My family was not blessed with relatives who wanted to step up and learn how to take care of Lauren, so the idea of leaving her with a relative was just never a possibility. And while I had (and have) a few good friends willing to learn, I always felt kind of guilty leaving her with them more than a few hours or one overnight with me close by. So for me, the idea of ever taking some time off from our new life with diabetes back in 1997 seemed impossible.
And then I brought her to diabetes camp. The first year she was only six, back in the days before rapid acting insulin and pumps on little kids. Her meal plan was complicated yet precise; each day was about chasing not one or two “insulin peaks” but five or more (between regular and NPH it seemed like a peak was always coming). When I dropped her off at camp, they asked me if I wanted them to call with highs or lows or check of the box and let them deal with it.
I pushed away the pen to check off “don’t call me,” and the lovely nurse checking us in, a woman with Type 1 herself, put her hand gently over mine and looked me in the eye.
“You know,” she said, smiling. “It’s a long, long year caring for your child. We know what we are doing here, and this is a chance for you to catch your breath. If there were ever a true emergency we’d call. Why don’t you think about taking a little diabetes vacation while she’s here?”
I teared up. For 10 and a half months, I’d been my little girl’s life support. I knew her not just emotionally, but on a physiological level that other parents just could not understand. I had things moving along pretty well. Give up control? Take time off? No.
I said no. And the nurse held my hand a bit tighter, in a more soothing than urgent way, and said again, “You need this break. It’s the best thing you can do for your daughter.”
And so I said yes. The first day home was odd. I wasn’t so much worried about her as I just felt like something was missing. But I’ll be honest, by the third day, I was a bowl of jelly. I had no idea what anyone’s blood sugar was. I didn’t care what time it was. If my older daughter was hungry, we could just eat whatever we wanted (those were the days of strict meal plans). And there’s an underlying message to the child with diabetes in this parental Diabetes Vacation: you CAN and you WILL survive and thrive without your mom and dad by your side. It’s so important for kids to realize that from the start.
All that became clear during my “vacation.” And by the time the two weeks passed and it was time to pick Lauren up, I felt renewed.
I felt ready to face Type 1 diabetes in my daughter again. Because now, I knew that in 11 and a half months, I’d take another break. And it would be a great thing for my daughter. It was, for the 11 years she was a camper I savored my time off (It took us four years before we realized we could go away overnight while she was there! Lightbulb moment!) I was confident she was safe and happy, and I even told all my JDRF partners that those two weeks were off-limits. I didn’t talk, think or work diabetes. Not one bit. At the end of the two weeks I was not only ready to get back into my D-Mom care role, I was refreshed and ready for another year of volunteering, fundraising and charging toward better treatments and a cure.
Now Lauren is an adult. While I still worry, the majority of the diabetes duty is hers alone. So this year, I’m twisting things a bit. Rather than look for time off, I’m reaching out for time on; time on to help the other D-parents who need help and a break out there.
My first big “Time on” will be next week, when I head to Orlando to be part of the amazing Friends for Life Conference. At FFL, over 3,000 D-family members will converge to bond, learn, play, learn, bond and be inspired. I never went when Lauren was growing up: FFL always fell while she was at camp (camp girls are very insistent on going the same session each year), and since that was my “diabetes vacation,” I just could not go.
But two years ago, I went alone (as part of a JDRF group). I was amazed. Oh, what we missed. If I could turn back time, I’d start Lauren in a different session and make FFL a part of our lives. But I cannot. So this year I’ll be there, with my husband, to help guide other families, and to volunteer our time to make the event run smoothly (although I have a feeling it would even without us! They know what they are doing).
I also am going to tell my local D-Mom friends of younger ones: If you need a mini-vacation, call me. Imagine if all of us long-timers reached out to just one D-family we knew and offered those parents a weekend off without worry? I’m thinking the national stress factor would decrease expidentially.
So if you are the parent of a little one – find a way to take a Diabetes Vacation, be it camp (camp rocks! I cannot say it enough), with the help of family or by reaching out to a fellow D-Mom.
Our own health, our kid’s health and our entire families will be the better for it. No guilt about that.